How TesseracT Created Their Own VR Game: Interview with Singer Daniel Tompkins

TesseracT are known for creating some of the most interesting and forward thinking progressive metal since the early 2000s.

For the release of their new album, War of Being, the band decided to push the boundaries of their music into the world of VR games to create an interactive experience that offers a unique and subversive look into the story concept of their album.

With plans to expand their new VR game into an entire metaverse for fans to interact with the band, Game observer sat down with the game’s development team, including TesseracT singer Daniel Tompkins , to discuss everything you need to know about their new VR experience – War of Being.

War of Being: Official Steam Trailer

GAME OBSERVER: So first of all, how did the band come up with the idea of creating a game as a means of releasing a single? Was this part of the plan before the album was recorded, or an idea that came later on when you were considering marketing ideas?

DAN: It started even before the album was created really. I stream quite a lot on Twitch, and I got into VR around 2020 just before Covid. Adam (the games developer) reached out to me and saw that I was playing a lot of VR games, and I’d been talking to the (TesseracT) community saying “Wouldn’t it be amazing if TesseracT had its own metaverse for people to socialise in VR!”

I was really sold on the idea and could see how it’s developing. I mean, VR as a medium is still maturing and it is still unaffordable for a lot of users, so it isn’t as popular right now as I think it will be. But I thought, with a bit of forward thinking, wouldn’t it be incredible if a band like TesseracT could create something like that?

So Adam (game designer at DMTesseracT) basically reached out and said “should we create a replica of your studio in Unity?”, which we did, and then that idea kind of progressed into a homebase for TesseracT in VR. So we built a lounge area, a cinema, a bar area with games to play, and a merch area; but that kind of went on the back-burner when we started to write the album.

I really liked the idea of taking the characters we’d developed from the (album) concept, and creating some kind of visual interaction with them in a VR game. The initial idea was to create a room within our metaverse for each song so you could look at a character and listen to the song in a nice environment, and because I’d done a lot of singing streams in VR, I have to say that having that immersive environment and having people actually there in different, crazy avatars, it made me think “wow, this is actually something that nobody has tapped into at the minute”, and I felt like there was an angle there. From there it went from the idea of creating a room for each character, for each song, to creating a full game instead

GAME OBSERVER: So it sounds like this is your guys’ way of getting a foot in the door with VR technology and creating a foundation for future use with the band.

DAN: Yeah! And I know that there are a lot of gamers in the progressive following we have and in metal in general. I think one of the best examples of that is seeing the reaction from DOOM (2016) and the soundtrack made by Mick Gordon. You can see just how passionate people are about it, and I can see the crossover potential for it. There are definitely other bands that have dabbled in it before, with lots of different projects that have created musical games like Hellsinger (2022) – even going back to the 80s like when they made Moonwalker with Michael Jackson.

Even with those projects, I couldn’t find any examples of bands creating a full-blown VR game.

GAME OBSERVER: Obviously this game is in early access right now. I’ve seen you mention in comments on steam, and you mentioned earlier, that the game will continue development over the next year, with more songs from your new album being added at a later date. But once the development of this version is finished, do you think you might continue to use the game as a platform for future album or single releases? Maybe with new levels, DLC, etc;

DAN:  It might be too early to say right now, but never say never! I do think there will be a lot of opportunities that rise from this, and as soon as we’ve finished this one I would love to establish the TesseracT metaverse idea, because I feel like that’s quite a unique thing to do from a band perspective.

I really appreciate a grassroots following, and TesseracT have a very loyal fanbase, so if you can do something unique like this to get everyone together and excited about a new idea, I think the element of cross-promotion is massive for a band.

GAME OBSERVER: I think this is a very interesting and accessible method for bands to associate themselves with video games. Obviously during the pandemic we had major label artists such as Travis Scott and Ariana Grande providing performances on Fortnite, but they are in the very upper echelons of musical entertainment, and Fortnite itself is one of the biggest games ever made. Do you think the route that TesseracT have taken with this release is realistically something we could see more bands and artists take who aren’t in the pop music genre?

