Interview: Mark Kozlov, CEO of Moonshark, speaks on Stan Lee’s Verticus

GamingTrend had the chance to speak with Moonshark CEO Mark Koslov. Moonshark is announcing a game created in conjunction with the legendary Stan Lee, the creator of comic book icons such as Spider-man, The Avengers, the X-men, and many more.

GT: So, I guess the first question I have to ask is: is Stan Lee as cool as we all hope he is?

MK: I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I first met him. He’s 89 years old, and if I have that much creativity, passion, energy, and wit when I’m 90 years old, I’ll be A-OK. The guy is so generous, and nice, and cool, and sharp. It’s kind of surprising He’s got an iPhone…he’s really savvy!

GT: I hope I’m that cool when I’m 90 years old. So lets talk about this new game. I guess the best place to start is to have you tell us about Moonshark.

MK: We are a mobile game publisher. We were founded last year and we released our first title this summer, in late June. What makes us different from every other mobile game publisher is that we’re backed by Qualcomm and CAA. Do you know both of those companies?

GT: I know Qualcomm, I think, but I’ve never heard of CAA.

MK: CAA is the largest Hollywood talent agency. They represent every famous movie director, actor, writer, athlete musician, celebrity chef and so on. You name it, they’re repped at CAA. CAA has a history of backing and starting, and incubating companies in new media that they can add value to through their celebrity access. The best example you’ve probably heard of is Funny Or Die. They saw a great opportunity in the online comedy space so they hired a management team, brought in outside funding, and brought in Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell, and Adam McKay in to be the creative anchors and launched a very successful comedy portal.

In the case of mobile gaming, they saw a huge opportunity there. Angry Birds is similar to a lot of Hollywood franchises terms of its footprint, and in all of the licensing opportunities. They saw a great role for creativity in the kinds of clients that they’re representing to contribute to this space. So they founded the company, and brought me in to run it. I was at Sony Music before this, running their online and mobile consumer products—everything from artist websites to mobile games. We launched a few really cool games, one was called Slayer Pinball Rocks, which did very well. another was AC/DC Pinball Rocks. You know, rock themed pinball tables.

GT: Yeah.

MK: I hired the head of product development from Cartoon Networks Adult Swim to be my head of product development here. He built Robot Unicorn Attack and Amateur Surgeon and lots of great games. Our philosophy here is that we’re not developers ourselves, we’re publishers and producers. We believe that, by pairing phenomenal independent game studios with legendary Hollywood icons to create new original franchises designed from mobile, we have the ability to differentiate ourselves from the other hundreds of thousands of apps on the market, A. Because the stories, and worlds these games are set in are really a cut above what else is on the market, and B. because when we’re launching we’re not starting from scratch, we’ve got all these fans built in from day one. So that’s kind of our story in a nutshell, of who we are and what we’re doing.

So, Stan Lee is really the best kind of partner we’re looking to work with. We’re looking to work with people who have really built a career out of being creative, and iconic, and having a distinctive style that we think would work in the mobile gaming space. And ideally having a large fan base, too. And no one in our opinion is more iconic than Stan. He’s created some of the most legendary characters in western pop culture.

He’s an icon to so many people, and he’s so sharp, so ambitious. He loves trying new things. So, when we first started the company we knew we wanted to work with Stan. And then we’ve been talking to independent game studios, and we met these guys out in Dallas called Controlled Chaos. Great art. They did two games that we love, one called Pocket Fish, the other called Texting of the Bread.

GT: Wait, is that a Typing of the Dead knockoff?

MK: Kind of, yeah.

GT: That’s hilarious.

MK: So, they had pitched us a mechanic for a game that we thought sounded really interesting, and we knew Stan would be a great partner for us, so we married the two together. As a team, we wrote the back story and we wrote this hero. We actually got Stan to do all the voice-over work for the Mission Commander role, which is all the tutorials, the HUD, the story, the Narration.

So the game is basically this, and imagine I’m speaking in Stan Lee’s voice: An evil race of aliens known as the Obliterators have infiltrated our planet and are set to destroy the Earth. They’ve tunneled through the core of our planet and have built this elaborate doomsday device called the Cosmic Fuse around the core of our planet. It’s set to explode unless a hero can intercept it in time. Enter Verticus. Verticus is this superhero who wears this high tech suit. It’s heat resistant, super strong, and very flexible.

So the game is what we call an “infinite faller.” Your job, as Verticus, is to dive—to free fall—through the atmosphere, then through a cityscape with all kinds of man made obstacles, and finally through the center of the planet until you reach the core of the earth. There you’ll do battle with your foe, diffuse the bomb, and then fall up on the other side. You’re kind of yo-yoing through the earth using gravity as the force to propel you up and down. And it’s an infinite faller, so…well, we’re not going to tell you exactly what happens, but you always have another objective. Its kind of in the realm of a Temple Run, or a Jet Pack Joyride in that sense, but you’re constantly upgrading your suit and doing battle. It’s pretty cool.

GT: I’m thinking of is a game called “AaaaaAAAAaaa–”

MK: “–A Reckless Disregard for Gravity?”

GT: Yes! Is this game anything like that?

MK: We’ve seen other freefall games, and we think that when you see this game, there really isn’t much of a comparison point. The aims of the game, the way you control your characters, the touch and the feel are very very different. We have seen other free fall games. Have you ever seen cliff jumping? This game is like a weaponized version of that.

