The following consists of the conversation I had with Santangelo, Pedro and Francis, the charming trio responsible for creating AdWorld: a multimedia, web3 masterpiece at the vanguard of digital art. Images provided by the AdWorld team.
Santiago: Guys, can you quickly introduce yourselves, and what you do for AdWorld, for our audiences that don’t know?
Santangelo: I’m Santangelo, I’m the project lead, slash, like, I don’t know…
Pedro: The crazy man that came up with it!
SA: Yeah, the crazy man that came up with it, that’s me.
P: I'm Pedro, I’m the creative director of the project, the hammer and the nails. I do the freaking animation thing.
Francis: I’m Francis, I’m the project manager, and I help out with a little bit of everything,. I help out with the music element of things, and some of the narrative design.
P: Francis has picked every song for every video.
S: So I was thinking how we could approach a project like AdWorld in an intelligent way. Could you guys explain it in a manner for someone who doesn’t really know about NFTs, the metaverse, and all of the crazy stuff that’s going on right now? I want to talk to my dad about it.
SA: I would say AdWorld is a narrative story, an interactive storytelling thing, or event. Basically an interactive story where you can participate, but also engage with communities that are centralized via music and gaming and all things internet, and all things contemporary. So it’s weirdly one part story, that you interact with and engage with, partially this game that you can passively play by just exploring and talking to people, and third part this community that you can engage with via music and games, and anything social online. I would say it's reflective of early internet games like Gaia Online, if you know that one, or like Club Penguin, or Runescape.
S: So, I did a little research, but I could be wrong about this, I understand that at the center of it all is a music album?
SA: No you’re completely right. The jump-off point is my album AdWorld, which is hodgepodge of all things fucked up and contemporary. Whether it be everyone’s obsession with dance music now, or weird stock market tech crash crypto stuff. It’s kind of a catchall for all things contemporary and fucked up. Yeah, I think that this thing, AdWorld game project, is kind of an extension of that, it’s an art project that’s kind of grown into a Frankenstein. It grew a life of its own, but it's also something that in that psychotic growth gave birth to something really beautiful. We have a really strong group of people who came together to talk and engage with each other, and just play, every so often.
S: So, tell me in what capacity is AdWorld a game, something you can interact with.
SA: It’s very ambiently a game…
S: Ambiently…explain that.
SA: I would say the interaction, the mechanics we have built out for the game, and that we are building for the game, are fully based in normal web browsing, and interaction with people and engaging with communities, things you would do regularly, just kind of retrofitted those interactions to tell a story.
S: I see… so this is not a game where you can walk around.
SA: No, not at all. You can walk around and talk in real life, and you’re still in the game.
S: That’s pretty conceptual.
P: It’s pretty conceptual, yeah, definitely. There’s also a gamification aspect. The character creator was a game in itself, and the fashion show was also a creative game, and there was a reaction. The game to a certain degree is you’re making animations collaboratively, while listening to music, while talking to people.
F: The fashion show… the people who won, the people with the best designs, three were community picked and three were judge picked, and all of those designs, got added to the character creator itself, so people who participated got to contribute creatively, got to contribute the character creator, which will make it into the short film.
S: So what ties everything together, the game, the collaborations, the music, there’s a narrative, a story being told. I think I’ve understood correctly, the people who own the NFT can participate in the direction the story goes, by voting, is that right?
SA: That’s an aspect of it. There’s gonna be community decisions that are made based off the characters. We also have story pieces that are just kind of more concrete, that are just us weaving in the story. It’s a kind of mix of all of those things.
S: Did you guys write a grand narrative arc, before doing all of this, or are you doing it as you go along, building the lore step by step.
P: There’s a writer who’s been writing. There’s a big bible of things that have happened in the world of AdWorld. We’re in the process of making those things more tangible for the community, so they can access it. I feel like there was a first phase, which was very clearly, like “hey lets make the character creator”, and now we’re in a phase where there is all this writing about AdWorld. I wouldn’t call it a season 2, but as a creative director, I’m trying to work with different artists and illustrators that I like, now that we have the budget from the first mint, there’s the goal to solidify this whole story through a short film, more videos, illustrations, comics. We’re in this moment of production.
F: We’ve kind of started the exposition for the lore. We’ve dropped a few pieces of the prologue. The whole prologue is written out, but there will be elements that the community will be able to decide upon for what comes next in the short film. Like we said, we have a bible for the story.
S: So can you guys quickly explain the story, the narrative arc you guys are playing with?
F: So when it was first conceptualized…hm… it’s a bit of an Ocean’s 12, where there ‘s like competing rival heist gangs, in this dystopian/utopian metaverse space. San’s character leads one gang, another character named Nas, leads another. There’s this tech overlord monarch character Wally that’s like up to some really shady stuff in this place called AdWorld, which is a game that everyone logs into and plays. It’s kind of like, if you’ve seen Akira, where there's a little biker gang that gets caught up in a giant military tech conspiracy, it’s kind of like that. The prologue is the story of AdWord, this game where all these heists and gangs exist, we're telling how that came to be. And we’ll tell another story of crime and romance in the short film—
P: That happens within—
F: Within the world of AdWorld. In this prologue we’re giving exposition on how this has come to be, that’s what's written out. The community will have more choices over certain interaction between these gangs, how certain fights go down, in the short film.
