Maltese Joy Division game catches fire online

Malta-produced video game ‘Will Love Tear Us Apart’ attracts international media attention… and ire from Joy Division fans.

'Will Love Tear Us Apart' is a video game inspired by the Joy Division song 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - an enduring post-punk anthem.
'Will Love Tear Us Apart' is a video game inspired by the Joy Division song 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - an enduring post-punk anthem.

Being an unprecedented concept, a video game adaptation of Joy Division's cult classic 1979 song 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' was bound to attract attention.

But little did the members of the Malta-based game developing company Mighty Box imagine that their atmospheric tribute to the enduring post-punk anthem would proceed to be picked up by the likes of Rolling Stone, BBC 6 and Kotaku, along with countless other publications following its online release on May 31.

In comments to MaltaToday - which was the first media outlet to preview the game ahead of its release - Gordon Calleja of Mighty Box said that when going about devising the game, he 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".

Perhaps predictably, the 35,000-plus visits to the 'Will Love Tear Us Apart?' website haven't all yielded a positive response, mostly owing to the fact that many dedicated fans of the original song consider the very idea of a video game adaptation of the song to be sacrilegious to Joy Division's reputation.

"The game has been creating debates on the Joy Division offical Facebook page, where most people hate it just because it exists, and it happens to be a game," Calleja said, adding that many users simply assumed that the game was taking advantage of the song's popularity for profit (in fact, the game is playable for free).

If anything however, 'Will Love Tear Us Apart?' - which was also featured on Spin, Polygon and Fact - is arguably problematic only due to its deliberately 'difficult' nature as a game. Doing away with the pressures of having to be 'entertaining', Calleja and his team instead set out to create an atmosphere that would match the tone of the song and its lyrics, which - as the title suggests - centre on a relationship that's on the brink of collapse.

Constructed in three levels with an aesthetic which was described as being both 'Dürer'- and 'Esher'-like, the end result is a nightmarish and often maddening trip into a grey emotional underworld.

The team behind '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 is currently playable for free online.