Alex Louie: Bad Mojo and the "Booger Principle"
Adventure Gamers got this mail the other day: A classic title from gaming days of yore, a mythic game--one that everyone wants, a proud few own, and even fewer have played--was being re-published.
Yep, "the roach game, Bad Mojo" was going to be re-released. They asked if I wanted to talk with Alex Louie, the lead on the project. I said, “Oh sure! Who wouldn’t!”
So I whipped out my search engine and looked around the web to see what was out there on Alex Louie, the Bad Mojo team, etc. What I found was...nothing. Not a Q & A, interview, live chat--nothing!? So who were these guys? Where had they gone? Why re-publish now? Would I tell them I hadn’t actually played the game until a few hours before the interview? And most importantly, why a freakin’ cockroach?!
Well, I followed up on the e-mail, set up the interview and made the call. Alex turned out to be a smart, accessible guy and wasn’t put off by my ravings about cockroaches. See for yourself; it's good stuff.
LM: Hi Alex, nice to talk with you. I’ve got to ask, who are you guys? I can’t find word one about the team for Bad Mojo, except for what’s in the credits. Why the stealth mode?
Alex: Well yeah, the only interview we ever gave was to MacWorld magazine. It was online for a couple of years and then they updated their content and all the old stuff got ditched. So when the game shipped we did do a lot of interviews, but they were with local papers, people on the streets.
LM: Ohh, so like Uncle Ed and Aunt Mildred would come talk to you.
Alex: *laughs* Right.
LM: So what was your role on the game?
Alex: Well, Phill [Simon] and Vinny [Carrella] are kind of like the creative force behind the project. I am just the straight man. I kind of keep everything on schedule. That was our M.O. the whole time.
LM: Ok, I have to admit I hate cockroaches…hate them. So I never played the game until...uhhm...yesterday before this interview. And I felt dumb for waiting so long, 'cause it really is bizarre and amazing. But, I still have to ask. Come on…why a cockroach?
Alex: This happened before I was actually involved with the project. They had just finished Iron Helix and they were sitting around brainstorming in Vinny’s apartment about what to do next. Drew Huffman, who was also the founder of Drew Pictures before they merged with Pulse, had this idea; it’s called the Booger Principle. He says, “Whatever is disgusting, tends to generate its own notoriety. It’s not always negative publicity--but it does generate this word of mouth.” So the grosser you make it, the more notoriety you’ll get out of it.
So they thought--well Jeez, what could we do that would go along those lines? They started thinking about, well, the limitations of the technology; that they have this very small image on screen that they are constantly updating. So, what is really small? …hmm, they thought, insects. And then suddenly the conversation got onto cockroaches.
LM: Everyone HATES cockroaches.
Alex: Yeah. Drew had this fabulous cockroach story. Basically, he woke up one night, when he was like a teenager and hears this banging inside his head. He can’t figure out what it is. But, it is excruciating! So his Mom drives him to the hospital. Once he gets there, the surgeons basically float a cockroach out of his ear with some oil.
So this baby cockroach was in there dancing on his eardrum. Sooo, Vinny and Bill Zettler, who later was a lead engineer on this project, were going “Oh my god! What a gross story!” And then it just hit them. Hey! What we want to do is a cockroach! The code name for the project is actually “Booger.”
LM: What! So it really isn’t the Roach Game, it’s the “Booger Project”?
Alex: Yes, “The Booger Project.” You know, it’s one of those crazy stories. I had known Drew, Vinny and Phill from working with them for over 2 1/2 years, back before I went out on my own. So I had known them for a long time. I had gone my own way because I figured I can’t hang out with everybody forever, ‘cause I‘ll never learn anything new. So I went out for a couple of years and did some other things. Then Drew called me up one day and he said, “You know we’ve got this project and it’s super-secret. Come on over and talk about it, BUT! You CAN’T tell anybody!” So I come in and he tells me about “Booger” and I am like…”It’s a game about a cockroach?!” I am like scratching my head and saying “well okay, uh huh. All right, sure.. I can do this.”
And when I went to the office, they had a cockroach aquarium. Basically, we needed a bunch of them to study the locomotion of a cockroach.
LM: Ohhh god.
Alex: Really *laughs*. So one of the 3D guys there purchased twelve German cockroaches. You feed them weekly with a little kibble. The next thing we know, this tank is swarming with cockroaches.
LM: Oh no, this is like re-living some nightmare. Ewww.
