Cartoon Network will debut the new animated series “OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes” on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT, and it’s a show unlike any other for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the console game designed alongside the series that will launch sometime this fall.
The story revolves around K.O., a young wannabe hero who lives in a world populated by superheroes who fight robots from a nefarious factory called Boxmore.
The half-hour series, which will air at 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday following its hourlong premiere, is different from just about any animated show in many ways, particularly with regard to the game. Games usually come after a series has been well established, bringing with it a guaranteed fan base, but Cartoon Network wanted to change that dynamic.
“We actually started working with Capybara Games before we had even made any episodes of the show,” explains creator Ian Jones-Quartey (“The Venture Brothers,” “Adventure Time,” “Steven Universe”), one of Variety‘s 10 Animators to Watch in 2016. “Usually when there’s a tie-in video game to a cartoon, the game developers just request a couple episodes. Then they watch them and try to come up with something based off of them. It sort of comes off feeling a little shallow, but we wanted to take a different approach.”
“We just engaged them before we even had the show done, before we even had all the rules of the universe, and before we even had created like a lot of the characters,” he continues.
The result, Jones-Quartey and Cartoon Network hope, will be a game with its own depth while having touch points to the series.
“The game does not particularly have the same story as the show, but they are in similar worlds. They’re in worlds that diverge from the same ideas. I don’t consider either one more real than the other one. They’re both different ways to enjoy the universe that we’ve made,” says Jones-Quartey.
When it came to this game-series collaboration, trust was key. “We just showed them what we had at that point, which were a few very rough storyboards and just a few designs for the world. We said, ‘You know, we trust you guys. We want to give you creative license to create the world as you see fit and make a game that you would want to play. A game that’s just like fun for fun’s sake; not something that has to tie in to this big universe and have the story continue from one to the other,'” explains Jones-Quartey. “I feel there are a lot of franchises out there that attempt to do that, but it’s all just in the name of synergy, not in the name of good storytelling. One of the things we really wanted to do was give them authorship over that world.”
The chemistry between Jones-Quartey’s team and Capybara was immediate. “We put them together in a room and chemistry happened,” recalls Cartoon Network’s chief content officer Rob Sorcher. “You know, it used to be you would make a TV series and then things would follow consecutively after that. We do not think that way anymore.”
“This was a big leap for [Capybara] to do something like this, but they saw that they were going to be helping to create really original content and do it in their own way,” Sorcher adds. “That partnership was the culmination of everything that came before it, which was lots and lots of other collaborations.”
It was this unique marriage of animated series and game that attracted Cartoon Network to the project when Jones-Quartey first pitched it in 2011 as part of the network’s in-house shorts program.
“He did this seven-minute short. It was exactly what he pitched. He said, ‘I’m going to merge the language of video games, which I love, and the language of animation and cartoons. I’m going to do all of that in one thing,'” remembers Sorcher. From that, the short evolved to a mobile game and a series of shorts in an array of styles. That shift in styles helped the team expand the series’ world.
“Because we were still sort of figuring things out, every time we saw the characters get reinterpreted by new artists, there was something new to think about,” says Jones-Quartey. “I think we found some constants about the way that the characters are that let us develop them even further. I think that, where we’re at now with the designs on the show and the designs in the game and also the world design, it’s kind of like a culmination of all those things.”
And that fluidity of design with the shorts will carry over into the series. “From scene to scene, from shot to shot, even within the same shot, the characters can look five or six different ways. The show is designed to be continually morphing and changing and always surprising the viewer with new drawings,” says Jones-Quartey. “It’s very important for me that people really feel the hand of the artist who made the art.”