Barry McLaughlin and Jason Lautenschleger on injecting more talk into trivia with Okay, Genius…
Guys, it’s always fun to catch up. It’s been a while since we last interviewed you both… I think that was focused on you guys launching as an invention studio, so how have the past 12 months been?
Jason Lautenschleger: It’s kind of been building up to this moment…
Really!? I’m honoured!
JL: Not this interview Billy!
Oh! I was going to say! My ego has never kicked in that quickly…
JL: Ha! Our aim for the year was to get on a Zoom with Billy Langsworthy.
Barry McLaughlin: We did it baby!!
I’m sorry! Carry on!
JL: What I meant was that here we are today with the first two games that we’ve licensed to other companies – Game Night in a Can with Goliath and Okay, Genius… with PlayMonster. They’re hitting shelves in Walmart and Target now, so we’re seeing the fruits of that decision to set up as an invention studio.
BM: We also have some games lined up for 2024 that we can’t talk about just yet. It’s been an interesting year! So much changes going from a publisher to a creative studio in terms of timelines and what’s in or out of your control. And we’re still learning how all the different companies like to work. For example, with Okay, Genius…, we pitched it a year and a half ago to a bunch of different companies. We didn’t really hear back from anyone for a few months… And then all of a sudden, we had three offers. So I’d say we’re definitely still learning the process and how each company likes to work.
I’m a big fan of Okay, Genius…; I think it’s a great party game. For anyone new to the game, how does it play?
JL: In each round, one player is designated the ‘Genius’ and a question is asked to the Genius that has a numerical answer. Everyone else in the group has to guess what the Genius will answer, because all of the questions are very subjective. It’s all about getting into the mind of the Genius each round.
Shall we have a quick go?
JL: Yes! Billy, do you want to be the first Genius?
I’d be honoured.
JL: Okay, here’s the question: How long is too long for a drum solo?
JL: I feel like Billy likes music, appreciates music, but I don’t know how much of a drumhead he is…
Okay, I have my answer.
BM: Right, so I think Billy likes a drum solo, but he doesn’t like a song to go on forever… I think Billy’s put ‘two-minutes 31 seconds.’
JL: The impetus for this question was that in Led Zeppelin’s live performance of Moby Dick on their How the West was Won album, John Bonham does a drum solo that lasts around 22 minutes. I had to factor that in because Billy might be a ‘Led Head’! That said, I wanted to be reasonable, so I went with seven minutes.
Well, I went with ‘Three minutes’ so Barry wins this one! Let’s do another!
JL: Okay, Barry can be the Genius for this one: How many beakers should a mad scientist have bubbling at all times?
I’ve got an answer.
JL: Me too! Right, I’m picturing a table in the foreground and in the background, walls and walls of beakers. So I’ve gone with 98 beakers.
Wow! It appears I pictured a less successful mad scientist with a tighter budget. I went with ‘seven beakers’. It doesn’t seem mad enough compared to Jason’s 98.
BM: I see this mad scientist having lots to do and not wanting to worry about having too many flames going at one time. I see them as having one long beaker that goes up and down and along the desk. In the background is one other classic bubbling beaker. So I went with two beakers.
JL: I think you’ve just described a scientist, Barry. I’m offended with how low both of you went.
Fantastic! I win the point! As me and Barry are tied, we should really do one last tie-breaker question… The hard-hitting interview questions can wait!
JL: Yes, and as I’m out of contention to win, I’ll be the Genius. Here’s the question: How many dad jokes should a good uncle know?
BM: Me too – and I’ve gone out on a limb with my number…
Well, I went with 500.
I feel like a good uncle can just reel them off. I hope I’ve not embarrassed myself.
BM: We’ve gone crazy in different ways… I thought it was a bit of a trick question, because there are dad jokes and there are uncle jokes, and never the twain shall meet! So I went with zero!
JL: Woah! Well, my thinking was that an uncle should have a handful in the bag, so I said 12 jokes.
So Barry wins that mini-game of Okay Genius. Amazing! Now, back to the interview, how did the idea for this game come about?
JL: We wanted to create a more subjective type of trivia game. We wanted to add more ‘table talk’ to a trivia game experience. One of the early titles was ‘Who Knows Who Knows’. It was about getting closest to what a person has in mind. If that was the initial block of marble, the rest of the process was about chiseling away at what didn’t work and we were left with Okay, Genius…
The key questions we asked ourselves were: What’s going to get people talking the most? And: What’s going to reveal something personal? We want people to remember, years later, how somebody answered a question in Okay, Genius…
What was your approach to writing the questions? How did you assess what would get people talking?
BM: Each question needed to be universally recognisable in some form and we wanted them to create pictures in your mind.
Like the one that says something like: What number of squirrels in your garden would make the situation go from charming to alarming?
BM: Exactly! That’s a very visual one. We also wanted questions that would lead to some kind of discussion as well. It made the playtesting sessions a really enjoyable experience because we’d hear some great stories.
