Even if you don't know nerdcore rapper "8Bit Duane" Zuwala by name, you might be familiar with his music. In the city of Flint, Michigan, back in 2007, he and his buddy Brandon Lackey formed The Adventures of Duane & BrandO. Together, the duo wrote the extremely popular "Mega Man 2" plus other outrageous videogame rhymes.
A couple of years later, Duane decided to branch out on his own and form Action Adventure World, which we've featured previously on Destructoid. AAW is essentially the spiritual sequel to DnB, featuring the same style of game music arrangements with aggressive lyrics yet plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor. The result is a sound so fun and full of intensity that you can't help but bob your head along with the bassline.
To spice up the mix, Duane began working on an episodic videogame aptly entitled Action Adventure World: The Game. He brought a near-final build of the first chapter with him to nerd music festival Nerdapalooza in Orlando earlier this month, and I had an opportunity to give it a quick spin. I also asked if he wouldn't mind sharing a few words to help spread the word on both his game and his beats.
How did the decision to adapt music from fairly non-threatening NES games into violent, hardcore hip hop come about?
It originally started as a joke. I don't view it as "violent," but in most games, the goal is to kill everything. I just try to make the murder fun for everyone.
When you think about it, classic videogame characters tend to be vicious sociopaths despite their adorableness.
Agreed, though most of the time, the bad guy somehow ends up in jail as opposed to the cemetery.
I'm sure those Goombas and Koopa Troopas would disagree.
I assume they just become the ghosts in the Ghost Houses. No wonder they want Mario dead so much!
So, this joke comes up and eventually leads to The Adventures of Duane & BrandO?
Pretty much. I showed Brandon a bunch of songs I was working on and asked him to come in as my producer and make it sound amazing. Later, I asked him to be a part of it.
The first song I ever wrote was "Bomberman," then I wrote "Ninja Gaiden" and "Punch-Out!!" I had about ten of them, all of which we recreated for the LP of Devastation with extra parts for Brandon. Except "Mortal Kombat."
You covered Mortal Kombat? I was unaware!
Actually, it was my least favorite, anyway.
Well, they can't all be our favorite children. One always winds up in the basement.
What kind of musical background did you have going into DnB?
Surprisingly, I was never that big a fan of rap music. I started as a punk drummer, but I like a wide range of music, which probably explains why somebody that doesn't really listen to rap music could also get into what I do. I know I love it.
Yeah, the various genre influences are quite pronounced in your music.
I try to do something for everybody.
When did you feel the time was right to break off and start a solo project?
I'd always wanted to be the front man of something instead of the guy in the background. I studied a variety of instruments and worked to create something that other people could add to instead of adding to something someone else was doing. That way, it felt more like mine. When I started writing videogame songs, I felt accomplished and really felt like I had potential for greatness.
Where did the name "Action Adventure World" come from?
To me, it sounded like the name of a level, and I wanted to keep the word "Adventure" in it. Plus, I wanted it to start with an "A" so it would be the first band in people's iPods.
Ha ha ha! I did not think of that! You sneaky bastard!
Who else comprises Action Adventure World?
Kitsumech from Random Encounter [a videogame-inspired rock fusion band -- Tony] was my original guitarist. It's always been my project, but anyone can really be a part of it. I try to keep it very fan oriented. Michel Orgaz, the guy who is working on my game with me, is a prime example of that.
During your set at Nerdapalooza, you tossed out balloons during "Balloon Fight" and even invited someone from the crowd to rap along to "Barkley Shut Up and Jam!" through a megaphone.
He didn't know the song, but yeah. That is my way of trying to bring the audience into it. By the end of the show, it felt like there were as many people on stage as there were in the audience. I want my shows to feel like a party.
Something I've noticed is that you tend to cover less prominent games, ones that are typically glossed over by the fan arrangement community, such as Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu, ToeJam & Earl, and the aforementioned Barkley Shut Up and Jam! Is that a conscious decision?
