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Interview: The Mega64 Effect

As game video pastichers Mega64 continue to make large slices of the Internet happy, co-creator Rocco Botte explains to Gamasutra how they don't kowtow to 'the man' while providing gleeful promo videos -- revealing a Dale Earnhardt skit that never came t

October 7, 2008

7 Min Read

Author: by Brandon Sheffield, Leigh Alexander

The creators behind Mega64 first gained underground acclaim with its San Diego public access TV show, before its video skits were released on DVD through the publishing arm of equally random community site SomethingAwful. With a practically anarchic glee, Mega64 has since branched out to help publishers and events promote (or is that just make fun of?) its events, producing several video skits for Ubisoft titles, for the Spike TV VGAs, and for the 2007 and 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards at GDC -- including that famous Miyamoto sketch. But the promotional angle still seems to work just fine for Mega64, in part because they still create plenty of original material for their website, and because they've never surrendered their surreal vibe. Gamasutra asked Mega64 co-creator Rocco Botte about how he balances entertainment humor with advertisement. "I think basically, we're just captivated by anything that just seems like it's going to be fun to do," Botte says. "We look at what makes a funny subject matter for a video, and that's what we go towards." Balance, Botte says, simply comes down to choosing what's funny, "major in stupid," or seems fun to do. "The stuff just floats to the top that way and we just go with whatever happens," he says. The transition from simply following the funny to monetizing their skits came "probably a year" after Mega64 began, Botte recalls. He and co-creator Derrick Acosta set it up as a public access show, but found they found they gained steam quickly on the internet, thanks to the rise of video. "Then after about a year we would get emails from game companies to see if we wanted to do stuff for them," he says. Botte says that he, Acosta and a third team member, Shawn Chatfield, are now able to work on Mega64 full time. "It just fell into our laps," Botte says. "It wasn't anything we were really striving for. We were just having fun and filming it and that was pretty much it." Botte says the inspiration for much of their parody humor comes from just playing through games, whether old or new. "We're really fascinated by some of the social situations in games," he says. "Like, we just did [a video about] Assassin's Creed recently and we all enjoyed that game. I mean, it's a perfectly fine game." "But just this guy walking through a crowd and touching everybody on a really personal level was just so funny to us, because, like... who does that? It's not even a matter of, 'Well, wouldn't that be wacky?'" Botte distills the humor approach to one key idea: "There's just things you don't do socially that happen in video games and it's accepted as normal, and we try to find those little things and exploit them." The Mega64 team, then, is positioned alongside popular webcomic artists Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, who're able to mock the small foibles and failings of games in a way that even their developers appreciate -- rather than criticizing or dismissing, it's pointing out the moments of humor even the game's creators may have missed. "Typically developers are flattered for whatever reason," says Botte. "Even when we rip them apart, they're pleased to be part of it... Sometimes we hear from developers that are totally unrelated, that I don't know." Mega64, whose videos are primarily improvisational, often does on-location scenes with unaware participants who don't know they're on a hidden camera. Botte says they attempt to differentiate each skit enough so that they don't run out of locations where it'll still work. "There's one mall, though. It's the mall that we filmed our Dead Rising skit in, and we walk in and we're surrounded by security now for whatever reason," says Botte. "They must have a really good system going there or something. I'll walk in during the Christmas season just to do some shopping, and I'll seriously see guards just at every corner just watching me. I don't know how they do it, but that mall figured it out. Nobody else has." But even if the unwitting citizens of San Diego, where much of the team's work is filmed, still haven't caught on to the Mega64 formula, does the team still have broader concerns about fan fatigue and staleness? "Like I said before, we're not really interested in doing the same thing over and over," says Botte. "Some of our stuff may come across for some people, I guess, as the same thing over and over -- I don't know. But when we go out and film, it never feels like we're doing the same thing twice. We consistently find different things that'll challenge us or just, we'll have fun creatively, however." "We change it up enough to where it's never really dull for us. We enjoy it. I don't think we've ever filmed something and just gone, 'well, all right, it's done, let's get our paycheck.' We always have a good time." But even if it's not about the money, humor is challenging enough when there's no business obligation there. Is it difficult for the team now that they're being paid, and does that create pressure? "Actually, in the beginning... there was a little worry of that," Botte admits. "Like, 'Oh, well, now that the pressure's there, are we going to be doing stuff because we creatively are into it, or are we just pushing for a paycheck?'" But despite initial worries, Botte says he found the team works best under pressure, having produced what he considers their best work under tight time and budgetary constraints. "I think that, for whatever reason, we work really well with limits versus no limits," he says. Not only that, but the distinctly lo-fi style of Mega64's videos is part of their charm. Says Botte, "People always ask us, 'What would you do with an unlimited budget?' We would keep it the same, probably. I can't see us going all out." Though of course they play a key role in the industry, marketing and PR teams in general aren't widely known for being the most genuinely creative, culturally underground sorts. But Botte's been surprised by how positively such teams have received Mega64's work -- whether or not they "get it." "I've learned to just roll with it," he says. "There definitely have been times where I felt like there [have been] marketing people I've talked to before that had no idea what's going on, but they still laughed. I don't know if they were just lying and went with it -- I don't know, and I don't want to know!" Because those customers often come back, Botte adds. "There are people we make stuff for that I'm like, 'Well, we'll never talk to them again, look what we made.' And they'll be like, 'Let's see this other thing!' It's like, 'Are you serious?'" In fact, Botte admits the team often pushes the envelope deliberately -- and is surprised to so rarely be rejected. Botte can recall one example, though, of a wild pitch that didn't quite find its mark. "We were approached by an oil company because they were going to sponsor a certain video game, a racing game, and they said, 'Do an ad for us, you guys seem like you know what you're doing.'" "We had this concept that was I think one of us pours their oil on Dale Earnhardt's grave, and he comes back to life and plays Burnout or something." "And they were like, 'Well, we found somebody who will work cheaper and they have better ideas, so we're going to leave.' If you don't want Dale then you don't want me -- that's the boom that I've lowered."

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