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Greg Johnson on ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

YoSupGreg Johnson launched his not-so-secret Kickstarter campaign for ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove today, and we had a chance to talk to him about his upcoming game.

Some people have been confused about who owns the rights to the series since SEGA published the previous games in the series.

“In regards to ownership of the property, Mark Voorsanger and I co-own the property. SEGA has licensed the property from us to publish our earlier games,” Johnson said. “We maintain a good relationship with SEGA and keep them informed about our plans for this new product. Hopefully there will be some synergy between this and the older products that they are still selling digitally.”

Unfortunately, Voorsanger, the engineer of the series, won’t return, but Johnson has built a small development team for this entry in the series.

poster1_smalll“Our team currently consists of: myself (designer and studio head); Jeff Kreis doing engineering, he’s an old friend that I worked with on a previous title; Nathan Shorts, a talented young comic book artist from the [San Francisco] Academy of Art; and Maida Kreis, a 3D artist who made our environments on ToeJam and Earl 3,” Johnson said. “Depending on how our funding goes, we may grow the team, but we plan to stay relatively small, probably no bigger than eight or nine.”

Johnson said the outpouring from the community for a new Toejam & Earl game was a big reason why he’s decided to revisit the series, but it’s also been something on his mind for a long time.

“There seems to be a lot of retro-game nostalgia in recent years. Perhaps it’s because so many gamers have reached that age where they want to look back, or maybe it’s because of how easy it is to tweet out ‘Hey, remember this!?'” Johnson explained. “Whatever the reason, there has been an outpouring of fan requests for a new Toejam and Earl game in the last few years.

“I’ve wanted to make a new game for years. After I finished Doki Doki Universe for Sony, it seemed like the perfect time,” he continued. “One of the great things about Kickstarter is it lets you get a read on what people want, so we’ll be able to tell right away if we’re on the right track. Right now I’m holding my breath to see what happens.”

Back in the Groove will feature day and night sequences in the game.
Back in the Groove will feature day and night sequences in the game.

Several months ago, Johnson created a ToeJam & Earl Facebook page that he’s used to gather feedback from the fans.

“To paraphrase, here’s what I’ve heard from the fans, ‘Please make the game mainly like game one, and please, please, please, don’t mess up what was fun about that game,'” Johnson said. “Of course, there are some fans who loved game two, and I’ll be pulling some fun elements from that game, like the buttons and coin meters, and hidden presents, and (if we make the stretch goal for it), the Hyperfunk Zone.

Old favorite Earthlings will make a return in Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove.
Old favorite Earthlings will make a return in Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove.

“I also have a list of new game features planned, but overall we’re keep it old school, with stacked random levels, simple controls, 2D sprites in a retro art style, and a largely-fixed isometric camera.”

The game won’t be a remaster of the original ToeJam & Earl, but will be an entirely new entry in the series with a lot of new features, some of which will be stretch goals.

“I also have a list of new game features planned, but overall we’re keep it old school, with stacked random levels, simple controls, 2D sprites in a retro art style, and a largely-fixed isometric camera,” he said.

While development is still very early, here’s what we’ve learned to expect in Back in the Groove:

  • Traveling back through time will play into the game (See our previous interview for more)
  • Two-player co-op will have new features that allow players to heal each other and shout to lure Earthlings away from one another.
  • The game will switch from day to night
  • New characters, in addition to old ones
  • New presents and flying presents that unlock special abilities and have permanent effects, even after starting a new game.
  • Several meta-game features, allowing players to collect hats that enhance abilities
  • Once players reach the end of the game, they’ll unlock continuing installments of a comic book that tells the origins of ToeJam and Earl.

“There is so much more I could tell you. We’re still so early in development,” Johnson said. “We’re just getting started on the game play. Some of the new features are dependent on stretch goals and on how much time we have, which, of course, we don’t know yet.”

Back in the Groove will be developed in Unity to maximize the potential platforms Johnson and his team can port it to.

“There won’t be any exclusivity. That said, we plan to focus 100 percent of our attention on the game before porting, so we’ll be building first for the PC (and Mac/Linux) only,” Johnson said. “After the game is tweaked, and tuned, and as fun as I want it to be, we will take it to other platforms. Well, and this is all assuming we can afford to do this, or get deals that allow us to, but I’m feeling very optimistic.”

Watch out for the Boogie man!
Watch out for the Boogie man!

The next question on everyone’s mind is when they’ll actually be able to play it, and Johnson isn’t quite ready to commit to a timeframe at this point so early in development.

“One of the nice things about going indie is you can truly set your own priorities. Our priority happens to be making the best game we can,” he said. “You often will hear this from publishers, but the reality is that if this is really your priority, then you don’t release the game until it’s ready.

“I’m hoping we’ll have enough resources to play test and tune this game a LOT, which means I’d rather not commit to a date yet,” Johnson continued. “It will depend in part on what resources we have to work with. We’ll keep our fans and backers updated as we go along, of course.”

You can read previous interviews we had with Johnson here and here, along with a ToeJam & Earl retrospective we conducted with him, as well. Go here to visit the ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Kickstarter page.

Chris Powell

Chris is the editor-in-chief at SEGA Nerds and Mega Visions Magazine. Over the years, he's written for publications like Joystiq, PSP Fanboy, RETRO magazine, among others. Oh yeah, he's also been a diehard SEGA Nerd his entire life.

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