Why Iron Maiden is returning to video games

Why Iron Maiden is returning to video games
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

January 18th 2016 at 12:52PM

Develop finds out more about the metal band's upcoming mobile RPG

Today, Roadhouse Interactive announced it is developing an Iron Maiden RPG with the help of the iconic band's management.

Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast will be released for iOS and Android this summer and puts players in the role of band mascot Eddie in a fantasy RPG inspired by the band's work and album covers.

We spoke to Roadhouse CEO James Hursthouse and Phantom Music's creative director and Iron Maiden's video director Llexi Leon about the upcoming game.

How did this partnership come about? Who approached who?
Llexi Leon: We had a call from Gavin Shackell at 50cc Games, who’d worked with Rod Smallwood and Bruce Dickinson some years back on a couple of Bruce's solo projects and then again later during his time at EMI Records, he had since moved away from the music biz into the games sector.

As a music industry veteran he had a better understanding of what the band was all about than most, but upon sharing our expectations for an Iron Maiden game, he suggested coming back with some extra muscle. Gavin brought in Roadhouse as a top tier mobile developer to collaborate with on a proposal and the resulting document served as proof to us that the team understood what we were looking to achieve.

Upon my talking with James Hursthouse directly, it became clear that he was a passionate and knowledgeable fan of Iron Maiden with an extremely talented team at Roadhouse that were going to do this thing justice. 

Why is Phantom Music Management interested in this? Why enter the games sector?
Leon: There’s been a desire to revisit video games ever since we put out Ed Hunter in 1999, an on-rails shooter that was included on a third disc as part of a double CD greatest hits. It’s a project that was perhaps overly ambitious given the technical limitations of that era but in many ways wildly prescient. The idea of creating a video game application to accompany an album or promote a tour is commonplace now, but was unprecedented back then.

We’ve been putting out web games and flash games for many years and have long since wanted to return to video games in full force to really do the band and Eddie justice. Gaming hardware has been at a level where we can bring Eddie and the worlds of Iron Maiden to life for a while now, but it’s also been a case of finding the right partner, doing it for the right reasons, and knowing that it’ll be something all our fans can enjoy. 

How involved will anyone from Iron Maiden be in the game’s development? How will you ensure the promised level of authenticity?
Leon: There’s a number of elements that had to come together in order for the game to really be representative of Iron Maiden’s output. These could be summed up broadly as the music, the lyrics, the imagery, and capturing the spirit of Eddie and his place in the universe.

Bassist and band founder Steve Harris selected archived live recordings to be included in the game, which were then remixed for the game under his guidance by Iron Maiden’s live sound engineer Tony Newton. Tony and Steve worked in conjunction with Roadhouse’s sound designers to overcome a great many technical challenges and ensure that the game could be set to music from the band’s entire catalogue. Maiden’s longtime manager Rod Smallwood and I worked closely with Roadhouse to craft a narrative that all the band members could get behind, weaving in plenty of lyrical lore along the way.

There’s been a desire to revisit video games ever since we put out Ed Hunter in 1999. We’ve been putting out web games and flash games for many years and have long since wanted to return to video games in full force to really do the band and Eddie justice.

 

Llexi Leon, Phantom Music Management

We were able to draw directly from the Iron Maiden archives for art inspiration, looking back over decades of incredible imagery – there’s so much of it recreated in the game it’s going to be like one giant easter egg for fans and an incredible port of discovery for newcomers. Of course we’ve got all the usual suspects from the album covers – but keep an eye out for costumes and characters from vintage tour shirts, event posters, and so on.

Bringing Eddie to life in his many forms and giving him a purpose in the world has been particularly rewarding for me, and something we’ve received regular feedback on during development. Giving players the opportunity to take Eddie on an epic journey across a series of fractured worlds is just awesome, but what I hope will really blow people away is the diversity of abilities and appearances on offer. There’s a whole lot of Eddie in this game. 

How are you going to make this accessible as a game, as well as a licensed Iron Maiden product?
Leon:
There’s an incredibly rich mythology to Iron Maiden’s imagery – both lyrical and visual – that has not been explored fully to date and is ripe for creating an epic adventure for gamers everywhere.

We’re building a cohesive universe from these incredible worlds filled with unique original characters but by staying true to what Iron Maiden and Eddie are all about, we’ve been able to innovate and build some very cool features which set this game apart. This is going to be a fantastic title whether you’re a long-term fan or a casual gamer – it’s a real stand-out property that brings something fresh to the genres.

James Hursthouse: This has been a key priority for the project from day one. I think the answer centers around having the right balance of game development expertise in areas such as onboarding and storytelling, and an understanding of what Maiden represents. I also think we have been fortunate that Phantom and Maiden themselves are keen to have this be a great game first and foremost, rather than just a great Iron Maiden game.

