Bringing Heavy Metal Lore to Life With Brütal Legend
When it comes to weird games, plenty exist out there, but few quirky titles contain as much blood, vibrant metal-inspired imagery or as heavy a licensed soundtrack as that of the one and only Brütal Legend. This amazing title was Tim Schafer’s ode to the metal gods, bringing an all-star cast of both actors and musical talent into a world of monsters, mayhem and sweet shredding jams. Brütal Legend was an under-appreciated gem like many of Tim Schafer and Double-Fine’s creations and it was on this day in 2009 that we entered the world of Eddie Riggs, professional roadie and legendary hero.
Tim Schafer got the idea for Brütal Legend as early as 1990. While working on The Secret of Monkey Island for Lucasfilm, Tim Schafer pondered a game that would have been the complete opposite of Monkey Island’s upbeat and wholesome tone. Schafer happened to be enamored with the cover art and lyrics of metal bands. He decided that for his next project, he wanted to create a world in which all of that art and creativity was alive. After Psychonauts was finished in 2005, Schafer pitched the idea to his team at Double-Fine and they were thrilled with it.
In Brütal Legend, players take on the role of a roadie named Eddie Riggs. Eddie is underappreciated by the band he works for. When one of them climbs on the set he built, it breaks and Eddie saves him, getting crushed in the process. Eddie’s blood causes a giant metal monster to come to life, violently kill the band, and transport Eddie to a new world where demons and humans fight and heavy metal music has magical powers. Eddie quickly gets in line with the humans and gets to work on trying to save them via an axe he finds, his guitar Clementine, and a custom built hot rod.
The decision to make Eddie a roadie was inspired by a real life meeting Tim Schafer had with a roadie who worked for Megadeth. Eddie Riggs’ looks and personality would be somewhat based upon a creative interpretation of the roadie Schafer met. He also credits the 2003 film School of Rock as having galvanized him to pursue the idea and finish the game. Schafer had trouble pitching Brütal Legend in the early running because many publishers wanted him to change the vibe to other more "popular" genres like hip-hop or pop. Schafer claims it was the success of Guitar Hero that would make old school metal more popular and allow him to find a publisher interested in Brütal Legend’s metal aesthetic.
Brütal Legend is well-known for its diverse musical and theatrical cast, but it was not originally such a celebrity-studded project. The team first met with Jack Black because they had found that he was an avid fan of Psychonauts, as well as heavy metal. Bringing him aboard as Eddie Riggs led to a domino effect of other musical talents that were interested. Lita Ford, Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmeister, and Ozzy Osbourne would follow in Black’s wake to take up character roles in Brütal Legend. Ronnie James Dio was also aboard at one point to play the role of the game’s antagonist, Doviculus. However, due to a strained relationship with Dio during development and due to the fact that Doviculus turned out to be a character much like the Lord of Darkness in the film Legend, Double-Fine opted to replace Dio with the voice talents of Tim Curry, who had portrayed the Legend antagonist.
Brütal Legend would be critically praised for the strength of its story, the impactful performances of its actors and the rich world they inhabit. The brutal action melee of the game combined with the rich soundtrack featuring over seventy-five bands made it intense experience, although later segments and multiplayer contained strategy elements that many felt were somewhat weak in comparison to everything else the game offered. Nonetheless, the single-player experience of Brütal Legend was mostly considered to be a well-crafted nod to heavy metal, quite unlike any other. Brütal Legend wasn’t perfect, but it was most definitely face-meltingly unique.