The pitch for Brisbane-based dance-punk trio DZ Deathrays’ game is quite simple. Have you ever wanted to experience what it’s like to start a band with your mates? To work your way up from playing shows in your garage to getting pyrotechnics on a big stage, all from the comfort of your own home?
DZ Deathrays are answering those prayers with their new game, Dive Bar Superstars, which was developed by drummer Simon Ridley over the course of the COVID lockdowns. While initially planned for an October 29 release, the game hit iOS and Android devices on November 19 with plans to release it on Steam later in the year. The game is an ode to SNES side-scrollers and arcade machine games, with the goal of performing new and old songs to the masses, as well as collecting cash and hearts to upgrade the band members and equipment, all while unlocking new songs along the way. Angry audience members throwing shit at you? Simply slam them with the calming power of rock to make them love you. It’s a game where Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles meets Rock Band, with the discography of DZ Deathrays to accompany your adventure along the way.
I got the chance to have a chat with Simon to pick his brain about the process of developing Dive Bar Superstars, and the band’s personal and musical relationship with the gaming world.
Personally, when I first heard about the game coming out, I thought, “Oh, cool! What?”, because you don’t really see many bands going into the game development world. What inspired you guys to make this leap?
I think we’ve just always been big gamers. Growing up in that sort of period as well, like the ’90s and early 2000s, we were just playing a lot of awesome SNES games, which is kind of what the game is similar to. I feel like it was a natural progression – a way we could put out music or reacquaint fans with the old tracks and give them some new life.
It’s not the first time you guys have had your music in the gaming world, with tracks in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and NHL, but it is the first time you’ve had a direct game about the band and your music. How do you think the shift from side dish to main course has changed your perspective on your music’s relationship with games?
I don’t really know yet! Because it’s kinda just the first one, it’s like a giant experiment really on our part. It’s cool to be able to find a new platform and a new way to release music, like we’ve got some new songs that haven’t been released that are coming out through this game, so it’s a cool new way to figure out how we can better interact with our fans and hopefully get a few new ones as well that we might not have been able to come across.
And you developed it, right?
Yeah! It’s my first one, so go easy. It was a learning curve.
Of course! When did you start getting into game development?
A few years back, I just wanted to learn some new skills and you’ve got a lot of downtime in a van when you’re on tour, so it was cool to just try to keep learning stuff. I had started it a few months before COVID, but I’d only had the idea and maybe put a few hours into it, and when COVID hit I was like, “Ah, I should probably get more into this and finish this off,” considering we couldn’t play gigs anymore.
What was your thought process during development? Did you have any influences to go off?
Yeah, I guess there’s a bit of history there with SNES side-scrollers like that, but mainly it was just, like, YouTube people who were giving out tutorials and that sort of thing – that helped immensely with learning how all the mechanics work and how the code comes together.
And how did you ingrain DZ’s real-life evolution into the game?
I wanted to share our perspective on things, because sometimes it does feel like you’re in a game when you’re in a band. You’re always trying to level up to that little bit bigger venue, trying to get those new songs out there, and unfortunately that does cost money so that’s another thing in the game. Also being able to buy pyro and stuff like that is really funny when you’re in a band and you get your first pay check like, “Holy shit, we can afford pyro, let’s burn all our money literally.” Just a few things like that I wanted to include in it so people could have a behind-the-scenes perspective of what it’s like being in a band, but in a really over-simplified, pixelated way.
Did you face any challenges while developing the game?
I found how to ruin a game pretty much every single step of the way – it was not an easy part. I stumbled on everything. It sucked! But, y’know, that’s learning.
Do you think based on your experience, you’d be interested in making more stuff of the same ilk in the future?
Yeah! I’d like to keep programming and developing and that sort of thing. It does get easier once you learn what all those issues are. Every time you face a problem, you spend hours trawling through forums or trying to read documentation, like, “What am I not doing here?”, so then when you get past those steps, it gets a bit easier. So hopefully it continues to get a bit easier and we get to put out some more titles or maybe even just use it as a way to collab with other developers or things like that – things that we normally wouldn’t have been able to do just through putting out albums.
Speaking of collabs, do we see any other figures from the music scene in the game?
Not at this point, but I would love to go down that sort of route later on.
And finally, it’s come out on iOS and Android now, but we also know it’s going to have a Steam release eventually. Do we have a date on that one yet?
Hopefully in like a week or two, probably like two weeks more. I just want to make sure it’s not, y’know, shit.
DZ Deathrays first game, Dive Bar Superstars, is a fun little game for fans and newcomers alike, and is an impressive feat for a first-time developer. While I personally believe the game will definitely benefit from a Steam release, as the controls feel more natural on a keyboard or controller, the mobile game is an enjoyable way to whittle some time away and listen to some great tracks. The game is available via the iOS App Store.