With his small, boxy stature and pin-thin legs, K.O. doesn't look like much of a superhero. But that's the whole point of OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes, an animated series from Cartoon Network. The titular character is a powerhouse-in-training, full of naive wonder and a hunger to pummel bad guys. He works in a convenience store run by Mr. Gar, one of the world's greatest superheroes, alongside fellow rookies Radicles and Enid. Together they battle the mischievous robots sent from a factory called Boxmore across the road, learning about friendship and hard work along the way.
The show will premiere this August with, if all goes to plan, a tie-in game called OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes alongside it. The release is unusual for two reasons: One, this type of game is usually developed after a show has been launched and drawn a large, lucrative audience. Two, they're typically low-quality or made by studios with a lacklustre pedigree. Capy Games, meanwhile, is an independent studio with bags of talent. It started its business with licensed games, but has since released a string of original hits, including Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Super Time Force.
The collaboration wouldn't have been possible without Ian Jones-Quartey. The writer, storyboard artist, animator and voice actor has worked on a range of cartoons, including Adventure Time and Steven Universe. In 2011, he pitched a show to Cartoon Network that combined two of his favorite pastimes, video games and wrestling, as well as his experiences growing up and working in a strip mall. That became Lakewood Plaza Turbo, a pilot that Jones-Quartey wrapped up in 2012. Cartoon Network was intrigued by the idea and asked if he would develop the concept further using a mobile game.
OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo was released on iOS and Android in February 2016, alongside three animated shorts. Additional "minisodes" were released on YouTube in December and January 2017, fleshing out the world and the colorful characters who inhabit it. Jones-Quartey and the show's executive producer, Toby Jones, worked on the storyboards; however, each episode was animated by a different studio. They all have a unique style, but are clearly part of a collective whole. If you watch them all in one swoop you'll have a thorough understanding of K.O., his friends, and what makes them such interesting characters.
The game, the shorts -- it was all necessary to greenlight the full series. "All of that stuff was us figuring out more about the show itself," Jones explains. "We took what we learned from all of those different game-centric things to help develop and get the show picked up. We repitched it and said, 'This is what we've learned, this is where we're at' and it got [Cartoon Network] all the more excited about it and led to [OK K.O.] finally becoming a show."
Cartoon Network's gaming division knew the team at Capybara Games and told them about the project. Before long, Jones-Quartey and Jones were in a room with a couple of storyboards pitching the Toronto-based studio their vision for OK K.O. "We get asked a lot to make games for other people's stuff, like other licenses, brands and IPs, and we always say no because it's never really enough space for us to create the thing that we feel passionate about creating," Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of Capy Games said. But this project was different. Cartoon Network was pitching a parallel production that would encourage experimentation and unique, creative treatments.
"It was a very strange thing for us to agree to collaborate and create based on something that only barely existed," Vella said. "I mean, the trust that Ian and Toby put in us to do right by their creation, we were also putting trust in them to not screw it up."