In a live question and answer with the internet, one of the main developers at Shiny Entertainment revealed that the Earthworm Jim franchise was nearly revived a few years ago — but issues with the IP stopped it from becoming a reality.
Shiny Entertainment is one of my favourite developers of the past, alongside Looking Glass and Microprose. Some of the games they created were really clever and technically very sound. I remember a story from an interview over a decade ago as well about how MDK was built from start to finish within a year, which is kind of unheard of in this day and age (outside of the major sporting franchises, of course).
Nick Bruty was one of the legends in Shiny at the time. He’s creator of MDK and Giants: Citizen Kabuto, the latter of which is one of Shiny’s more stellar efforts — but not as much, perhaps, as Sacrifice (a true all-time great).
He’s doing an AMA over on Reddit now to promote his new game, First Wonder. It’s a Kickstarter project that seems pretty unlikely to meet its goal. with US$450,000 plus still to raise over the next two and a half weeks. That might not seem like a lot, but when you’re yet to raise US$50,000 it’s a daunting task.
Anyway, the project gives Bruty an opportunity to talk about Shiny and Earthworm Jim, the run and gun platformer featuring an armed earthworm in a robot suit. Bruty was the main game designer on Earthworm Jim, which was one of Shiny’s first original outings, something which gave the studio an opportunity to branch out from making licensed games such as Terminator, Aladdin and Alien 3.
According to Bruty, the EWJ creators nearly revived the IP around 5 years ago “but a deal with the IP owners couldn’t get worked out”. “I think everyone would be up for it sometime. Feels like unfinished business but hard to align everyone. I wouldn’t do it without the key players,” he added.
The former Shiny designer also shone some added light on the game, including why the sound quality for EWJ was so poor on the SNES version compared to other platforms. Bruty revealed, after asking a fellow programmer familiar with the technical details, that the Genesis port of EWJ had superior sounds because the “SNES was sample based, not a synth” even though “the samples were identical which were most of the sounds”.
The chatter about a EWJ remake is intriguing given the recent release of Armikrog, a point-and-click adventure from Pencil Test Studios. Pencil Test has some old Shiny staffers of its own and the protagonist almost looks like a distant cousin of Jim. That game hasn’t fared too well though: despite the attractiveness of the claymation, it’s been panned pretty heavily on Steam.
Update: As @snacuum pointed out in the comments, a HD version of Earthworm Jim was released a few years ago (on PS3, Xbox 360 and Windows Phone. That last one is doubly weird because the developer and publisher of the re-release is Gameloft, makers of the Asphalt mobile racers and many, many other mobile games.
I still think that a straight HD re-release isn’t really reviving the IP; something like Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty fits the bill more for my money. But it was remiss of me not to mention it originally, so consider this update a mea culpa of sorts. (And, for fun, I might actually see if I can get my original Earthworm Jim 2 CD from home.)