Kanye West is making a video game. We know this because of a report here, and this one here, and so many more. The announcement swiftly reached beyond the gaming media. It's equal-parts gossip-page material, copy for celebrity tabloids, and tech-feed filler. And it's news that'll lead many out there, I've no doubt, to ask why Yeezy is bothering with a video game.
Precedent, for one thing. West's outline for his game, revealed during an interview for New York's Power 105.1 station—"It's my mother going through the gates of heaven, and you gotta bring her to the highest gates of heaven by holding her to the light"—has it sounding like a more personal project than his wife's Kim Kardashian: Hollywood freemium title of 2014. But the success of that game, "a $200 million hit app" in the words of Forbes, will surely have resonated with the rapper. The man likes money, and there's serious sums of it to be made in gaming—and if you've got a famous face to plaster across your promotional package, there's even more reason to believe in its lucrative potential.
West has been working on his game for six months, so nobody should expect an end product any time soon, what with the small matter of an album to finish and subsequently promote. But between now and its release, we'll see more megastars from the world of music and entertainment stretch their brand to breach the gaming industry.
Katy Perry is leading the way, with an app made by the studio behind Hollywood, Glu Mobile, expected before the year is through. Games are bigger than music, and the figures are staggering: In a single month in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V outsold the entire global music industry. You don't have to be a famous rapper to conclude that you're missing a trick by not bringing your business to the gaming market.
'50 Cent: Blood on the Sand,' trailer
And West sure isn't the first rapper to turn his attention to interactive entertainment. 50 Cent has starred in a couple of average third-person shooters, Bulletproof and Blood on the Sand (in which Fiddy and his crew shoots up a Middle Eastern terrorist cell for stealing, not even shitting you, a jewel-encrusted human skull offered as payment for a G-Unit gig), and EA's Def Jam Icon of 2007 set MC on MC in wholly inglorious one-on-one combat. The promise of Big Boi trading fists with Lil Jon and Ludacris might be appealing in your head, but in practice the game was more Milli Vanilli than Mike Jones.
EA might have been wise to look to gaming's rap past when working on Icon. Their Def Jam–licensed games to that point hadn't been terrible—two preceded Icon, the more wrestling-focused Vendetta and Fight for NY—but when Wu-Tang Clan got their knuckles bloody with 1999's Shaolin Style (a.k.a. Taste the Pain) for the original PlayStation, a warning memo should have circulated among the rap game's topmost brass. Excitement-sapping controls and ugly animation made Shaolin Style a completely forgettable entry in gaming's vast canon of fighting games. The game even had its own "W"-shaped controller, which made it even more player-unfriendly as it removed those rather essential analog sticks.
Even the Wu hated Shaolin Style. "It stinks" is how Method Man described the game to Complex's Alexander Carpenter, as the writer recalled in a 15th-anniversary piece. There's an interesting story to the making of Shaolin Style: it's essentially a reskin of a canceled title called Thrill Kill, but not even its background and some spectacular-for-the-time executions could win favor with a fighting crowd focused on Mortal Kombat 4 and Street Fighter III.
The Wu had a previous attempt. The Clan's 1997 album, Wu-Tang Forever, came as an "Enhanced CD," with the first disc containing a virtual Wu Mansion, explored from a first-person perspective. Wikipedia has no record of this feature, but digging out my own copy confirms those muddy memories of poking around the place on my PC, with the booklet having a whole page devoted to the interactive material. "What the @%#$! is an Enhanced CD?!?!" it asks, before telling the reader all about the "hot" objects to be found in the Wu Mansion.
There are three levels, by which I mean floors—there's no challenge to this "game." On one and two you find rooms for eight of the rappers ("Click gently," warns the instructions, "you don't want to wake the Wu-Tang Clan"). In the basement, you'll come across RZA's recording studio, within which there's some secret content stored. You'll need to visit every other room in the Mansion before accessing that, though, because that's what you want from a Wu-Tang album: boring busywork. Thankfully, disc one of Wu-Tang Forever also featured some pretty masterful music, so it wasn't a complete waste of digital space.
Many more rappers have featured in past video games, from Snoop Dogg in True Crime: Streets of LA to the Beastie Boys in NBA Jam. (The) Game has voice-acted in games including Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which is just too perfect, and developers have also turned to fictional rhymers for their stories. The gory zombie schlock of Dead Island stars one-hit-wonder Sam B, the game opening with him performing "Who Do You Voodoo" before the whole of Banoi goes to shit, and obviously there's PaRappa. Rap's not been the same since Chop Chop Master Onion dropped some uniquely stinky science.
With Kanye's life, as expressed through his own mouth, often stranger than fiction, he's an overdue but perfect fit for a video game. Lift a line or two from his work and you've the beginning of a productive brainstorm. "Everybody knows I'm a monster… eyes more red than the Devil," certainly sets the gray matter stirring, and that's before we're onto the Ancient Egyptian imagery. But his game for his late mother, who died in 2007, is unlikely to be an Icon, a Shaolin Style, or a Hollywood-like exercise in microtransaction management. I'm thinking more along the lines of something with the aesthetic elegance of Child of Light crossed with the religion-referencing narrative of the often-overlooked El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, albeit without quite so much scrapping.
I'm hoping it'll be much more than him cashing in on an audience already mined for riches by his wife, but whatever Kanye's game proves to be, we know this is a man who doesn't do things by halves. Charged by the memory of his mother, it'll likely be emotional, it'll certainly be divisive, and it's guaranteed to be memorable. Ideally, it should make Katy Perry's app look like a ZX Spectrum loading page beside a skyscraper-size 4K screen showing future-gen sci-fi: proper fuck-up-your-whole-afternoon shit. And if it's not amazing, at least we'll always have Kanye Zone.
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