Brian Gibson"It’s nice to work on something where you’re not competing with anybody that you know."
I feel like with Lightning Bolt there is always a desire for some kind of sonic discovery.
Well it would be really hard to release an album if I felt like we were doing the same thing that we did before. I always feel like everything that I make artistically is always a bit improvisational and it’s always iterative. I’m always trying to move towards something better, never feel like anything’s arrived or complete. At the beginning of Lightning Bolt I was trying to find a kind of music that I could play that would complement Brian in the right way. But he’s still changing, and I get bored quickly so it’s a moving target.
Your shows have a really particular live energy. Lightning Bolt mosh pits are different than other mosh pits.
I think if there is one thing that Brian and I share, it’s that we both have this anxiety almost every second of the show about people getting bored. I think that always makes the shows more exciting because at any given time if something isn't working, we have to stop playing it right then and there and start playing something else. Or change it into something else to get it to work. I think both of us feel it physically when people aren’t responding to what we’re doing and it’s a horrible feeling and we work really hard to change that when it happens.
I see a lot of bands where they’re not thinking about that at all. They’re just playing their songs and they’re not really paying attention to what the energy in the room is.For us a live show should have a certain level of interaction with the audience. If it’s not there then it’s a failure. I’m surprised that our attitude is as rare as it is.
How did you get involved with video games?
Ryan Lesser, a friend of mine, was and still is the art director at Harmonix. I saw him in a restaurant and I just straight up asked him if he had any work because I needed a job. I showed him some abstract paintings. He was familiar with other stuff I had done before and so he let me learn the tools that they were using there and try to contribute. They were making the game Amplitude at the time. I did a pretty good job so they hired me.
You worked on Guitar Hero, right?
Yeah, but I didn’t have a huge contribution. I was doing effects and lighting, things like that.
How did Thumper start?
I had an idea for a mechanic that involved traveling through a moody world with sudden sharp right angle turns. I made a little movie of the gameplay. I suggested to Marc Flury that we start working on this game on the side, and treat the collaboration like a band. Something we do on the weekends for fun, not something that we’re doing for financial gain or anything like that.
How long have you been working on it now?
We’ve been making it for four years actually. We, well, Mark, had to build the game engine. And we've both had full time jobs for most of that period.
What’s an engine for video games?
To build a game, you need to build the tools that you’re going to use to build the game. Nowadays you can actually just buy game engines where people have already built the tools that you’re going to use to build your game. A lot of those engines that are out there are really powerful now but Mark and I were interested in building a world from the ground up and having the structure of the world embedded in the game mechanics itself. We got into the idea of having a game editor that works the way Fruity Loops works as a music editor. Have you ever used Fruity Loops?
I’ve haven’t but my friends have. I hear it’s really easy and fun to use.
Fruity Loops is just a music sequencer where you have a grid and you can place samples along the grid. We thought it would be cool to make a world just like that grid where you could define everything that’s happening along this path that you’re moving along- all the contours, bends, gameplay, interactions, everything. We had to build our own engine to get that.
What’s the learning curve been like for you?
Well, video games are very, very scientific. It’s a really empirical process where you think you know what you want but then when you see it you realize that it doesn’t work but this other thing that you didn’t expect works better.
Do you guys have a desired experience in mind for the person that’s playing the game?
I’ve had this vague notion that it should be really fast, simple, physical. It should have a simple interaction that makes the player feel powerful. I also want it to be very dark and trippy. I'd like to invoke feelings of cosmic horror, particular of the Kubrick 2001 kind. Where a very simple smooth shape on the bare horizon can make you feel terrified. I obviously want it to feel like nothing else that's out there.
There are characters too, right?
I think with a videogame, if you’re going to motivate people to go on this journey, you need to give them compelling motivations. Heroes and enemies can help do that for people. When I started working on this I was getting Mat Brinkman to help me. He actually drew the first visual concept for Thumper, the actual bug. He came up with the name Crakhed.
Crackhed is the ultimate enemy boss, but also is sort of a metaphor. We want the game to be super addictive. As you’re in the game the CrakHed character gets more and more freaked out and cracked out and frazzled and fucked up. Hopefully that’s what the players are experiencing as they’re getting more and more addicted to the videogame. It gets harder and harder and it progressively fucks you up. It turns you into this angry deteriorating disembodied head. Maybe by the end the player will realize that, in a way, they have become CrakHed.
What was it about video games that got you interested?
I have all these friends that are painters and comic book artists and sculptors and things like that. It’s nice to work on something where you’re not competing with anybody that you know. I don’t know anybody personally who’s working on independent videogames. When you talk about it with people it's always interesting to them because it’s rare. There’s lot of really amazing video games out there but I do feel like video game culture is a little bit dry. It has a lot of room for new things and interesting things and different things.
There isn’t really an independent video game culture?
Well it’s such hard work to make a videogame. People try to have these game jams where they get together and make a game over the weekend. But making a really good game usually takes years. It’s not like with a band where you can put something together and in two weeks put on a show. Or painting where you just make a painting in a day and and show it. Sure, you can make a game quickly, but in general good games take so long that video game culture doesn't have the dynamic kind of life that music culture or fine art culture has.
It’s not like art.
A good game isn’t the same as good fine art. A game needs to plug into your programmed desires in this really specific way to motivate you to interact with it. Similar to the way a movie needs a good plot if you expect people to sit through it. Video Games have artistic qualities as well, and that's what I'm interested in exploring—but it actually has to function well as a game.