Interview with the creator of Atlantic Canada: The RPG
As someone who grew up on the East Coast of Canada playing RPGs like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy on the NES, when I heard that a game called Atlantic Canada: The RPG had been created, and by a band from my hometown, I knew I had to try and get an interview with the person behind it. On a sunny afternoon in downtown Moncton, I met up with Don Levandier, the main person behind the game and lead singer and guitarist of The Motorleague, at The Laundromat Espresso Bar. We had a chat about the game, games in general, nerdom, and how it all relates to the band.
Pierre – So, how did Atlantic Canada: The RPG come to life?
Don – It was about a year ago and I decided that for my next, fun pet project, that I wanted to make an RPG. So I went on Google and searched “How to make an RPG” and I was surprised there was actually software out there specifically designed for making RPG games. So I tried it out and I’m like “Okay, this could work!” So we bought it. It was like, super cheap.
Pierre – RPG Maker?
Don – Yeah, yeah! And then I got really into that and kinda, from where it started in the beginning, it’s very RPG Maker, but by the end, a year later, it’s so far removed from what it was originally. We got really heavy into scripting. We added mini-games and stuff, so it ended up being a really bastardized version of something you would make in RPG Maker.
Pierre – So you’ve been working on it for a year?
Don – Yeah, on and off. We mostly worked on it while we were on the road with the band, myself and our drummer, Francis Landry. We would work on it, both being in the van, on our laptops, nerding out, laughing at it. It’s full of inside jokes, full of terrible humour, and we just wanted to put all of our friends in a video game. We thought it would be really funny.
Pierre – I tweeted out the link to the game quite a bit and asked people to send me any questions they would have for you, and one person asked me to let you know that he didn’t get any of the jokes, but he was really enjoying the game.
Don – Yeah, if you’re not from Atlantic Canada or you’re not familiar with Atlantic Canada, you’re probably going to be, like “What the hell?” I mean, the giant lobster in Shédiac or the giant blueberry in Oxford, and I’m sure there are people in Nova Scotia (an Atlantic Canadian province) who won’t get half of the the New Brunswick (an Atlantic Canadian province which borders it) jokes and vice versa. I mean, we put the mastodon from Mastodon Ridge. There’s tonnes of tongue-in-cheek jokes, but I dunno. It was just a fun thing and I wanted it to be a good laugh for a free game. I didn’t expect anyone to really play it through to the end. I really thought no one is gonna finish it, but a few people finished it.
Pierre – But it’s not a terrible game. It’s fun!
Don – It’s funny that people have gotten a hold of me and were like “I’ve compiled a list of bugs and stuff in your game” and I’m like “I hope no one takes this seriously as a video game.”
Pierre – I think you’ve severely underestimated nerds and retro gaming nerds in particular.
Don – You may be right.
Pierre – Were there any games that you used as inspiration? I mean, I look at it and I see Final Fantasy.
Don – Well Final Fantasy II and III, which we later found out were really IV and VI.
Pierre – So you’re talking about the ones for the SNES.
Don – Yeah, those were incredible. To me, those are the best video games ever made. I think during the end of III… I might’ve cried. It was so moving. Everything about that game was perfect at the time.
Pierre – Were there any other games?
Don – Definitely the first Dragon Warrior. That was an incredible game, though I remember it being a lot more graphically intense than it was. If you go back and play it now though, it’s like there’s no graphics. It’s terrible, but back then, it was amazing. Plus, all the grinding. But yeah, Dragon Warrior 1, Final Fantasy 1 too, those games I grew up with and loved. Though it would’ve been cool to make a side scroller. Who knows, maybe that’ll be next.
Pierre – Are you planning to make another game? Because this isn’t your first… there’s the video for…
Don – Failsafes.
Pierre – Yeah!
Don – Yeah, it’s all the old DOS games. That was really fun too.
Pierre – How did you go about to make that video?
Don – We hacked, or, I don’t want to say hacked, but some of it we edited the games, stuff like Doom, Maniac Mansion, SimCity, and some of it is just video tricks.
Pierre – Was that good training for this, or was it not related whatsoever?