DAN: I had this conversation with someone the other day. Unless you’re a major label artist with proper financial backing to make this work, and the backing of a proper development team, I think you would need to be willing to put in the work to learn these systems yourself and work with others/find really committed people to put a team together. I don’t think it’s going to be realistic for a lot of artists, because those are your two options, you can either do it yourself on a DIY level, or you involve a development team. I’m not sure many artists would be able to go into their recording budget to actually create a game like this on the side.

I’m quite lucky because Adam and Kirsty (development team) have been legendary. They’ve dropped everything to make this work, and if it wasn’t for them, this genuinely would not have been a thing. It’s all credit to them. 

GAME OBSERVER: That’s awesome. So from a developer’s standpoint, what have you guys worked on before? Or is this your first foray into video games?

ADAM: It’s our first game on the market. We’ve never released anything before, and it probably took the three of us to actually make something because I can code everything, but I can’t make it look pretty. And it has worked between the three of us because I would never have been able to release anything on my own.

DAN: Kirsty primarily did all the 3D design elements of the game, and she has helped me to build the landscapes and make it look really pretty – it’s really well designed. Adam is literally the gatekeeper, he is the omniscient being that makes things happen for us.

GAME OBSERVER: So it was very much a collaborative effort between yourselves and the band to get this product on the market?

ADAM: Dan knows how to get shit done!

GAME OBSERVER: There’s a lot of interesting environmental sound design throughout the game, and of course the core gameplay loop consists of players discovering stems for the new single to assemble as a full song at the end of the game – but were any sounds recorded specifically for the game?

DAN: Yeah, there’s a separate soundtrack that’s just for the game. There’s one song you can currently hear in the quiet level that’s a body of music that I just made myself and added vocals to it, because I felt like it needed a bit of an added immersive element. Putting some extra vocals on a new soundtrack that isn’t part of the album is like a bit of an extra easter egg.

I’ve been working with Paul Ortiz from Chimp Spanner for a long time in my solo adventures, we have a project called Zeta together, and he is one of the most talented guys I’ve ever known – the things he can do with a guitar and keyboard are just mind blowing! So he’s actually designed some of the soundtrack pieces already, and when we move into the bigger full game I would like to get him involved again, as well as Acle (Kahney, TesseracT guitarist) and I will probably keep making stuff as well. We do want to create a really nice in-game soundtrack that we may release alongside the full game as well.

GAME OBSERVER: Did you record the game sounds using the same effects or sounds you use in the Tesseract’s music, or did you experiment with new sounds? Did this platform inspire you to think about writing in a different way?

DAN: We had to make sure that what we created for the soundtrack had a similar tone and feel to the main music of TesseracT, but we have created a fantasy/sci-fi game, so it gave us a bit of license to tap into those elements with synths and drones, which are kind of a natural thing with those types of games.

There is lots of piano and clean guitar, which is similar to the approach that TesseracT take when writing music, but this is why I want to get Acle involved as well, because he’s the main songwriter for the band. His guitar work is beautiful, and I’m hoping to bring him into the musical side of it as well.

GAME OBSERVER: Were there any games in particular that inspired the gameplay and atmosphere for War of Being?

DAN: Me and Kirsty had a couple of similar suggestions for gameplay. Kirtsy was referencing Bioshock at one point.

KIRSTY: Bioshock, Silent Hill, quite atmospheric sort of games. We drew inspiration from lots of places.

Artwork for TesseracT’s new album.

GAME OBSERVER: Do games in general ever come up as inspiration during the band’s writing process.

DAN: Well, I’ve been a gamer ever since I was a kid, and I’ve immersed myself in games like Silent Hill, the whole Resident Evil series, and even First Person Shooters like DOOM, which is one of my favourite games. So you listen to these beautiful, atmospheric bodies of music which are accompanied by fantastic visuals, and you see the graphics getting better and better every year, and it really does inspire me in many ways.

I’d say I find a lot of inspiration from movies and gaming, because you’re visually stimulated, which can spark all sorts of emotions and ideas. 

GAME OBSERVER: Yeah absolutely. And I think with the kind of music that TesseracT makes, you can see that sci-fi and fantasy concepts bleed into the music that you create.

DAN: I can give you an example of one particular reference that influenced us – the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The bit where Gene Wilder is in the boat singing “There’s no way of knowing, which direction we are going” and it goes all crazy and messed up! Well, in the song ‘Beneath My Skin’ (from the album Sonder, 2018), the intro was inspired by that moment, and you can hear tones of it in the guitar.

