Want to get in on the ground floor of the latest cross-medium project, GoBZRK? Well… too late, as it's been secretly going on in videos, tweets, and more for weeks now. But with a novel on the horizon, and enough content to keep you busy for the next few lifetimes, we thought it would be good to sit down with writer Michael Grant, and The Shadow Gang’s Alex LeMay to figure out: what the heck is this thing?
MTV Geek: Okay, whatever you can tell us, what’s the story of GoBZRK? What’s the story of BZRK?
Michael Grant: BZRK is a story of conspiracy and nanotechnology with a few freaks and some sex appeal thrown in. Two sides, each with its own secret nanotech. The Armstrong Twins with mechanical creations called nanobots are setting out to rewire the brains of the human race to turn all humanity into one giant Facebook hive, everyone a friend to everyone else. No more hatred! No more war! No more Dancing With the Stars! Opposing them is BZRK, a small, shadowy guerrilla group with a very different nanotech called biots. Biots are built of DNA -- scorpion, jellyfish, spider and human. They are connected psychically, indivisibly to the person who contributed the DNA, almost like an arm or an eye. Biots are very capable but have one serious flaw: to lose a biot in battle is to begin a downward spiral into shrieking madness. BZRKers know that madness is their likely fate. They know they are in effect fighting for mankind's inalienable right to be monstrous, and that this objective is kind of nuts. They take the names of madmen and madwomen from history and literature and go "down in the meat," down at the nano level in the body and in the brain, knowing they will likely lose their fragile grip on sanity.
The cool thing about BZRK is that we can have intense action at two levels simultaneously. You can be fighting for your sanity against a nanobot horde down between firing neurons or skimming the surface of an eyeball and at the same time be in a gun battle in the macro. It's very intense.
Geek: I think this ground has been covered a bit, but can you talk about what brought you to the point of wanting to do GoBZRK?
MG: Greed. Oh, wait, that's probably not the right answer. Actually, I'd been obsessing over bringing books to new media platforms for a long time. I used to send emails to my editors with the subject line, "It's another crazy rant from Michael." I would do my bargain-basement Jeremiah act, warning that the end of publishing was nigh. For the first couple of years they would treat me the way you would treat one of your authors who has a mental disorder. But over time they started thinking, "Oh my God, maybe this idiot's right."
To me, the interesting challenge though was not just warning of impending doom, but trying to find a way out. I wanted to solve the condition, not just diagnose it. So I started working on the concept of enhanced books and later as we got closer to actually doing something our thinking shifted a few degrees to ARGs and apps. The off-the-shelf software for enhanced books isn't quite there yet, although we have the hardware now, thanks to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. From that point all I needed was a really cool idea for a book series. Ideas are easy.
Alex LeMay: Michael Grant and I had been experimenting with enhanced book and clickable video technology for some time and that spurned conversations about what we could do with books and publishing... simply we asked ourselves what was possible in this space and then set out making it. We knew that the internet was going to completely redefine the way narrative was going to be delivered to audiences. We also knew that, long before iPads and smart phones made it much more feasible to do some of the things we wanted to do, that audience wanted to participate in narrative rather than have it pushed at them. So we set out from the beginning to unlock story and create a narrative universe that was able to be "played" within multiple places at once. From that came the universe of BZRK, a completely game-ified story that encourages participants to socialize and collectively solve a mystery that is too big for any one person alone to uncover.
Geek: Talk about your collaboration with The Shadow Gang. They sound evil. Are they evil?
MG: Yes, they are evil. Although I suspect from their perspective they'd consider me more evil. Or maybe I've just been evil longer. They're young and evil. Damiens, if you will. I'm old and evil. Like Cthulhu. Fortunately our publisher, Egmont, is pure good and provides some balance.
Alex LeMay is an old friend, so when I decided BZRK would be my next project I called him up and said, "Hey, want to play transmedia?" He put together a team of talented and ridiculously hard-working people, I reached out to the great and wonderful Cally Poplak from Egmont Publishing, (my UK publisher for the GONE series) and off we went.
Geek: There are those people who would say, “This is just an advertising campaign for the book!” From reading quite a bit about this, I know you’re not approaching it that way, so can you talk about how it is – and isn’t – just stealthier viral marketing?
