Talking ToeJam & Earl with Greg Johnson – Part 3: Drugs

This is the final part of a three-part interview with ToeJam & Earl creator Greg Johnson. You can read the second part here, or start from the beginning by clicking here.

ToeJam & Earl Devil

Josh: So, back to ToeJam & Earl… This is going to be a super weird question probably, but this is something I’ve genuinely always been curious about. How much would you say that drugs influenced ToeJam & Earl?

Greg: [Laughing] That’s funny. Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t do drugs, and I never have. Any type. That’s sometimes shockingly surprising to some people who are absolutely sure that ToeJam & Earl came out of some drug-induced state of mind.

Josh: It almost feels like, if you’re looking, you can see some references and things.

Greg: I mean, standing back a little bit, I guess I can see that just in terms of how crazy everything is…

Here’s a little interesting tidbit for you: Mark [Voorsanger, co-creator of ToeJam & Earl] and I were approached at one point to sell the property for quite a bit of money to an organization that was focused on legalizing marijuana. They wanted ToeJam and Earl as sort of their mascot characters. If we had taken the cash and sold the characters, there was no question that we would be seeing them toking it up very quickly all over the place.

Mark and I both didn’t want to do that. We just turned down the money and said, “No thanks.” That’s not we want for these characters and their image.

ToeJam and Earl Hangin

You know, one of the things I’ve learned — I’ve kind of always felt [it], but [I] learned [this] 10 times over just in the last few weeks with this Kickstarter campaign — is that anything you put out there in the world that spreads, even something as innocuous or ostensibly frivolous as a video game, can have a tremendous effect on people, an effect you can never anticipate or imagine. [It] can be even life-changing sometimes for people. You just never know when it’s going to hit a spot in their lives, some critical time, or change how they think, or offer them a safe haven when they’re having a real hard time in their life.

Game developers, just like any artist that creates media that goes out to a large number of people, I think have a responsibility to be positive and constructive in their work, and uplifting.

By the way, I don’t mean to sound like I’m crusading against marijuana. I think it has its place, you know, and I’m not against young people experimenting with things when they’re doing it in ways that aren’t destructive.

Bringing it back to ToeJam & Earl, I understand when people make that comment because there is a certain quality to them that’s maybe kind of familiar with that crazy, associative, let-it-flow kind of humor, but that’s not really where it came from. It’s not really who those characters are. That’s just their personality, and the world is just crazy ‘cause it’s crazy.

Josh: Since you’ve been hearing all these crazy stories where people are reminiscing about the good old days when they were playing ToeJam & Earl with their friends, is that a thing that people have been telling you about at all? Like, “Oh, we’ve been smoking up and playing ToeJam & Earl.”

Greg: I’ve heard that. Sure, a number of times. I mean, people have all kinds of different rituals with their friends. That’s one of the things I’ve heard a lot is, “We play ToeJam & Earl every year when we get together. It’s kind of become our personal ritual.” I don’t know if ritual is the right word…

On a regular basis [people like] to reminisce and sort of have those same feelings again and feel connected with somebody usually. And I’m sure that’s a part of it sometimes for people. And like I said, I personally have nothing against [drugs] when it’s all done in a healthy way. But it’s not by any means the majority of what I hear.

I’ve heard so many stories, and a lot of them have to with family, you know? A lot of the ones that are particularly touching have to do with people who have connected, through the game, with their parents. And often now, because the game is so old and people did it when they were so young, a lot of these parents have now passed on, and the game represents, for a number of people, a connection to a loved one who isn’t around anymore. And it sort of brings up all of these associations and deeper feelings that you wouldn’t normally think of as being part of what you associate with a crazy video game. But it’s been really touching and eye-opening for me to realize what a video game can mean to people.

ToeJam and Earl Ship Piece

Josh: It’s really great that ToeJam & Earl is what it is, and I think maybe – this is just me spinning theories here – it could almost be a metaphor for adolescence in some ways. Like, these two characters are in an unfamiliar environment and trying to figure it out. And that’s almost what adolescence is: trying to figure out the world around you. So I can see there being this really strong, relatable quality to ToeJam & Earl — I was probably 12 or 13 when I played it the first time — so, for people of my age group, there’s definitely that connection I would say.

Greg: You know, Josh, that’s one of the most perceptive things I think I’ve heard about the game. That’s a really good metaphor; that’s a new one. But I think you’re right. I think the [characters are like] teenagers in the way they act and the way they talk, and the world they’re in doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And, in fact, it’s filled with a lot of crazy adults doing crazy things that are kind of scary and weird. And they’re just kind of breezing through it with their connection to each other. And often in those teen years, that is the most important safe ground for young people — their connection to their friends, and that acceptance that these two characters have for each other — [finding] acceptance as a teenager.

I really like that. That’s a really good one, Josh. Gold star for that one.

Josh: I was reading the ToeJam & Earl Kickstarter the other day, and I don’t know if you edited this in more recently, but you mentioned that every single earthling from the original ToeJam & Earl would make an appearance in the remake? Am I reading that right? [The quote I’m referring to is “all the old Earthlings and presents, plus a pile of new ones,” which is probably far more vague than I gave it credit for being.]

Greg: Oh, well that’s an overstatement. If I said anything like that, then what I must have said was “I would love it if… or I would try to see how much of them I could get in.”

There are three games that I want to squeeze into one game… And it’s just not going to be possible to get all the characters in from both Games 1 and 2. There was a whole lot of new characters from Game 3, in fact, that I’d also love to get in, and I want to put in new characters too. So yeah, there’s no way I’m going to get them all in. But I’ll get in as many as I can, and when I’m not sure, I’ll probably be polling the fans and say, “Hey, would you rather have the duck on the carpet, or the shopper lady, or…”

Josh: Or the Cupid!

Greg: The Cupid is definitely going in. There are certain characters that serve a gameplay role that kind of has to be filled. The hula dancer does a very special thing to slow you down, and the Cupid kind of does that too. And the mole who steals your presents.

You know, in Game 3, what we did with the mole was, when you take the mole out, all of your presents that he stole from you pop out, and you have a chance to get them back again.

Josh: It almost felt like it should in the first one. Like, you’d have this guy steal your presents and then you’d kill him and then it was like, “Where’d they go?”

Greg: That worked out pretty well in Game 3, so I’m going to do that again.

I’ll get in as many [Earthlings] as I can. And, you know, this sounds a little bit crass, and to some people it even sounds like an excuse, but some of this stuff will depend on what our budget is. Because that turns into time that we have to just build. Every character and every feature takes more time, so we have to see what we have to work with at the end of all of this, and then basically see how much time that translates into, and then we create a schedule where we map out all the features we can get in. That’s when we can kind of see what can fit into that space.

ToeJam and Earl Genesis

And that’s that! Greg was a wonderful person to chat with, and here’s hoping ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is a resounding success!

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