Don – That was definitely, you know, I kinda did that. I was playing all the old DOS games, and when we had that done, that was a project we worked on for a while, got to some form of completion, and it was done for a bit before it came out. So I think once that was finished, we started working on the RPG. Just going back and plain all those DOS games like King’s Quest, Police Quest.
Pierre – In working on the game, was there anything you wish you could’ve done or included but didn’t?
Don – Oh, man, loads of things. But originally, this was supposed to be a 3 or 4 month thing, where we were gonna work on it, but we just kept getting ideas. I worked on it with our drummer, Francis, and he’d come up with all these ideas. He did all the towns, well, I did them originally, and he kinda looked at them and he was like, “I don’t know how to say this, but I can do it a lot better.” I asked him, “Really? You’re serious?” Then he told me, it’s been his dream since forever to make an RPG. My reaction was “Are you for real?” and he was. So, we set him up with a laptop, and he’s not really like a computer guy, but we set him up and he made a town. When he showed it to me, it was waaaaay better than my terrible, like my towns were horrible, and he did it a million times better. He was really good with sprites and edited a lot of them.
And he would come up with these ideas: “Well, I want this to happen, and then if you make these three things happen, then this happens.” And I had no clue how to do any of that. My game, it was like Doom: you get the red key card and you can open the red door. It was like that, so, I wanted it to be, you have to go to Saint John, and then once you go there, then you can get to Fredericton and he was like, “No, it has to be open world.” So, for me, I’m sure it’s easy for all these game designers, but I had to incorporate all these variables. I had to learn, actually, a lot of Ruby, the language that it’s done in, and it become… intense, for a little bit.
So there were a lot of things we wanted to put in, but I had to cut it, and he had these ideas and I was like, “No dude, it’s complex.” We could’ve spent 5 years on the game. I could never be done.
Then there were a lot of people on Facebook who would comment about the game and I’d think “Ohhhh, they should’ve been in the game!” There’s so many people I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I forgot to put that person in.” But I had to get everyone’s permission.
Pierre – That was going to be my next question, actually. I assumed you had to get everyone’s permission and have them send a picture in?
Don – Yeah, I talked to everybody that’s in the game. I talked to all of them and described everything. I think a lot of people said yes, but also didn’t really take me seriously or didn’t know what I was talking about. There was one guy, he would ask 300 times “So, when are you filming it?” And I was like, “Well, no, it’s a video game.” And he was like, “Ok, but I don’t really have a lot of time, I don’t know that I can be online enough to keep my character active.” And I was like, “… did you play Zelda?” and he said yes, so I said, “Well, it’s Zelda. You’re just gonna be a little guy in Zelda.”
Pierre – He’s an NPC.
Don – Yeah, but if you’re not like a nerd, you don’t know what an NPC is. And I think a lot of people thought I was just nuts. They didn’t take me seriously, so they said, “Yeah. Whatever.” So I got everyone’s permission.
Pierre – I noticed a lot of the venues are also real places. Did you have to get permission?
Don – No. I mean, Gus’s Pub, these places, a lot of them aren’t trademarked or anything. The venues, we just kinda, I mean, most of the bookers for the venues are in the game. For Hunter’s, Steve, Hunter’s booking agent is in it. I don’t think…
Pierre – It’s free promotion, in a sense.
Don – I would be more afraid of getting a cease and desist, not from any venue, but there’s like, Groco (an obvious reference, to Greco, arguably the largest pizza chain in the Maritimes) and the Dixie Lee or East Coast Lifestyle since you have to fight their t-shirts.
Pierre – The Dixie Lee mascot was the first enemy to wipe out my party.
Don – Look, I’m not gonna make any apologies for that. Northern New Brunswick is tough in real life and in the game. Like, I figured life is hard in Northern New Brunswick so it should be tough in the game. And a few people will warn you, in the game, to be careful if you go up there. But yeah, a few of my friends have emailed and and said, “Ahhh, you’re an asshole. I can’t believe you would do this to me.
Pierre – I’m staying the hell out of Bathurst. Those…
Both – Ski-Don’ts!