GAME OBSERVER: So what was the overall message you were trying to get across in this game? I assume the lyrics of the album formed the basis of your story, but for those uninitiated with TesseracT and their themes, what would you say is the underlying story or message of the game?

KIRSTY: I interpret it as bringing out your true-self and not being afraid of who you are, not hiding between the lines.

DAN: There’s gonna be a lot of people taking their own twist on it, but in terms of the story of the album: it initially revolves around two people who experience a tragedy in life, and find themselves hurtled into this wasteland. It’s a place where time is non-linear, and these two people are lost in the fabric of the world, and you constantly hear echoes of them calling out to one another, but actually parts of themselves manifest into different characters – which are all different sub-characters in the plot who are part of the two main characters, Ex and El.

So one of the characters, Ex, a part of him splinters out and reveals itself as a small child who is representative of fate, and then you also have fear who is a big part of his story. El is the scribe, who is this mysterious being who can rewrite the past, and she is constantly trying to interfere with everybody’s destiny to try and find power and resolution.

The ultimate metaphor in the game is that it is based around two characters, Knowledge and Fear, the idea being that in order to beat the game you have to tear the mask away from Fear and defeat him so that you may unlock Knowledge. And I think that is a metaphor for people not accepting truths, life truths, and being open to wisdom and knowledge. Often that is masked by fear in many different platforms in life, and I feel that by overcoming fear you unlock knowledge. I’d say that is the basic premise of the game.

GAME OBSERVER: That’s a very well-considered answer! Is that also the story of the music video for War of Being, where you have these two samurai characters battling throughout most of it. Are they both the characters of Knowledge and Fear?

DAN: They’re actually a part of Fear, and they’re known as Fear’s Legion. Within the world there’s this element of what we called ‘Dark Water’, which is the manifestation of raw energy and thought. Fear’s Legion are created from these waters.

The scribe has the power to interfere with their destiny, so she causes them to go through this cyclical battle that never ends. The more they spawn, the more they continue to fight each other, and the scribe is practising her craft on them.  

GAME OBSERVER: What is the overall goal of the TesseracT multiverse?

ADAM: Originally this was just TesseracT’s version of VR chat, but a bit less cooky and troll-ish. I’d like to keep it as that – a digital space in which everybody who likes TesseracT can get together in a safe space, and the band can pop in-and-out whenever they want so people can chat to them. 

DAN: I think it will be a really cool thing that actually establishes itself as it progresses. Initially the idea was to have separate themed rooms where you could go and listen to a particular album, with elements that you could interact with. It’s great – if one of my favourite bands had this kind of platform where I could interact with them, then I would use it. 

Have you ever been in a cinema room in VR? It’s amazing! In reality you’re just sat in your room with a headset on, but you can look around these cinema rooms and feel like you’re there. So imagine, as a band, you were to do a VR exclusive release of a music video within this metaverse, there’s just so much you could do with it. At the moment it is just a seed of an idea, but I guarantee it will grow into something much bigger.

GAME OBSERVER: As a closer for this interview then, if you could suggest 1 game that has influenced you most, something that you would suggest all gamers play, what would that be?

DAN: I think Adam would back me up on this, but it would be Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017). 

GAME OBSERVER: That’s a great answer! Finally then, is there anything you would like to say to fans of the band, or potential players of War of Being?

DAN: My parting comment is that I’m first and foremost a singer, but I’m also a gamer. For the past year we have been developing this game in Unreal Engine 5 and, for me, this has been a mind-blowing experience. I would like to do more, but I hope people bear in mind that this game is still in Early Access, made by 3 developers – one of which had no development experience prior to this. If people can enjoy it for what it is right now that’s great, but is going to be developed into a much bigger concept game, so expect bigger and better things.

GAME OBSERVER: That’s great. Thanks to all of you for joining in on this interview and letting the fans know what to expect from War of Being in the future.

War of Being is out now in Early Access on Steam, and has so far received ‘very positive’ reviews across the board. 

TesseracT’s new album, also called War of Being, will be released on 15th of September 2023, check out their official store for pre-orders.

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