The Rock Opera You Can Play Like A Video Game: Say Hello To Karmaflow

Gaming is an interactive medium. It's about the player's relationship with their character, and that character's relationship with the world around them. That basic truth has been at the core of video games ever since Pac-Man ate his first pellet.

That said, narrative in gaming is still desperately trying to find its footing. Video game storytelling is at the current moment a bit of a jarring experience, one which too often features a distressing disconnect between the actions of the character and the story a game's trying to tell. The problem, I think, is that storytelling methods are still evolving to catch up with the interactivity of gameplay. 

Karmaflow is one of the many results of that gradual evolution. Created by a team of developers headed by art student Ivo van Dijk, it's a music-themed video game whose soundtrack evolves and changes based on what the player does. It's also an interactive rock opera.

Van Dijk is no stranger to either music or gaming. As he explained to Polygon, he originally got his musical start in a symphonic metal band back in 2000. While he was part of that band, he participated in a 2008 rock opera called Equilibrio. Unfortunately, his band ultimately fell apart, due to a combination of bad management, nonpayment by labels, and interpersonal issues between artists. 

Eventually, he had enough,and decided to attend the School of Arts Utrecht in the Netherlands, where he planned to study media composition. The program included courses which taught about scoring for film, commercials, and video games. While studying there, van Dijk realized he wanted to create another rock opera, but this time wanted to somehow incorporate gaming - one of his long time passions - into the whole affair.  He gathered some of his fellow students together, and they set to work.

That was back in 2012. Today, as the game nears completion, Van Dijks initial team of a little under a dozen people has expanded to around forty.

As described by its creator, Karmaflow is a puzzle-platformer which puts the player into the shoes of a being known as The Karmakeeper, a deity of some kind that appears to be tasked with maintaining the balance of the game's setting. In order to accomplish this, the Karmakeeper will have to travel to a number of different worlds, each torn by strife. At the end of each world, they'll meet with that world's Guardian, whereupon they'll decide the world's ultimate fate.

That's where the stage show comes in. Karmaflow focuses on the strife that's tearing each Guardian's world apart.  Karmaflow in Concert: The Rock Opera - which opens this October in the Netherlands - will focus on the Guardians themselves. According to van Dijk, that's why the development team decided to cast the player as an observer rather than a resident of each world - it made it far easier to translate the game's story to the stage. 

"[The Guardians] are voiced by the singers, they're fairly easy to translate to the stage," said Van Dijk. "The key moments in the story are where those characters in the game are introduced, that's like the rock opera-ish part, the epic conclusion of each world. That's the focus of the theater show." 

Van Dijk says he's hoping that the game will explore the many ways in which the music industry and the games industry go hand-in-hand, while also driving home the under-appreciated importance of music in games. 

"We really wanted to combine these two forms of art to their fullest extent," he explained. "We're doing that by kind of making the player the performer, giving the player the sense that they are in charge of the world, the game, and the music."

"For all of us, it's more like a big experiment," he continued. "We're trying to do something new with the way stories are being told. We're also trying to find each other because this is the first time we've worked together. I hope the experimental nature of the game will get people to iterate on this idea, so we can see more musical games and rock opera games in the future and also on stage." 

I don't know about you, but this is one game I can't wait to play - and I dearly hope the stage show at some point comes to Canada. Oh, and in case you're worried about quality, the artists responsible for the show (and for voicing the characters) include Marc Hudson of Dragonforce, Simone Simons of Epica, and Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy. Musical accompaniment is being provided by the Metropole Orchestra (the world's largest professional jazz and pop Orchestra) and band members from Within Temptation, Epica, and Textures. 

So...yeah. It's gonna be good.