Designers Eric Shumaker and Brian Raum explain how Charles Barkley, the post-cyberpocalypse, and Space Jam came together into one hilarious RPG.
In January of 2007, amateur game designers Eric Shumaker and Brian Raum released a demo for a game they thought only their closest friends would play. But its premise proved too ridiculous to resist. Tales of Game's Presents Chef Boyardee's Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa thrusts ex-NBA player Charles Barkley into a dystopian future caused, in part, by the events of the movie Space Jam. The game's straight-faced humor and solid execution of Japanese role-playing game fundamentals drew attention from all across the Internet and beyond.
Now, with the release of a Mac-friendly version of Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden and the announcement of the game's sequel, Shumaker and Raum are ready to revisit the genesis of this outrageous RPG series. Warning: the postmortem you are about to read is canon.
The number one thing I'm sure people want to know is how you arrived at the concept for this game. Are you both sports fans? Did you play a lot of Japanese role-playing games growing up? When did you decide to make the connection with Space Jam?
Eric Shumaker: [laughs] I like basketball, but I don't actively follow any teams or anything. I don't think you could say I'm a sports fan, although I don't dislike them or anything. There was this Super Nintendo basketball game about Charles Barkley called Barkley Shut Up and Jam; I saw the name and thought it would be really funny to add "Gaiden" at the end.
It's really weird, but we didn't have to think too hard about what we wanted to do with the game. We knew immediately that it would be serious despite having a completely ridiculous premise. I guess when you put the words "Barkley Shut Up and Jam" and "Gaiden" together, chaos dunks, vidcons, neo-shekels, and Hoopz Barkley are just the natural by-products.
We all played a lot of Western and Japanese role-playing games growing up. We were part of the RPG Maker community--a group of people using a free engine to make JRPG-style games--so pretty much everyone there was familiar with the genre. I'm not sure when Space Jam became a part of the game. I think it was just another by-product of the creative flurry that Brian and I had immediately after conceiving the idea.
Brian Raum: I like sports, more so playing than following. I'm a rotten b-ball player, too. But I like it. I was really into the Harlem Globetrotters when I was younger. So yes, Eric came up with the name and contacted me about it asking if I wanted to help, but there's also an ancient Wikipedia edit five or six years ago that kind of informed this game's personality.
I'm almost certain we found it after we had started the game, but I'm not 100 percent sure. On Michael Jordan's page it said, regarding Space Jam, "But some fans disagree whether or not this is canon." That the movie Space Jam is canon to Michael Jordan's filmography? That the events of Space Jam and his joining with the Looney Tunes are canon to Jordan's life and career? Like, Space Jam and AAA baseball are not canon, but his time with the Bulls is? It was funny and strange, and the more time you spend thinking about how something can be canon to existence, the more bewildered you become.
This mystery, and our deliberation, was instrumental in leading us to Barkley 1's ultra-heightened sense of canonicity. But most of all we live in a world where Shaq Fu, Chaos in the Windy City, and Space Jam are actually real things. Sci-fi b-ball heroics are a rich genre that predates our contribution.
With a concept so outrageous, it would be easy to make the whole game super goofy. Instead, the tone of Barkley 1 is a juxtaposition of depressing, desolate future and humorous, almost sitcom-esque scenarios. How did you arrive at this tone?
Shumaker: A big part of it was that we wanted to poke fun at a lot of the games in the RPG Maker community. Back then, the RPG Maker community was pretty amateur--a lot of these games used resources (or entire stories) from other games and did it with a completely straight face. A good deal were very cheesy derivatives of much better commercial games, but they took themselves very seriously and tried to present themselves as completely legitimate.
On Michael Jordan's page it said, regarding Space Jam, "But some fans disagree whether or not this is canon." This mystery, and our deliberation, was instrumental in leading us to Barkley 1's ultra-heightened sense of canonicity."They weren't bad or anything; they were very cool and interesting. But this attitude of self-importance was something we wanted to make fun of. We took the completely serious tone of all these RPG Maker games and gave it a ridiculous premise. It was the contrast of the tone and the premise that I think made it funny. But it was never meant to be malicious; I think it was an affectionate parody. We love role-playing games, and we love the community we came from.
I think the RPG Maker community was one of the most creatively fertile game-making communities ever, and the big reason was that RPG Maker was a tool for idea guys and not programmers. It gave all those people who did not have the means to make a big game the tools to make their own Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. They didn't have to focus on tiny mechanical details, but on stories and characters and worlds, and that's what made RPG Maker so attractive to so many.
At the same time, a lot of these RPG Maker dudes lacked a critical sense of self-awareness, and that's sort of what we were parodying with the game.
Raum: Another part of it was just the local culture of the message board we posted at and our group of friends. Before making Barkley 1, there were a thousand other dumb stories, forum topics, games, songs, pictures, alternate identities, practical jokes, and so on that myself and others were involved in. Much of my youth was spent sitting in front of a computer concocting increasingly ridiculous plots to entertain myself and my friends. Kind of a waste of time, but I liked it, and I think we benefited from hanging around in a place where people actively practiced comedy. I don't think for a second I am hilarious or anything, but the "tone" was muscle memory after years of wasteful forum posting. It was what was most fun to write and talk about.