Pierre – I have not survived a battle with a Ski-Don’t.
Don – Yeah, oh, and I don’t think anyone will get this, but every band you fight make a reference to one of their albums. So like, Carmen Townsend’s album is called “Waitin’ and Seein’.” Well when you fight her in the game, she says, “Oh, I’ve been waitin’ and seein’ if you’d show up here.” She’s referencing her album. A lot of bands will make puns on their albums, which no one is going to get.
Pierre – Fans of the bands will.
Don – But they’re such obscure references, to like song names and stuff. I don’t think, really.
Pierre – But that’s one interesting thing. When I mentioned on Twitter that all these NPC, where when you talk to them it says “Person X from Band Y,” these are all real bands, a few people said they want to check these bands out now.
Don – Well, yeah, I would hope that that’s something that would actually happen. I wanted to have more bands and more venues in it, but at a certain point and time, I just had to cut it. I mean, I don’t know how many bands are in it. I did lose count… it has to be over 100. I can count 25 in one city alone, so there’s over 100 bands in it for sure, and I would’ve liked to have about 1000. Look, I love Atlantic Canadian bands. We’ve played with tonnes of them over the years, so you get to meet a lot of really cool people and I wish they all could’ve been in it, but I had to cap it at some point.
I always kinda figured I would go back, maybe in a few months, and have a “not game of the year” edition and just put more people in. A few people said, “You need to have an expansion pack!” That’s a really cool idea. Lots of games had expansion packs back in the day, well computer games. So we’ll have to release an expansion pack. We won’t call it DLC. It’ll be an expansion pack. We gotta keep it old school.
Pierre – That was one thing I noticed that surprised me a little. Like when I heard the song and saw the video for “Failsafes,” where the whole video is pretty much with old PC games, and then this, I assumed you guys must’ve hired someone to do it. A band that sounds like you guys doesn’t really bring with it assumptions that the members are huge retro gaming nerds, to be honest.
Don – You’re 100% right. You make a really good point and we addressed that as a band at some point because we do all these silly and dorky things, while our music is really serious, for the most part, and heavy, and somewhat dark. It’s loud and thrashy. It’s hard to associate the two things together, and you’re right. Online, we don’t exist as just the music. The guys in the band are always a little bit leery of me doing, you know, “Watch that line, so we don’t become a comedy troupe, rather than a band.” We’re not trying to be Kids in the Hall. We’re trying to be our band.
Pierre – But at the same time, these things you do, like the Canadian Heritage Commercial you put to music were amazing, and when you put it together with the rest of the stuff, it becomes clear that you’re just a dude who grew up in the 80s and 90s and still love 80s and 90s things. I mean, even your sound is reminiscent of bands like Kyuss and bands from that time. The Failsafes video is 80s and 90s computer games. The Lifetime Achievement Award video being made with Lego. This RPG screams NES and SNES RPGs.
Don – It’s Final Fantasy. I’m not hiding that I made, basically, Final Fantasy. But a lot of it too is that, I find bands get tired and become lethargic and they cease to exist because, they’re a band, they’re touring over and over and over, so with the exception of touring and recording new music, there’s nothing else. So I think at some point, we decided to say screw it, and embrace the silliness. This is what keeps being in the band fun. The fact that I can make these little dorky Youtube videos. I’m not trying to in any way be a serious game designer or do it professionally in any way. It’s a fun hobby, and keeps being in the band fun for me. You know, it’s an avenue. It’s an outlet. I can make an RPG and make it about the band.
Pierre – But it’s kinda cool that you’ve been doing all these things, as opposed to recording an album, making 2 or 3 videos, then doing nothing but touring or nothing at all until the next album. Instead, you’ve made how many videos for Acknowledge Acknowledge album? 8?
Don – There’s 8 videos for the songs off the record. There’s one video for a song that wasn’t on the album. And there’s one more that’s gonna come out that is finished and then, there’s 10 songs on the record… we’re not gonna put out 9 videos. We’re gonna put out 10, so there’s gonna be a 10th one. We’re all arguing, lovingly arguing, ’cause we all have our own ideas. I want to do, do you remember that Are You Afraid of the Dark? show?
