I am what is commonly known as a commuter. I wilfully, some might say foolishly, choose to live more than a fair distance from VICE's London office. A single journey, door to door, can take anywhere between 90 minutes and three and a half hours, and is usually somewhere between these extremes. Thankfully, there's this thing called the internet – you're looking at it – which means that I don't always have to travel to get a day's work done. I can, instead, do it from the comfort of my home office, aka a cushion on my lap in the lounge.
When I do travel, though, I am never without my compact 4GB iPod, a substitute for my crippled 160GB Classic model that decided to no longer produce sound through its headphone socket on the day Apple confirmed the unit's discontinuation. There aren't all that many albums you can fit on such a small-capacity device – right now, there are 35 on there, most of which are evergreen collections that no amount of repeat playing can dull the lustre of. So I hear a lot of the same songs, over and over. Which got me thinking.
What would video games based on my favourite albums be like?
Gaming inspiration can come from several sources, but a lot of big-budget interactive entertainment bases its foundational elements – action, narrative, character development, period setting and the supporting technology – on the world of film. Gears of War: Starship Troopers, sort of. Uncharted: Indiana Jones, definitely, likewise Tomb Raider. Mass Effect: Star Wars with more snark. I'm sure you can draw your own parallels. They're not always explicit, but connections between movies and games can be seen across the latter industry's spectrum. What is The Last of Us but a zombie twist on the cinematic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road?
Music though, and novels for that matter, before they're sliced, diced and compacted into cinematic form, is an area of inspiration that rarely makes itself obvious in the gaming world. Google for "video games inspired by albums" and you get results linking to articles listing records, and musicians, who've been stirred enough by particular games to create art of their own in their shadows, but not vice versa.
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There are games available that simply couldn't exist without music – the plastic peripherals everywhere, tap-along-at-home histrionics of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series; Tetsuya Mizuguchi's beats-driven rail shooter Rez and its spiritual sequel Child of Eden; and rhythm action titles that split the difference between these two takes, like the PS2 cult classic Gitaroo Man, upcoming "rhythm violence" racer Thumper and Harmonix's recently rebooted Amplitude.
But that's not what I'm thinking. I'm after games that don't fit the music genre, but are inspired by music, by recordings, and the artists that create them. You know what I'm on about, right? I need you to be, because here are some ideas, based on six albums stored within my faithful 4GB buddy.
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Source Tags & Codes (2002)
What is it: The third album from the Texan rock crew once known for their wild live performances, which marks the fascinating mid-point between that fiery early rep and their later descent into proggy indulgence. Pitchfork gave it a 10/10 score. Reasonable.
Watch a video: "Another Morning Stoner"
What it could be as a game: I envision an incredibly surreal point-and-click affair, like something LucasArts in its prime would have produced had its core creatives spent a team-building week away swilling spiked punch from the sick bowls of long-dead French poets. I can see it now, garish and grotesque and impossibly compelling, like a Hohokum-bright nightmare where the cursor's turning from an eye to a hand to a foot and through the three again, over and over. Hell, I can taste it. It's vandalising the tongue like heather honey stirred into neat but premium vodka, and then left in the equatorial sun for an afternoon or two. I don't know what any of it really means, but I suspect that's the point. Create your own adventure, then, ideally while intoxicated.
Björk – Vespertine (2001)
What is it: The Icelandic maverick's fifth solo album, a document of a relationship forming and all the rushes of nervousness, passion and promise that time sends into a dizzying spin of emotions. "It's about the universe inside every person," is how the artist herself has described the LP, which sometimes quite explicitly addresses her blossoming romance with American artist Matthew Barney. It's timelessly beautiful too, or at least I think so, a marriage of understated electronic elements and delicate organic instrumentation like harp and celeste. My wife walked into our wedding ceremony to "Frosti", you know.
Watch a video: "Pagan Poetry" (which is not entirely safe for work)
What it could be as a game: An erotic puzzler using all of those pearls from her necklace(s) in a terrifically confusing take on Bejeweled. Probably. That, or the quietest rhythm action game ever realised, where you must coast the contours of a human body, tapping the A button in time with the accompanying notes of a music box, hypnotic and swallowing.
