In the 1960s, some TV producers keen to capitalize on the popularity of The Beatles came up with a shamelessly profitable elevator pitch: a TV show starring a fictional band composed of young actors and singers that would release real albums and tour real venues and make their creators real money. They were called The Monkees and they, for a moment, were inescapable. In the 1990s, Blur frontman and artist Jamie Hewlett took the concept of fabricated musicians a step further with the Gorillaz, a virtual animated band that appeared in 2D music videos, 3D award show appearances, and eventually holographic live performances.
Earlier this month, I met what may become this generation’s real-fictional band: OFK.
OFK is composed of four animated characters who will debut in 2022’s episodic video game, We Are OFK. Like The Monkees’ TV show before it, OFK’s video game will double as a launchpad for the band’s music, with each new episode debuting a new single. By the end of its five-episode run, the game will have told the stories of its aspiring pop stars and premiered a full EP along the way.
If The Monkees were a commercial endeavor of Hollywood elites and the Gorillaz a side project for successful rockstars and pop artists, then OFK is the first indie iteration of human artists “making” a fictional band.
Team OFK is composed in real life by a squad of game dev talent from both indie and AAA spaces. Director Teddy Dief previously worked on the small budget, neon-soaked action game Hyper Light Drifter, while performance director Khris Brown, for example, has played a crucial role in improving performances across the spectrum of studio sizes, including big-budget series like Assassin’s Creed. The team’s website lists 24 contributors, all of whom, Dief explained to me, exist both in the real world and in the fictional world of OFK.
It gets a little more complex because the band itself is entirely fictional, but the vocal performances are performed by Team OFK members. So some members play two roles: themselves and bandmates.
Dief is a nice example of how this works. Teddy Dief is the game’s director in real-life and a member of OFK’s creative team in the band’s fiction. Teddy is also the voice of Luca, OFK’s lead singer and a character in We Are OFK.
Make sense? It’s OK if it doesn’t, because when you actually play the game all that will matter is this: The music is good and the game is just as promising.
Let’s start with the game. Have you ever played a Persona game and wished there were no fights? Did you just want to hang out with friends in a cool city and chat via text while chill music simmers in the background? If yes, then I have good news. We Are OFK is entirely a hangout game. All you really do is talk, so it helps that the script, by Claire Jia and Dief, has the rhythm and propulsion of good TV.
I played through the first episode, focused on Itsumi, a young woman stuck working at a video game developer that looks an awful lot like the Blizzard Entertainment campus in Irvine. She’s recovering from a bad breakup and looking for the next stepping stone toward … whatever comes after this. She’s rudderless, and so it was on me to steer the conversations of her and her friends in ways that resonated with my own experiences. This story always ends at the same point, no matter my selection, but my decisions personalized it – sort of like Kentucky Route Zero.
And like with Kentucky Route Zero, Team OFK recognizes the emotional power of a good song. The music is a collaboration between Dief and indie musicians Luna Shadows and Thom Powers (of The Naked and Famous). I had a chance to hear two of the songs and they had unique feels, one reminding me of Kanye’s “808s and Heartbreak” and the other like a softer Nine Inch Nails.
It’s all very cozy, like meeting up with friends for coffee after work or catching a show on the weekend. This is why I’m so into the release plan. We Are OFK’s first episode will launch in 2022, and a new episode will premiere once a week for the following four weeks. Episodic releases aren’t new to video games, but in the past new episodes have been separated by months or even years. It’s a decision that has more to do with pacing the experience than it does with the developer needing more time to create the next chunk of the game.
We Are OFK isn’t published by Netflix, but as streamers flirt with the video game space, this sort of experience seems like the perfect fit. It emphasizes story, accessibility, and emotional connection above all else. And like so much great television, it has the potential to build some suspense from week to week. It’s funny that online streaming taught us to binge television, but digital distribution may finally give us something TV used to do so well: a fictional group of friends that we can’t wait to hang out with. The Monkees were onto something!
We Are OFK is scheduled for a 2022 release on Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.