Greg Johnson has been in the game industry for a long time. Having designed 16-bit Sega icons ToeJam & Earl way back in the early 90s and now running Humanature Studios, he's seen his creation rise to fame and subsequently slip into gaming history as the years ticked by. But last summer, when Sega created a poll tasking fans with selecting the next Genesis title to get the XBLA treatment, ToeJam & Earl popped back up on our industry's collective radar by taking the gold.
But it's not so simple! Johnson says Sega may have "got ahead of themselves a little bit" with that announcement "and didn't realize that they don't have the rights to the property." Apparently, Johnson assures us, "it's an easy mistake to make." This same shortcoming is also the reason why the characters will not be appearing in the upcoming Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, though showing up as DLC is still a possibility. "TJ&E will not be included ... and the option for including them as downloadable content is still open," Johnson said. "Sega said they're not ready to talk about that yet because they haven't started making any definite plans, but they promised to give me a shout when they get there – so hopefully we'll be able to work something out."
More interesting yet, it seems that Mr. Johnson shopped around the idea for a Nintendo DS multiplayer ToeJam & Earl game – though his pitch unfortunately met with deaf ears at "pretty much all of [the game publishers]." Check out some images of what could have been in the gallery below and continue past the break for more from our conversation with Greg Johnson.
"I can't tell you the details of the terms that Sega proposed when they approached us about using the characters for All-Stars Racing some eight months ago, but suffice it to say that they offered very little money, and they wanted to tie up the rights to the characters across all platforms for an extended period," Johnson told us. But how could Sega have forgotten it didn't own the rights to ToeJam & Earl before it made the game? Or even when the publisher announced that it would be republishing the original on Xbox Live Arcade a few months ago?
"They sort of got ahead of themselves a little bit and didn't realize that they don't have the rights to the property. It's an easy mistake to make – with every game contract being different, and new versions of contracts for releases always superseding old contracts, and rights' expiration dates, etc. Anyway, I'm waiting to hear back from them to pick up the conversation. The ball is in their court at the moment. Feel free to ask me again down the road, and I may know more." We contacted Sega for comment and have yet to hear back as of publishing.
"I was really hoping to do a multiplayer DS version -- but didn't have any luck getting interest from any publisher"
As far as another entry in the series goes, Johnson told us he worked on a pitch for "TJ&E4" as recently as two years ago. Based on the pitch document and images, TJ&E4 was to be a DS remake of the first ToeJam & Earl, albeit with some new additions. "After the Xbox game released in 2002, I tried really hard to get a new TJ&E game off the ground – right up until about two years ago. I was really hoping to do a multiplayer DS version – but didn't have any luck getting interest from any publisher – I approached pretty much all of them. Right now my studio is pretty busy with other stuff, but I plan to get back to seeing if I can't make TJ&E games in the future."
Included in the game pitch document are a handful of tidbits like, "The only gameplay feature that TJ&E DS pulls from game II and game III is rhythm matching. As players move through the levels of the game they come to locations where they are given a safe interlude, and an opportunity to copy rhythms by tapping on the screen in time to a funky beat. This allows players to earn extra presents and extra life." Thankfully, the game would have also included the requisite funky beats. "Funky music has always been a big part of the TJ&E experience. The music is all done in very old-school Funk style ... Bring on the Funk!"
Johnson concluded by telling us he's still interested in creating such a project, though funds are a bit of an issue. "It's really motivating to see how much the game meant to fans. I don't want to let them down ... and if you know any private investors with a pile of money that want to fund some game development, do send 'em my way." This sounds like a job for Joystiq Publishing™! Now, about that money ...