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Death Grips – The Money Store (2012)
What is it: The debut studio album proper from the world's most riveting rap-collapsing-into-the-apocalypse crew, straight out of Sacramento with a branding iron shaped like a middle finger and a whole lot of axes to grind. Goddam I love this record. I play it when I'm walking around central London and it makes me feel as if I could smash right down to Crossrail's deepest points using just my fists. I couldn't. I'd merely bleed all over the pavement outside River Island. Nobody would pity me, but Death Grips would still be playing so fuck their sympathies, I don't need them. I do need a plaster, or else I'll make a right mess over these three-for-two socks.
Watch a video: "Hustle Bones"
What it could be as a game: SimCity on permanent disaster challenge mode as reimagined by Jake and Dinos Chapman. With a shit on it.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
What is it: The best rap album released this side of the millennium bug that never was. A stressed and shocked, confident and intelligent, invigorating and infuriating collection of introverted insights and blinding braggadocio. Never yet bettered. Probably never will be. The ultimate making of its headlining artist, and the most potent distillation of his many and varied talents.
Watch a video: "All of the Lights"
What it could be as a game: This is the album that first had my mind wandering to what a game based on a record, just one record, just this record, could really be like. Given Kanye's propensity for the grandiose, it'd have to be something open world and endless, with "missions" based on the themes writhing within each track but no real need to complete them. Aesthetically I'm picturing something that combines the realism of Watch Dogs' Chicago – the city Yeezy was raised in – with the gothic horror of Bloodborne, perhaps with a real world/parallel dimension division as seen in Too Many Other Games And Movies To Mention. I see tendrils. I see grills. It'd be utterly fascinating, and most likely completely awful. You wouldn't play as Kanye, either – but everyone you met in the game would have his face. Standard.
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Thundercat – Apocalypse (2013)
What is it: What I was shaking my posterior to in public – on buses, trains, Tescos and parks – while you sheep were lapping up that dross that Daft Punk put out the other year. Disco, funk, electronica, soul, jazz: Thundercat, aka frequent Flying Lotus collaborator Stephen Bruner, blends disparate sounds on his second solo album in such a way that you're sure the results will be a meaningless mess – but it's actually a high-gloss mix of slickly sublime interstellar sonics, persistently flirtatious but way too fucking high to go all the way, so it just collapses into giggles and tears. I'm not sure what that means, to be honest. But I know this record is awesome.
Watch a video: "Oh Sheit, It's X!" (audio only)
What it could be as a game: Something from the Saints Row series with all the shitty bits sandblasted off and replaced with class-A hyperactivity and howl-worthy humour that keeps you grinning like a Smylex stiff from beginning to end – at which point you bawl like a baby over the end credits before voiding your bowls and trade the game in at CeX immediately. It's okay, they're used to the stink.
Deftones – White Pony (2000)
What is it: The Californian act's third album, awarded a 1/5 score in Select magazine on release, which may (or may not) have been the reason said publication closed shortly afterwards. A bold departure from the rap-rock dynamics that its makers had sailed through the nu-metal years with, White Pony smashed Decepticon vocals into tidal waves of distorted guitars and relentless percussion born of both skins and samples. IDK, it might be my favourite album ever (if you asked me right now, at least). Maybe. The version with "Mini Maggit" on it doesn't count and if that's the one you have, you're doing this all wrong.
Watch a video: "Change (In the House of Flies)"
What it could be as a game: What you know, shifted, mutated, into something entirely creepier than you ever thought it could be. Take Mario, his goombas, and black out the light, the colour, the cheer. Bowser is Chino and he's not falling for that old bridge-over-the-lava trick. You're already in the lava. You're under it. Everything's doomed before it's begun. The princess was never in any castle – she's been in the ground for weeks. Robots have taken over the sky. Mario's a blubbing ball of fat rolls and failed quests, lost in the shadows of a kingdom where the only mushrooms are clouds on the horizon, a physical foretelling of the end of days. Fucked it, but hell: doesn't it sound incredible?
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