Body Games: Super Body Games RPG/EP
[Self-released; Aug. 27]
In the annals of music, there have been albums released as hour-long films, iPhone apps, USB drives, and edible gummy skulls. But until this week, as far as we know, that list hasn’t included an album released as a retro video game.
The concept of a “video galbum”—as electro-pop trio Body Games cheekily describes its newest release—is an obvious attention-grabber. But absurd side-quests and copious references to marijuana aside, Super Body Games RPG is more than a fun gimmick. The game, which will be available to download on the band’s website August 27, is an impressively detailed passion project and a love letter to the town that made Body Games and so many bands like it.
The downtown Carrboro featured in Super Body Games RPG will be recognizable to anyone who has spent time on the Main Street corridor. The game’s main character, a genderless alien sent to Earth on a mission to defend the planet from a vaguely defined evil, arrives on the railroad crossing next to Cat’s Cradle. Down the street are recreations of the Orange County Social Club, Jade Palace, and Wendy’s; one block over you’ll find the tables and benches outside Weaver Street Market.
Along with these local landmarks, the gameplay is stuffed with in-jokes and homages to the Triangle music scene: a radio tuned to 88.1 FM, a remix of al Riggs as the town’s soundtrack, and an abandoned screenplay at All Day Records. (Even the INDY makes a cameo.)
As the game progresses, though, it becomes clear that something more sinister lurks behind those familiar storefronts. A concert at the Cradle by Eurodance one-hit wonders Eiffel 65, underway as the game starts, seems to have the town in a weird mood. Something important may be hidden underneath Jade Palace, too, and the Carrboro Century Center contains a few dark secrets. Between the web of absurd adventures—one particularly bizarre side-quest revolves around the actor Jonah Hill—the game’s full soundtrack and the Super Body Games EP become available through download codes, unlocked as a player works through the game.
Coming four years after Body Games’ full-length debut, Damager, three of the four tracks on the new EP have long been staples of their live set. In contrast with the suitably bite-sized demos and remixes of the game’s soundtrack, the songs on Super Body Games EP are big, all shimmering nostalgia and widescreen emotion. The record will eventually be released on its own, but in the meantime, it is a satisfying reward for those persistent enough to finish the quest.
It’s become a cliché to read our collective quarantine into all the art released during the coronavirus pandemic. Certainly, it’s tempting to feel that way about a six-hour, single-player experience that seems almost tailor-made for being home alone. But anyone who has followed Body Games knows the long-rumored video galbum goes back much further.
As the band tells it, in 2014, they were near a point of creative exhaustion. Deep into the production of what would become Damager in 2016, and fresh off of an electrifying Hopscotch set, producer Dax Beaton, vocalist and keyboardist Kate Thompson, and visual artist Adam Graetz longed for a break from the taxing process of writing and recording a full-length album. An idea arose.
“What if we could just write music for video games or something?” Beaton recalls thinking. “We kind of talked about it as a joke.”
Yet the idea of making a retro game wasn’t that far-fetched for Body Games, whose electro-pop is contemporary but whose sensibility is drenched with nineties nostalgia. Graetz, who also makes video art as THEFACESBLUR, suffuses their live shows with vaporwave projections; their cover of “Colors of the Wind,” from Disney’s Pocahontas, is a staple. Super Body Games RPG looks like it could have appeared on the Super Nintendo 30 years ago and was specifically inspired by computer adventure games like King’s Quest and Commander Keen.
“People said that we made songs that sound like video game music,” Thompson says, noting that their previous releases frequently sampled video games. The Super Body Games EP includes a different video game sample on each of its four tracks, such as 1997 PlayStation hit PaRappa the Rapper on “Night Magic.”
Thompson, Beaton, and Graetz batted the idea around, debating which friends they would cast as heroes and which awful sound guy would be the archnemesis, and after the release of Damager, what began as a joke soon became the group’s next big project.
With the help of a friend, Derek Gude (formerly of Carrboro’s The Wyrms), Beaton conceived of the basic storyline and reconstructed Carrboro using software called RPG Maker MV, visiting the local businesses featured in the game to make sure that interior details—like the number of booths or the position of tables in a restaurant—matched closely with reality. Although Beaton had designed small RPGs before, neither he nor Gude had formal experience developing a game of this scale, which would normally involve an entire team of collaborators.
“Pretty quickly, it was obvious that it was going to be way harder to flesh out and not make it a big mess,” Gude says. “We both were in way over our heads.”
Still, progress on the game kept moving. In July 2018, the band announced that Super Body Games RPG would arrive later that year. But by then, Gude had moved to Wilmington, and Beaton was singlehandedly writing, developing, and refining the game.
“I just thought, I’ve got to get this out, I’ve got to do it,” Beaton says. “I felt like I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything creatively until this game was done.”
Paralyzed by perfectionism, overwhelmed by the amount of feedback the beta tests received, Beaton hit a wall. For a while, Super Body Games got stuck at almost-done. And then, of course, 2020 happened, as the band was gearing up for a string of never-to-be live sets in the spring.
“We had just started playing again and reacquainting ourselves with our live show and what we really wanted to do,” Thompson says. “Like, yeah, we’ve really got something big going now!”
But with the loss of shows also came more time for Super Body Games RPG. They knew that if the game was ever going to be finished, this was the time.
With so many people facing financial hardship, the band ultimately decided to release the game free of charge. They’re coordinating with some of the businesses in the game—including OCSC, Cat’s Cradle, and All Day Records—to allow players to make a suggested donation to the fundraiser of their choice when they download.
The members of Body Games are now scattered throughout the Triangle: Beaton is still in Carrboro, Thompson is in Raleigh, and Graetz is in Durham. But Super Body Games is very much a Carrboro game, paying tribute to the place where the band put down its roots.
“All of the stops in the game are places where we hung out and grew up together in terms of Body Games, the life of a band,” Beaton says. “So it very much fits to try to give back in some way to this goofy-ass, wonderful town we live in.”
Playing the game, it’s oddly comforting to roam through the streets of Carrboro, even if only virtually. With so many of its doors closed in the real world—or, at the very least, limited to the public—the game is an ode to the town’s enduring character and a reminder of better times. There may not be shows at the Cradle for the time being, but in Super Body Games RPG, Carrboro is still open for business.
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