The standards for advance promotion of an album may be getting a little … intense.

Photos? Track listing? Advance music video? Streaming preview?

How about a complete, playable adventure video game in your Web browser, free, with charming graphics and an original chip music soundtrack adapting the songs from the record in 8-bit form?

Due out Tuesday, September 3, Okkervil River’s LP “The Silver Gymnasium” isn’t shy about its nostalgia factor. The whole record is a re-imagining of frontman Will Sheff’s 80s childhood. That might be a bit much were the browser game not so beautifully executed. Sheff created the ambient sound design, itself 16-bit and exquisitely assembled, and played and performed tracks from the album, as well as co-writing the game’s text. The game itself holds up as a game, producing an engrossing and diverting episodic experience. (Chapters will trickle out over coming weeks.)

And that’s what you would hope for a game that name-drops the likes of Leisure Suit Larry, Maniac Mansion, and King’s Quest.

The game’s co-creator is Miles Benjamin and Eyes & Ears. The Chicago shop’s freelance developers work on exactly this kind of music-specific “direct-to-fan” marketing work, in business speak. In human speak, that means they create entire frickin’ games to promote your record. It’s not easy doing services for the music industry, these days, any more than it is being a band, but at least it’s fun. E&E lists specialties ranging from NODE.js (think nerdy JavaScript stuff) to WordPress to mobile development to branding to, apparently, scripting point-and-click adventure games in the mold of Sierra Entertainment.

All of this is cute, but it’d trigger gag reflexes if it weren’t somehow authentic. And the new record from the Austin indie band seems a real labor of love.

The game is just the beginning. The songs themselves recall childhood, and a touching video mixes in old Kodak prints. The artwork collaborator, William Schaff, is a friend of the band and spent time in person listening to the tunes in order to create a gatefold map that lays out the world of the band’s childhood – like a fantasy novel set in the 80s New Hampshire town where Sheff grew up.


Hipsterism is often criticized for its irony; even down to the adventure game, this is entirely unironic. Even the release on cassette tape seems only fitting.

The only danger, it seems, is that the album, and indeed indie music, could become overly fascinated with the past. So, it’s a relief that the game and the map and the record, for all their VHS tapes and young romance and wood-paneled station wagons, also conjure up some creative fantasy, too. And if it’s harder to be a band in the media-saturated world of today’s Web, at least the response of some artists is to get personal and vulnerable. And that seems what you would want out of a band.

Follow the artists and the record at the official site:

And play the game in a browser: