At Ubisoft first When Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day approached the stars of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" to create a new showset in the video game industry, McElhenney said they weren't interested – at least initially, not.
"Everything we've seen in the past, from a film or TV show perspective, has always presented the industry in such a negative light," he told me. "It was the butt of the joke. The characters themselves were ridiculed and it was very specific to the geek culture. We just weren't interested in it. "
And yet McElhenney, Day and Megan Ganz, the writer of "It's Always Sunny", created "Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet", which premiered on Apple TV + this weekend. McElhenney said a visit to Ubisoft's Montreal offices – the publisher of Assassin's Creed, Prince of Persia and other major game franchises – had changed his mind.
“When we went to Montreal and met all the Ubisoft developers who all work together to develop these games, we saw how many different, different personalities there really are and how much they are all united in love of games ", he said.
So McElhenney decided that "this seemed like a really interesting and new place to tell such stories." And just as he assumes that most "Sunny" viewers don't tune in to learn the fate of Paddy & # 39; s Pub (the Philadelphia Bar) from the main characters in the series): "The approach we chose was that the general audience didn't care about the success or failure of a video game, but the interpersonal dynamics of the characters themselves. "
Ganz also said she didn't know much about video game development when McElhenney first approached her about working on the show, but she began to see parallels between this world and a television author's room.
"Apart from the fact that instead of being a writer, they all have very specialized jobs that interest them, like just writing or just design or just the money that is earned," she said. "And I thought, well, that's really fun because it's something that is even more complex than a typical writer's room – there are all these Greek gods who all control their very specific part of the world."
Of course, "Mythic Quest" had its own authoring room, which, according to Quite a bit, was equally divided between people with in-depth industry knowledge (like Ashly Burch, who did extensive voice-over work on games like "Team Fortress 2" and "Team Fortress 2") , Fortnite (and who also plays a game tester on the show) and Ganz (who may have played casually when they were younger) but ultimately didn't know much about this world.
"We did this because if you come up with a script or joke that both are happy with, you will please as much audience as you can," she said.
She added that the goal was not to "play in the video game community" but "to be authentic and not to make fun of them, but to speak authentically about how toxic the video games are, the gender dynamics that is in the game. "
It wasn't just a learning process for the authors. F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for playing Salieri in "Amadeus") plays an eccentric science fiction writer who works on the game, and he told me that I had no idea about video games. I knew something, I knew it, but not the size, the success, the range, my god. "
All of the Mythic Quest writers and actors I spoke to indicated that their approach evolved significantly from the original pilot script. For example, there is McElhenney's character Ian Grimm, the creative director of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game that gives the show its name.
"In the first draft of the script, we made Ian a bit more of an idiot," said McElhenney. “We read it through and found that it just felt wrong. There was something missing that we had to believe if we didn't want this to feel like a live action cartoon – like it & # 39; Sunny & # 39; often does – and we wanted these people to feel real and authentic he really should have that position. "
The question then was how to make him competent, but in a fun way. They went on a pilot episode in which Ian and lead engineer Poppy (played by Charlotte Nicdao) passionately debate the properties of the game's brand new shovel. While this debate is likely to be silly to most viewers, McElhenney says that it also "conveys what so many people in the creative arts have or don't have – the ability to see the smallest detail, the reason why something is going on going to work or why it doesn't work. "
During this process, the authors also asked Ubisoft for advice. Jason Altman, director of film and television at Ubisoft, is the show's executive producer. He remembered that he had brought in various team members to help the authors understand everything that went into the development process.
In addition, Ubisoft Red Storm (the studio behind the Tom Clancy game) was involved in building up the sections of the game that we actually see on the show.
"What they created was little gameplay sandboxes that we could bring with us, and the actors could sit and play with them, and that would actually inform their performance," said Altman.
He acknowledged that there were challenges, such as helping Mythic Quest writers realize that developers needed time to do their work. Ultimately, however, he said that the Red Storm team had "a great time" creating something that gave the show "a real" sense of authenticity. "
Ganz and McElhenney also had a lot of praise for the developers, especially for their openness to adding silly comedic elements like ridiculous blood poisoning. McElhenney pointed to an episode in which they had to create "a really credible Nazi victory-salute greeting".
"There's no way they're going to do it, it's going to be a follow-up call," he recalled. "And they said, 'Okay, great. & # 39; And I said, 'Wait, what do you mean, okay, great? & # 39; They said, 'No, we make Nazis all the time. & # 39; "Because Nazis are the best villains, all Nazis hate."
I was also curious as to why the show is focusing on developing an ongoing MMORPG instead of starting a new game. Altman had an answer for me: "I think it represents what is happening in the game industry. You don't just start a game and forget it, the development team lives with it, you have live services and live events. This is how games are currently run . "
It also reflects another aspect of development: the fact that teams not only spend six months together, but also spend years together, and the success they achieve together ties them together.
David Hornsby – who, like McElhenney, is both an author and executive producer and actor on the show – told me that the authors' understanding of the show's distribution had also developed since Apple TV + had not launched (or had even been officially announced) ), when "Mythic Quest" was picked up first.
"We weren't sure if it wouldn't be binge-capable from the start, we heard it incrementally," said Hornsby. "Apple is good at keeping secrets."
Ultimately, they found that all nine episodes would go out at once, and Hornsby said they were prompted to structure the season like a movie our characters. "
I also discussed Apple TV + with McElhenney, who said the team had received offers from several studios.
"It was scary," he said. "And I remember talking about it, we thought we were going with a known crowd? Or let's jump into the water of secrets, because even though it's the largest company in the world, you don't know if it will work. "
So why choose Apple? "We just felt like if you wanted to bet on someone, why didn't you bet on a trillion dollars? You seem to have figured out the resources and something."