A Trip Down Nostalgia Lane: A Q&A About Saturday Morning RPG


(Photo: Courtesy Mighty Rabbit Studios)

Nostalgia grips us all from time to time. Whether it’s playing our old video games or watching our favorite cartoons from when we were kids, there are all sorts of ways for us to relive the glory days. It’s exactly that sort of emotion indie studio Mighty Rabbit is hoping to catch with their game, Saturday Morning RPG.

I have had the pleasure of seeing these developers as both the “Too Many Games” expo as well as MAGFest back in January. After playing their demos both times and seeing how the game has come along, I was put in touch with the people working on the iOS game and organized a Q&A.

Josh Fairhurst was kind enough to respond to me and to be the one to answer my questions about their fascinating game, and what drives them as indie developers. He is the president of the company and previously worked as a tester for Gears of War 2 and created Terraform: a chemistry based FPS.

Without further delay, here’s the Q&A.

Armed Gamer: Let’s start off with a basic introduction. How did Mighty Rabbit Studios get started, and who is behind it? How did you meet?

Josh Fairhurst: Mighty Rabbit Studios began life in August 2010 and was founded with help from Joystick Labs (an indie developer incubation program based out of Durham, NC). I co-founded the company along with Nic Allen, and up until early 2011 it was just the two of us. We had several people helping us during that span (notably two artists, Miri and Andy, who helped a ton) but for the longest part of that span it was just Nic and I. Chris, our level design lead, came to the company around January of 2011 and joined full time a few months later.

Nic and I had both attended Wake Technical Community College with him back in 2005, so we knew he was an awesome guy to work with. Our next three employees – Ben, David, and Adric – all joined us during March of 2011. Of the three, we only knew David (who we also knew from classes) – Ben and Adric both met us during the East Coast Game Conference and applied to work with us. Both of them were great and joined on full time. Our final employee, Kurt, joined with us after getting his Master’s Degree in December of 2011. I had previously worked with Kurt on a student project called Terraform. Just like the rest of our employees, he is an awesome person.

AG:  Mighty Rabbit has also helped create “Raleigh Game On“. What urged you to create this community of indie game developers? How important is the sense of community to indie game development, and do the studios help each other out in projects?

JF: Community is incredibly important to survive as an indie developer. As an indie company you can’t afford to work in the bubbles that the big guys work in. You have to network with as many people as possible so that when you need help with something – whether it be cross-promotion, code help, or feedback – you’ll have someone to turn to. We’ve seen that pretty much all of the companies we’ve brought on to Game On have been willing to help each other out in any way possible.

It’s a really great community so far. We’ve also always been really big on wanting to show our game to public at any and every opportunity. Game On provided us, and all the other local developers, a chance to get their game projects in front of regular people who could provide valuable feedback.

AG: Moving on to your current project, what inspired you to create Saturday Morning RPG?

JF: Two different things really brought on the genesis of the idea. The first and most important was that I was playing Transformers: War for Cybertron and it dawned on me that an episodic Transformers game would be awesome. I didn’t like that pretty much every Transformers game up to that point had been built around huge, overarching stories. I thought it would be cool to see a game that presented a story and resolved it within the span of an hour – something that was short-burst but felt gratifying (because you actually accomplished something).

It seemed like that would afford for a really awesome game experience – so I took that idea and spun it into another idea I had already been kicking around. That idea came about after I completed Terraform as my final student project at NC State. Terraform was a chemistry based first-person puzzle shooter set in an alternate 1970s where the world was dying. I was fascinated with the 1970s while I worked on that game. I don’t really know why.

When I finished the game I decided I wanted to start working on something else, I thought it might be neat to try making an RPG with a really bizarre setting – so I thought, why not an RPG set in the 1970s? I didn’t really go anywhere with that idea until I started thinking about War for Cybertron, at that point I thought – why not an RPG set in the 1980s inspired by Saturday morning cartoons? It fit the episodic structure I longed for, and it satisfied my desire to work with decades long past. I’m also a huge 80s culture nerd, so it really excited me the more I thought about the idea.

AG: The 80’s style aesthetics are a distinctive characteristic of the game. Why did you decide for that artistic direction?

JF: Pretty much for all the reasons stated above. The 80s were just the perfect time to be a kid, there was something about the world back then that just appeals to me on every level. I wanted to capture that in a game.

AG: A lot of your art assets pull distinctly from other properties. You have attacks similar to the CareBear Stare as well as Pong. Have you run into any issues in regards to copyright, and if not how do you make sure to keep your art distinctly different?

JF: We’re definitely worried, but we’ve got a giant copyright law tome sitting on our desk (thanks law student who was throwing out his books!). We’ve made sure to research our rights and we’ve distinctly positioned the references in our game as parody or satire. We’ve also been sure to give all the items and characters in our game unique back stories which support their existence as parodies.

