Rob McElhenney is certainly no stranger to workplace comedies, having co-created “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which launched in 2005 and whose 15th season will make it the longest-running live-action sitcom in small-screen history. But with “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” which bowed on Apple TV Plus earlier this year, he moved from the world of struggling bar owners to that of successful, high-end gaming.
“Their industry dwarfs our industry; it’s not even close,” McElhenney says of gaming. “But as they’re making these games, generating billions and billions and billions of dollars on an annual basis, you couldn’t name one person that made a video game. What do you think that feels like to them? Everyone knows who James Cameron is, everyone knows who George Lucas is, but ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ as a franchise, has made more money than the entire franchise of ‘Star Wars,’ including merchandising, and no one knows who created it. That makes for fascinating characters and a fascinating world to get into.”
McElhenney admits that he was unsure at first about making a show set in this world, but visiting producer Ubisoft’s Montreal facility allowed him to witness the “very strong-willed, passionate people” who have “equal amounts of power” but “different ideas on how to achieve their goals” when working on a game. The “inherent conflict” that comes from such an environment intrigued him, as did the fact that “because they truly are building a world, there are so many egomaniacs because they are essentially gods.”
And therein lay the inspiration for McElhenney’s Ian, the creative director of the video-game company who created the titular roleplaying game. But also, to a degree, that attitude informed a number of other characters, from head of monetization Brad (Danny Pudi) to the former leading fantasy writer C.W. (F. Murray Abraham) and game tester Lou (Craig Mazin).
The game became such a massive success that Ian considers himself on top of the industry — but as big as his head may be at times, the pressure to follow one success with another is even bigger.
The first season of the series follows the “Mythic Quest” team members as they prepare an expansion to their game.
In addition to creating the universe of the video-game company that created “Mythic Quest,” McElhenney and his fellow executive producers Megan Ganz and David Hornsby had to build out the world within the titular roleplaying game. For both, the key was capturing authenticity, McElhenney says.
In order to portray such experiences as what it’s like to be a female gamer, the team hired writers who had worked in game development, and when it came to the details of building the game itself, worked closely with Red Storm, a subsidiary of Ubisoft.
“I wanted them to watch it and say, ‘Yes we’re proud of it. This feels like a show for us and celebrating us, instead of satirizing us,’” he explains.
But he also asked them to tell him if and where they may be getting some things wrong.
“Some things didn’t jive with the technical aspects of programming, but we needed to have them in for the general audience to understand, and I specifically asked about those moments and they said, ‘We get it — as much as we love working in the industry we also recognize that not everybody gets it.’ When you have 25 minutes to tell a story you can’t get into the minutiae all of the time,” McElhenney says.
Rob McElhenney’s Inspirations:
Writers’ room style: “When it’s the first week I like to keep everyone together, just all throwing out ideas. Then once we start identifying what an overall arc could be, I like to split the rooms up and bounce back and forth.”
Favorite writers’ room snack: “The thing that gets ripped through are those La Croixs.”
Mood music: “I don’t listen to music when I’m writing.”
How he breaks writer’s block: “Just write something. because it’s probably going to get thrown out tomorrow. You rewrite and rewrite, so just write.”