The Artful Escape is an idealized vision of everything the music industry could be, straight out of the brain of Australian rockstar Johnny Galvatron. In five years of development (at least), The Artful Escape has transformed into a psychedelic adventure game with a living soundtrack of original folk and rock music, a cast of ridiculous characters, otherworldly environments, and a roster A-list voice actors, including Jason Schwartzman, Lena Headey, Michael Johnston, Carl Weathers and Mark Strong.
The Artful Escape is set to hit Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, and PC on September 9th, priced at $20. It'll hit Game Pass at the same time, and it's being published by indie hit-maker Annapurna Interactive.
Galvatron is the frontman of The Galvatrons, a high-energy Australian rock group that toured the continent and opened for bands like Def Leppard and Cheap Trick in the late 2000s. However, for the past few years, Galvatron has been a game developer first and foremost. In the 2010s, he used YouTube videos to teach himself how to create a game in Unreal, building off the 3D animation and coding courses he took back in college, right before Warner Music signed him. He then founded a studio, rented some office space, secured a deal with Annapurna, and somewhere along the way, he ended up in a recording booth with Jason Schwartzman.
"We just hung out and spoke about David Bowie and Bob Dylan and video games and stuff," Galvatron said. "And it was just like, it was a moment for me. He came into the studio and he had like a cape and he had a dressing gown and like an umbrella and a little tiny Korg synth. He brought all these things and he put them all around him and he would like, do the line with the cape and then he would throw the cape around another way, and then he would hold the umbrella and do the line. I was just on my feet the whole time."
In The Artful Escape, the main character, Francis Vendetti, goes on a multidimensional journey to discover his true stage persona — which seems to be a David Bowie-esque shred machine — while at the same time reckoning with the legacy of his late uncle, a Bob Dylan-style folk icon. He travels through strange and trippy worlds, playing music and hunting for his true sound.
To give a sense of the game's oddball vibe, Schwartzman plays a giant brain perched atop a pile of discarded fish parts.
"He’s a really funny comic support character," Galvatron said. "Like a very lofty British alien, like a brain floating in an aquarium on a flotilla of goldfish fins. It'll make sense when you see it."
For Galvatron, The Artful Escape is exactly that — an escape. His career as a mainstream rockstar was ultimately unfulfilling, filled with red tape, stagnant bureaucracy and awkward interactions. In between shows, he often found himself curled up in the corner of the tour bus, reading Dune or writing his own novel, watching the continent fly by.
As a game developer, he's building the industry he actually wanted to be a part of, one line of code at a time.
"It's kind of what I dreamed the music industry would be, this world of magical doors and these great experiences, instead of like drinking Melbourne Bitter at an RSL in Wollongong, trying not to get beaten up because you look like you're in Poison," Galvatron said. He laughed and, without missing a beat, added, "Can you use that quote in its entirety?"
Sure thing, Galvatron — but only because that sounds like a solid premise for a sequel to The Artful Escape.