Monday, December 12, 2005

Now Entering New Radius, Pop. 72

First of all, thanks to everyone who posted words of support here during our unexpected but necessary court fight against the city of New York.

Despite numerous hours spent with our lawyers and several restless nights wondering what I was going to do with all of that unused paint, the event went off without a hitch and thousands of attendees were able to get an up close look at some of the greatest graf artists in action.

Anyway, while Mayor Bloomberg was so graciously providing millions of dollars in free publicity for the event, you may have heard or read that the release of "Getting Up" has been pushed back to November.

While no one wanted to celebrate its launch today more than myself, I also realize that we only had one shot to get this right. In fact, I calculated the time I have already spent on this project the other night and suddenly the delay didn't seem as great. Seven years...375,000 hours...22,500,000 minutes.

So while our team sweats through a couple hundred more hours of final tweaks, I'll take the extra time to give all of you patient souls an inside peek into how "Getting Up" came together.

This game - this story that I'm now living and breathing - was conceived as a celebration of one of the most powerful art movements in recent history. As I learned with our street event, there will always be people out there who refuse to see graf as anything more that filth. Fine. That's their opinion. One man's art is another man's trash and all of that.

What I can do, however, is create something that I believe is true to the culture and is reflective of the talented writers who lent their art and input to this project. This is a celebration of graffiti, centered around our lead character, Trane who's try to survive on the mean streets of a New Radius, a kind of alternative universe set just slightly into the future.

Aesthetically the city is a blend of the cultural and architectural details of New York during the golden days of graf, combined with such stacked, over-populated cities as Kowloon, Hong Kong. It's a very vertical city, which when mixed with Trane's athletic ability makes for the ultimate urban jungle gym...the perfect place to defy gravity.

New Radius is ruled by a corrupt Mayor who recently won an election based on promises to clean up the city but now seems more interested in silencing free speech (sounds like something I recently read about here in NYC...). With the help of his heavily armed battalion known as the Civil Conduct Keepers, Mayor Sung has declared graf writers public enemy number one and is breathing down Trane's neck. And if that wasn't enough to deal with, New Radius's other graf crews are out there ready to slap him around.

The goal of the game is to increase Trane's Reputation, or Rep, by successfully completing his Graffiti objectives and take him from Toy to Legend. We join Trane on his journey, beginning as an outcast who only cares about seeing his name tagged all over the city. Slowly he uncovers some deep and personal secrets about the Mayor and realizes that he can use his skills to flip the system on its head one wall at a time.

So that's the basic storyline. Over the next couple weeks, I'll give you a better feel for the different elements that make it all happen, beginning with the game environment and navigation system.

Pictures from the Getting Up Festival

We finally had the Getting Up Festival! Here are pictures from the event:

We fought the law...and we won

I don't know what's more fun, writing these things or reading some of your responses

How does that song go, "I fought the law and the law..."? Oh, wait. WE won. Never mind. Thanks for all of your support and I promise to hit you back on the game after tomorrow's exciting event. Come by if you happen to be in New York and help celebrate an undeniable part of American pop culture and our first amendment rights to freedom of expression... - Marc


Federal Court Orders Immediate Reinstatement of Street Permit for August 24th Block Party

(New York, NY), August 22, 2005 - Fashion designer and entrepreneur Marc Ecko, on behalf of his company *ecko unltd., today announced a favorable decision in a lawsuit the Company filed against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City of New York in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, on Friday, August 19.

As a result, the first-of-its-kind street festival, free and open to the public, will be held as originally scheduled on August 24th on 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues from 12:00PM - Dusk. The event will feature ten 48-foot-long by 8-foot-high replicas of the legendary NYC transit blue-bird subway cars, which will be transformed into contemporary urban works of art by 20 renowned graffiti writers.

Commenting on the court's decision, Mr. Ecko stated, "Today is further affirmation that graffiti is without question the most powerful art movement in recent history. This event was conceived as a tribute to the roots of graffiti culture, a time in New York City's history that I chose to believe was worth fighting to preserve. I never envisioned having to go to Court when we started working with the City on this event 10 months ago, but was left with no other choice when the City asked us to change our chosen art canvas and, as such, tried to censor my first amendment rights and those of these great artists by attempting to dictate how we express ourselves.

