Marc Ecko: Expect The Unexpected

Marc Ecko
via Silicon Prairie News / CC-BY-2.0

Who would have thought that a white graff and hip-hop head like Marc Ecko would be the clothing mogul he is today? He successfully launched the highly popular Ecko: Unlimited clothing brand, started another successful venture in publishing with Complex magazine, and has now become a successful video game developer with his latest Atari-developed graffiti focused game “Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.”

Being the first man to bring an unwanted idea for a game like this to life, Marc Ecko has become someone who goes against the grain and still manages to make it work. BallerStatus chopped it up with the entertainment mogul to discuss his fascination with the art of graffiti, how “Getting Up” all came together, and what’s in the future.

As Marc would say, “Expect the unexpected.” Let’s talk about why you decided to develop a game about graffiti and your background of the art?

Marc Ecko: Graffiti was my invitation to hip-hop back in the 80’s. I love the movement. It’s the official visual dialect of youth culture. While I would never consider myself a true writer, I have been greatly influenced by the aesthetic of graf since an early age, and it has shaped nearly every facet of my life to some degree since then. You can find it in the art on my walls, the books and movies I watch, and in all of our clothing designs. Yet, here you have this art movement that has influenced so many facets of modern culture and is somehow misunderstood, even looked down upon, by the majority of people. A lot like gaming. I wanted to take what I had learned and somehow create a forum that allowed others to see the power of graf and hopefully view it in a more positive light. This is about the extreme full-contact sport of being a graff writer. Now, I’ve actually thought about a game like this forever, for like years, but the thing I always wondered was how it would work. Like, how would the gameplay be done, the story behind it, etc… Break down those things about the game, and what gamers should expect before they play.

Marc Ecko: This is a title that refuses to fit neatly into the categories or genres that traditionally define a video game. We wanted to create a game that could appeal to many different types of players, from novices who want to jump in and immerse themselves in gameplay for a few minutes, to more serious players who can spend hours absorbing the thousands of hidden elements in the game. And unlike other games in the past that have offered it as a canned mini-game or a pickup, graffiti is a core part of our story and gameplay. We brought in roughly 65 well-known writers to lend their art to the game, and worked extremely hard to make the mechanics as realistic as possible, from the drips that form when you hold the can in one place too long to the lighting in the subway tunnels. How close does the actual gameplay come to that of a real graffiti artist out there bombing the city? And do you think real graff heads will be drawn to the game?

Marc Ecko: We worked very hard to make sure the game gave a realistic view of graf life — meeting the graf legends, the vernacular, the way characters dress and act, and all the other facets of graf. You have to “think” like a graf artist: navigating the underground, scaling the face of buildings, evading enemies, advancing your skills as an artist and discovering the power of the medium. One thing we didn’t want to do was create a “painting simulator,” that would be too slow. My only regret is the capacity of the PS2 really limited our ability for the player to truly “customize” the world, which is inherently what real street art is all about. But that’s okay, we put the flag in the ground and will iterate off of that for a next gen version.

The fiction comes from the world, one where you can have an “enhanced” experience with graf blended with this horizontally challenged, futuristic world of New Radius. But, no matter what I did or what this game accomplishes, I’m sure there will always be gamers and graf heads who hate on it. I can’t change that and don’t want to change that. It’s what makes gaming and graf unique and exciting. How did Atari get down?

Marc Ecko: I created the concept for “Getting Up” nearly eight years ago, but didn’t really have time to focus on it until about 4 years ago. Shopped it around, and got no’s left and right until I met Bruno Bonnell at Atari. He was brave enough to say, “Why not? Why can’t an outsider shake it up a bit?” Ok, as far as graffiti artists, you guys worked with many of the OG’s in the graffiti world. So, what kind of feedback and direction did some of the artists give you for the game? And how much of their suggestions ended up becoming reality?

Marc Ecko: I knew early on that their involvement would be integral to making this the way I wanted to. I was very lucky to have this writer, Ket, who was responsible for getting many of these legends involved and working with the development team to make sure the game stayed true to the culture. Some, like Cope2, Futura, T-Kid, Smith, Sheperd Fairey and Seen, are actually in-game characters who Trane meets and picks up tips from. Then, we had another 60 or so writers who lent their artwork and creative insight to the project. The best was having JA at the developer, showing them footage of some crazy stunts he’s pulled off in his day. To me, he’s one of the illest that ever did it. Psycho, aka Vincent Mayta, consulted on story and character development as well. I couldn’t have done it without them on the team. I understand that the game is came out the box shipping Gold already. Why do you feel the buzz and demand for “Getting Up” is so huge?

Marc Ecko: I don’t know, it’s a blessing really. At the end of the day, it’s going to be word of mouth that makes this thing work or not. I really had to fight to get this made. This is my “Mean Streets” or “She’s Gotta Have It”. For real. I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of negativity for putting out a game like this. I know last year, you threw a block party celebrating the art of graffiti and it was close to being shut down. How do you respond to the lawmakers and politicians that say this video game promotes vandalism or criminal activity and is a bad influence to children?

Marc Ecko: The people that make these claims know nothing about gaming and are only looking for an easy way to rile up a little public support. I say let them dig a little deeper. Play the game, see what it’s all about before spouting off. I don’t condone illegal activities, but I do condone the right to be entertained. Fact is, the game is rated for a mature audience and the people playing it are most likely too old and too smart to try tagging a bridge. It’s technological XENOPHOBIA. The fear of the unknown. They demonize urban culture. They demonize graf. They demonize gaming. That’s the perfect recipe for controversy. They need to brush the grey hairs out of their eyes, and stop insulting the consumer’s intelligence. The game also includes original music from a host of rappers from the hip-hop industry. Who are some of the artists on the game?

Marc Ecko: We’ve got everything from original in-game scoring by one of today’s most notable avant-garde producers, RJD2, to an exclusive remix of Notorious BIG’s “Who Shot Ya,” done by Serj of System of a Down. We’ve also got a huge collection of licensed music from Nina Simone to Fort Minor, Jane’s Addiction to Kasabian. I was really fortunate to have Diddy’s help in helping bring the music together…and help me navigate the business. My favorite record is “Book of Judges” by Pharoahe Monch. FIRE! As far as your clothing line, how is that going? And as one of the original hip-hop clothing lines to launch, how do you feel about all the other clothing lines that are popping up currently?

Marc Ecko: The brand is great. I pride myself in my ability not to get boxed in or defined by one thing. It is ECKO…”UNLIMITED” after all. That may sound corny, but that is what inspires me to come to work everyday. I’m hyped that there are so many brands out there; it legitimizes the aesthetic that me and my peers helped create and shape. There is enough room for everyone. I am blessed that I was there doing it before it was getting done. I envision a day when my consumer can’t recall what came first, Complex magazine, my video game division, or the hoodie? That’s what I am working toward today. What other things do you have on your plate now and in the future?

Marc Ecko: I definitely learned a lot while making this game and plan on doing more in the space. We are also working with MTV Films on a “Getting Up” movie and are continuing to build our publishing business — even beyond Complex Magazine. On the apparel side, check for our store coming in Times Square, NYC, and a bunch of brand defining power moves. I am not doing this for vanity; I am doing this to keep the 800 or so people that come to work for me everyday …inspired, excited and passionate. When you add all the urban brands up together, we are not as big as Nike alone or Polo for that matter. As far as I am concerned, we have A LOT of work to do. No time for the weary. Any last words?

Marc Ecko: Expect the unexpected.

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