“In the not too distant future, the sinister scientist Dr. Poque creates the most powerful videogame console ever assembled. Known as the ‘Mega64,' this sinister device has the power to download classic videogames into the user's brain, causing them to take on a whole new reality.”
This cryptic description from the back of the Mega64: Version 1 DVD portends a hybrid of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Jackass and Tom Green Show tomfoolery with a techno-geek bent, done on a shoe-string budget and with an eye on the Internet. Mixing post-modern absurdity with conspiracy plot lines and public stunts, three young men who met in drama class at West Hills High School in Santee crafted something that speaks to the growing videogame culture, and people all over the world are listening.
Mega64 started how most entertainment projects begin-Rocco Botte was bored.
The recent high school grad had attempted rather unsuccessfully to find his groove in college. At West Hills, he had acted in plays and made short, behind-the-scenes films for the cast and crew, so he decided to make a public-access TV show. Derrick Acosta, a classmate and friend, was recruited to write the plot. Thus was born Dr. Poque and his “sinister” experiments.
“I met [Rocco] on the bus,” Acosta recalls. “When I used to ride it home, he would make fun of me... I hated his guts.”
A third teen, Shawn Chatfield, designed sets, handled videography and added his own dark humor.
Plus, they could use his parents' garage.
They began filming Mega64, intending a six-episode run on public-access TV. Botte set up a website, and spread the word through message-boards and online chat.
Interest grew quickly.
Days before it was scheduled to air, the webmaster at the popular satire website SomethingAwful.com called the young creators. He'd gotten wind of the episodes, and offered to fund a DVD.
Scrapping public access for DVD format allowed for some quality control. One of the episodes was scrapped. “We took the best elements of that and made the other episodes better,” Botte explains.
They plan to sell the cut episode on Ebay someday.
The five surviving episodes on Version 1 chronicle the story of Dr. Poque's Mega64 project and the mind-altering experiences of his test subjects, “Rocko” and “Derek.”
A sketch called “Frogger” features Acosta dressed in a frog costume, juking across busy intersections in Santee.
“Super Dodge Ball” takes the child's game to a ludicrous, videogame level.
To envision “Apple-Shot” or “Log Cabin Ball,” think sticky food plus velocity.
There's a musical ode to the Sega Dreamcast that you don't have to be a gamer to love. In fact, none of the sketches are inaccessible to the non-gamer, as each is preceded by clips of the real-life game that's about to be lampooned.
Episode 5 has a sequence called “Aggressive Caroling” that the boys worked in because of its pure genius. It's become a fan favorite.
Chatfield does make one creative caveat, however: “If you don't understand what a joke is, it's an inside joke.”
Funded by their “sugar-daddy” at SomethingAwful.com, Mega64 set up shop at the 2004 San Diego ComiCon. A tiny TV played clips from the show while the boys tormented gawkers who “spun the wheel” to win “fabulous” prizes, most of which were freebies from other booths at the convention. Some unlucky spinners “won” the honor of having their badges thrown into heavy pedestrian traffic, while some contestants weren't allowed to play, just for the hell of it. Lots of the chicanery was filmed for the next DVD.
Some of the public stunts on Mega64 are outrageous, and all agree there was an element of fear. They soon learned what worked and what didn't.
“Things that are scary, things that are threatening... people back off,” says Botte. “It's when you're doing annoying things”-like asking Wal-Mart customers where to find sailors or the man that killed your father-that security is called and the shoot interrupted.
Plenty of East County landmarks appear in the DVD; Santee does a remarkable job standing in for River City, the Mushroom Kingdom and Japan. San Diego band Bad Credit contributes their song “I'm Scared” to the final episode, and the Aquabats' music runs through the main credits. The rest of the soundtrack includes clips from games being parodied and score music by another student-friend, Ian Luckey, who deftly recreated the sounds of vintage videogaming.
The quality of Mega64 ramps up considerably after the first two episodes. Botte, Chatfield and Acosta all cop to this, citing limited budget and experience, plus their initially modest goals, as reasons for any shortfalls.
“Film students and fast-forwarders” are the biggest naysayers, Botte says. By and large, however, reactions have been positive. Electronic Gaming Monthly commissioned some sketches to run on their included DVD the last five months of the year. It's unpaid, but the exposure is great. And the sketches will run in Europe for Nintendo's magazine.
Since releasing Mega64 in November, they've sold more than half of the initial 2,000-copy run.
“We did this for fun, on our own,” Botte says, “and people have been sitting around, watching it... and liking it!”
Shawn recalls what a programmer at a notorious game studio told him at last year's Electronics Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles: “We don't develop games, but watch your videos instead.”
To which Derrick calmly replied, “I can tell.”
Visit Mega64.com for clips. We double-dog dare you.