"Graffiti is an art form without borders, one which touches people of every gender, age, race, income class and political affiliation on a daily basis and today's decision is further affirmation that it is here to stay. Graffiti does not, as some in city hall have claimed, have to be a gateway to crime. It can also be a gateway to opportunity and success when channeled properly, and I hope that the Mayor accepts my offer to join me on Wednesday as we channel our creative energies together." Gregg Donnenfeld, Assistant General Counsel for *ecko unltd. added, "We are extremely pleased, though not surprised, by Judge Rakoff's recognition that graffiti is indeed a legitimate form of art, and that the City has no right to dictate how that art is expressed. Marc Ecko's block party will therefore proceed as planned, with a live graffiti art demonstration open to the public at no charge, with the world's top graffiti artists using mock subway trains as their art canvases." "Should the City attempt to appeal the Judge's decision, we will continue to fight for our First Amendment rights, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. However, at this point we do not anticipate any appeals, and instead just look forward to what will be a spectacular art event for all of the public and New York's art community to celebrate.," Donnenfeld continued.

*ecko unltd. thanks attorney Dan Perez of the Kuby & Perez law firm for his great work on this case, proving again that he's one of the top First Amendment lawyers in all of New York, if not the country, and also the New York Civil Liberties Union for its continued support in this effort.


Sorry for not posting here during the past couple weeks, but I have been staying on top of the lively dialog happening here and appreciate everyone's comments on the game. As you may have heard, I'm in a bit of a battle right now with New York City Hall over a free art event we have been planning since late last year. Unfortunately there's some people out there who don't care to differentiate between graffiti vandalism and graffiti art, and would rather try closing it down then allow these great writers to show off their talents. Anyway, I promise an inside look at the game very soon but in the meantime here's a letter I am circulating throughout the city today...


August 17, 2005

In recent days, certain members of New York’s City Hall have raised significant concern over an outdoor art exhibition scheduled to be held on Wednesday, August 24, on West 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. The City has gone so far as to revoke an event permit we have had in hand since July 18, 2005.

Unfortunately the spirit of the event, as it was originally conceived and as it has been presented to the appropriate civic groups and government officials since November 2004, seems to have been lost in the haste to stereotype all graffiti-style artists as “vandals” and to brand this event as a “promotion of crime.”

At its core, this is an event designed to celebrate an art form born from the streets of New York over two decades ago as a means of creative self expression, allowing the public a unique chance to experience the workmanship and skill that go into creating a piece of art fine enough to hang on the walls of any traditional gallery or museum. Upon completion, a 48 foot mural will be donated to The Point, a Bronx-based nonprofit youth development organization, while the remaining nine will be placed throughout the city for public display.

This is my tribute to the 20 participating artists whose works now command top dollar across the globe, as well as to an art form powerful enough to permeate virtually every moment in our lives, from the ads and music videos we watch on TV to the products we wear and consume.

I am not, for the record, here as a graffiti artist. My style pales in comparison to people like Pink, Crash, and T-Kid. I am, however, here as a by-product of their sense of style and their truly unique aesthetic language, drawing influence from their work in every one of my business ventures and surrounding myself at night with their canvas, photographs, and sculptures.

I am well aware that drawing graffiti in public places is a crime, and I do not condone or encourage it. At the same time, however, graffiti is a legitimate and historical part of the great art history of our city. The visual dialect is alive and well, and contrary to the opinion of certain elected officials, just because you draw on paper that way doesn't mean that you are writing on walls. That is the dialect that these artists and others like them dream through, that informed their creative energy so early on and helped them to go on to become a muralist, a film maker, a story teller, and even a clothing designer.

We are, as we have for nearly 10 months, continuing our dialogue with the proper authorities to reach a mutually agreed upon means of hosting this event on August 24 as planned. I have retained legal counsel who will vigorously and zealously represent my First Amendment interests, and those of my fellow artists and the community at large. In the meantime, I will continue to focus on what promises to be an enjoyable day of free art and music for the city that is home to my operations and that so generously embraced our “Save the Rhinos” benefit concert in Central Park less than two months ago.

