So you’re an established, independent developer launching your newest IP onto console for the first time. The market is congested with games, yours isn’t a big brand, so standing out is going to be tough. But you’ve got a card up your sleeve, and it’s the Ace of Spades, because you’ve got Motörhead onboard.
That’s the situation that Tropico-developer Haemimont Games finds itself in with the release of Victor Vran: Overkill Edition. While there’s no overt branding in the title, the original PC game now comes loaded with extensive extra content: Motörhead: Through the Ages.
It’s an unusual situation - a hugely recognised brand being matched with a relatively unknown game for what is effectively a DLC pack. But then there’s little that’s conventional about Motörhead and this tale of how Haemimont nailed a licensing deal with one of rock’s most popular and enduring acts.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, for this, as Haemimont CEO Gabriel Dobrev admits, is actually Victor Vran’s third release. Entirely self-funded, the action RPG first saw life on Steam Early Access, where it initially sold 10,000 copies. That’s respectable, but it wasn’t going to keep Haemimont’s considerable 50-person team in Gyuvech - a popular Bulgarian stew - for long.
The accepted-logic on Steam is that you only get to launch a game once, but Haemimont decided to double-down on Victor Vran, engage the community, give them with what they asked for, and lay out a comprehensive roadmap of new features. They launched the full retail version, and it turned out Victor Vran did have legs. Half-a-million copies later, with a 90 per cent approval rating on Steam, it’s certainly proved itself.
I knew it was going to work and Motörhead fits brilliantly to Victor Vran and what he does.
Achim Heidelauf, Heathrun and Haemimont
This brings us to today and the tricky question of how to best bring a respected Steam release to console. The name doesn’t do the game much favours, admittedly, giving consumers little idea about what the game entails, and the studio’s reputation is centred around Tropico, an unknown brand to most console gamers.
CUTTING THE DEAL
The basis of the conversion is simple enough - bring the game to PS4 and Xbox One with two considerable expansions – which are also available for the PC version. The first of these, Fractured Worlds, provides procedurally-generated infinite content. But it’s Motörhead: Through the Ages that should really help the title get recognition on console.
Based on 40 years of Motörhead, with gameplay revolving around a pub at the end of time, the expansion contains characters and enemies based on artwork from the band’s album covers and other sources. There are also 13 classic tracks from the band, plus some previously unheard instrumentals.
The deal all came about through Haemimont working with Achim Heidelauf, an industry veteran and freelance consultant at Heathrun. Heidelauf had once worked on a PC game for Troma, the legendary low-budget film producer, back in 2002.
Motörhead’s Lemmy has appeared in numerous Troma films over the years and was friends with both Heidelauf and Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman - who provides the voice of the expansion’s publican.
We ask Heidelauf how the idea of working with Motörhead started: “Years ago the team discussed the soundtrack of the game. We had a few tracks and we played around with them. But we thought, ‘Let’s try and put some real music into the game’,” he begins.
Lloyd Kaufman (Troma), Achim Heidelauf (Heathrun) and Phil Campbell (Motörhead)
“The original music wasn’t anything like Motörhead, but I played the game with metal stuff on speakers, so we thought, ‘Let’s try that.’ We had a connection to the band already, so I talked to the management in 2014. We talked about licensing just two or three songs initially, which would fit well into the game. There was no Motörhead: Through the Ages at that point, it was more experimental, perhaps [we’d] do something, perhaps not.
“We talked to them a lot, and the more we talked, the more they wanted to know more about the game, and we explained it and we all came to the conclusion: ‘Why not do a Motörhead game and why not do it connected to Victor Vran and his universe?’”
We wonder whether Haemimont ever thought about making an entirely separate game using the same engine, perhaps a full Motörhead game starring Lemmy himself?
“We can’t say no,” says Heidelauf. “You go through all these options, but when we talked to the band and especially Lemmy, who was a crazy gamer, we said very early on that we didn’t think it was a good idea to do something like you play him.” Obviously Lemmy’s death at the end of 2015 firmly closed that particular door. “From our point of view only Lemmy can play Lemmy. He’s an icon, it’s just not right. He might have been open to it, but all of us felt let’s go another way.
“People said they thought we were mad, but I knew it was going to work and it fits brilliantly to Victor Vran and what he does. Victor is pretty much rock and roll and now we give him the proper weapons,” says Heidelauf, speaking of Victor’s ability to equip a sorcerous guitar, let rip with magical power chords and even streak across the level on his knees, soloing to spectacular, incendiary effect.
The title is being published by the UK-based Wired Productions, so we also caught up with managing director Leo Zullo. He explains that when it comes to a band such as Motörhead, licensing is never straightforward:
“When it comes to licensing there’s never only one deal. There’s one group of people who own the IP, [and] the music people may be separate. Within that, there are the master rights [the recording] and the publishing rights [the composition].”
Leo Zullo from Wired Productions
It’s not a straightforward developer-publisher deal, either: “Wired is the co-publisher, Haemimont self-published and self-financed on Steam and had some help on the PC side from a German outfit, but the rest is self-published.
“I’ve known these guys for 15 years, so we came in as a co-publisher, they’ve done a tremendous job of getting it to where it is today but they just needed some console help, some marketing help, some retail help, and that’s where we come in.
We wanted to make sure it’s Victor plus Motörhead, not Motörhead plus Victor. It’s still his game but playing in their world.
Leo Zullo, Wired Productions
“We’re publishing both physical and digital versions, but they’ve done 80 per cent of the job. We’re doing the marketing and PR, and the nice stuff like organising events,” he says gesturing around a very well-kept crypt under St. Andrews Church in Holborn, replete with a stocked bar of Jack Daniels and Motörhead’s licensed pale ale. Guitarist Phil Campbell has also arrived to support the event and is currently being interviewed by MTV.
The band have hardly been shy to put their name to things over recent years. Motörhead headphones were a logical step, and beer seems to fit right in, too, but you can get the logo on some bizarre stuff these days, including sex toys. Thankfully, the game feels perfectly in step with the band and its impressive catalogue.
We ask if Motörhead’s involvement brings confidence in terms of additional exposure, suggesting it brings a fresh angle to a game that has, by its own creators admittance, been around. Zullo agrees, saying: “As an IP, it’s brilliant. They were still touring right up to Lemmy’s death, and were very active still. Victor has different outfits in the original game, with different powers, so having the new Motörhead outfits fits right in.”
All the key platforms are covered now with this release, but how about Switch? “We’re talking about a Switch version, everyone in our office has pre-ordered and there’s far more interest in that than the Wii U, but we haven’t come to a conclusion yet.”
The title looks a good fit to us. It’s got complexity, but it’s easy to put down and pick back up without losing track of what you were up to.
Zullo is pleased with how the IPs match up, too. Victor Vran has seen success in the same regions that Motörhead has sold best in, namely the UK, the Nordics, Germany and the US, of course. He admits there was a temptation to centre on the band, saying: “It was too easy to start talking about Motörhead, and there’s a great game here before you even get to that.
“There’s a mention on the box, but it’s tastefully done. We wanted to make sure it’s Victor plus Motörhead, not Motörhead plus Victor. It’s still his game but playing in their world.”