I make music for me, and I let the fans enjoy it with me. I know that if I wrote songs that were more popular, my play ratio would improve, but I love the idea of writing a song for a game I loved as a kid in hopes that others will play the games and enjoy them as much as I did growing up. I am working on stuff like Star Fox, but I feel like, to me, a song about something more obscure will mean more to an obscure gamer like me.
Speaking of material that gets glossed over, one of my favorite AAW projects is the Mega Man 6 collaboration with (Chilean videogame metal band) ThePlasmas. That is my favorite Mega Man game right after the second one! You didn't just do an abridged medley, either, but an album covering the entire game!
Yeah, I loved Mega Man 6! It was one of my favorite games, and when I was approached by ThePlasmas to record Vol. 2 [the first AAWvsTP album covered Ghosts 'n Goblins -- Tony], I couldn't think of anything more fitting.
Brandon and I were actually working on a Mega Man 3 song, but it vanished into thin air. I had my parts completely recorded, too.
If you wanted to introduce someone to your music, what song would you play for them? Would you ease 'em into it or hit 'em hard and fast?
If it was a girl, I'd show them "Balloon Fight." Ladies love Balloon Fight! Fact.
Which is your personal favorite song?
Probably "Battletoads." I love them all, though, in different ways.
Except "Mortal Kombat." It's in the basement.
Right on. I don't remember it much. I did reference the Blood Code, though.
So, Action Adventure World: The Game... when did that lightning bolt strike, and what's it about?
The plot of the game is an Evil Scientist stole my heart and replaced it with a bomb [Crank 3? -- Tony], and I have to find evil and kick its ass before I explode.
The idea for releasing a game came up when I was trying to think of new ideas to keep my music interesting. I was talking about ideas for a game when I was approached by Michel Orgaz, who asked me if he could program it. We threw ideas back and forth about it and decided that it would be awesome if it was set up like Super Meat Boy with a character that could do "more." By the end of the game, it will be like nothing and everything you could ever dream of, if the game ever ends!
You make no secret that it draws heavily from various games old and new. Aside from the obvious Super Meat Boy style, I've noticed block-throwing mechanics out of Chip 'n Dale, jumping animations from Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, and a robot boss battle straight out of Rocket Knight Adventures. What else is there?
Who knows! I have a ton of ideas left for it, as I'm sure Michel does. We do draw heavily from other games, which people will expect, being a videogame rapper. I have a ton of original ideas left to come, and I promise that by the time the game is done, people will be blown away. That is another reason why I am so glad the game is episodic. If an idea emerges, we can incorporate it almost right away.
What's the first episode like?
World 1 will be set in the city, so there is a lot of buildings. We also have a ton of spikes and other obstacles. This chapter has 28 levels and an end boss with two endings. We have two levels of difficulty: the main game and a bonus game for people that complain about it being to easy.
You mentioned that this game was devised as a way to keep your music fresh. How so?
The game will be released with a soundtrack of the game with lyrics, kinda like a videogame+EP. Right now, it features two songs, one of which is a new AAWvsTP song, but we may do one more for the menu music depending on how much time I have to complete it. ThePlasmas did the battle music chiptune style. I did the main music using a bunch of Atari sounds and a Speak & Spell.
You're hoping that the people who listen to the EP will sing along during the game, I figure?
When will the game be available?
August 1 at midnight, but people can pre-order it now and actually get their names in the credits of World 2 when it is released. We will continue to do it after the game is released until we begin work on the second chapter. The game will be emailed to everyone with a minimum donation of $2.
It will be $2 for each chapter. The game is well worth $2, though. Also, I hope that everyone that can't afford it will find a way to steal it. It is a great game, and I want everyone to be a part of it. Even pirates.
The demo I played at Nerdapalooza was extremely polished, so I'm expecting good things for the official release!
You ain't seen nothing yet!
So what's next for you? Where can people go to see your next live performance?
I will be performing at Gen Con on August 4, NerdPow! in October, and Kollision Con in November, and I'll have more dates up soon. Go to actionadventureworld.com and check out my tour schedule for more info.
Anything else you wanna say directly to the Destructoid readers?
Just thank you to everyone that listens to my music! I hope you all enjoy it, and I will find ways to keep it interesting along the way!