Following in the footsteps of the Beatles, Aerosmith and Metallica, the Grateful Dead is the next iconic band getting its own video game, featuring the act’s music and signature imagery and lore. An online game with supporting mobile phone companion, the title is being created in partnership with Curious Sense, the developer behind REO Speedwagon’s (yes, REO Speedwagon’s) casual hidden-object game Find Your Own Way Home.
Featuring all band members’ names and likenesses, as well as audio recordings, artwork, photography and video culled from the psychedelic pioneers’ fabled Vault, the outing will be playable from multiple platforms and devices. Accessible via the band’s official website (www.Dead.net), Facebook and online game portals, it will feature a range of games and activities that draw upon popular characters, settings and motifs from the Grateful Dead canon. A custom website will also be designed specifically for the game itself, designed to house the title and its community for the 3 ½ years Curious Sense’s exclusive license lasts. A scaled-down mobile version featuring similar content will also allow players to access specific features of the game from smartphone handsets.
"Grateful Dead has always looked for inventive ways to embrace new technology," says David Lemieux, legacy manager for the band. "Curious Sense are lifelong Deadheads who have some brilliant plans to take our fans on a very cool journey. We can’t wait for everyone check out the fun new toys we are building.”
Though a seemingly curious pairing, especially in the wake of The Beatles: Rock Band’s commercial underperformance and publisher MTV’s subsequent sale of developer Harmonix, project insiders argue that the Dead and gaming are a natural fit.
“Digital games are a mass medium – they’re not just for kids,” explains Adam Blumenthal, CEO of Curious Sense. “We have the chance to reach a very big audience that fits the profile of the Grateful Dead audience – from high school all the way up. Furthermore, Web-based and mobile interactive experiences are getting very good, where actions taken on one platform impact your experience no matter which device you use. The Grateful Dead is one of two or three perfect bands for this kind of multi-channel game experience.”
As an example, Blumenthal cites the desire to blend digital aspects with real-world play elements. Examples might include “playing scavenger hunt bingo with mobile phone cameras” where players try to find a Grateful Dead sticker on a Volkswagen camper. Still early in design, many of the game’s core facets remain undefined, but he says the title will reflect themes prevalent in Grateful Dead lore, including Americana, the old west, gambling, Biblical tales, nature, space and journeys. Rather than one single play style, the title is intended to bring many together under a single banner of red, white and blue skulls and dancing bears.
“Players will explore a Grateful Dead-themed world comprised of many types of games, earning points for game play and points for other ways of participating in the Grateful Dead experience,” reveals Blumenthal. “This will be a social game, a game model we think we can innovate, given the very social nature of Grateful Dead fans and the rich online community that has existed online around the Dead since the mid-1980s with The Well. Visually it will be eclectic, like the Dead is.”
Upon entering the online game, ostensibly designed for play foremost on personal computers, enthusiasts will reportedly be greeted by an interactive, high-tech Grateful Dead universe. Adaptable to individual preference, the game world will be divided into regions filled with mini-games, activities and social events. Settings from familiar songs will host highlighted digital diversions, with familiar characters from popular songs featured throughout. Curious Sense says that it is currently conceptualizing additional ideas for play based around Grateful Dead lyrics, and considering a point system based on tickets and shows.
“Whimsy, surprises and pranks will delight,” says Blumenthal. “There will have to be a Miracle button.”
Being designed foremost for Deadheads, the designers also hope to attract a younger generation of music enthusiasts and everyday game players who’ve never even heard of the Grateful Dead. “While some games will definitely be for the faithful,” he says, “many others will be successful first as great games designed with broadly-appealing Grateful Dead themes. The music won't be in your face so much, unless you want it that way.”
Citing public boredom with the timed button-tapping play model popularized by titles like Guitar Hero and Tap Tap Revenge, Curious Sense aims to reach a broader audience by expanding beyond simple tests of hand-eye coordination. The company further says that it’s hoping to provide the ultimate in wish fulfillment by offering activities that provide players with the experience of virtually jamming with Jerry Garcia and the band.
Given the timeless nature of the act’s music and fans’ fondness for socialization and gaming, say the game’s creators, they believe it can bridge the gap between generations. “We want a Deadhead Uncle to be able to buy a Grateful Dead Games gift card at Target to give to his nephew who will redeem the credits and special privileges in the game.”