Hey Poptropicans! Get ready for the biggest scallywag of the Poptropican seas to drop in on the PHB: Captain Crawfish – or as he’s also known in the real world – Mitch Krpata!
What are your job title(s)/responsibilities within Poptropica?
My official title now is “Senior Story Developer and Narrative Designer,” which is a mouthful. Usually I just say I’m a writer. Primarily my job is to write the island scripts: the stories, the dialogue, the basic gameplay descriptions. But I write pretty much whatever is needed, whether it’s promotional copy or documents for other companies we’re working with. I also work closely with all of our talented artists and programmers to make sure that we’re all on the same page creatively.
How have your roles shifted while working on Poptropica?
They’ve changed a lot! I was on the team that conceived and created Poptropica starting way back in 2006. Back then, I worked on different websites for our parent company, FEN, and stole a few hours a week to help on Poptropica. As I recall, my main contribution was in helping to lay out Early Poptropica. But as Poptropica took on a life of its own, I went back to working on the other sites for a couple years and not working much on Poptropica anymore.
By 2010, Poptropica had gotten so big that they needed more people on it again, so I got to work on it full time. That was when we were beginning to work on what became the Daily Pop, and the idea was that we would need someone to work on daily editorial content — what became Sneak Peeks and Celebrity Clips and all that. That was also when I started posting on the Creators’ Blog as Captain Crawfish.
Starting in that year, I also began to help more with the islands. My first challenge was to write an outline for Great Pumpkin Island. I guess they liked it, because then I got to help work on the script for Cryptids, and before long I was working with Jeff Kinney to write most of the islands! That’s been my main job since, although I’ve also been fortunate to work on tons of exciting projects, like our books, the Ubisoft games, Friends, walkthrough videos… the list goes on and on.
What skills and education are needed to do your job well?
I like to joke that I’ve done pretty well in life for someone who has no skills. (It’s not a very good joke.) But the truth is that I don’t have a lot of the skills that look great as a line item on a resume, like programming abilities or technical certifications. I am a good writer and a good reader, and I’ve found that one of the most valuable things I can do in this job is translate between different parts of the team. My experience is that people in different disciplines tend to have different ways of talking and thinking about things, and it’s not always easy for them to communicate with someone outside that bubble.
My bachelor’s is in “Writing, Literature, and Publishing,” which is an elaborate way to say that I have an English degree. Even though the liberal arts aren’t as trendy right now as the STEM fields, I think they’re more important than ever. The knowledge you gain from studying literature, history, philosophy, et al., is portable. It’s applicable everywhere. Learning how to think is the most important skill of all.
I’ll get off my soapbox now.
What would you suggest that young Poptropicans aspiring for a similar career do now to prepare themselves?
Two things: consume and produce.
By “consume,” I don’t mean mindless and uncritical consumption. And I definitely don’t mean to spend your whole life doing the same thing, e.g. playing video games, to the exclusion of all else. But if you’re interested in working on something like Poptropica, then my guess is that you’re the type of person who’s interested in a whole lot of things. The best way for most people to engage their curiosity is to read, and to watch movies, and to play video games. You can learn a lot from all of those.
Before your parents get mad at me, remember, I’m not saying you should only do one of those things, and I’m not saying that you should mistake any of them for experiences. You should get outside, you should try new things, and you should spend time with your friends. (You should probably do your homework too). But if you love something, heck, lean into it. How else are you supposed to learn about books if you don’t read? How are you supposed to learn about games if you don’t play?
By “produce,” I mean that you should get started now on whatever it is you want to do later. Do you want to write? Start writing. Get a notebook and a pen, or create a new Word document, and then write. If you want to draw, draw. If you want to make movies, get out your camera and start shooting. If you want to learn to code, google how-tos. Don’t worry about the outcome or whether you’re good enough right away. The only way you’ll learn is by doing.
What makes a person particularly good at what you do?
I read as much as I can, and I try to read a lot of different kinds of things. You never know what might be useful to know later.
What does your daily work look like? Is it different from what most people expect?
My days definitely aren’t routine. Depending on where we are with the projects we’re working on, I could spend the whole day by myself writing, or I could be in all-day meetings where we argue about what to do next. Usually I’m working on a couple of things at a time that are in different stages. With Poptropica Worlds occupying our attention, most of what I’ve been working on has been out in the future. That’s a lot of writing, discussion, and revision.
What are the most significant challenges and/or rewards of working for Poptropica?
We’ve faced a lot of different challenges over the many years I’ve been working on Poptropica. Some have had to do with technology, some have had to do with expectations and behavior of users (and potential users), and some had to do with creative vision. The biggest reward has always been the same, though: the fans who love Poptropica. The blog posts, tweets, and YouTube videos that we see from our fans really motivate us. We still love to hear about people’s reaction to the Jersey Devil!
What kinds of communication skills (written or oral) are needed to succeed in what you do?
Both, for sure. Written communication is more important than ever. Things like Slack have made it a lot easier to stay in contact with people, but they’re so casual that it’s easy to get sloppy. Same for spoken communication — it’s really important to speak clearly and directly. And don’t forget the other half of the equation: it’s crucial to be a good reader and a good listener. That’s something not enough people focus on.