One of the questions is: How many spoons do you need for a respectable spoon collection? We’d have someone talk about the 10 spoon collection their mother had, or someone that had a glorious case of 32 silver spoons.
JL: Dave Yearick of The Good Game Company sent us a picture of his mother’s spoon collection! That was the unintended consequence of these questions. You have to visualise something, but that visualization is what’s subjective in nature. It’s not just the numerical answer, it’s the process of getting to the numerical answer.
Look at a question like: How many people does it take to start a successful wave at a stadium? Other considerations naturally pop up, like when does the wave officially start? Does it have to do a full lap first? We added variables in the question to ensure people interpret things in more than one way. Certain words proved to be real forks in the road that sent people off down different paths.
BM: There was also a question of how silly can – and should – we get. We wanted some to be really thoughtful, like ‘How many times should you call your mother each year?’ Then we played with how silly we could go… There was a little internal debate about one card that was: How many farts (including squeakers) are featured in Wolfgang Amadeus Fartzart’s Fifth Fart Symphony? That had a very audio element to it! So there’s a handful that get really silly, but you’re still trying to get into the Genius’ head.
JL: To PlayMonster’s credit, they let us tiptoe all the way to that edge. They really allowed our personality to come through in the game.
On that, how do you gauge putting humour into a game, considering it’s such a subjective thing?
BM: We don’t try to edit for the audience, other than if we’re creating something like a kids’ game. It just comes down to what makes us laugh. That’s the only barometer that we can trust. You have to remain true to your own comedic instincts and it seems to have worked well for us in the past with things like our Anchorman game. It makes us so proud when people tell us they peed their pants laughing playing the game.
JL: It’s a disastrous undertaking to try to appeal to everyone. It comes down to being authentic and the end goal differs game to game. For our Bill & Ted game, we had to be authentic to what fans of the film would connect with, so our humour takes a backseat there. But if it’s a comedy game, it has to make us laugh.
And it’s worth mentioning that we don’t get high on our own supply. We’re pretty tough critics. We’ve spent almost 30 years pushing each other to be better and funnier.
BM: We have this improvised shopping show that we do every Tuesday on Market.Live called Shop It Like Its Hot. It’s a really good comedy playground for us. We can’t see the audience, so all we have to go off is whether we’re making each other laugh and it’s the same with game design.
How does the design process work between you? Do you both have specific roles or areas to focus on?
BM: It differs project to project. We’ll do brainstorming sessions together, then work separately to develop things before bringing it back together. We also like to do monthly game retreats where we’ll get away for a couple of nights and focus purely on one or two projects. It’s nice to have that uninterrupted development time. We started doing that way back in the beginning with Game Night in a Can.
JL: It’s a couple of days where we’ll have one or two goals in mind. Even though it’s just a couple of days, it means we can really live with an idea and be open to receiving messages from each other – and from inspiration that’s around us. The satellite dish really opens up.
Away from Okay, Genius…, what sorts of games do you find you’re coming up with these days?
BM: We have a skill and action game that we’re really excited about. We’ve just started showing that. We love to play skill and action games so the idea of making our own one is really exciting. We also have more comedic games in the works.
JL: The sweet spot for us is party and skill and action. It’s all about prompting “One more go, one more go!” or “I can’t stop laughing!”
BM: We’re also excited about creating immersive experiences and even mechanical arcade games. They would be in our next phase!
Exciting times. Now, before I let you go, we have to mention the fact that you guys are nominated for a TOTY this year for Goliath’s Game Night in a Can. Congrats!
JL: Thank you! We’re excited and we’re delighted with it finding a home at Goliath. That was the first game we published – it got us into the industry so it’s very personal to us. Goliath kept so much of our personality in the game and did a fun art revamp. We’re just excited more people get the chance to experience this game. We really feel it brings out the best in people through creativity, co-operation and comedy. The three c’s!
BM: It’s a great feeling being nominated and we hope it becomes a lasting brand. We have an idea for a comedic gameshow based on this and can see licensed versions down the road.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled. I have one last question – what would you say is your most underrated game?
JL: I’d say Anchorman, just because it launched in Christmas 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, when everyone had gone back to nostalgic titles. And very few people were walking the aisles of Target!
BM: I’d say Dr Biscuits’ Radical Road Trip. It’s 60 games you can play in the car and it was actually nominated for a TOTY in 2019. I’m not sure if underrated is the right word, but it just hasn’t got in-front of enough people. The people that have played it, love it. We’d love to find a new publisher to bring it out because it’s so unique; I’m yet to find a better travel game.
Guys, I know your year wasn’t leading up to this moment but mine has! I always love chatting to you both. Huge congrats on Okay, Genius… – and good luck at the TOTYs!
BM: Thank you Billy! We will cherish our time here together more than our own weddings and/or the birth of Jason’s three children. Now we’re off to go get our Mojo Nation lower back tattoos!
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