Roni Games on working with Lil Nas X to turn ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ into a twerking video game

Designer Simeon Denev talks about designing Twerk Hero around Lil Nas X

“The game attracts a lot of people, I mean, when they see it, it’s like ‘geez, I have to twerk’.” Simion Denev of Roni Games tells me. We’re talking about Twerk Hero, the studio’s mobile game that was recently adapted for the web as part of a collaboration with Lil Nas X. The custom ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ version of Twerk Hero sees the player jiggling Lil Nas X’s virtual booty across four levels, all based on scenes from the phenomenal music video. Players must use their mouse to wiggle in time to the music, hitting “the temptations” flying towards Lil Nas X to score points and earn stars to proceed.

Lil Nas X tweeted the game to his six million followers on Wednesday night, challenging his fans to make it through all the levels. It’s quite a challenging game, especially if you want to get past the last level, which features over 300 temptations.

Denev, a game designer, started Roni Games in his native Bulgaria two years ago, named after his 10 and a half-year-old dog who you can see on the company website. The team features Denev as well as a 2D artist, a 3D artist and a Unity developer. Their game Twerk Hero was ready in September of 2020, and the team started shopping it around with publishers shortly after. Roni Games ran into some problems at first, due to the game being “too scandalous”. “Facebook blocks the advertisements for the game all the time,” Denev tells me, and the studio has been having issues keeping it on the Google Play Store.

So how did this landmark collaboration happen? “I got this message from Sony Music about three weeks ago,” Denev explains. “They said Lil Nas X has seen the game and would like to include it in the promotion of his latest single. We had to make a brand new 3D model of Lil Nas X based on the references they provided us,” Denev adds. ”The premiere of The video was on the 26th of March and we started on the Monday after that.”

Lil Nas X’s team provided loops from ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ as well as materials that helped with creating the textures, but the big issue for Roni Games was adapting a mobile game to the web. “It wasn’t very easy. We had some back and forth with them until we nailed exactly how they envisioned the game.” Denev says they finished the game in the nick of time, delivering it on April 7, the same day it was released to the public.

When asked about glitches encountered during the short development period, Denev says the whole situation “is like one fun glitch. We have separate settings for the jiggling of the ass,” he explains. “And we were wondering if (Lil Nas X) would like a big ass or a small ass, very jiggly, not jiggly that much…”

Roni Games consulted Lil Nas X’s team on this topic, but they didn’t comment after being shown the booty that the artists had come up with. The rhythmic twerking seen in the special Lil Nas X version of Twerk Hero is the latest iteration of Twerk Hero’s gameplay, which Roni Games plans to stick with as they expand.

Roni Games is still negotiating with regards to whether the Lil Nas X game mode will appear in the game beyond this collaboration, but they see a lot of potential in Twerk Hero going forward, which will have lots of customization options. “We are still in the stage where we’re wondering if people want this game purely from the humour side of things, or if somehow we can make it interesting to professional twerkers.” Roni Games is also interested in working with other celebrities than Lil Nas X to implement new moves and levels into the game.

Widening the scope, Denev said that he’s a fan of the song, noting comparisons between the rhythm and melody of ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ to a unique Bulgarian music genre called Chagla, or Pop-Folk, which Denev describes as an elevated version of Country. “You can tell it was done professionally – the highest level of production because I’ve been listening to it for a week and a half and I didn’t want to kill myself at the end” Denev adds, wryly.

I also asked Denev about his thoughts on the controversy that has surrounded the ‘Montero’ music video for its use of religious imagery. “When you listen to the message, you can tell Lil Nas X is trying to say something, it’s not like he’s just putting words to the music,” Denev says. “I consider myself Orthodox Christian and a bit conservative, but at the same time, I don’t see it as him glorifying the devil or something. It’s more like he’s fighting him.”

In the future, Denev would love to publish Twerk Hero everywhere. “I was joking with the guys like ‘Can we make it PlayStation 5 exclusive?’ What we want as a company is to make bigger and better games,” Denev notes. Before the Lil Nas X assignment, the team was more focused on its Dungeon Fighter project, a mix between an endless runner, an RPG and a hack and slash. More resources will naturally be allocated to Twerk Hero given this new surge of attention, but once they wrap work on some more mobile titles, Denev tells me that Roni Games wants to start making PC games too.

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