Canadian Bands Battle Aliens in LOUD on Planet X

LOUD on Planet X is a rhythm-based tower defense shooter that plays like a hybrid of Guitar Hero and Plants vs. Zombies. Developed by Toronto’s Pop Sandbox, you have to tap with the beat to shoot lasers from amps and defend the stage from an encroaching army of amorphous aliens.

It’s great in concept, and it gets even better once you learn that beats in question have been provided by a slew of amazing artists. Loud on Planet X features 2 tracks apiece from 9 prominent Canadian bands – including Fucked Up, Tegan and Sara, Metric, Lights, and Austra – and recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to add three more to the mix.

LOUD on Planet X also marks a significant departure for its developer. Most of Pop Sandbox’s projects have attempted to raise social awareness, whether through KENK, a graphic novel about the world’s most prolific bike thief, or Pipe Trouble, a game that was made in association with Trouble in the Peace, a documentary about the exploitation of natural gas and oil. LOUD on Planet X is simple, wholesome fun, a game that makes you tap your feet while you tap the screen to slaughter mutant blobs with smoke machines.

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So how does a studio best known for socially conscious material wind up making a diversion like LOUD on Planet X?

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“I would relax by playing classic games with the audio down and listening to my own music or music that friends would suggest,” said Creative Producer Alex Jansen. “It’s been really refreshing to work on something a little silly and totally for fun.”

The project came together rapidly once the gears were set in motion. Mike Haliechuk and Jonah Falco of Fucked Up did the original score for Pipe Trouble, and they became the first band to sign on when Jansen approached them with the new game. From there, Pop Sandbox tapped into the local Toronto music scene and the response has been highly enthusiastic. While all of the bands have been Canadian, Jansen considers that to be a happy coincidence rather than a deliberate choice.

“We started with bands we know and love. There’s certainly nothing mandating it be Canadians,” said Jansen. “Down the line maybe we’ll expand, but it’s nice working with homegrown artists. There’s a vibrant music and gaming scene here that we’re pretty proud of.”

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To that end, Pop Sandbox has been collaborating with the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR), a non-profit group supporting the Canadian independent music industry. FACTOR was able to help with licensing issues and negotiations, allowing word to spread more quickly than it would have without a network.

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“It worked out perfectly,” said Jansen. “We continued to ask bands and they simply love it. The response has been great. A lot of the time the bands have been the ones helping push through the license agreement.”

The expansion has not been without consequences. A budget shortfall appeared as the project grew beyond its initial scope and extra tracks created extra work for the developers. The Kickstarter will help alleviate that shortfall while taking the current roster of nine bands to an even 12. The first stretch goal would also allow Pop Sandbox to release the game for the Wii U, in addition to the Steam, iOS, Android, PS4, and PS Vita platforms currently scheduled.

In the meantime, Pop Sandbox will continue working on the game with help from the local game development community. Many of the team members are heavily involved with Bento Miso in Toronto, making the game as much a showcase for local game development talent as it is for local musicians.

“Bento’s got an amazing hub. There’s this cool indie game scene that we’re really excited to be a part of,” said Jansen, citing Dames Making Games and The Hand Eye Society in particular. “With the Kickstarter, a ton of the support has been within the community. That’s one of the things that makes Toronto special.”

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As for the game itself, LOUD on Planet X is more tower defense than simulation, sitting slightly closer to Plants vs. Zombies than Guitar Hero. Every stage has specific gameplay challenges that have come to the fore as the game has evolved during development.

“It’s less about playing or creating the music,” said Jansen. “It’s more like if you were driving the car and tapping in rhythm to the music, almost like a Patapon.”

The result is a straightforward tower defense shooter where weapons, power-ups, and enemies are layered on top of simple core design. The music anchors the experience and helps draw people in with catchy beats, while the gameplay hooks players and keeps them engaged beyond the chorus. Jansen is excited about the prospect of introducing the bands in the game to a wider audience, and he’ll consider LOUD on Planet X a success if it helps forge those musical connections.

“When we were doing the first demoing at GDC, PAX East, and SXSW, it was awesome that people were responding to the game, but it was equally cool that a ton of the people didn’t know July Talk,” he said of one of the bands in the game. “They came away liking the game, but they also came away loving the band, and that was really rewarding. The hope is to be able to share great music.”

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LOUD on Planet X is slated for release sometime in the fall of 2015. The Kickstarter campaign runs until Friday, June 5.

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