- Marc Ecko


So when I first started writing here a couple weeks ago, I honestly didn't believe anyone would ever see it. Stories about forgetting to bring home the milk? May be cute for my mom or for Aunt June in Sacramento, but beyond that...

Then I find out that some half a million people have come to this page, like the poor members of the Peoples Temple Cult who trekked to Guyana in search of divine wisdom and wound up with a bad batch up Kool-Aid. Ohhh, yeaaahhh!

Believe it or not, I'm not entirely shocked by this development. For an "outsider" trying to break into the world of game development, you figure out ways to get people to listen. It began almost eight years ago, a time when my company, *ecko unltd., was a##-deep in debt. Things were so bad I actually told our employees that a Con Ed truck had knocked out the power when in reality I couldn't pay the bill.

So there I was, in the middle of this huge financial hole, trying to figure out how to create an animated film instead of fixing the lights. Yes, I had guys crammed in my 6x8 office sketching characters while I worked on the script in a vacant bathroom stall. DRINK, DAMN IT, DRRRRRINK!!!

Needless to say, that didn't last long. I got my mind back on the clothing game and somehow we were able to turn the company around. Fast forward to 2002 when, after a few swift kicks by my partner Seth, I decided to dust off the project. By then, the sugar high had faded and I ditched the animated film idea for something more immersive; something along the lines of what Metal Gear Solid was doing back then at the end of the PS1 cycle.

Now we're rolling, right? Strong script, good characters, the potential for great narrative gameplay...I felt like Jim Jones and "Getting Up" was my fruit flavored elixir. Problem is, no one else would embrace my "revolution." I did everything I could just to get that first meeting, then was so wracked with stress I forgot to check my fly. I don't care if you're the damn Queen of England, ain't no one gonna pay respect to someone with his or her junk hanging out for the world to see. So I kept banging on doors, building and rebuilding my presentation...pitching...repitching...hoping someone would bite. And zipping my fly. After all, I had 3-D character renderings and a hell of a lot of Kool-Aid to shill.

Long story short, I finally talked my way into a meeting with Bruno Bonnell, then head of Infogrames (now Atari), who didn't give a f*#k that I was best known for making t-shirts and, better yet, was willing to take a sip.

For the next several weeks, Bruno and I traveled to every possible development studio out there, even considering doing it ourselves for half a second. Although we eventually found the perfect partner in the Collective, it wasn't until we brought in our first graf consultant, Alan Ket (KET), that the level design really began to take shape. No more over exaggerated caricatures, Electric Boogaloo moves, or flame shooting shoes. That sh*t don't fly with guys who hang from overpasses and suck paint fumes for a living.

From there, it was a matter of finding the right balance between the reality of graf life and a third person action adventure game. We watched and rewatched "State Your Name" (, took Atari and The Collective deep underground in New York City, and visited the vertical city of Kowloon, Hong Kong for inspiration.

Not that it was all easy. I was still an outsider and did a lot of things simply because I thought that's how it was done. Instead of computer renders, we cast models for each character, and even went as far as to create clay sculptures. Instead of taking a conference call with Talib Kweli, my ideal voice for the game's lead character Trane, I packed up my clay models and drove to his studio. He agreed before I could even unpack.

Then came the constant questions about graf gameplay, navigation, sneak, soundtrack, packaging...All the elements that would make or break this game in the end. But that's enough for now. We still have a few weeks before "Getting Up," and as long as people keep ponying up to the bar, I'll continue pouring.

Will the Real Marc Ecko Please Stand Up?

Yes, SmUtTnY, it really is me. If not, Marc Ecko's gotta be pissed about that whole "running around in my dad's drawers fighting a giant talking hamburger" thing. Not to mention the fact that I'm sleeping with his wife.

Still not biting? Damn. You're a cynical SOB, aren't you? Alright then, let's take a look at my trusty partner, Blackberry, and see if we can finally set the record straight.

So, looks like I've been a little busy lately, and not just catching up on the cool comments you and others posted after my first blog. This game has officially consumed every aspect of my life...emails from crazed West Coast designers at 2 in the morning, notes about script changes typed while sitting on the toilet at the voiceover studio, calls with potential soundtrack artists on the runway at LAX when "all electronic devices should be shut off." Here's a peak inside the life of the real Marc Ecko.