GT: Alright, sounds awesome. You mentioned the touch and feel before, so while we’re on the subject, lets talk about controls. How is this game going to work with touch controls?

MK: Really intuitive. So, we try and design all of our games to be as intuitive as possible, and really take advantage of the gestures that are natural on the screen. We’re not trying to force fit controller-based games onto a touch pad screen.

GT: Some games I’ve seen try to superimpose that little joystick on the screen and it never seems to work quite well.

MK: Yeah. So with this, you can touch anywhere on the screen to control your character. Your finger is the joystick, essentially. You have some weapon buttons you can activate, but the whole experience is sort of zen-like. It only takes on finger to control your character, and you can use any finger on any part of the screen.

GT: So, I’m looking at the promotional image for Verticus, and I have to ask: do you guys like Tron?

MK There were a lot of inspirations that the team all took; there are elements of futurism in that movie did very well.

GT: Going back to Stan Lee being awesome, one thing people have noticed about Stan Lee is that his characters tend to be very relateable. I mean, compare Spider-man and Batman.: Spider-man is this poor, everyday young kid who has to still do his homework, while Batman is this serially deranged multimillionaire. So I was wondering if this is going to be one of those classic relateable Stan Lee characters, or if it’s going to be a limitation of the medium that you can’t quite do that.

I guess comparing a character in a single mobile game to 45-plus years of comic history isn’t really fair, but…

MK: The way we’re approaching this game in general, and Verticus in general—and I hate to use such a commonly used metaphor–but the game is the tip of the Verticus iceberg. We wanted to make the game as simple ,and relateable, and as easy to pick up and enter as possible. There’s this epic struggle that’s happening, that you’re in the middle of, and we tried to make it as relateable as possible. Black and White. You’re the good guy, they’re the bad guys. Save the earth. Pretty simple.

We start you off in the game right in the middle of the action. Your character is unconscious, and you come to and you’re basically stuck in the middle of that cycle where you save the earth. Memento did a great job of starting right in the middle of the action. This movie Moon did this, too. You’re piecing together what’s happening.

We tried to keep things pretty simple, so that you can pick the game up for 30 seconds, 15 minutes at a time, but as we expand, we’d like to make Verticus an entire world. TV shows, Films, we’re thinking very broadly, but you’ve got to start somewhere and we’re starting with the game. We think Verticus is really epic and awesome. It’s for everyone, but it’s kid of bad ass.

GT: So what is the tone of the game going to be like?

MK: It’s very lighthearted, but it’s not spoof or satire. We don’t take our selves too seriously. Since Stan himself is doing all the voice over he’s constantly in your ear saying things like “Careful kid, I’ve only got one of these! We want you to have fun playing this game.

GT: So is this game going to be free, or is it going to be supported by in-game purchases?

MK: There will be in-app purchases. I can’t comment too much on the costs, but you’ll be able to buy upgrades. Weapon upgrades, new suits you can buy. There’s a continue mechanic, where you can pick u where you left off.

GT: You have to buy continues?

MK: You can earn them, but if you run out and want to keep going…you could buy.

GT: This is taking me back to the old arcade at the mall.

MK: It actually really feels that way, in a good way. You reach your game over screen, and you’re like, “Is it game over? Insert coin to continue!”

GT: You mentioned weapons. So this game isn’t just falling and falling. There’s going to be combat?


MK: Yeah, it’s a blend of defense and offensive maneuvers, but I think the game should speak for itself. The trailer should give you a good sense of how that works.

GT: So, I’ve been looking at your blog, and you guys have some app recommendations. As developers, I imagine you guys play a lot of other mobile games. So, if somebody’s looking to get into that space, what are some games that you can recommend to them that they absolutely what they’ve got to play.

MK: My personal favorites? Like, what I”m playing now, or my all time favorite ever? My reference games, I think Jet Pack Joyride is a phenomenally well designed game. I also think CSR racing—from both a gameplay and a business point-of-view—is just beautifully designed. What can I name as a third? Everybody does Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, and Cut the Rope, so I won’t go there. I love Plants Vs. Zombies. I think there are very few games that have done as good a job as Pop Cap did in terms of taking a core trope of gaming—the tower defense mechanic—and flipping it on its head so you don’t even recognize it, and then putting so much humor and life, and variety into it. I just love that game.

Oh, and I’ll tell you a big surprise for me: I generally don’t like licensed game products, but I think the game Warner Bros put out for Batman: Arkham City Lockdown was phenomenally well done. In the same way that Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were complete surprises, it’s appropriate that the mobile version is a surprise as well. Really creative, really beautiful, fun, good replayability.

GT: Another thing I’ve noticed about Moonshark is that you guys tend to have very amusing advertisements. I think my favorite was the DancePad ad with the hands dancing.

The scene with the one lifting weights wearing 1980s spandex was just amazing.

MK: Thank you very much! We’re very indie minded. We may have corporate backing, but at the end of the day we’re are really small team working really closely together to create really creative unique experiences. DancePad was all about finger

break-dancing, which is a really kind of silly topic, so we had our advertisements reflect that.

GT: Well, that’s all of the questions I’ve got for you. Do you have anything to say to the readers before you go?

MK: One thing I always like to point out about who Moonshark is, is that we’re always working with our celebrity partners to develop completely new original properties instead of using properties they’ve already worked on. We’re not making the new Spider-man, we’re making something new with Stan.

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