Abby Martin recently shared the announcement of her inclusion in Rocketboat – The Game across social media. Abby is an artist, activist and for host of her own show, Breaking the Set on RT America. In Rocketboat the Game, a 2.5D platformer based on the music of adventure rock band Rocketboat, Abby’s character sheds light on an intergalactic conspiracy on her in-game show, “Raising the Bar.” We reached out to Abby and Josh Hanchar or Rocketboat the Band to get the story behind the game.
Abby Martin concluded her three-year run on RT America and her show, “Breaking the Set,” with a sign-off that tugged at heart strings. Assuring viewers and fans that she is not dying, Abby continued working through her own organization Media Roots. Not two weeks after that sign-off, Josh Hanchar game developer and bassist of Rocketboat shared an anime rendering of Abby on social media. We wanted to know what it was like to include Abby in-game.
Abby answered, “It’s pretty awesome to see myself as a video game character fighting an information war of planetary proportions. Never having grown beyond NES obsessed, I was really excited when Josh sent me an eight bit image of me on set (in the game it’s called ‘Raising the Bar’) and told me about Rocketboat.”
Josh answered, “In addition to using cut scenes to tell the story directly, Rocketboat uses TV news parodies to provide a secondary narrative which comments on plot events as they develop. Without giving too much away, the mainstream news channels will be reporting on events one way, while Abby’s character will be reporting the truth. It’ll be a lot like real life.”
Josh continued, “I briefed (Abby) on the story and showed her some artwork and she was really encouraging and supportive. I have such admiration for Abby and I agree with probably 99% of the things I’ve heard her say, which is more than I can say for almost anyone. For those unfamiliar, I highly recommend checking out her work. She’s also a very inspired visual artist, as evident on her site abbymartin.org.”
An example of cross-media marketing, “Rocketboat” is the name of the Chicago-based adventure rock band. In 2012, the band released a self-titled album which blends punk, jazz and game soundtracks. We first heard the album on Bandcamp. Their music is also available on Google play, iTunes, CD Baby and Spotify. Rocketboat – The Game is based on the lyrics of this album and illustrates the larger narrative of the “Rocketboat Universe.” We asked Josh about the orgins of his band and music.
Josh answered, “Before we were a band, Marc (Adrian), Collin (Magdaz), and I started creating songs together as a fun collaborative experiment without expectations. It took us about six months to write the entire album and another year to arrange, record, mix, and master. The sci-fi fantasy narrative was not something we deliberately intended to do – given our inner geek, it just became an inescapable inevitability once we wrote a song called ‘Rocketboat’ and then decided to make that our band name.”
Rocketboat members Marc Adrian, Andrew Dumaresq, Collin Magdaz, Josh Hanchar
“As a result of having three people trying to include their own ideas in the song writing, many of the lyrics on the album contain double or triple entendres. Whereas one listener may hear a verse and think, ‘Oh, this is a breakup song,’ another might be able to visualize blasting off toward the moon in a space ship. Still, others may be able to spot some light meta jabs toward commoditized pop music and the state of the mainstream record industry as a whole,” he continued.
“Though there are several reoccurring themes and characters throughout the album, it’s all abstract enough to give people room to interpolate and derive their own meaning. The game’s story is rooted in my own creative interpretation of the songs.”
It’s unfair to label Rocketboat – The Game as just a 2.5D platformer. Taking a cue from the music or Rocketboat, the game itself blends many genres: RPG, shooters and rhythm games. Even the graphics are a blend of Capcom-style sprites juxtaposed against 3D environments. The game tells a humorous and complex story. We want to know about Josh’s influences.
Josh answered, “I’m wearing my influences on my sleeve as I attempt to stand upon the shoulders of giants. At first glance, the Mega Man, Kirby, and Mario series are obvious influences. Besides those, I’m really treating this as an opportunity to smash together several different things that I like from many of my favorite retro games. It’s either a really good idea or I’m just drunk on nostalgia.”
“For instance, I was always a fan of how Star Wars games such as Shadows of the Empire for Nintendo 64 and the Super series for Super Nintendo switched up the gameplay between platforming and vehicle-based levels. I feel like this genre-switching mechanic further engrosses players since it lets them experience a fictional universe in multiple ways. More importantly, it prevents the gameplay from becoming too monotonous,” he continued.
