The fascinating history of Deathbat
While on tour following the release of the album Nightmare in 2010, Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows started to think seriously about the idea of creating a game. Initially, he wanted to create a high-budget console game, but after conferring with a friend of his at a game development studio it was determined that Shadows’s initial idea would be prohibitively costly and require so much attention that he would have to quit the band. Instead, his associate recommended he retool the idea for the mobile gaming market.
Several months later, the band was touring in Southeast Asia. Shadows saw people playing mobile games everywhere and realized the potential of the market. He pitched his idea to his bandmates, who readily agreed to the plan. Importantly, Shadows wanted to make a game that was not about the band itself, but rather one that would branch off from the ideas and iconography of the group. He also wanted to be involved in the actual development process rather than just rubber-stamping his and his bandmates’ endorsement on the project.
Subscience Studios was a Southern-California based company founded in 1999 that largely worked in art design. In 2013, the studio decided to embark on a new chapter in its history: game development. It worked on a few small-scale projects for mobile and the ill-fated OUYA before making a momentous connection with one of the members of Avenged Sevenfold. The band discussed the idea with Subscience Studios, an agreement was made, and in August of 2013 Hail to the King: Deathbat was formally announced as a multimedia project involving a video game as well as an animated series.
True to his intentions, M. Shadows was heavily involved in the development process of the game, even going so far as to assist with modeling and building the stages. An avid gamer since his childhood, Shadows wanted to create a game similar to his favorites: The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Diablo, and so on. The first of that lot seems to have been a particular influence on him. While he wanted to create an action-RPG, he wasn’t a fan of the grinding mechanic that was involved in so many of them. He admired the Zelda games for the fact that the main character couldn’t level up in most of the games, leaving the player to figure out how to defeat increasingly difficult challenges with a mere sword and shield. It was that type of challenge that he truly wanted expressed in Hail to the King.
Shadows made a particularly interesting comparison in the many interviews he conducted leading up to the game’s release. With the way the music industry shifted, the big-budget music videos of days gone by weren’t really a thing anymore. Shadows envisioned video games as being the next music video, allowing bands to tell stories with accompanying visuals and audio. This was another creative outlet for the band, and a rather more interesting one than making a low-budget music video and hoping it would catch fire on YouTube or the like.
After over a year of development time, Hail to the King: Deathbat launched on mobile platforms in October of 2014, a rather fitting month given the dark themes present in the game. Anticipation was high, but the reviews ended up somewhat mixed. Some outlets loved the game, with TouchArcade in particular awarding it Game of the Week. Others were cooler on it, but almost everyone agreed that the soundtrack was impressive and the art design was a good reflection of the band’s image. Players too were split on the title, but those who liked it tended to love it.
The game received a few updates in the year after its release that added some extra content and fixed a few bugs. It was restored and updated in 2019 as part of the GameClub library, bring this unusual creation back to life once again. While Avenged Sevenfold is yet to follow up on the game, Hail to the King: Deathbat stands as a singularly unique project, a rare example of a music/game collaboration where the band got intimately involved in the game’s development.