AL: This is absolutely not a "marketing" campaign. I would argue that this type of storytelling is, as we say at TSG, "The new movie." I think it only takes a small bit of participation in the GoBZRK world to see that it is a fully baked, three dimensional narrative. The ARG, brilliantly written by TSG producer/writer, Rich Silverman could stand on its own just as Michael's books can stand on their own without any of the other pieces. That's the unique feature of this experience, each piece has its own value and is a blast to participate in either in part or as a whole, the participant gets to choose their level of engagement.
One also needs to realize that Egmont, a major international publisher is involved. A crass, overt marketing ploy just wouldn't have flown. They have a fairly long history of innovation that to our experience has always been delivered with authenticity. Egmont, TSG and the Michael have come at this thing from a point of view that story would trump cleverness every time.
The Morgenstein Twins
Geek: On the other hand, there are people who AREN’T into interactive entertainment, and I’d imagine would be concerned about picking up the book because they’d feel like they’re missing part of the story…
AL: Again, that's the great thing about the GoBZRK universe; if someone just wants to read the books and didn't participate in the online experience they will have an absolute blast. If they want to simply play the iOS app and read a comic book or two, they can and they'll love it. On the other hand, if they want to do a small bit of digging and dive into the entire experience, they will find a world that just keeps going and keeps breaking off into deeper and deeper corners of the GoBZRK world.
Geek: There’s been plenty of attempts at this before, what makes BZRK different – or what do you hope is different about BZRK? Is it the scope?
MG: What I hope is different about BZRK as a transmedia project is that I'm deliberately avoiding making all elements mesh perfectly or duplicate each other. I want some creative space for the Alternate Reality Game writer -- Rich Silverman -- to do his thing, for the app developer to have a slightly different take, the web site to develop in its own way. I don't want to do the big Hollywood studio thing of essentially xeroxing the same story onto different platforms. That's one of the reasons both Shadow Gang and I are so receptive to fanfic and fanart -- I don't want to dictate the BZRK world in every detail, I want to leave room for other creative people to have some fun as well. I drew this approach from the experience my wife (KA Applegate) and I had when our ANIMORPHS series came out in the 90's and we started seeing all the fan creations. All that was new and at first we weren't sure if we liked it -- because, you know, sometimes it's 50,000 words about one of your characters having sex with Harry Potter or whatever. Then we decided, "What the hell, why not? Everyone in the pool!"
AL: Also, what makes the GoBZRK experience different is the talent of Michael Grant and his ability to create narrative universes no one has seen before. Having a great core narrative is the key. If the mother-dough isn't great then the rest of the experience doesn't stand a chance.
Geek: When you’re approaching something multi-platform, naturally it amps up every aspect of the project. This is probably the most boring way I could ask this, but: how do you keep organized?
AL: This project had to be organized like a military assault; it had to be mapped out from the beginning to unfold on a fairly precise schedule. However, we had to be careful not to cramp or stifle the immense sense of play that is inherent in this experience. So balancing structure with a sense of open ended exploration was tough, but again, bringing Rich Silverman to the table, with his incredible wealth of experience in transmedia, having the author so intimately involved and TSG's world class production team really helped us navigate this project.
MG: Organized? Ah hah hah, good one. My life is a giant Pez dispenser. Push one problem out, another one pops up.
Geek: What element do you feel you had the most trouble with? What was the hardest nut to crack, so to speak?
AL: Obviously the pace of this thing is incredibly challenging, but everyone from the publisher to the author to our production team really collaborated brilliantly on this. The other thing is just keeping up with our audience. Most of them grew up on the internet and are incredibly savvy when it comes to how stories and the internet relate to one another. They also have a very keen sense of story structure and arc and they just don't let you get away with serving up pap. They demand an authentic and well written narrative coupled with a well thought out delivery system.
MG: Well, some of the nuts are still being cracked. The app will probably be the most challenging in the end because there are so many amazingly smart, talented people creating apps. That's very tough competition and we are trying to stay in the game with a lot of actual geniuses.
Start your journey into the world of GoBzrk at their website!