Michael Holloway

Local Band Turns Album into 8-Bit Video Game

Space Raft: The Game accompanies the release of their latest record.

By - Aug 28th, 2020 10:27 am
Space Raft: The Game.

Space Raft: The Game.

Milwaukee musician Jordan Davis has fond memories of the music he remembers hearing earliest in his life, artists like Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys and Bobby Brown. But some of his other early influences weren’t recording artists at all — they were video games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in the late ‘80s.

To put it simply by Davis himself: “The first music I ever loved was stuff you could do ‘the running man’ to and ‘Contra.’’”

Davis has spent the last six years writing and performing rock-and-roll pop music in his band Space Raft, as vocalist and lead guitarist. The band is hot off the heels of releasing its latest record “Positively Space Raft” this past June — its first release since 2017. Now, in a nod to the video games that influenced him when he was growing up, Davis’ latest project sees him taking the music of that album and translating it into an 8-bit experience.

“Space Raft: The Game” is Davis’ debut endeavor into the world of designing video games. It began simply as a passion project to keep Davis busy while the band waited for the mastered tracks for Positively Space Raft to be finished.

“I thought I would come up with a cutesy chiptune version of the album that I could show the band and get a laugh out of them,” Davis says. “But the more time I spent making these chiptunes, the more I realized how much I actually enjoyed doing it and it blossomed quickly into a desire to keep working in the medium.”

Within a couple of weeks, Davis had transcribed the entire album into chiptune format — chiptune being a style of electronic synthesized music made using sound chips from vintage video game consoles. From there, Davis began learning how to draw 8-bit graphics on his computer — a process that was difficult but was made easier thanks to a helpful online community of homebrew 8-bit enthusiasts. Now the game is complete, and Davis’ Kickstarter campaign for the distribution and packaging of the game has more than doubled its goal of $4,800. Those who have pledged money can expect to see their copies sometime in October, and for those who missed out on the chance to be involved in the Kickstarter, copies will still be available to order through the band.

The idea for “Space Raft: The Game” started as an inside joke, a sort of hypothetical exploration of what it might look like if the band’s life on the road was translated into a video game adventure. The plot centers around the band’s ex-bass player Srini — who pitched the story idea to Davis — stealing the band’s mastered tracks for their new album. This sparks the band’s quest to retrieve the mastered tapes from their jealous ex-bandmate, and that’s where the player comes in. Davis jokes that this quest is why the release of “Positively Space Raft” was such a long-time coming.

There are two modes of gameplay — the first is a driving section based on side-scrolling games like Gradius (one of Davis’ favorites) where the player controls the Space Raft tour van. The other is what Davis refers to as “collect-a-thon stages,” where the player must collect all items on the screen before progressing to the next level (think Pacman). While these might seem like fairly simple gameplay concepts, it’s the retro charm and nods to familiar Milwaukee faces, landmarks and businesses that will keep players invested. It’s a selling point for anyone who has lived in the city, but its also a product of Davis’ learning process.

“I didn’t know how to make pixel art in the beginning so I thought drawing something familiar would be easiest,” Davis says. “So I started with drawing the exterior of Cactus Club; at one point each of us was working there and its a favorite room for us to play in Milwaukee.”

Davis wasn’t sure he was going to include other locations until he became more proficient in creating pixel art. The game now has about 15 locations including Burnhearts, Rushmore Records, WMSE and other local venues.

“I thought it was important to provide a setting for the game and, for those in Milwaukee, it would be a nice treat to see places they were familiar with,” Davis says. “But also those outside of Milwaukee would get to see these locations and maybe even get to visit them at some point down the road. It was all just kind of an effort to promote all of the stuff in the city that I love.”

Davis is now focusing on putting together all of the orders for the game, noting that he’ll be turning his garage into an assembly line until they’re finished. He’s positive that this experience of independently designing and publishing his own video game will lead to similar opportunities in the future, and he’s already working on developing the graphics for a “King’s Quest” port.

For those who miss the days of packing a Milwaukee bar for a local show or hopping in the tour van for a short drive to Chicago, or even just miss the era of the 8-bit video game, then “Space Raft: The Game” might just scratch that itch.

To try a demo of “Space Raft: The Game,” visit the Dusty Medical Records website.

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