If love is a game, you’ve never seen one like this | Gordon Calleja

Have a group of Maltese developers made video game history with their adaptation of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’?

Still from Love Will Tear Us Apart - a locally-produced online video game based on the cult classic Joy Division song.
Still from Love Will Tear Us Apart - a locally-produced online video game based on the cult classic Joy Division song.

It looks as though a Maltese video game designer has stumbled upon a world-first. Gordon Calleja, leading a rag-tag team of techies and local artists, has hit upon the idea of adapting Joy Division's cult song 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' into a free video game to be played online.

Set to launch at the end of this month, the game will convert each verse from the 1979 romantic angst anthem into a playable level. Perhaps apropos to the seemingly unprecedented concept, Calleja - also visiting associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen and currently running the newly-minted Digital Games Institute at the University of Malta - was inspired to kickstart the project after it came to him in a dream.

 "I woke up with a start in the middle of a summer night and had the song playing in my mind. In that zombified, half dreaming state I saw, rather than heard, the song as a collection of Duhrer-esque spaces..."

Calleja then got to collaborating with illustrator Steffi Degorgio to bring this oblique vision to life, gradually snowballing his team to include a handful of other local creatives after Degiorgio unfortunately suffered an injury which stopped her from committing to the project.

Working under the banner of Mighty Box Games - a local game-development company - the team behind 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' is made up of programmer Marvin Zammit, Fabrizio Cali (in charge of 3D modeling and animation), Thomas Cuschieri on sound design and Mark Casha on interface design. Project manager Costantino Oliva was brought along to "keep the team in check," and the group is completed by Malta-based artists Anthony Catania and Nel Pace.

The game will be something of a tour de force, in that each level would take on a different video game genre, to better suit its quirky conceptual framework and stay as true as possible to the structure of the song.

"I wanted to adapt the song by using the multiple facets of games: representational elements (visual and auditory), game goals, rules and the overall structure.  So I started by organising the game into three levels, or mini-games, each of which represents a verse in the song. Each of these would treat the content of the verse as well as convey the over-arching concern of the song in a sequential manner," Calleja says.

"Animations would then introduce the game and follow each level.  Their main function is to help the player make sense of what happens in the levels and, since they are quite different in style and gameplay, link them all together in a coherent narrative."

Despite having international networks to exploit, Calleja made it a point to work with an entirely Malta-based team on this particular game.

"When Steffi injured herself we had a choice of great game artists in Copenhagen to replace her with.  We also came across a very talented game artist from San Francisco, but I really wanted this to be a Maltese production done by Maltese talent," Calleja says.

The project is also potentially a boon for Malta by simply being the first of its kind, anywhere. Calleja flags up similar quirky artifacts from international artists which, however, aren't exactly video game adaptations of songs. "There is one game from the fantastic Italian indie-game designer, Molleindustria, but that's a game accompanying the song (replacing the customary music video), but that's not quite an adaptation.  And then, of course, there's Bjork's Biophilia, but that is an interactive expression and deconstruction of the tracks in the album that was designed to be part of the musical experience (hence its beauty), not an adaptation per se."

Calleja zeroes in on what is probably the project's enduring motivation: "There's always something exciting about being the first to do something, even if it's as particular (and perhaps trivial) as being the first to make a game adaptation of a song."

Stay updated on the game by logging on to the official website or following the initiative on Facebook. The project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund.