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Cartoon Network's Level Up Interview

Interviews By William Murphy on November 19, 2011

MMORPG.com:

Tell us about your inspiration for Level Up the movie. How did you come to this subject?

Derek:

Dave and I are both avid gamers and have been playing for years. I grew up on Zork, King's Quest, Adventure, Ultima, etc. and later on fell in love with Elder Scrolls, Diablo, Halo, CoD and, of course, WoW among others. I think every gamer always wonders to themselves "What if this were real? What if I really were facing a terrifying-looking monster with nothing but a sword? Would I wet myself and run away, or charge head first into danger and become a hero in real life?" And that was, in part, the genesis of it. Wish fulfillment. That coupled with the anonymity of the internet. Being friends, bonding, playing a game with people you've never met and what would happen if you met them and realized you did know them IRL and didn't like them. How would that change your relationship with them? Plus, our wives were starting to not buy the whole "research" excuse on why we were still playing video games as grown men. We had to set up a game related project to get them off our backs.

David:

Couldn't have said it better. I would also add that Derek and I love to write underdog stories. Level Up was a great way to show a group of kids rising to a challenge and going beyond what anyone would expect from them.

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MMORPG.com:

MMOs are always ready for jokes. Can you tell us where you got your inspiration for the comedy side of the series?

David:

A lot of the comedy comes from our two worlds colliding. How do our characters interact with elements from the game once they're in the real world. For instance, Lyle, our jock character, plays as a mage in the game. Thus his weapon (called Thunder Pole) is a magical staff that requires him to say incantations aloud to fire. Our game world is pretty whimsical (we think of it as Ratchet & Clank meets WOW) and therefore his spells sound pretty ridiculous when he calls them out. Hearing the jock yell, "Potty Breakus!" to lay down a freeze spell is pretty darn funny. Or, Wyatt, who wields Blast-a-ton (a big ol' funky gun) that has dozens of types of ammo often doesn't know what's going to shoot out when he pulls the trigger.

Derek:

There's a learning curve to battling monsters IRL. You might be incredible and brave when facing a ghoul on a computer, but what if you met him in the flesh (so to speak)? They're pretty scary-looking, plus they could actually suck your soul out, which would totally blow -- especially if you had a term paper to finish. Then there's the whole figuring out how to use your weapons. It's one thing to hit ctrl-f to fire something, but how do you do it in real life? What kind of kick back would your weapon have? How heavy would it be? What's going to fire out? Where's the auto-aim? I also always love how in games our characters can lug around 200+ pounds of weapons and armor and loot and health potions and STILL hold their own in battle. How much would you be able to carry IRL?

MMORPG.com:

What was it like blending the in game footage with the live action footage?

Derek:

It was incredibly important to us that this game look like something we'd all want to play. So often we see games on TV that look just awful and as a gamer, it throws me right out of the show/film. It's all pretend to me at that point. The VFX folks at Turner used the Unreal engine to create the game for the film and series and did a fantastic job. We did a day's worth of motion capture for the game stuff. The actors who do that work are incredibly talented. As far as our actors reacting to the game as they played it... they had no idea what the finished product was going to look like, but luckily, they all play games as well so you buy their reactions.

David:

It was a real challenge to be authentic and cinematic at the same time. Hopefully we struck the right balance. On a side note, when we created the game for the movie we started jonesing to play the game. Luckily Cartoon Network felt that too and decided to make an online game inspired by the game in the movie. We were so pumped to integrate our monsters and weapons from the movie into the game as well as write missions and quests for it.

MMORPG.com:

Tell us about the characters. How did you come to create these gamers and in game avatars?

David:

We really developed our characters through the lens of who they chose as their avatars. Your avatar says so much about who you are as a real person. Sometimes it's a Freudian choice. Like Dante, our rebel character, plays as a Knight in the game. I think that's an innate part of him that he'd never show, but is dying to be expressed. He's noble despite himself. Or sometimes it's wish fulfillment like our geek being a Rogue or a desire to let your inner nerd roar as in the case of our jock being a Mage. On a personal note, almost all my WoW toons are Pallys. Now I'm asking myself why I love that class. Is it that I want to express a better, more holy part of myself? Maybe I just don't like having to carry health potions or having to sit down and eat when I'm hurt.