Pierre – Yes!
Don – I want to do that. I want to do an Are You Afraid of the Dark? video where we’re the Midnight Society, but I don’t know if that’s gonna happen. Some of the other guys have different ideas, so we’ll see. But I think that a certain point, we gotta stop the spoofs. We did Final Fantasy. We did Golden Girls at one point. We did the Heritage minutes.
Pierre – But even your older stuff. Off the first album, the video where it’s just the dude ramming you with his gut.
Don – That’s our old drummer.
Pierre – But that is… I mean, how much did it cost?
Don – I don’t know. My body, maybe? Like 30 cents and my health. But I think more bands should do that. I mean, we got one professional video done for Acknowledge, and our label was like, ok, that’s it. We’re not giving you any more money. You guys are making your own videos from now on. That video was around $12,000. That was for North America (the song). They looked at that and figured, you guys can make a video for $30. We spent $30 on glitter for one video. That was it. We went to the Dollar Store, 30 bucks, there’s a video. I think all bands should be doing this. It’s almost become a thing you have to learn how to do. I mean, everyone of your songs should be on Youtube. If you don’t put it up, someone else will, and people always learn the lyrics to the songs we have videos for. We play a show and play a song with no video and the crowd is just faces, but then we play a song with a video and everyone is singing along. It becomes obvious where people are finding and listening to our music.
Pierre – How were the different enemies picked?
Don – All of the enemies are things from the East Coast. Some of them are really generic, like the lumberjacks. You can have lumberjacks anywhere. There’s cheeseburgers and pizza, just garbage enemies because at first we just put anything that we were surrounded by, and as a band on tour, you have fast food, and you’re a band in the game, so… but then, it started to become more and more geographical. We’re in New Brunswick, so you gotta fight Dixie Lee. Or, we’re in Nova Scotia, so we gotta fight donairs. It’s all geographical things. In Newfoundland, you only fight moose. That’s it. There’s nothing else but moose. There’s 12 different varieties of moose, but it’s all moose.
Pierre – Who created the garlic fingers, the enemies?
Don – That was me.
Pierre – It might be the most disturbing RPG enemy I’ve ever seen. When I saw it briefly in the trailer video, I thought it was an aborted fetus.
Don – I just googled a picture of garlic and googled a picture of fingers and pretty much just photoshopped the first two I found together. It’s all like that, just the stupidest things. And people outside of the Maritimes aren’t even going to know what garlic fingers are.
Don – It’s given me a new respect for game designers, because I never, there’s so many “what if” scenarios. I had a few of my friends beta test it, probably about 10 people maybe 6 months ago and 2 of them came back with huge list of bugs and they found new ways to break the game… I thought we had found them all. Even still, yesterday, one guy sends me a message “Did you know…?” So there are still bugs.
Pierre – So, the last place I died… are you worried about Nintendo shutting down your game because of the Mario 3 section?
Don – I mean, there’s a tonne of copyright infringement going on. The worst I think will happen is we’ll get a cease and desist… that would be the best thing that could happen, I suppose. “Banned RPG Game” – that would be amazing. But no, I can’t see it happening. It was the same with the DOS games video, and we have one video where it’s all clips from “The Friendly Giant,” and I was waiting for an email for that from the CBC. I got one, but it was the complete opposite. It wasn’t from CBC directly, but it was from a woman who said she was a producer on the show and she said she thought it was hilarious.
We assumed we’d get something because of the Canadian Heritage commercials too, but instead, they ended up hiring us for some of their events.
Pierre – Finally, anything interesting coming up for the band?
Don – We’ve got a few shows around Atlantic Canada, including 4 dates with Dropkick Murphys before heading up to Montreal for HeavyMTL. After that, we’ll start touring again in the Fall with dates across Canada and some in the US.
So make sure to check out Atlantic Canada: The RPG if you’re into RPGs, quirky little indie games, or want the worst possible education on life in Atlantic Canada, and in a few months, if you see The Motorleague are playing in your town, you should check them out. They put on a great show.
Link to the trailer and download link for the game: http://themotorleague.ca/RPG/