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The developer of the popular cannabis management game Hempire has announced their new project. The studio is working on a rhythm game that puts you in the role of a bandleader for Bob Marley as he travels the world on tour. I had the opportunity to sit down with Solon Bucholtz, CEO and Co-Founder of LBC Studios, to talk about their new game, the power of music, and making the world a better place.
The following is an edited transcript of our discussion.
GamesBeat: What got you interested in creating a rhythm game specifically for Bob Marley?
Solon Bucholtz: You know what? It kind of came the other way. Our success in the field of mobile games is due to the creation of Hempire, which is one of the most popular cannabis games in the world. As the studio grew and we began to plan what our future looked like, we began to open the doors to what the possibilities of the next game might be for us.
We did not prosecute Bob (Marley). We had a lot of IPs and people who came to the table with great ideas that they wanted us to potentially develop, but nothing really resonated or landed the way we felt when we built Hempire. Hempire was a passion project to de-stigmatize cannabis culture and bring something authentic to the mobile gaming space.
When the opportunity came to us to potentially make a game for Marley, we had no idea what that game was going to be. And truth be told, it changed several times during its development, as most games do.
I think every one of us has probably had a piece of Bob Marley at some point in our lives that speaks to a moment or a feeling. That’s what really got me excited that we would be the stewards and they would trust us with such a global brand. It meant something to me. For me, it comes from a place of passion, but it has to be the same for the team.
If I said to the development team, we’re going to build a game around an idea that nobody cares about, you’ll never live by our core values. You have to enjoy what you do. The team was therefore enthusiastic about Marley. I was excited about Marley and that’s where it all started. When it all started, honestly, we were going down a very different path. We didn’t know if, you know, music was going to be part of what we had access to.
GamesBeat: So initially you weren’t sure you had access to the music?
Bucholz: We really started from a place like, okay, we have Bob and Bob means a lot more than music. We thought there was enough that we could make a game just around that. And that’s where we started. We’re like, “what if there was a way to do a cool new musical experience that’s not necessarily tied directly to Bob. That’s where it all started. But, as the project evolved and we started to really break down Bob Marley’s impact on people globally, music is obviously the background and soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives. and is a very important part of Bob. But we can incorporate that into some of the other values, can’t we? His beliefs around philanthropy and more specifically around bringing people together. We decided “let’s make a rhythm RPG game around Bob Marley that isn’t driven by money”. So there is no bargaining chip in our game. There is unity and unity is about playing and bringing people together.
Gaming has had both positive and negative connotations over the past few years in terms of impact on people, growth, screen time, and everything else. I think there is a way to turn this into a positive. And really, that explains why I founded LBC. I wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives and especially around the message we deliver. Working with One Tree Planted, which is Marley’s favorite charity, can have a significant impact. People who play, get their entertainment value, connect with other people, and get their sense of community can also have a tangible impact on the earth.
The game isn’t just about making a Bob Marley game for Marley fans. It’s about making a game for the Marley fans, the music, the fans and the gamers. We want to see it expand beyond that. There are some cool experiences that players can engage with. Obviously, you’re going to have the classics, you’re going to have the hits. You are going to live this real Bob Marley experience. But you’re also going to immerse yourself in that party management aspect, in new characters and new genres that you don’t necessarily see. We have created covers and remixes ourselves in different musical genres. I can speak for myself – I love Bob Marley music, but I also listen to a wide range of music. How do you integrate this into the game? Players are going to experience Bob in so many new genres, which I think is something unique.
GamesBeat: What can you tell us about the gameplay?
Bucholz: So it’s Bob Marley’s world tour, you’re a band manager. The narrative concept behind this is that you are unlucky because you have been chasing money, success, and fame. You go to a fictional island called Hope Island, a play on Hope Road, which is Bob Marley’s home in Jamaica. You’re supported by Bob and a cast of characters that allow you to focus more on positive messages, be a band manager, and take a musical journey across the world to unite people. So you’re going to hit popular spots that Bob likes the cities where Bob has performed and you’re going to play iconic music from those cities, from those tours. You’ll learn what he played and some history in there, plus some really cool footage and stuff like that throughout your journey that will unlock some great Marley memories.
For example, if you are in Jamaica, you will play one of the major hits and in turn, right away, we will reverse the scenario and you will play this song in Latin pop. And then you’ll move on to another genre. You will discover Bob Marley in a completely different way. With each city unlock comes a new original song, new remixes, and re-fixes. We’re excited about what we’re working on right now, just in time for global launch. We’re going to expand that outside of Bob’s music, and you’re going to play some members of the Marley family.
Bob Marley’s legacy is you look at his kids, you look at Ziggy, look at Stephen and Skip. The generational transmission of musicians. We wanted to make it authentic and bring their music into the game, as well as the springboard to expand beyond family. Some of them will be there too. It’s a great musical journey to travel the world, play music, level up your band and characters to make sure you can hit the different difficulties and song lengths. Then you choose your own musical journey and the type of music you want to play with the band you upgraded.
GamesBeat: So will the actual playback of the song be more of a standard rhythm game?
Bucholz: The main loop is focused on rhythm gameplay. We have an expanding gameplay system depending on how hard you want to play. And of course, your traditional haptics and abilities will be incorporated into it. So the added layer of RPG is that it’s not just about the skill of your fingers, but you also have to make sure that you align your band to the type of music. The members of the group have affinities for different types of music and they are evolving. So there are also a lot of aspects related to tape management. You can choose who will be your vocalist, who will be your guitarist, depending on the type of music you need to play and making sure that you have built these characters accordingly to be the best to perform the song in in addition to your set of skills.
GamesBeat: Will the game be free?
Bucholz: Absolutely. When we basically thought about the philosophy of this game, we realized that Bob is globally and we want to make this game as accessible to as many people in the world and as wide of an age group in the world, as possible could. Free-to-play is certainly the simplest access point. We also wanted to make a lot of the game accessible without too much difficulty. So there’s your traditional ability to watch ads instead of buying if you want to retry levels or have trouble getting through certain areas. But there’s also the ability to upgrade your characters in a more traditional sense through in-app purchases.
GamesBeat: You mentioned One Tree Planted as the charity of choice for the Marley brand. Have you announced how it will work?
Bucholz: We will make this announcement. We’re building this feature into the store right now, but in short, we want to make sure people can see their impact in the in-app purchases they make. And there are many ways to visualize this. It’s probably going to be a little different at launch than where we want to take it, but we want people to know how many trees we’ve planted as a result of this game and potentially where they’ve been planted. So you can actually see the significant impact you’ve had around the world.
GamesBeat: A message for Marley fans?
Bucholz: There are a million things I could probably touch on, but the main thing I want to say is that you don’t have to be a Bob Marley fan to like this game and vice versa. If you’re a Bob Marley fan: We’ve done this game justice. We want to make sure that as a Marley fan, we’re authentic to Bob as well as what and where he played.
We want to be sure that we’re not just making a game that gets fans quickly and doesn’t have longevity. We want it to lay the groundwork for a long-lasting game that truly appeals to all music fans and gamers. This game is made by fans for fans. And I’m not just talking about Bob Marley fans. Every product we work on at LBC is a passion project and we put our hearts into it. We can’t wait to release it, but I think more than that, we’re looking forward to feedback on how we can continue to make a great game for fans.
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