X-Play producer and game guru Mr Sark is well known in Halo 3 circles for designing devious in-game obstacle courses called Sarkathlons that challenge the swiftness of gamers around the globe for a set of coveted Recon Armor. Already approaching its fourth iteration, a Sarkathlon is a two week event, with the winner getting some air time on X-Play for their prowess in jumping, shooting, and performing some spectacular stunts to get across the finish line with the fastest time.
Mr Sark took some time out of his day to chat with Digital Kuroko about what it's like to create and moderate these Halo 3 events that draw in tens of thousands of gamers. Click here to listen to the full-length conversation where Sark shares his thoughts on the design process, the challenges he faced with Xbox Live, and what's in store for future Sark Challenges.
Below you can read more about the history of Mr Sark, how he came to X-Play, and check out some of the winning runs from previous Sarkathlons.
"When I was taking my college classes, my plan was to design video games," recalls Sark. "Initially this was the plan. At the time, and this dates myself a bit, but at the time I was really heavy into PASCAL, so that's pre-C and C+ and all the mojo they use now. I soon realized that sucking at math and coding didn't go together very well, and that I would much rather play the games than program them. Or design them. I would still love to actually design games as long as I had guys who could deal with the code. I even took four years of Japanese because I figured if I could read an imported Final Fantasy game then that was like half battle, I was half game designer already without even having taken a class.
"So I took these classes and I was really heavily planning on getting into game design before I realized it wasn't totally the avenue I wanted to pursue. And I switched over, you know a lot of the ideas I jotted down fit much better into a film format. So I changed focus into TV and film and ended up moving to LA just by a fly by the seat of the pants film program, the whole time playing games copiously, like counter-productively, the whole time."
After moving to Los Angeles to get further education in a film program, Sark found himself as a production assistant at G4, where he was thrown on to the fire producing reviews.
"That's what's kind of cool about how I ended up getting here is that I went through all the years of PAing and fetching coffee for the hosts, and then when I finally came to G4 and I was a PA, I was totally into X-Play," Sark recalls. "I didn't get G4 on my cable, but when I came to G4 and saw what it was about, I was like "that show rules" so I started watching it online. Initially I was not on X-Play, I was on Street Fury, which was a hot rods and booty show and I was logging a lot of gnarly footage for them. When that show ended up going the way of the dinosaur, then I ended up switching over to X-Play, also as a PA and just loved it. Even as a PA on X-Play, I found myself producing segments for game reviews and even writing scripts for these games and that's a really cool thing to see something you wrote the week before being spouted off by Adam and Morgan the next week."
"...DJ Maluu in particular, he put together a 2nd place run that was jaw dropping. It's basically like his run is a series of jumps that are 95 percent impossible and to get it right he had to roll a 5 percent on his little die like 20 times in a row, and he made it 19 of 20 and that one mistake cost him a second which put him into second." -Mr Sark
As is still commonplace around the X-Play offices, conversations and stories about multiplayer in various games like Call of Duty and Halo 3 led to some ideas for on-air content. Initially Sark says the first ideas for what would ultimately become Sark Challenges started with a thought that online multiplayer recaps of games played with X-Play viewers would fit nicely with audience interactivity, a concept G4 was already attempting to build on.
"Eventually my executive producer Wade Beckett, he was like, 'We should get you on the show and you can share some of your stories about these games.' After Wade had approached me I went back and talked to him and I kinda pitched this idea: maybe we could get the viewers to play some games with me and we could put up some funny little recaps, like the evening playing with X-Play. Get a chance to get viewers on the show a little bit. What I wasn't planning on was getting put on camera, so when he came back to me with 'that'll be great, and we'll just have you do it,' that got me a little nervous because I get nervous when cameras are pointed at me."
Since the very first Sark Kart, an experiment in the truest sense of the word, Sark Challenges have exploded in popularity, especially the Halo 3 Sarkathlons.
"Response from the community to the Sakrathlons has been pretty good," says Sark. "It's gotten exponentially more recognized thanks primarily to Bungie's donation of Recon Armor to the winners, and most recently to the top two times. The second Sarkathlon was where it got really big. Over about a year it had been downloaded about 30 thousand times, which is cool. I leave them up there so people, in case people want to just mess with it, so you can get all the Sarkathlons still on my fileshare. What's interesting is then Sarkathlon 3 most recently came out, that was downloaded 30 thousand times before the contest was over. More and more people are hearing about it. I try and post it up on the major fansites like [halo.bungie.org] and on Bungie's forums. Like I said, outside the box, I'm a huge kind of game tricker. I'm a huge fan of highimpacthalo.org. Those are the guys that are doing insane Halo tricks and I always post it up there. Those guys are into speedruns so obviously this appeals to those guys."
So what's next for the Sark Challenge? Will it be another Sarkathlon?
"I still haven't done a LittleBigPlanet and I've always wanted to," Sark says. "I have a perfect Where Eagles Dare recreation under construction, the Clint Eastwood movie. I just don't know how to turn it into a challenge, especially since it's really heavy on Nazis and it gets kind of dark... [laughs] Maybe some day you guys will see that. I'm sure Nazi Sackboys are not unheard of, but like arctic camo...it's kind of spooky actually when you look at it. Haven't done LittleBigPlanet, would love to. I had a HAWX idea but I canned it because I just couldn't get enough people in the room. Primarily I want a lot of people to play. If a lot of people can play, I will figure out a challenge."