Heard of the game “Pop Icon Clashes”? What comes to mind?
The game Pop Icon Clash was curated by Richard Willis, Jr. and Brian Ransom. The duo created a piece centered on pop culture, celebrity lifestyle, sport, and entertainment with other key team members. In October 2020, before the Presidential Election, the team rolled out the first version of the game with an animation of some political figures.
Although the game has generated a lot of controversy because of its first political character, you will find out more about the game in this interview. So, if you are looking for a game that will keep you enraptured and more, this is it. Richard Willis, Jr., in this interview, shares some behind-the-scenes details, ideas, and the future of the game.
Let’s start by talking about the title and the game’s concept.
Okay, sure. It is currently pop icon clashes. When we initially began working on the game in 2019, it was based on and inspired by an animated series we’ve created called capital cage fight. Essentially, the animated series is about a mysterious corporation pulling strings across America to start its political conversation. But, of course, these corporations are just creating all of it to control the masses.
We decided to do a soft launch in 2020, and the game received a great deal of enthusiasm and praise from our players. We initially rolled out with four characters, the President, Vice President, and their challengers. Then the insurrection happened on January 6, 2021. Suddenly, people on Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, and some of our associates in the promo and marketing world thought that the game had something to do with the insurrection. They felt that either we were satirizing it, or commenting on it, or getting involved somehow. Instead, what we were saying, is that with the long voting lines, you could whip out your phone and pick out a character according to your vibe, with your phone make the entire political conversation more pleasant. The political arena of it is just one of the aspects we’re focused on in the game. It’s the first one we decided to launch because of the visibility of the President.
What effects did January 6 have on the development and release of the game?
After January 6, 2021, we began to get chatter and blowback. So, we decided to pull the game, go back to the drawing board, and hone in on the game’s storyline. We felt the public would appreciate how we wanted to communicate about politics and the fun we are having with it, understanding that our agenda with the game is pop culture, everything from sports to music and entertainment.
The game will reflect the energy and attitudes of a pop icon. We are in the era of social media, and that’s what everybody’s about. So, if I’m a pop icon, I say something or do something, then thousands of people will respond, react, and follow me. That was really what our intention was, a fun parody of that experience through a fun game where characters battle it out to achieve the ultimate pop icon status. It was an extraordinary circumstance that we chose politics first, then all that craziness happens in Washington. So, we returned to the drawing board and refocused the game on pop culture and its elements to emphasize the fun. It’s not just a fighting game, speed game, or battles with the sophistication levels of Mortal Kombat or other fighting games, but it’s meant to be a game that appeals to anybody walking around with a cell phone in their pocket and who wants to play it.
However, we did not change the four characters because we believe that the President and the vice president are pop icons or pop culture icons. Trump and Kamala Harris are pop icon superstars. Similarly, for the black community, Harris was a pop icon before she even became Vice President. So, we decided to keep those four political characters as first in our new rollout. But what I would like to emphasize and very importantly is that as we move forward in the next few months, we’re going to be pivoting to creating a group of original characters that we call REPRESENTATIVE GENRE CHARACTERS. So, essentially the next round of fights will be, let’s say, rock and roll versus hip hop, football versus Basketball, the South versus the West. Our list is about 75 to 80 characters that are coming. Each character will be a composite character. So, when you see a fighter, it’ll give you a visual feel of that genre, that culture-category being represented. A guitar inside the body or ripped jeans for rock and roll, a body with turntables for lungs, whatever culturally makes people think the game looks like rock and roll versus hip hop. Cowboy boots and bandanas versus Timberlands and saggy jeans; the fantastic cultural visually representative factors battling for an exciting round. That’s essentially where the game is headed!
We have not introduced the full slate of characters yet. But, we’re leaning a bit on the pop culture of politics first. I think you probably understand that in development, it takes a bit of time. We’re probably four to five months ahead of where we are going next. Our team is not massive, but Brian Ransom of Ransom Media and myself at Mozell Entertainment Group are the two primaries. Our code writers and visual artists are essentially independents who work for hire. We’ve put together a talented team from various parts of the USA and a company called Selecton Technologies located in Europe.
Okay. Who came up with the concept for the visuals? Did you have multiple ideas for visuals, then you settle for one, or how did you decide what the visuals will be?
This is a direct collaboration between Brian Ransom and me. I’m a writer, producer, and filmmaker. I’m also in music and talent management. Brian has been in the animation world as a top creative and executive for many years. We are essentially creating these characters from the look to what they wear to how they feel. The current characters, as well as the composite characters, are our vision. That vision is based on satire and making intelligent fun, spoofing, and parody with caricatures. That’s where the concept for the visuals essentially emanates. We give specific direction to the artists in terms of the concept and execution.
