Interview: Games and Metal meet in surprise hit Hellsinger
We sat down with David Goldfarb and Trivium’s Matt Heafy to chat about the intersection between video games and metal music
Metal: Hellsinger is one of those rare games that can be summed up in a single sentence: it’s Doom meets Guitar Hero.
Before watching a single frame of the game, or picking up a controller, you know exactly what you’re in for. You’re decimating demons while trying to keep the beat of a song that would sound at home blasting from the doors of The Cathouse.
With such a compelling concept, it’s also a game that sticks out in trailer compilations incredibly well, and following its coming out party over the summer of 2022, and a subsequent demo, Metal: Hellsinger has gained some serious momentum.
Even with the limited demo, the ability to play against your friends for the highest score online almost instantly set Twitter ablaze with screenshots of ridiculous scores, only for someone to @ them an hour later, having shredded that record to dust.
So we sat down with David Goldfarb, the game’s director who previously served at Dice working on Battlefield and worked on the PayDay series, to chat about his influences, why the game has stuck such a chord, and his pick for a dream vocalist to appear in the game.
We also got a chance to chat with Trivium frontman Matt Heafy about his involvement in the game, and the intersection between games and metal culture.
Metal: Hellsinger - Serj Tankien trailer
When did the idea for Metal: Hellsinger first come about?
David Goldfarb: Right around the time of Doom 2016’s release, I was playing the game and listening to Meshuggah. For whatever reason, it happened that I was sort of trying to match my playing to the beat of the song, and when I did, it felt good. I mentioned it to a friend and said something vague like it would be cool to be a demon fighting your way out of Hell doing this, and promptly forgot about it.
A few years later, when we were post-Darkborn cancellation and struggling for life, Funcom was still interested in working with us and asked if there was something else I wanted to make, so I remembered this concept and mentioned it to them… the rest, improbably, is history.
What is it about a shooter than makes the genre fit so well with a rhythm game?
DG: Shooters have a sort of internal rhythm when you are in flow which is informal and dictated by enemies, reloads, the native cadences of movement and firing. Playing a shooter is basically creating your own rhythm. A rhythm game is typically not about creating your rhythm but about following a prescribed one in degrees of more or less complexity.
So the two things are actually somewhat opposed, but there is a venn diagram of creation vs following that seemed like the sweet spot for us, and that’s what we tried to make.
Do you feel like the games you played when you were younger influenced the type of music you eventually made?
Matt Heafy: 100%. Final Fantasy two and three, which actually were four and six, as you know, were a huge, huge inspiration in my life for the themes, the stories, the storytelling, and the music. I remember playing the first Doom when I was like 10 or 11. And just going, “I want to make music like this when I’m older.”
Do you think this type of game could only work in the metal genre?
DG: Absolutely not. It really depends on what your goals are. Metal felt good to me, was what I wanted to make, but there are games already in development that have other genres, and they seem cool too! It’s really about how and what you want the experience to be when it comes to genre.
What do think about the intersection of metal culture and gaming culture?
DG: It certainly seems that there is quite a bit of crossover. And even things like the Stranger Things Master of Puppets moment blowing up feel like a nod to many people being secret metal fans, which is awesome and affirming.
MH: The fans are just as passionate. I’ve always felt that metal and games attract the same sort of person, the underdog that’s looking for something else, looking for something more than what they just see out there. Whether it’s for a disconnect or outlet or just a breather or whatever it is in life, I think people look to video games look for that.
Achieving that flow state that flow mind where the competition is not too hard or too easy, where I can just exist and I lose all sense of time, all sense of everything.
Matt, as someone who’s been releasing music for over two decades, what was it about Metal: Hellsinger that drew you to the project?
MH: When they told me what the game was, it sounded completely intriguing and amazing. After signing the initial NDA that I was able to hear the music, I was like, yes, yes, this is exactly correct. Because I’ve always felt that in video games, metal is the only thing that really makes sense with it.
“I’ve always felt that metal and games attract the same sort of person, the underdog that’s looking for something else, looking for something more than what they just see out there.”
Because first-person shooters are metal. It’s not anything else. It’s not country. It’s not EDM, it’s definitely metal. And it should be metal. So I’m very happy to see a game and a game developer that has that exact same ethos that I feel that I have with it.
What was the team’s reaction to how well the demo has been received?
DG: Shock, happiness, anxiety. We are all thrilled people seem to enjoy it so much, but of course, it’s terrifying as well because you hope the full game will be received with the same open heart and love, and then you second guess yourself if you did everything you could, all that sort of thing.
But it’s been wonderful to see people having such a good time and especially people who are like, “I have no rhythm I don’t think I will like this” who in the first 3 minutes are won over and by the end of the demo are smashing wishlist and raving. Love it.
What was the process of contacting the artists that appear in the game?
DG: It’s all over the place, but it all started with Mikael Stanne, singer of Dark Tranquillity, Halo Effect, and In Flames originally, who we knew through our music team’s mother, if I remember right. Or she made an introduction. And that got one ball rolling, and he knew some other people in the scene, and so on.
Two Feathers (the musicians and composers of all of the music and sound in the game) reached out to different artists based on different contacts we had and as we signed more artists it became easier to sign more artists.
And finally, if you could pick any artist, living or dead, to be included in the game, who would it be?
DG: Probably Dio. Or Lemmy. Sigh. And even though he’s not specifically metal Chris Cornell would have been the third pick. But yeah, Ronnie James most likely. Maybe Lemmy and him doing some kind of crazy duet. One can always dream.