AG: What is the basic premise of the game? Why is your character fighting, and is there a story reason for the 80’s aesthetic?

JF: Saturday Morning RPG follows the story of Marty, an average high school student who is granted the ability to channel magic through everyday objects. Marty is given this power one night during a dream by a mysterious individual known only as “The Wizard”. The following day during school, Marty accidentally triggers an important evil scheme that his school is at the heart of. The man behind this scheme is none other than Commander Hood, the world’s most nefarious villain. After thwarting the plan, Marty becomes a sworn nemesis of Commander Hood and he must continue to fight to stay alive (and keep his hometown from being completely destroyed).

The world of Saturday Morning RPG is kind of difficult to describe – it’s a world where every Saturday morning cartoon actually exists. The people of the world tune into their TVs to watch this stuff as if it were reality TV – so our game’s equivalents of Transformers and G.I. Joe are celebrities within the world. People watch their exploits on TV on a daily basis – the flip side of this is that there is literally thousands of evil schemes being enacted and thwarted every day. It’s a really unsafe world but luckily they’ve got people like Marty who have the ability to fight off evildoers.

AG: Right now you’re mainly making the game for iOS. Why is the iOS such a popular OS for indie developers in comparison to the Droid market or Steam? What can fans do to make the Droid Marketplace more appealing for developers?

JF: iOS is just so open for developers – it’s a very easy platform to get on with very few restrictions from a development end. There’s also a huge customer base buying games for their iDevices on a daily basis, so it is really attractive to developers. The core problem with Android is that so few people actually buy apps on their devices. They either can’t find quality apps or they just opt to download free ones. On top of that Google has file limits that make it quite hard to get bigger games on to the store. The worst issue, though, is the disparity between all the system specs of all the various Android devices. It’s a logistical nightmare to verify that your game works on every Android handset. We’re planning to take a weird route in solving this problem. We actually bought one of the original Android phones, the Nexus One, and figure if we can get the game running perfectly on that – we’ll be fine on the other devices. We aren’t quite there yet so we’ve had to delay the Android version a bit.

I think Steam is appealing to every developer; it’s just harder to get your game onto than the app store – which is why we’ve opted for an iOS launch first. Personally, I love what Steam does for indie developers. It just seems like every game that gets on to Steam winds up selling really well.

AG: What Saturday Morning cartoons did you grow up with? How did they influence your game design? Did you find any particular shows more than others sneaking into Saturday Morning RPG?

I’ve always been a huge fan of The Transformers and G.I. Joe – so there’s definitely a huge amount of stuff inspired by those franchises. Everyone at the studio is also huge Back to the Future fans, so there is a ridiculous amount of references to that franchise.

AG: What inspired you to release the game in hour long episodes? Was this a function of what a cartoon format is, or is there something else to it?

JF: I just felt that a one to two hour game could feel really satisfying. It would allow for the perfect amount of content and wouldn’t outstay its welcome. Something I learned from the commentary on Robot Chicken (at least I could swear I heard this there) is that people will like something better if you don’t give them time to hate it. One hour is the perfect amount of time to really get into a game, but it isn’t long enough to hate a game for dragging on. It just seems right. It also happens to fit the cartoon theme wonderfully.

AG: Just for fun: considering all of the remakes of 80’s Saturday Morning cartoons, what show are you hoping they remake? What show do you hope they never remake?

JF: It’s not a real show, but I hope someone out there will turn Space Stallions into a real show. If you haven’t watched the youtube video for Space Stallions yet, you really need to do that. It’s radical in every sense of that word! Someone from our Kickstarter campaign introduced the video to me and I can’t thank him enough. As for a remake, I think it would be cool to see a new Inspector Gadget cartoon. They’ve tried rebooting him a few times between the awful live action movies and a few 3D animated atrocities, but it would be cool to see a well-cared for reboot.

As for something I never want to see be remade: Go-Bots Battle of the Rock Lords. I was just recently going through the toys I had as a kid and for some reason I had four of these really awful Rock Lords toys. The concept behind these things was “They’re Transformers… but they turn into rocks!” – I wish Tom Hanks had been on the committee that created those things to say “I don’t get it.” I don’t know what was going through my head when I bought these toys. They’re honestly the worst transforming toys I have ever seen – even the bootleg companies didn’t want to knock these off.

AG: Again, I would like to extend my grattitude to Mighty Rabbit for agreeing to this Q&A, and especially to Josh for answering my questions. I highly recommend you check out their Kickstarter campaign, follow them on Twitter, and check out their website. I wish them luck, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the title when it is released.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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