Alex: It gets even funnier! One day, Dan Meblin, the lead 3D lead animator, looks in there and says “Ohh god, I have to get in there and clean out all that crud and dead roaches. How am I going to do this?” ‘Cause the second you open the tank, they are all just going to come scurrying out! I can’t remember how they figured this out. But they stuck the aquarium in the lunchroom icebox. The roaches would crawl into their little huts that were in the tank. Then they would kind of slow down. I guess we basically froze them for a couple of seconds. They took all the stuff out, washed the tank and then put the hut back in and the roaches came out. I could NOT look into that tank.
LM: Did you ever have anything try to get at the cockroaches?
Alex: In the game we actually had a cat do that but we never had anything happen. We never fed a cockroach to a cat.
LM: So no cockroaches were actually “harmed during the making of this game.” There are a few animals in the game, aren’t there?
Alex: We actually have a bunch of animals. Well, honestly...some animals were harmed. But they were going to be killed anyway...uhmm.
We didn’t actually go out and murder things. But, like there is a rat in the game that is trapped. This is early on in the game. It’s trapped inside a rattrap, but it’s still alive. And this rat is actually a rat that we scanned in. Vinny Carrella called a bunch of exterminators around town. He said “We need a rat. We kind of need one that’s not dead. ‘Cause once it's dead rigor mortis sets in and you can’t pose it. So we need one that we kill.” SO these people would just hang up on him. They thought he was crazy.
LM: Well yeah! *laughs*
Alex: One time he finally says, “Well, we are making this movie, with this freshly killed rat.” The exterminator on the other end of the line was this guy from Australia. I can’t do an Australian accent, but it is really funny when you hear it told that way. But, he was so enamored by the fact that “Ohh this is going to be in a movie!!” So he says, “Yeah, all right.” He calls Vinny up the second he gets the rat. Vinny runs down on his motorcycle, gets across town and the rat is still alive. And Vinny goes, “Uhhmm, yeah we kind of need it dead.” So the exterminator guy just takes it and bangs it against the side of the truck.
LM: Ahh gee, well it was dead then.
Alex: There’s another story about the catfish, which is great. We needed some live catfish to film this one part of the game. So Vinny goes and asks for two catfish from this Chinese butcher. I didn’t go down with him and I probably should have since I can speak Chinese. So Vinny is trying to give the guy hand signals to tell him “No, we want him alive.” And the butcher says, “Alive??” ‘Cause usually the butchers kill it for you, gut and clean it right there. So he’s saying, “You want it alive? Can we do that?” Finally, they got two catfish and took them back to the office. We put them in a 50 gallon garbage can filled with water and we would kind of walk them around in there.
Alex: I mean, if you have ever seen porpoises when they are stranded and they get rescued; it was kind of like that. We were moving them around so they would breathe for a while. We would take them out, ‘cause we had to photograph them. You have to take them out of the water and put them under these hot lights, photograph them and then put them back in the water. It was kind of crazy. For one of the scenes we had to chop the head off of one of the fish. But you see they were going to die and be someone’s dinner anyway. It wasn’t like we were going to purposely catch them and kill them just to make the game.
So, we do have a lot of different animals in the game. Even a cat and a banana slug. The other cockroaches are important in the game, as they give you clues to how to finish the game.
LM: Oh, that was one of the things I really like in Bad Mojo. That first time when you run into the mystic cockroach, I was thinking, gee this is so pre-Matrix. With the little cockroach going “Go into the light or take the high wire of pain,” I was wow, this is so “Oracle.”
Alex: You know, Vinny and Phill’s influence for this game is Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Searching for your Dad on the quest and that sort of stuff. At the time, we had the whole cult Star Wars thing going on, too. So we were really into George Lucas. I can’t recall how we found out, but Vinny found out that Lucas was a real student of Joseph Campbell. So, being students of filmmaking and literature, we went out and got the book. This was right at the point we were figuring it all out. So that is another early influence on this game. Aside from the Kafkaesque elements.
LM: Well yeah, but Metamorphosis is a sad and allegorical tale using a bug as a device. But Bad Mojo is a visceral, in-your-face cockroach adventure.
Alex: Well, we wanted to make it as realistic from a cockroach’s perspective as possible. We went for this hyper-realism. I have to be honest; I think it is the best piece of work that we as a group have ever done. I, personally, have had other kinds of successes on other types of products, like system software and stuff like that. But the thing I am most proud of is this game.Continued on the next page...