In some of the most left-field news to come out of this year’s Gamescom, electronic musician Deadmau5 is creating his own video game called Oberhasli. More accurately, Oberhasli is a “virtual world and music experience” where fans of Deadmau5 and his music can interact with content curated by the man (and mouse) himself.
The project is launching on Core, a free game-creation platform that was funded by Fortnite developer Epic Games in 2020. Epic’s involvement in the platform, which is available through the Epic Games Store, is fitting considering that Oberhasli looks like a more in-depth version of Fortnite’s live music experiments. It’s not going to be a one-and-done concert, but an evolving digital space where fans can get an inside look at the DJ’s brain.
I spoke with Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5, about Oberhasli and his interest in creating digital worlds. Zimmerman makes it clear that he’s not out to make a flash-in-the-pan PR spectacle; Oberhasli is a long-term vision that could give artists a forward-thinking way to connect with their fans.
When you hear the name Deadmau5, video games probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. The producer and DJ is a Grammy-nominated electronic artist who’s recognizable thanks to his now-iconic mouse helmet. Skeptical players might assume his connection to the project is in name only, with a development team doing the heavy lifting.
That’s not exactly the case. Zimmerman is an avid gamer and a self-taught developer. Our conversation included a flurry of high-level tech jargon, as Zimmerman nerded out over DLSS and path tracing. He finds himself trying to figure out how something is done in a game the same way he’d ask what synth a musician is using on a track.
“Things I like to do myself, I tend to deep dive,” Zimmerman tells Digital Trends. “Everyone can appreciate a game, and there’s plenty of people who don’t care to know how that game works. I love cars, but I don’t necessarily know a lot about it. If it’s on a computer, I’m happy to do that, but if it’s a tangible good, I could give a shit less.”
Music and gaming ended up intersecting in a surprising way, as Zimmerman almost accidentally stumbled into creating a game. While he wasn’t sure he’d be able to commit to a full-scale, AAA-sized title, Core’s world-building interface allowed him to spin his dream project up much quicker.
“It came out of the necessity of needing to make a show previz out of a real-time game engine versus setting up a studio,” says Zimmerman. “My previz, thanks to the advent of Unreal Engine, started to look like a AAA game, and I was like, ‘Well, can we make this a video game then?’ And they were like ‘yes … and no.’ Making games is a solid commitment, with a lot of money and man hours. It only made more sense to walk into a preexisting world builder to use that as the framework for the world of Deadmau5.”
Oberhalsi is an ambitious project. It’s not like a Fortnite concert experience where players will log in for 20 minutes, interact with a preset show, and leave. Zimmerman feels that experiences like Fortnite’s live shows tend to make headlines, but ultimately fizzle out. Instead, his aim is to create a modular world that’s persistent and ever-evolving — one that allows him to actually interact with his fans and vice versa.
“The long-term goal is that players are going to be able to squad up or come in solo and be in instances of a performance where I’m actually there performing live,” says Zimmerman. “It’s just kind of a sandbox hangout where I can do some web streams and interact with people who don’t have Core, but can watch me interact with people in real time. It’s been cool to have this platform where I can develop and world build and change things weekly, daily, whenever I want, and have that become a community activity.”
The digital space will host events and feature prebuilt minigames that players can goof around in. It sounds a bit like Second Life, if it was set in “Deadmau5 world” instead of reality. Core co-founder Jordan Maynard calls it a “window into Joel’s mind.” One week, he might drop a song sketch in the game. Another, he may program some guns in and turn it all into a battle royale game. It’s a genre-less experience that’s more about giving fans access to his fluid creative process.
Oberhasli extends that same idea to its players. Zimmerman describes it as a “sandbox game for developers and artists,” noting that anyone will be able to alter the world if they know how to use Core’s world-builder tool. Any player could program in some cars and create Super Deadmau5 Kart if they felt like it. The hope is that fan engagement will keep the world active even when Zimmerman himself isn’t logged in.
“I was like, how am I going to give this thing a shelf life when I’m sleeping?” Zimmerman says. “One of the challenges is to gamify and create social activity for everyone on the same tier that they’d get if I was there, too. You can go to circus, but if all the performers are taking a break one day, who wants to go to the fucking circus?”
Naturally, the whole project evokes the elusive “metaverse” concept that tech companies like Epic and Facebook are chasing right now. Oberhasli will certainly get labeled as another building block in the mounting vision of a digital-only world, but that’s not how Zimmerman necessarily views the project. For him, it’s just about finding a way to connect with his fans in a more meaningful way. The metaverse is a sprawling concept that could let us live entire digital lives; this is a more personal experience that breaks down the barriers between artist and fans.
Zimmerman is refreshingly blunt when the topic of the metaverse is raised: “I don’t even know what it is and neither does anyone else. So I’ll be the first to admit that I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about when you say metaverse.”