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TV star's new superhero game takes cues from improv acting

Heroes and Hawaii Five-0 actor Masi Oka has started an independent game company. We spoke with him about his new project, and how he was inspired to create it by teaching improv in Japan.

Brandon Sheffield, Contributor

July 31, 2014

4 Min Read

Masi Oka began his career at Industrial Light and Magic, as a visual effects programmer. But he was worried he'd get stuck in that role for life, so he tried his hand at acting. That's what most of us know him for nowadays -- his role as Hiro Nakamura in Heroes, and as Dr. Max Bergman in Hawaii Five-0. But Oka has gotten restless again -- now he's making games. Late last year, he started a small game company called Mobius Digital. The aim, he says, is to come up with new and creative games that "aren't necessarily knockoffs of games out there, or nickel and diming people with IAP." Mobius just launched its first title, the collaborative superhero creator Our Superhero. Right now the studio is "around five or six people," depending on the project, and all the game concepts are Oka's. "Right now games are very derivative," he tells me. "I love it, and [they're] great, but the innovation is kind of gone. None of these games want gamers to feel empowered to create." Oka feels that most games today, especially the larger ones, put you on rails that someone else created. "I want the gamers to remember, themselves, that they are creative," he says. "I want to enable them to create their own world, their own characters." This has been a theme for Oka recently, enabling creation. While acting is a still a passion for him, he needs a bigger creative outlet for himself. "I think the great thing about Mobius Digital for me is I get to create," he enthused. "Mostly with acting, everything has been created for us. Of course you get to have your interpretation of the role, but the story, the angles, the scene, that's all been created for us already."

"And making movies can take five years," he adds. "Sometimes longer, sometimes faster, whereas games are really quick. From inception to execution, they can be as short as three months, and as long as 1-2 years." That quicker turnaround and ability to create something tangible is what appealed to him, and why he decided to start a game company. Oka decided to form the studio himself, rather than partnering with a larger game company, which is the traditional route out of Hollywood. "Everybody's making huge big budget franchises, or really small titles. The middle is gone," says Oka. "I think that's what's great about indie games -- everyone's scared now, they're taking the safe route, you've got to work on franchises." But as an independent developer, Oka and his team can do what they like, how they like. "There are things I experience in my acting world that comes back into the gaming world," says Oka of his transmedia endeavor. For his current game, which has players take turns to create a unique superhero (kind of like two-player Mad Libs, as he calls it), the epiphany hit him when he was teaching improv in Japan. "I teach a lot of improv games in Japan, and Our Superhero really is that," he says. "Not only is collaboration encouraged, it's enforced. And you have to be open to other people's ideas. Every player you work with, you come up with something completely different." Oka wants people to get a different sort of inspiration than a single player or competitive game might provide. "When you collaborate with other people, your imagination is unlimited," he says, excitedly -- he sounds as inspired as he was when he first had the idea, as the words quickly flow out of him. "The idea is to not say no -- be open to what another person says. I want it to affect you in one way or another," Oka says. "Go on a journey! Be surprised! This allows you to be free with your imagination." This is one of the main tenets of improvisational acting, to always say "yes, and" rather than "no." "Remember that there's no right or wrong answer," Oka adds. "Don't worry about being funny or being smart -- just let it go, and see where it goes! Ultimately, would you rather live your life in safety, or go on an adventure? While we're playing around, I think we should go on an adventure." [Our Superhero is available now on iOS, and coming soon to Android. The company's next title, a puzzle game called Terra Chroma, is currently planned for release next year.]

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