“My biggest influence for the story, writing style, and vision for the overall visceral experience comes from Shigesato Itoi’s Mother series – in particular Mother 2, known as EarthBound in America. I think referring to EarthBound simply as a video game downplays what it actually is: An interactive piece of contemporary art that brilliantly integrates pop culture references, social commentary, humor, and emotional connection. It features an often avant-garde soundtrack, incredible plot twists, and multi-dimensional characters (both figuratively and literally.) With the exception of the somewhat-repetitive turn-based battle system, it remains perpetually interesting to the very end,” he continued.
“Though many other games have since incorporated these elements, Rocketboat definitely draws from some very specific titles: Zelda II – Link’s Adventure’s side scrolling town levels with interactive NPCs; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game’s cut scenes between levels, the ability to choose your character, and even in-game advertisements (though ours are parodies, not Pizza Hut!) Metroid-type exploration and Gradius-style space shooting are both present as well.”
In 2013, Abby Martin took on water-bottling giant Nestle. This prompted a famous exchange between her and a seemingly robotic spokeswoman identifying as “Stephanie from Nestle.” Given the sci-fi space adventure setting of Rocketboat the Game, it seemed fitting to include a Nestle android as an enemy or boss character. We asked Abby that if she could pick any person or character, who would be her ultimate video game archnemesis? Her response pulled no punches!
Abby answered, “Definitely a giant Nestle android on wheels and a water cannon! For other levels, John McCain as a decrepit zombie with an endless supply of guns and Obama the Drone King with an arsenal of killer robots.”
One criticism of video games as a form of media is its reliance on a superficial form of diversity. Women (among many other minority groups) are often present as stereotypes or tropes. We wanted to know Abby’s opinion as an artist and activist if this is an issue in other forms of media, and how can we move towards true inclusion?
Abby responded, “Misogyny is rampant across all media, especially in the news industry. I still play Doom though, so my knowledge of video games’ current portrayal of women is limited. Gamer Gate propelled the issue of gender paradigms in gaming culture, but the reactionary and debased debate it sparked shows how far society has to go.”
Politicians and corporations aside, Abby’s big target is the mainstream media. Given growing cynicism for the MSM (gaming beat included), we wanted to understand how we can move forward and foster the growth of alternative media.
Abby answered, “All mainstream news networks have questionable funding – 90% of what Americans see is filtered through only six corporations. The media establishment will never stop working as a business and start covering important issues altruistically. It’s crucial to follow independent journalists and organizations to weigh a variety of facts and biases against reigning dominant narratives. Instead of reacting to a war mongering corporate media that doesn’t represent the people, we need to create our own cooperative and empathic avenues of truth telling.”
Josh used Unity to develop Rocketboat – The Game which will be released this spring 2015 on Mac, PC, Linux and Android. The game is Josh’s first game dev project. So, we wanted to know how he developed his sense of game design and whether he would recommend Unity to other devs.
Josh answered, “I actually haven’t played video games much these past several years, so I’m a little behind. When I do manage to get around to playing, I’m also constantly analyzing – though I’m hardly a game design snob nor am I qualified to be. With Rocketboat (the Game), all I’m really trying to do is create an experience that I’d personally want to have, with a story that I feel needs to be told. From a more objective game design perspective, my goal is to keep it constantly interesting in as many ways as possible, whether it’s by gradually introducing new gameplay elements, switching genres, adding plot twists, or even simply by framing new types of camera shots.”
“Coming from someone who has never made a video game before, I highly recommend Unity. The learning curve is quick and there is a ton of useful stuff in their online asset store which you can use to quickly implement more complex features into your game. There is an abundance of documentation and video tutorials on the internet, plus a huge online community. There has really never been a better time for the inexperienced and hungry to start making games,” he continued.
“We will have more information regarding a Wii U release in the coming months. There is still a lot that needs to be figured out.”
There’s still more to come from the “Rocketboat Universe” with a graphic novel in the works. We wanted to know what will come next for Josh and Rocketboat.
Josh answered, “We’re sitting on a lot of new music that is ready to be recorded, though we’ve only recently begun testing out these new songs on stage. The current plan is to release the new collection via multiple EPs and also through another full-length album. We have no set timeframe for any of this, since we’re in no particular hurry.”
“Collin is working on a graphic novel that tells a very different story based on his own creative interpretation of the ‘Rocketboat Universe.’ His vision takes a completely fresh approach from mine, though I’ll be really surprised if our universes don’t unintentionally end up having some overlap,” he continued.
“Rocketboat – The Game will be dropping online this spring, though this release only tells a part of the story. To really do everything the way I envision it will require some serious volunteer assistance and/or crowdfunding support. The current plan is to launch a Kickstarter campaign roughly six weeks after Rocketboat – The Game’s release.”