P: I feel like AdWorld is in this sort of limbo, at least right now, but hopefully constantly, where the world keeps forming itself before your eyes, a videogame generating itself. That’s part of the story of AdWorld. There’s this language that’s found in these ruins, and it has a videogame within it, and the military, facebook, vice, are trying to sell it to the world. There’s also people that are like "dude, what the fuck is this ancient universe video game?"
F: In the prologue, there’s these competing interests who are all working on this project, what we call the Spirit Text–
P: And somebody designed the Spirit Text–the Spirit Text is designed already. People bring so much crazy shit—we have this moment where we have to pull back a little bit, and just collaborate with people and work with people. We’re working hard so that everyone can access this crazy idea, the Akira of NFTs.
S: So how did you guys meet, and decide to collaborate?
SA: It was something that, I feel like the inception of the idea started in January 2021, when I was in the midst of making the album, I started drawing this character Wally, which is not the character Wally now, based off of Walmart, weirdly (laugh). I was making this weird clown, demon character, thinking of this world in which the music lived in. Francis and I have been best friends for a minute, we lived together while all of this was happening. Francis was really into crypto, and subsequently got into the NFT space, observing it, and actively engaging with it. I thought to myself how crazy of a medium NFTs were. I feel like it highlighted the insanity of capitalism, but on such a crazy scale, at such a crazy speed, it felt artful. It was this meeting place of all the things that are crazy about the world, where you have the fanatic mania of communities, and discords. Everyone is saying the craziest shit, trying to make you believe. It’s spiritual, it was really kind of a meeting ground, the town square of fuckery. It just felt like the right medium. I started building out this idea. I was searching for artists, looking on instagram looking for the best artists to bring this thing together. Also, it’s largely inspired by the movie Summer Wars. It’s this great animated film that came about right before the social media boom. I was looking for artists online, and fell in love with Pedro’s work, and I reached out and was like “hey, I have this insane idea, can we get on a call so you can hear it”, and Pedro is also crazy enough to fuck with the idea, and broke enough to try to do it anyway. Soon after, I thought, this is kind of a lot to handle. I bit off more than I can chew. Francis was the best trader, crypto head, and a really smart guy, an english major, we had worked on music together. I got us all tickets to LA, and we linked up and went crazy, went in on making it happen. Now we live here.
S: Can you tell me about the aesthetic choices of the AdWorld universe and lore, can you guys talk about the aesthetic inspiration?
P: I’ve been using blender for only a year. I grew up on After Effects. I’m an illustrator, animator. I studied sculpture in school. The references are sparse, there’s a lot of it that just happens to be the fact that I’ve been making art for many years. It’s me throwing my practice into it. Being really open to collaboration, and letting people whose vibe I like, and work I like in music, come in and start building with me. People say GameCube alot. I grew up on GameCube. Sonic Adventure, our generation really fucks with it. I wouldn’t fully call it low poly. But it has elements of low poly. Heavy Cartoon Network influence. Kids Next Door is one of my favorite cartoons of that time. There was a character creator on the Cartoon Network website that I just remembered. The Kids Next Door game is one of the most influential pieces of art for me—that affected me as a kid. I would create the characters, I would print them, draw them, and make little boxes—you know how the Kids Next Door make their weapons? It’s very sculptural.
F: Someone in the Discord made a comment about Pedro’s art being this combination of low poly stuff with newer animation tech. Like hi-fi, with newer lighting. AdWorld as a whole is a commentary on the development of this NFT metaverse space. There are a lot of older technologies that make you feel that this metaverse dream was already realized in Second Life. Now it’s revived with this new sheen, all of sudden it’s like, “this is the future”, and I think Pedro’s art rhymes with that in the sense that its low poly—it references old tech and new tech at once.
S: I have to ask, are there concrete philosophical/political influences behind AdWorld, because I know there are for some NFT projects, especially the "avant" ones.
SA: I think there are, but it’s not for us to prescribe, to read those out. I think there’s a lot that people can take from engaging with the story. I don’t want to step on any toes with the storytelling, but there’s definitely a clear voice, a clear reading of the world. Both in the music and in the story, and how we engage with everything.
F: In the prologue there are competing perspectives and interest groups who are vying for control of this social technology. I think that those different interest groups will…AdWorld feels more like a mirror of this whole space, than something with a clear political take on it…do you know what I mean? We want to show this thing in the way we’ve seen it, rather than try to overdetermine what we’re making. Like San said, we don’t want “Oh yeah, it’s like blank, blank, blank…” and then people are just like “this is one of these things”.
You can follow AdWorld on instagram and twitter at @adworldgame. Watch a videoclip produced by AdWorld here: https://twitter.com/AdWorldGame/status/1506388415004127236
Follow Santangelo on instagram @santangelo.o, Pedro @pedro.tqm, Francis @brainofachild
You can follow me at @pl0xi_the_arsonist on instagram
The team wanted shoutout the following people:
@neetworth (twitter) , the AdWorld developer
@thribing (twitter), the AdWorld writer
abelinegroup (soundcloud) the musician who composed the theme for the AdWorld website
Special shoutouts to @lolo_barrientos and @brooskyes (both on twitter) for helping build out the AdWorld Discord.