When Def jam vendetta Dropped in 2003, Raphael Saadiq was just kidding when he expressed his disappointment at not getting into the hip hop fighting game. He had landed third of Tony hits in the late 80s and 90s! Toni! Toné !, produced for the who’s who of R&B, and just started showing the music industry what he can do as a solo artist.
EA released a few more over the next few years Def Jam Title, and Saadiq decided it was time to take matters into their own hands. In 2007, he and one of his favorite colleagues, Grammy-winning producer Charles “Chuck” Brungardt, founded IllFonic, an independent video game developer with a name inspired by the classic Nas album.
A decade later, the indie team had their first major breakthrough Friday the 13th: The game, an asymmetrical horror game starring the most popular serial killer wearing a hockey mask. A few years later they teamed up with the giants of Sony Interactive Entertainment to launch the release Predator: hunting grounds, another asymmetrical title that revolves around battles between human soldiers and the famous alien murder machines.
Now IllFonic have surprisingly released Arcadegeddon into Early Access, where avid gamers can try the first part of the cooperative multiplayer shooter in the world of a classic arcade game. Not only is it their most ambitious pursuit because it is self-published (meaning they have no one to share success or failure with), but also in terms of the potential scale and scope of the party-friendly game.
ROTATE met with Saadiq and Brungardt via Zoom to discuss their transition from music to video games as well as the launch of Arcadegeddon.
SPIN: Coming from the music world – where you both have a lot of experience – how big was the shift in video game development?
Karl Brungardt: For me timing became a big factor when I got into music. I graduated from college and said, “For the next 5 years I want to work on an album for a major label. In the next 10 years I want to work on an album that will go gold. In the next 15 years I want to be working on an album that goes platinum. ”And then I worked with some people who introduced me to Raphael and I think all three happened within a year, which was a bit surreal. Raphael was in music for a long time before I could really be a part of it, but by the time we got to the games I had at least a little bit of an ego, like, “Oh, this will be easy. We’re going to have a game out in a year or two, it’s going to be good, and we’re going to start this company. ”We were just wrong about that. It took 10 years until we had our first success Friday the 13th. It’s been a lot of hard fights, hard times and struggle for both of us. I would call Raphael and say, “Hey, this is it. The company will be done, ”and he would try to scrape everything together to keep the doors open and introduce me to people. I think we went in thinking it was easier than it was and it was a very humbling experience.
Raphael Saadiq: I didn’t really know if we were going to jump in and make a difference right away, but I followed Chuck’s lead and it’s really great for us to be in this position after these 10 or 11 humiliating years. He called me excitedly, and then he called me back later, sounding like a ton of bricks rocked him – but we kept recovering. Leaping into the gaming world gave us more input to be more creative, stimulate our minds, and meet different people who we thought were cooler and more honest. The gaming world was more familiar to him than I was, so he informed me about a lot of different things and drew me into that world, just as I had to drag him into the music world much more in some things that I did.
Speaking of which Friday the 13thhow was it to work with such absolutely massive IPs and Predator?
Brungardt: It always gave us a box to play with because both Friday the 13th and Predator were our love letters to these IPs. Both are IPs that were very important to us and that we respected. But there are always limits to creativity, and there were many limits to music. We had Harry Manfredini – who is super talented and who worked on Friday the 13th Movies – but Raphael and I couldn’t make exactly the music we wanted because we had to do what we thought was right for that IP. We couldn’t have picked another better, but the goal of the company when we started it was to make the music for the game itself.
Saadiq: I still work a lot in the music industry – and I try to get Chuck to come back every now and then because he’s really great at what he does – but with Illfonic we really created other opportunities, stimulated us and creative close. and it gave us an open door to call different people who don’t normally work on video games. When Chuck said, “This is the original guy that was working on [Friday the 13th]“We were able to make that call to find the person who was really great for the job. When Chuck and I started working together in music, no one thought I could make a record that sounded like Motown in the 60s, but Chuck walked into my studio and said, “Hey, I understand where you’re from. I know how we can do it. ”So if we grab these big brands like Friday the 13th and Predator, we’re grabbing these things from the past and bringing them into the future like we did on this album.
Brungardt: Working with an existing IP is almost like working with samples. We chased old sounds and styles from the past, and it’s like chasing ideas from the past and modernizing them in a way with these games. It’s like working with a very familiar sample or listening to old records and being inspired by them.
Now that you’ve managed to establish yourself in two different industries that are notoriously difficult to make a living in, what’s the difference between the business aspects of music and gaming?
Saadiq: One of the big differences between the gaming world and the music industry is that the gaming world figured out the price and how to pay the actual creator who makes the game as well as the publishers. The music industry still hasn’t figured out streaming payouts for the creators who actually produce the music, so you are making 0.1% of a penny with each stream – but no one really could count it so no one really understands the payouts. But in the gaming world, people pretty much understand how to make money.
Brungardt: If you look at things like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus, these subscription services are still relatively new to gaming, but I think the industry has done their implementation really well. People are happy to be on these subscription services, although this is a big part of the downfall of the music industry right now. I think it’s cool that the game industry is proactively addressing this and saying, “This is hard work so we make sure we take care of the people who make the games, who make our services successful.”
You recently started Arcadegeddon, Your own IP, self published and seems like the biggest project you have ever done. How did it feel to announce that and then immediately open it up for early access?
Brungardt: It is definitely stressful. I get nervous before every launch, but I got calmer the more we came out with bigger publishers like PlayStation. We knew they had always been doing what they did and that they had a great machine behind us. Now we’re building the machine from scratch and I think we did a really good job with it. But it’s nerve-wracking because things are going really well and could change the course of our company – because now that we are taking all the risk we will either be more rewarded or have a bigger failure. This is the first time since Friday the 13th where I feel like there is essentially no safety net in place.
So for me it’s a different yardstick. It’s challenging and nerve-wracking, but it’s also great because we had to make the game we wanted to make. I’m not saying our other partners are choking us creatively, but when there’s a lot of money at stake in larger companies, people watch everything and make sure everything goes as it should. So we’re really on the team, so we were able to create the music we wanted to make – which means we came full circle because that’s what we wanted 14 years ago when we started this company. Even if I am nervous, it is very uplifting and great that we have our own destiny in our hands.