April 4, 10:14am PST. Left my wife in LA for a flight to Berlin. Just finished a rather intense meeting of the minds at our development studio, now I get to cram into a middle seat for the next 16 hours or so. Sure hope they play "Barbershop 2" again. Can't get enough of Queen Latifah's crazy antics.

April 6, 1:38pm GMT. So here I am in Berlin, smelling like a mix between a wet cat and gin (Don't ask. It was a long flight). Before I can even change my shirt, I'm whisked off to what only can be described as a German food court without the ubiquitous Cinnabon for some bratwurst and sauerkraut. Like that's gonna help the smell.

April 14, 2:30pm PST. Some people get streets named after them; I get an 800 pound rhino. Flew into San Diego this morning and am now at the Zoo feeding baby Ecko. Damn this kid can eat. That reminds me, was I supposed to bring home milk?

April 16, 5:02pm EST. Back home in New Jersey. Key still works so all's good. Now it's time to play husband for a couple days. Wait, doesn't my wife know I was on CNN this morning? You think Wolf Blitzer takes out the trash?

April 18, 10:53pm GMT. Here I am in the middle of Paris surrounded by a bunch of guys in tights for a "Getting Up" motion capture shoot. This is some real "Tron" sh*#.

April 19, 8:32am GMT. Slept two hours and am on my way to do interviews with a couple European reporters. I'll catch a quick nap this afternoon before hitting the Louvre.

April 19, 8:33pm GMT. OK, what's up? That was NOT "a couple interviews"! 12 hours of answering "So, this is, how you say, the Jet Grind Radio, no?," not to mention the fact that it is considered customary to drink wine while doing these interviews. Too far into my bender to turn back, I'm now sitting in a quaint French pub sampling the forbidden magic of Absinthe.

April 23, 11:17am EST. Ahhhh. Finally back in my office, catching up on some long overdue calls. Wait, did I just tell my mom "This is off the record"? Note to self: Cut back on the media.

April 23, 9:45pm EST. Swinging by home to pick up some fresh shirts (this one still smells like rhino), spend some QT with the wife and kids, and drop off this bottle of Absinthe I just had to have, US Customs be damned. It'll go nicely next to the unopened bottle of Mescal I dragged back from Cancun.

April 29, 4:17pm PST. Did I say something about cutting back on media? In San Francisco doing yet another round of interviews in preparation for E3, the virtual Mecca of sensory overload. You know you've hit it big when you've got to do pre-interviews.

May 4, late. Where the f*#k am I?

May 16, 2:12pm PST. The day of reckoning has arrived. Just got stopped by a security guard at the entrance to E3's main hall. Does this guy know who I am?!!!! Oh, yeah, I'm only one of about 20,000 people pitching a game at this giant geek fest (spoken by the biggest geek of all). I think I just wet myself.

May 16, 2:48pm PST. Got past the guard but not before hearing his pitch for a hot new game (between you and me, SmUtTnY, it sounded a lot like Burnout, Midnight Club, and every other damn street racing title). Hold up, was that my game trailer playing on that huge screen above the Sony booth?

May 16, 3:25pm PST. Yes, it was. Just spent 37 minutes waiting for the loop to play through, but got some great video of it on my phone.

May 16, 5:54pm PST. OK, I'm a little creeped out. Just "met" this guy from Facetime magazine who knows way too much about me. Wanted to do an interview (obviously he didn't hear that I'm cutting back) while I was on the phone telling mom about seeing the game trailer. Now I'm outside trying to find my rented Impala and the dude is still following me snapping pictures.

May 17, 6:08pm PST. Just wrapped up day one at E3. Despite some crazy electrical problems, I thought that the level of questions by the media was extraordinary, coupled with some very insightful meetings with...Who the hell am I kidding? I just want to get out of this place and get in line for Return of the Sith.

May 18, 8:59am PST. A little tired from that midnight showing but I'm ready to power through day two of E3. At least the halls don't smell like urine today. Late for an interview with some Czechoslovakian media (supposedly I'm bigger than David Hasselhoff over there, but who isn't?).