It also fixes problems! People can stomach the melodrama and occasional boredom and inherent JRPG 9999-damage lunacy because of the jokes, and the seriousness grounds the game's conflict in something "real" so the player maintains interest and actually cares to finish the game instead of doing anything else.
Charles Barkley is the game's hero, but he is also the most cynical toward the world. I remember a lot of funny moments, such as Cesspool X, where Barkley basically didn't give a flip about the drama around him. How did you arrive at his personality?
Shumaker: [laughs] Barkley is definitely a straight man, and I think that's something that's really important in absurd and surreal humor. He recognizes how ridiculous the things around him are, but he also accepts them as part of the natural order of his world. He's not saying "This is so weird. I can't believe this" but "This is stupid. I hate this," and I think there's a pretty significant difference.
I think the most important thing is that the world--and her characters--remains consistent throughout the whole game. There is never a point where the game winks at the player or acknowledges its own jokes. Because really, they're not jokes; they are completely consistent with the gameworld. Obviously it is ridiculous and funny to us that Space Jam was this pivotal world event, but to Barkley it is just part of life. I think that's what defines Tales of Game's style of humor: for most people, the characters are platforms for jokes. But for us, the characters are the jokes, and by remaining consistent, they maintain the joke.
It's like Hank Hill on King of the Hill: if he stopped being a tight-laced straight man and started telling jokes, he wouldn't be half as funny.
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This could possibly be one of the funniest games ever. I'm a huge sports fan as well as a huge RPG fan. I'm sure a lot of people just think it's just ridiculous though, and they wouldn't be wrong.
lol loved the shout out to Chaos in the Windy City. That game was so raw, haha, so many good times! For some reason, it never occurred to me how conceptually odd that game was until I got older and started hearing everyone else clown on it.
When I saw the title I immediately thought of the 1994 SNES/Genesis classic and thought it was a remake which made me laugh. Upon further reading I discover a great 16bit JRPG with a funny story. Definitely give this a try.
I dislike JRPGs, I have no interest in basketball and am increasingly bored of retro-gaming fetishism, but I have to say this is one of the most enjoyable games I've played this year. I was so entertained from the outset I played it through to completion in one sitting. Hilarious and surprisingly quite moving... I wholeheartedly gave it a 10 out of 10, as, apart from its sheer mash-up entertainment value, it's actually a great game!
Also also, I checked out the Kickstarter page, and found myself weeping with laughter and joyful expectation. I just wish I could spare them $1000 as the reward is b-ballingly brilliant...
Also, what a great interview - one of the best articles I've read on Gamespot in a long time. I love that there are people like this making games like this, and that lots of other people love it too...
THIS IS SO AWESOME! LoL! It looks like a pretty good RPG too! I dig the silly azz dialogue!! HaH!
I played this a few years back because, of course, the premise really drew me in.
What surprised me was that, regardless of premise, it was actually just a very good JRPG, period.
Favorite part: when you run into the gambling game that you're guaranteed to lose. If you then try to re-load your game, the gambler jumps to the middle of the screen and tells you how cheap it is to reload your game when you lose at gambling, and then zeroes out all your money. I just about died laughing.
Been a long time since I messed around with RPG Tsukuru. I even tried my hand at Sphere and Game Maker as well, but the ease of use of RM2k3 made it my platform of choice.
Maybe I should return to that Megaman Zero project I started on back before my old Presario died in 2006...
haha watched a streamer play this so i had to play it as well...one of the funniest story lines in any game i have played..if your a fan of basketball rpgs and diabetes then this game is for you
Ahh... good old times when I made games in RPG maker 2003, I still remember I made a megaman RPG using the sprites of megaman X to make the main character and Zero, the other team members where Bass, Roll and Protoman. I took a decent amount of time to get every sprite of X's buster and special attacks, as well as Zero's and Bass' and each of the monsters from Megaman 1 to X-3. too bad my pc got infected and destroyed the files :(
@Valdomer0 One thing I learned about attempting to make an RPG on RPG Maker is that you have to actually have a plan. You can't wing it (which I initially did). You gotta have some ideas with some story in place before even attempting to make a game. That part can be fun or tedious, depending on what your strengths are. Which is why making one with a friend or two or 10 helps makes the process easier. I wish they had an updated RPG maker out. I'd love to be part of a team and put together something worthy of playing.
@CMakaCreative Right, I had a weird story about an evil robot who sent megaman and his friends to the past and he had to beat all the bosses of previous megaman games to get the parts of a time machine to get back in time xD. My brother helped me out into the making of that game, getting the sprites I missed, the sounds, music, skills, attacks, some story spinoffs, even quality assurance! :D
@Valdomer0 I can understand that. I had a similar idea myself, but the sprites I used were mainly from Megaman Zero and Battle Network. That old Compaq has long since been gone, and I lost a lot more than just my RM2k3 stuff when it died. Hell, I had to do a factory reset on that old junker twice before a got a new PC in 2006. Gotta love Windows ME, that piece of $#&%...
@Valdomer0 I feel the pain of losing a game you've worked on. :( I had some good times with RPG Maker!
This has to be one of the most entertaining interviews I have read in a while. My brain reset for an instant when I read that part about Space Jam not being canon.