Blue Williams: Hi, Nathan! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! I know you’re busy, but before we begin, I just have to tell you a quick story…
When I was a kid, my family never owned a Sega Genesis, but my cousin (who was 15 years older than us) did have one. He left it at our house for several months, and the game he left with it was ToeJam & Earl. We. Were. Obsessed. We thought it was so funny! My sisters and I played it non-stop until our parents finally asked my cousin to take his Genesis back. So while the other kids at a school were talking about Sonic the Hedgehog, we were the weirdos talking about ToeJam & Earl, and ever since then, if I run into somebody who fondly remembers the game, I know right away that we are going to be friends.
To start, could you introduce yourself and explain your role with the project?
Nathan Shorts: Sure! My name is Nathan Shorts. I’m the Lead Artist at Humanature studios. I also help manage social media, marketing, product design, and biz dev.
BW: It’s been 17 years since the last ToeJam & Earl game (2002’s ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth), so why now? What made 2019 the right time to get the series back in the groove?
NS: So Greg Johnson, the co-creator of the property and our CEO, has been shopping around the idea for a new ToeJam & Earl nearly since 2002. It wasn’t until the advent of Kickstarter that fans were able to step up and put in the initial funding for a new title where publishers hadn’t been. We got our first round of funding from Kickstarter in early 2015. It’s coming out in early 2019 because we finally feel it’s ready for the world! We’ve had a few delays, all for the benefit of the game and player enjoyment. We very much believe that Back in the Groove is the ultimate sequel fans have been waiting for.
BW: What kind of surprises can fans of the classic expect from this new entry in the series? What about it will also appeal to those who may have never played a ToeJam & Earl game before?
NS: For fans of the original titles, we’ve made sure that the core of the game is true to what they expect. The surprises consist of what we pile on top of that core – new power ups and comically bizarre enemy types. We’ve also expanded the endgame quite a bit. With unlockable items well into the double digits, it’s worth it for players to complete the game over and over again.
For people new to the franchise, they can expect a laid back adventure they can (and should!) go on with a friend or family member. It’s a wacky good time that can appeal to the inexperienced and veteran gamer alike! With randomly generated worlds to explore, they can expect a fresh experience every time.
BW: How have you updated the tone of the game to appeal to a 21st century audience while still staying true to the concept’s original ’90s soul?
NS: Rather than replicating the ’90s era outright, we took it upon ourselves to capture the ideal memory of the ’90s. It’s our hope that playing Back in the Groove will feel a bit like opening a time capsule. All the best stuff you remember from the ’90s is in there, without any of the bummers!
For newcomers, we’ve modernized the gameplay a bit and updated a number of the satirical references to connect with a modern audience. Enemies now include oblivious texters, internet trolls (literally), and cosplayers.
ICYMI: Here’s our Toejam and Earl: Back in The Groove Review!
BW: Will the Boogie be returning in Back in the Groove? Haha, I hated the Boogie so much! Which is your personal favorite Earthling?
NS: He does make a return! He even has a suped up version in hard mode.
Hmmm, I’d have to say my favorite Earthling is the Segway Guard. No particular reason other than he looks really funny.
BW: I’ve been following the @toejamandearl Twitter account for long while now, and I love how interactive it is! You’re so willing to respond to and joke with fans, which is pretty unusual for a developer. Why have you decided to go this route?
NS: Thanks for that! Yes, we do put a lot of time and effort into our Twitter. It’s run by a few of us, including myself, our producer Matt, and our community mod and tester, Nap. Working on it in shifts or all at once allows for a level of engagement with fans that I don’t think they expect when they start interacting with the account.
Once we split with our publisher, Adult Swim Games, we knew we had to fill that social media marketing gap in a clever way so we could break through the noise. Unlike our Facebook account, Twitter offered a space where we could craft a sort of meme/parody/game development account hybrid, which people have really responded well to. It’s also allowed us to bring in a younger audience who may have never heard of ToeJam & Earl before finding us on Twitter.
BW: The first ToeJam & Earl game was considered a commercial failure, yet it grew into this beloved cult hit. Are you surprised that there is still a love of and a demand for more of these games nearly 30 years later, or did you always believe ToeJam & Earl had staying power?
NS: We’ve always believed in the power of the ToeJam & Earl funk, but our Kickstarter helped to prove the series was still relevant. And since then, more and more fans have come out of the woodwork. Not everybody remembers the first games without prompting, but we’ve been surprised by how many people reminisce about their memories playing the games as soon as they see the characters again.
BW: ToeJam & Earl is such a nostalgia trip for me, and I’m so pleased that it still holds up all these years later! What video games are you most nostalgic about?
NS: I grew up on Sega, not just the Genesis, but the Dreamcast as well. Jet Set Radio and Crazy Taxi hit me in the nostalgia every time. Even Sega games from the PS2. Sega Soccer Slam is a really nostalgic game for me. It hasn’t aged all that well, but it has a weird early 2000s charm to it that I just love.
BW: What do you like to do when you’re not working on ToeJam & Earl?
NS: When I’m not making games, I’m usually playing games, spending time with my wife (usually playing games there too), watching bad horror movies, or going to grimy punk shows. I’m also an online instructor for the game dev department at the Academy of Art University in my off hours.
BW: What does the future hold for HumaNature Studios?
NS: That depends a lot on how well this game does, if I’m honest. If it does really well, we have some ideas for possible DLC that we’d like to work on. We also have a non-ToeJam & Earl title in the prototype stage that we’d like to shop around to some publishers. We’re not sure which direction we’ll be going next, but we hope it’s a good one!
BW: BONUS QUESTION! If ToeJam or Earl found a pineapple pizza and they ate it, would it heal them like the pancakes or hurt them like the moldy cheese?
NS: Heal ’em! Pizza is a gift from heaven, not matter what’s on it… At least as far as they’re concerned.