When It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia producers Rob McElhenney, Megan Ganz, and David Hornsby decided to enter the online gaming world and create Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, a video game comedy for Apple TV+, they knew they were entering into a massive universe. Then, when it came time to pick a name for their series, they realized just how massive it all was.
“We tried 55 different titles before we found one that would clear because there are so many out there,” Ganz says. “It was a very difficult process.”
“I think the clearance person may have quit,” Hornsby adds.
As it turns out, subtitles help when copyrighting anything in the gaming space. “Raven’s Banquet” serves as a subtitle for the show’s first season while future seasons will receive new ones to reflect new expansion packs within the game…just to make the clearance guy’s life even harder. While “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” may not have been the anyone’s first choice, it certainly expresses the grandiosity of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) and the first major scripted TV comedy to cover them.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet follows the studio behind the titular ultra-successful MMORPG. McElhenney stars as the game’s intense creative director Ian Grimm while Hornsby plays executive producer David Brittlesbee. The rest of the cast is filled out by Charlotte Nicdao as Lead Developer Poppy Li, F. Murray Abraham as head writer C.W. Longbottom, Danny Pudi as monetization expert Brad Bakshi, Jessie Ennis as assistant Jo, and Imani Hakim and prolific video game voice actress Ashly Burch as game testers, Dana and Rachel
At its core, the half hour comedy is like many other workplace hangout series before it. The cast of idiosyncratic characters share successes, get on each other’s nerves, and learn plenty of lessons in the show’s nine-episode seasons. But the added element of the video game at Mythic Quest’s core creates a whole host of new storytelling opportunities for the show. To make sure they got the technical portions of the series right, the Mythic Quest producers partnered with Ubisoft’s film and television division.
Ubisoft produced many of the gaming cut scenes for the series, with producers being able to borrow from other studios as well including interstitials from Red Dead Redemption, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and The Last of Us. The Ubisoft partnership allowed for the writers to access a deep library of video game development jargon, but the most important aspect of engaging the gaming world was to get the culture right.
“We definitely had people from the industry come in and speak to us about their jobs,” Ganz says. “Not only from Ubisoft either. We really wanted to get a wider range of people’s experiences. We have a few writers on staff that are very serious gamers. So they brought in a lot of that knowledge to us.”
“Like having a doctor in for a medical show except instead of brain surgery, they can defeat a certain level,” Hornsby says.
One such person the team brought in was a gaming monetization expert, whose insights were incorporated into Pudi’s character Brad, a crucial but loathed member of the Mythic Quest team.
“That was just really fascinating because she came in and was like ‘Oh yeah, everybody hates me. Everybody that I work with, all the devs, they hate me. They think I’m soulless,’” Ganz says.
Monetization is a necessary evil in just about every artistic endeavor from ticket sales at the movies to advertising and subscription fees for television. Monetization in video games, however, is particularly complicated.
“We explore that relationship with art versus commerce and how you have to recognize that you need it,” Hornsby says. “And I think that was important to show that there’s two sides to that coin.”
Another area of the producers’ research that found its way into the show is crunch: the video game industry’s rough history with work/life balance and proper compensation for its developers. Video game developers have frequently been accused of burning out their workers and not providing adequate or any overtime pay. The issue came to the head with revelations of a toxic culture at Telltale Games following its collapse.
“Do we collectively believe that some of these corporations or the people that work for them are inherently evil and trying to force people into slave labor? No, of course not,” McElhenney says. “But we do recognize that these devs are being pushed past probably the point at which it’s appropriate. And how do we reconcile those things? Because what corporate wants is something made for something cheaper and there are reasons for that, that aren’t just profitability. It’s also the ability to give it out to the consumer for less than three times what the marked up value would be. But beyond that, you can’t then ask somebody to work a 70-hour week and not compensate them for it.”
Proper payment to developers is just one of the current issues in gaming that Mythic Quest addresses in its first season. As gaming becomes increasingly popular claims a dominant entertainment role in our culture, covering the issues of the day within games is unavoidable. In dramatizing those issues in Mythic Quest, McElhenney says the show is aiming for a level of authenticity, like in the series third episode where online Nazis take over a Mythic Quest server.
“It wasn’t that we wanted to look for hot button issues per se, It was just that we were asking ourselves and then Ubisoft and the other experts that we brought in, what are the things that every workplace is dealing with right now?” McElhenney says. “We want it to feel as authentic to their experience as possible and that happens to be Nazis infiltrating social media.”
Another episode later on finds a group of young girls interested in entering the gaming industry paying a visit to Mythic Quest HQ and becoming increasingly horrified by what they find.
“Yes, we’re talking about how hard it is for women, but then you also have a person like Poppy who has a woman that works beneath her who hates her, and they are competitive with each other,” Ganz says. “That was a fun aspect for us to do as well. Just because you’re a woman in gaming doesn’t mean you’re a nice person all the time necessarily. You can be an asshole and be a woman in gaming and that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve your job. Men have been doing it for years, being assholes. So why not?”
Ultimately Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet was a long time coming for McElhenney, Ganz, and Hornsby. The show was completed and delivered before the latest season of It’s Always Sunny was even written…a season that completed airing its episodes on November 20 of last year.
Mythic Quest season 2 has already been ordered by Apple and will hopefully be a shorter wait for those involved this time. But if it’s not and the crew finds themselves with another lengthy wait, would they consider just making a Mythic Quest video game a reality?