How familiar is the Roadhouse team with Iron Maiden’s work? How many fans on the team, and how are the non-fans getting on with the project?
Hursthouse:
Personally speaking, Maiden has been a part of my life since 1982 and it’s safe to say I am a lifelong fan. I’ve seen the band over twenty times and was lucky enough to be on a Bruce Air fanclub trip back in 2008.

Across the team there are other Maiden and metal fans, but we also have some very talented team members who are coming to the band for the first time. I think that’s a great thing, as it means that we are not typically making something that can only be appreciated by a hardcore fan, while retaining the references and elements that will appeal to you if you are.

Across the board, everyone recognizes the integrity and artistry that is at the heart of Iron Maiden’s music and approach to everything they do, and the whole team is thrilled to have a hand in extending the legacy into mobile gaming.

Maiden has given us a huge amount of freedom to explore ideas within the Maiden universe. We have not really encountered anything that I would describe as restrictive.

James Hursthouse, Roadhouse Interactive

What are the limitations of working with the Iron Maiden licence/characters/music? How will you overcome these?
Hursthouse: As Llexi noted above, we had to figure out how to overcome some technical challenges in terms of ensuring that Steve Harris was happy that the music would sound how it needed to despite things like device memory restrictions. But that’s a great example of how when faced with potential obstacles, the whole combined team has pitched in and figured out great solutions together.

Maiden has given us a huge amount of freedom to explore ideas within the Maiden universe and so we have not really encountered anything that I would describe as restrictive. In terms of ongoing approvals and reviews, Llexi and the whole team at Phantom have been great to work with. While Maiden is typically known for their faster, more bombastic music, there is a lot of light and shade across the catalogue and so we haven’t found the soundtrack to be a problem. A number of RPG and other games have metal-inspired soundtracks – we just happen to have the inspiration itself.

What opportunities does this present that wouldn’t be available on a standard RPG project? 
Hursthouse: In terms of the game itself, we have forty years of great stories and characters to draw from alongside a really powerful soundtrack as a backdrop to the action. Eddie has already appeared in hundreds of guises and there is a depth to this IP and Eddie as a character that has been great to work with. Also, given Maiden’s ongoing references to time, eternity, deja-vu, and dreams, the opportunity to play with time within the game design has led to some interesting outcomes.

On the distribution side, the huge fanbase is obviously a blessing but also has a couple of challenges. The in-built awareness of what we are doing means that we are confident that lots of people are going to download the game and try it. But we also want to be able to conduct the proper testing and an appropriate roll out plan that quality mobile games require. One of the reasons we are announcing quite a long way prior to the wide launch of the game is so we can start an ongoing dialogue with the fans to ensure they know what’s going on, because we know that anticipation for the game will be really high. 

We have forty years of great stories and characters to draw from alongside a really powerful soundtrack as a backdrop to the action – and Eddie is a character that has been great to work with.

James Hursthouse, Roadhouse Interactive

Why make this for mobile rather than other platforms? 
Leon: Given that this is our first video game release since 1999, we didn’t want to restrict it to players with high-end gaming PCs or dedicated console hardware. Iron Maiden’s fan base is a truly global and highly varied demographic and going mobile allows us to bring a localised gaming experience to fans all over the world. We have millions of fans in Brazil, for example, and that's an area where standalone game devices are very expensive items. Essentially this comes down to trying to do something that as many fans as possible will be able to enjoy, with a low barrier to entry regardless of location – if you’ve got an Android or iOS smartphone, you’ll be able to play this game, and that’s something we’re very excited about.

How will you address the limitations of mobile platforms (graphical limitations, touch-only controls, no buttons, etc)?
Hursthouse: I think that mobile hardware is absolutely capable of providing players with a rich, immersive experience that is befitting of Iron Maiden. As Llexi mentions above, we want to put the game into as many players' hands as possible.

The choices that the team has made with regards to the user interface and controls are the result of a lot of analysis of what works best on mobile, as well as being cognisant of the fact that Maiden has a broad demographic of players. When we first started talking with the band, they made it clear that this game shouldn’t be a ‘button masher’ and retain some of the intelligence that exists in Maiden lyrics and music.

I’d like to say that the opportunity to work on this project has been amazing and that we feel very honoured to have been able to contribute to expanding and extending Maiden’s legacy into new areas. We are looking forward to sharing what we have been up to with everyone over the coming months. 

Head to www.ironmaidenlegacy.com is the place to go for ongoing updates and news, and to sign up to become part of the legacy. I’d also like to add a hearty, ‘Up the Irons!’