Okay. I don’t want to jump around too much. What type of backlash was directed towards you because the production was around January 6, 2021? How was it coming in with the comments or mail?
That’s a great question and very interesting because I received a phone call from a young lady who is an actress whom we wanted to hire to voice the Kamala Harris character. And in the game, as you notice, she’s named KamalaQueen. We created an original vocabulary the way the artist Snoop Dog has done it. Unique words that are sexy, funny, dynamic, easy, and memorable. But this actress whom I’ve never met called me directly and said she was refusing the job. She did not want to be associated with anything about the insurrection and then she said that I was being a racist. I then told her that I’m black. She then went on to say, Well, even making fun of the fight that happened makes me angry and sad, and she hung up the phone.
That was probably the most focused and pristine example of the baton of responses we were getting. Some people said, this is great, but I’m afraid. I even have friends in the entertainment industry whom I was talking to about creating characters based on them. They became hesitant because of January 6, 2021. We were already headed in that direction with development, and they know that we will be launching the game with political pop icon characters first. Suddenly, they began to text and email me, like, I don’t want to be involved in anything political. I don’t want to be associated with the insurrection. I explained that we created the game an entire year before the insurrection happened. Still, the blowback was quite negative. And 50% of the negative comments or responses were racially based. People thought, for some reason, we had a racial undertone and that it was anti-black. Most people did know of my involvement. I’m not sure how that heap was made. I think it was made because of Trump’s character. That’s the only thing we could come up with.
I think it’s interesting that connection would even be made considering that Trump supporters who were involved in insurrection would claim that they’re not racist, right?
Exactly. That was a bizarre and almost twisted inverted argument. Half were saying this is racist because it is against the insurrection: a sort of interesting, complicated kind of thinking. The other half was basically like, we think the fact that there was an invasion of the capital, and you have a game about the fight at the capital as the backdrop, it’s evident to us that the two are going to get linked, and we don’t want to be connected to that. So, it became very Shakespearean; we had this great name for the game that is suddenly so toxic it completely deconstructed our entire game-plan. Very Hamlet: to be or not to be!
I want to say and acknowledge upfront that launching with four characters is essentially not enough to get our full sense of the game out there. We are aware of that, and we are currently developing a group with Twitch. Introducing many of the new characters is our number one thing. Our Twitch group of about 5000 is telling us that we can only go so far with four characters. We need to get about 20 more characters into the game in 2022. We need to get the NBA fighting the NFL through our representative composite characters. We are not going to use anybody’s specific brand. It will be representative of football, Basketball, etc. so that we can have some fun with all the dynamics of pop culture. The icons are real icons versus the self-declared icons.
Once we launch the composite characters, the genre characters, we’ll look to build their team with actual celebrity-based satirical characters, famous people, and people proclaiming they’re famous. Our goal is that before the end of 2022, many celebrities will want to be in the game, having reached pop icon status in a fun way.
Well, I think the concept of the game it’s amazing. It’s good to hear that so much has been put into developing the game and future development. I have a question for you, though; do you ever run into copyright issues with all of the pop icon references?
We thought it through, and we decided to create the original vocabulary and original music as a solution. Whenever we run into a spot that could become an issue, for example, if we’re talking about someone like Kanye West and his extraordinarily long, dramatic rollout of the album Donda, we’ll use the original vocabulary and not the actual name of the songs or his name as the artist. That is, “That rollout thing had ZERO ZAPPERWATERGY!”
MOZELL-RANSOM will work hard in 2022 to get even just one or two of our new words into the mainstream pop culture references and broadly accepted for years to come. We didn’t want to ignore why people in the gaming world stay in the gaming world and become committed to great games. Although violence, war, and domination games tend to make a popular connection to what the player is thinking and feeling, Pop Icon Clashes is for the broad masses. It is for people getting off work to relax or people who want to have a little fun during their daily commute. This game is for kids and students of all ages who are the drivers of pop culture worldwide.
Do you have anything that you want to add?
POP ICON CLASHES is one of the primary projects from Mozell Entertainment Group and Ransom Media. We have a slate of animated series projects in development, combining my background as a writer and Brian’s background as a producer of animation projects. We have spent the last couple of years in the Batcave (aka lab or writing room), developing a focused idea that we know we can sell. We are testing and paying attention to what the industry is doing and what the public wants.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down with Fever for this interview.