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It was already Tuesday evening in London when Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage began to catch on during the Los Angeles lunchtime lull. But the animators behind the game were still at the office, where they spent the better part of the day glued to an online dashboard that showed just how quickly the browser game had taken off since they released it earlier that day.
“It is a combination of delight and terror,” says Sam Taylor, a director at animation studio The Line, of his feelings as he watched the game rise to an average 1,000 plays per minute since its release earlier Tuesday. “Server space and bandwidth can be quite expensive if the game really takes off. I guess we’ll see how much we’re liable for tomorrow morning.”
Red Carpet Rampage places a miniature animated Leonardo DiCaprio in a never-ending quest to reach the end of the red carpet where his Oscar awaits him. The game, with its challenges to help Leo “act harder” and to “find the black nominee,” can be read as a biting satire of the 2016 Academy Awards race but it started as a side project.
Bjorn-Erik Aschim — also a director at The Line, which produced BAFTA-nominated short film Everything I Can See From Here — says the idea for a simple game using keyboard commands struck him after he created DidLeoWinAnOscarYet.com, a website that features a GIF of a disappointed looking DiCaprio and the word “no” in big, bold letters. He brought the idea of Taylor and game designer Max van der Merwe, who helped flesh out the elements of a full-fledged game.
“I think everybody feels for Leonardo DiCaprio a little bit,” says Aschim. “He’s been nominated quite a lot of times and never really got it. You root for this guy.”
They spent three weeks on the game, working up until the very last minute to ready it for release. And while they acknowledge that they are still tinkering with the game play and could add additional features, they explain that they never expected it to take off as quickly as it did. “We didn’t think people would pay attention until Oscar night,” says van der Merwe. Instead, the game quickly spread around the world, inexplicably finding its largest audience in Russia.
While the gameplay is addictive, it’s the detail and humor of each challenge that pay dividends for players. For example, Leo races against animated versions of Oscar competitors Michael Fassbender, Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon and Eddie Redmayne (each dressed as the character they are nominated for portraying) while Lady Gaga blocks his path. Meanwhile, the challenge to find the black nominee is unbeatable.
“That’s kind of the point of the joke,” says Taylor. “It felt like it would be remiss of us not to cover one of the most controversial aspects of this year’s Oscar season, which was the fact that there weren’t many black nominees in a pool of talent which had a few good contenders who were of color.”
The game’s other futile mission is Leo’s Oscar quest. The creators confirm that they have yet to write an ending to his red carpet run. Instead, the game is programmed to get harder and harder until even the best gamers lose. “It’s still uncertain, isn’t it?” ponders Aschim. “It’s kind of the idea of the whole game.”
But Taylor chimes in that the game encourages people to “empathize with Leo’s plight,” adding that if he does win “we’ll have to change the ending.”
Until then, they plan to add more features and find a way to monetize the game. They are also hoping that DiCaprio will try out Red Carpet Rampage for himself. In fact, if you’re reading this Leo, they have a special message just for you: “If you get in contact with us on Twitter,” says Taylor, “we will give you the cheat code and there will be a special surprise for you in the game, but only for you Leo.”
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