By: Sam Kayuha, In The Record Store staff writer.
As far as I used to know, the closest any band got to video game representation was Aerosmith’s appearance in Revolution X, an arcade game I stumbled across at Old North Arcade. Steven Tyler and the band have been kidnapped in some futuristic dystopia--when the player rescues them, they celebrate by rocking out.
But now three Central Ohioans have come together to connect music and video games in a unique way. The end result, a video game set in a city that is “roughly Columbus,” according to mastermind Chris Shaw, is a project that shows why the local art scene has helped make the capital city something of a destination.
Shaw is a part of so many bands, it took two tries for him to list them all off.
He’s the violinist in Americana folk rock band Fables, the drummer in the Andy Shaw Band and half of the Shaw Brothers. He’s also the frontman and songwriter in the large and constantly rearranging Topher James and Biscuit Brigade.
Biscuit Brigade consists of a separate touring and studio band that often overlap.
“We’re a big family,” said Shaw, the pseudonymous Topher James. “People come and go, and they always have something to contribute.”
In 2014, Biscuit Brigade put out its first EP, “Art and Soul,” a funky 6-song collection that prompted Shaw to embark on another project.
He was interested in developing a video game featuring members of Biscuit Brigade and the band’s music. But without the electronic know-how, he turned to social media for help.
A Facebook post lead him to Eric Bretschneider, a friend of a friend of a friend.
By day, Bretschneider is the general manager of Ohio State campus institution Buckeye Donuts. Until he met Shaw, he had off nights after work.
“This was my first time working on a video game,” said Bretschneider, a self-described “quintessential nerd. I studied computers at Ohio State, so I have a knowledge of it, but this was a one-off.”
Twenty hours a week, Bretschneider dedicated his non donut-focused hours to working on the game; for four hours a night he wrote in the language of ones and zeroes.
After nine months, it was done. The PC game, in the style of Mario side-scrolling games, has four levels of a concept dreamed up by Shaw and Bretschneider. The main character (ostensibly, Shaw) makes his way through city, gathering each band member before showtime.
“I’m pleased with how it turned out,” Bretschneider said. “It’s something to play through and enjoy, but with some added difficulty.”
As Bretschneider worked, the development of the game’s soundtrack unfolded in the workshop of Benji Robinson, known on stage and Bandcamp as Reptile Fiction.
Shaw first discovered Robinson when he came across a snippet of Reptile Fiction’s chiptunes, or 8-bit music on Instagram. Robinson was called on to make 8-bit versions of the Biscuit Brigade’s songs.
“He left a comment and we got together to talk about ideas for the project,” Robinson said. “That was our first meeting, about a year ago.”
Robinson has been performing as Reptile Fiction since 2013, releasing projects and playing shows around town. His interest in chiptunes, or eight-bit music, began in high school, piqued by the Playstation game MTV Music Generator
“It was like a 24-track music software.” Robinson said. “I started out making music with like Nintendo aesthetics, and mixed that with dance music.”
Robinson made his own version of “Art and Soul,” called “8-Bit Soul,” taking the melodies and remaking them from scratch in the eight-bit style.
“It’s almost like an inside joke when you listen to it and realize, ‘Oh, that’s that song!’” Shaw said.
The game is downloadable and will be available on CD after its and “8-Bit Soul’s” release celebration at Strongwater Food and Spirits, March 10 at 9pm. Tickets are available for $10 now, and $12 at the door. The EP will also be streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.
The Columbus scene might not be a completely self-sustaining ecosystem, but it often operates as such. While some part-time members of the Biscuit Brigade reside elsewhere, Ohio’s capital still seems to be a artistic community with endless resources — and this project proves it.
“I like to support the community because I’m a part of the community and I like great people supporting me,” Shaw said. “Any support I can give my friends is amazing.”