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The timeline for a successful video game franchise usually goes like this: The game comes out and soon becomes popular among players. Avid fans start creating content inspired by the game and their favorite characters, helping bring that IP into pop culture. There might be a movie or TV adaptation. And as more people are introduced to the game’s world, more fans are created, leading to more demand for derivative content. Et cetera, et cetera.
But the leaders at Liithos, a multimedia gaming studio led by former PlayStation executives, are about to do things a little differently with their first studio IP, Ashfall, which is set in a post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest ravaged by climate change, civilian fighting and mutations caused by a dark energy. The series follows Ash Naranjo, a character who was born without arms and is given cyborg-like implants to help him save his family and homeland.
Instead of waiting for the Ashfall comic book series or video game to be released first, the studio is hoping to drum up interest and build an early fan base by using the talents of Michael Le, a TikTok star known as @justmaiko who has more than 52 million followers.
Beginning Jan. 29, Le will star in a five-episode series — released each Sunday on his TikTok account — that will see the creator entering the Ashfall universe cosplaying as its main character for a storyline that involves Le saving his younger brother Jonathan. The series will also feature Slider Jesus, another digital creator known for his elaborate zombie and monster costumes, as the main villain.
“People typically make videos based off of things that [the audience] already know or like. For me, I love making animated videos, so I do stuff with Naruto characters or things that people already understand,” Le told The Hollywood Reporter. “This is kind of using that same concept but creating our own IP, and I think that’s something no one’s ever really done, especially for a game company at the scale of this one. It’s really cool to be able to just be a part of something like this.”
Le filmed the TikTok series at Willow Studios in downtown L.A. and brought on his VFX team to provide continuity with his other effects-heavy videos. After each episode premieres, Liithos will also release a set of five NFTs inspired by each of the episodes and in the style of a comic book cover from Marvel and DC artists like Coran Stone (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1), Fico Ossio (No One Left to Fight, Spider-Man), John Cassaday (Planetary, Astonishing X-Men), Dave Wilkins (Masters of the Universe: Revelation #3, Star Wars – Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison), Karl Kerschl (Adventures of Superman, Majestic) and Tom Raney (Annihilation: Conquest, Ultimate X-Men).
The digital collectibles will be available for free, aside from a processing fee, on CoinZoom for a week after each episode release, and the collectibles offer holders an early preview to the Ashfall comic series, which is set to release in March and is created by Days Gone writer and Liithos vp John Garvin. Viewers who have collected all five will also be given access to a sixth digital collectible.
Michael Mumbauer, the CEO and founder of Liithos who co-developed The Last of Us and Uncharted as a studio executive at PlayStation, said he views the Ashfall rollout as a “fascinating experiment” given the seemingly reversed timeline and the challenges of introducing a new world in a short format for TikTok. Though the video game is still “several years away” from an official release, Mumbauer said he hopes the TikTok series will offer something unusual to help captivate fans and reward them for coming into the Ashfall universe early.
“I don’t think there’s a more charismatic person on TikTok than Michael, to be honest. And not just from his ability to dance and tell stories, but, honestly, it’s just incredible to see his natural acting ability,” Mumbauer said. “The new Hollywood is TikTok, and Michael is in that wave.”
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