May 18, 2:15pm PST. Just did an interview with Brazil's largest television network. Either that reporter was the hottest woman I've ever seen, or I've been trapped with my fellow gamers too long.

May 18, 5:01pm PST. I'm Marc Ecko, damn it! Just spent my last moments at E3 being interviewed by some whack Spanish website who didn't know who I was or why I was there. At least I can go home to Mrs. Ecko now, right SmUtTnY?

The Infamous Captain Underpants

Growing up I always wanted to be a superhero. Forget baseball player or fireman, or for that one weird kid in my kindergarten class who ate glue and picked his nose, garbage man. No, I wanted to be larger than life. So when nobody was around I'd haul out my secret uniform from under my bed - a pair of my father's tighty-whities, an Underdog t-shirt and a towel for a cape. Then I'd sneak down into the basement to fight crime where, for some reason, the washing machine set to spin cycle seemed to facilitate the flying process.

Usually I did battle with a series of menacing foes, from Mosquito Face who could drain a boy's blood in mere seconds, to the more sinister Hamburglar, a villain transferred from McDonald's and who I placed more enmity towards than the Ayatollah.

As far as secret identities go, mine was safe, save for a run in with my father who came home from work one day unexpectedly, shouted my name and, when there was no answer, started looking for me all over the house. Finally, when he opened the door and saw his only son, his pride and joy, in a full squat like he was about to take a dump, wearing his worn out underpants and a cape, he burst into laughter.

"What the hell are you doing boy," he asked, not really wanting an explanation, part relived I was wearing his underwear and not torturing animals with a screwdriver. "I'm flying," I replied. He looked at me and got very serious. "Be careful out there, son, and don't forget to come back for lunch."

Eventually I outgrew flying. Mainly because I grew and grew and grew. By the sixth grade I was 5'5" and 240 pounds - a pint-sized Suge Knight in a pair of tight-ass Lee Rider gaberdine pants. I was the fat cracker who dressed extra dapper. But I never outgrew wanting to be a superhero. Instead of flying, I submerged myself in the art-form, spending most my days tracing Superman vs. Ali comics.

Then I got my hands on a book called "Subway Art." It was a journal of early NYC graf by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. And in an instant those comic books I had been tracing became irrelevant to me. Traveling to Newark or Trenton or NYC and seeing those pages come to life filled me a sense of excitement, but also of dread. How could I be one of those guys? They were the real superheroes. It was like having an anvil dropped on my head-all this new knowledge to soak in and learn. It hit me hard.

There was, and still is, this seductive visual lure to graf, both seemingly knowable and cryptic at the same time. Where every wall is like a puzzle and you have to decode the handstyles. Forget about the Marvel Comics cannon of heroes. My guys were COPE 2, DONDI, FUTURA, and T-KID...and they were untouchable. To find a wall with their work was like finding evidence of a great urban Rosetta Stone where I could trace my fingers along the concrete and feel what it must've been like to throw up their tag in the dead of night. It was the key that unlocked the door to everything: Hip-Hop, street culture, graphic art, design. It all stemmed from the throw-up, the concrete canvas and, at its heart, these midnight superheroes whose real Fortress of Solitude was the Boogie Down.

While my work was feeble by comparison - a suburban fatty standing on the shoulders of giants trying to fly once again - I nonetheless tried to leave my mark. My first tag was scrawled on my desk in sixth grade art class. It said "Ecko" after a nickname my mom gave me before I was born. I was such a herb. But regardless, like squatting on top of that washing machine, I felt like I was a part of something bigger than me. I couldn't articulate that, but I knew that scrawling my sorry-ass tag gave me and my na??ve sense of being an artist at that age a purpose. It was like hearing Ultramagnetic for the first time. It was foreign, but I was home.

I've spent the rest of my life chasing that feeling. Everything I do stems from my desire to touch on the emotions I first had when I fell in love with this stuff. Yet as hard as I tried, I always felt removed. But with this game, I get to be right back on the street. And so do you. It's a love letter to real life superheroes who fly every night. While I may not have the can in my hand, I get to tap that nerve and see a little bit of what it's like through their eyes. And so will you. Enjoy!