Derek:

As far as creating the gamers, we also wanted to set up a "Breakfast Club" type dynamic where three high school kids who perhaps wouldn't otherwise be friends at school (the nerd, the jock and the rebel) actually discover they're great friends online. And then explore what would happen if that friendship was tested by the sometimes ridiculous reality of high school. Why can't we be friends IRL? What's changed?

MMORPG.com:

What is the funniest part about gaming in your opinion?

Derek:

The idea that an incredibly hot, very girly Priestess in the game you're playing could be the avatar of a burly, Alaskan crab fisherman. It's all good as long as he's an excellent healer.

David:

That reminds me of a story. I met a very clean cut couple in their forties a little while back. We were talking and when I mentioned the movie and show to them they just freaked out and told me about how deeply they're involved in WoW. Never in a million years would I have pegged them as gamers. Yacht owners, yes. Death Knights... no way. Goes to show you. But the funniest thing to me is the noise that Murlocs in WoW make. I love that growl or whatever that sound is called.

MMORPG.com:

If there was one monster or fictional character from your past that you would like to bring into the real world, what would it be?

David:

Time Bandits (one of my all time favorite movies) comes to mind in two ways here. First, I guess we resurrected a bit of Pure Evil in Maldark our main villain by using grandiosity for comedy. Second, and this is more of a twist on the equation, but one of my deepest desires as a kid was to go and live with the Sean Connery King Agamemnon character in his kingdom and learn to fight like him. I guess I'd like to go back there rather than bring him here. Can I do that instead?

Derek:

Leisure Suit Larry. He didn't have much working for him, but he always seemed to get the girl. I think there's a lot he could teach all of us about chasing your dreams and never giving up. Plus he'd be incredibly easy to put back into the game world if he started acting out (which for Larry would mean hitting on your mom).

MMORPG.com:

Can you explain the story arc of the series? How will the players progress?

Derek:

In the series, we get the spend a lot more time exploring the gang's growing friendship and the dynamics of their characters and the trouble their side gig as heroes (as well as things leaking from the game) causes in their everyday lives. Without getting into the stories we're telling, we definitely get to see our gang level up in real life. It's been a blast and everyone in the writer's room is chomping at the bit to write more.

David:

There's always an element of discovery. New leaks and challenges. New loot. So, just like gaming, their knowledge base is always expanding and being utilized. Like Derek said, our gang continues to level up IRL.

MMORPG.com:

What is something about the movie/series you are excited to tell viewers that you have not been able to yet?

David:

How deeply our project is steeped in us being gamers ourselves. From D&D to Zork to King's Quest to Diablo, Baulder's Gate, Elder Scrolls, Fable, World of Warcraft and so many others, we've played and loved so many RPGs through our lives it's nuts. I don't even want to try to calculate the number of hours I've invested into gaming. Luckily my wife likes to geek out to comic books and Buffy reruns or I'd be in trouble. I really hope that as gamers we've been as authentic to our tribe mates as we can be while still telling a story that non-gamers can understand and love too.

Derek:

There are all sorts of winks and nods to gamers and "geeks" everywhere. Some obvious, some less so. For instance, someone on the web was discussing the trailer and commented on the name of our town being called Daventry Hills. They wondered if it was a nod to King's Quest and, because I guess Hollywood has let down gamers so much in the past, decided it couldn't possibly be. Well, it is. Because we loved King's Quest growing up and it was an inspiration to us. Hopefully, gamers (and non-gamers) everywhere will become believers in the film and the show and rally behind it. Nothing would make us prouder than to be playing a game online and hearing someone shout, "Tulta Munille!" as they charged into battle.

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