What kinds of technologies do you use in your job? What about your fellow co-workers? Do you see that changing over the next ten years?
Poptropica was built in Flash, and Poptropica Worlds is being built in Unity, so those are the languages our programmers have had to know. But there are a lot of things outside my pay grade that help run stuff on the back end. The designers tend to work in Illustrator, and they also have to know Unity so that they can import their work for the programmers to use.
No question that the particular technologies will continue to change. That’s why it’s important to be flexible and always be learning.
What kinds of personalities are well-suited for working with the Poptropica team?
Good question. We’re a creative bunch and have a lot of different personality types. One thing that unites everybody who works on Poptropica is an absolute desire to make it great. That is what drives us, and truthfully it’s also what can sometimes cause conflict. We all have strong ideas about the best way to do things. But that’s where some of the best creative energy comes from.
What do you wish you had known or done differently during your career?
I wish I had realized that my fears were, by and large, completely fake. There have been times that I’ve been reluctant to seize opportunities because of the uncertainty, and times I’ve been afraid to stand up for something I believed in just to avoid an argument. As scary as those leaps can be, I’ve found that I rarely regret taking them.
PART II: POPTROPICA’S PLANS & JUST FOR FUN:
Which Poptropica character do you identify with most?
There are a few. I’ve always loved Commander Salerno from Lunar Colony because of her courage and her scientific spirit. The writer Max McPatrick on Mocktropica is loosely based on me. I think more than any other character on Poptropica, I can identify with the guy in the wizard costume on PoptropiCon who keeps getting his money eaten by the vending machines.
Which Poptropica island would you take a vacation on?
Wimpy Boardwalk is the sensible answer. I’d love to visit the Old Japan of Red Dragon Island.
Would you rather travel to the past or the future?
Probably the future, because I assume, despite some evidence to the contrary, that things are getting better overall. There are certainly things in the past that would be cool to check out, plus there’s the whole “make a killing on the stock market and sports betting” angle. But I’d be more curious to see what the future is like.
What’s one (minor) decision that almost changed an entire island?
I’m not sure if I have an answer for this exact question. I can tell you a few examples of big changes that were made to islands deep into development. Counterfeit Island originally had a much different storyline involving clowns and mimes. (That’s why that clown is still standing on the roof in one of the scenes.) We re-designed almost all of Twisted Thicket under a tight deadline because we wanted it to be more menacing. And I pushed for the ship on S.O.S. Island to sink in real time, and let players rescue the crew in any order, or fail to rescue some of them. Probably for the best that we didn’t do that last part.
If you could pick where Pop headquarters is located, would you want it to stay in Boston or a different area? How is it in Boston?
I love Boston. I grew up here, went to school here, and have lived and worked here my entire career. They’d have to drag me kicking and screaming somewhere else.
How do you come up with ideas for islands and characters? What do you do with unused ideas?
Ideas are everywhere. Coming up with them is easy; seeing them through is hard. Usually we get ideas just by talking about things that are exciting and interesting to us. We might decide to try something in a particular genre, or something might come out of the blue. We have tons of unused ideas — many more than we’ve ever used — and a lot of them have ways of bubbling back up.
Are there more Poptropica books planned for the future, either the graphic novels or other books? Do you know if there will be more comic strips?
The storyline in the graphic novel series concludes with the fourth book, The End of Time, which comes out in September. I don’t think there are plans for more, but that could change if sales are good enough. (Timely reminder: Poptropica 3: The Secret Society comes out on April 11!)
We’d always be looking to do more books. Books are a part of our DNA.
The comic strip is finished for the foreseeable future. I’d love to see it come back. It was hilarious.
What is a feature missing in Poptropica that you hope to see added in the future?
I’d like to see cooperative multiplayer on islands. It would be a huge challenge for us to design and implement, but how great would it be to play through an island with your friends?
If you could plan out a new Poptropica contest, what would it be? Do you know if there are any plans for more contests in the future?
There will probably be more along the lines of the ones Skinny Moon runs on social media, costume contests and the like. The “Create Your Dream Island” contest was an awesome experience. To do something of that scale takes a lot of time and effort, so the circumstances have to be right.
If Poptropica held a real-life PoptropiCon, what would it entail?
Hopefully we’d get a chance to meet as many of you as possible. We’d want to have places set up for people to play with one another. Maybe some real-life versions of Poptropica islands or scenes for people to play in. Most important, I hope we’d see a lot of our fans dressing up as their favorite Poptropica characters!
What are some of your favorite children’s books and authors, both past and present?
As a kid, mostly I read funny books. Gordon Korman’s Macdonald Hall series. Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Skinnybones by Barbara Park. I liked more serious stuff too, like Bridge to Terabithia, The Chocolate War, The Outsiders. I read everything I could get my hands on: comic books, movie reviews, books about UFOs. Everything.
Of more modern stuff, I love love love the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman. I named my daughter after the main character!
Well, that concludes our interview with Mr. Crawfish! We hope you learned a lot from it, and perhaps have even been inspired to create and pursue the things you love – whether it relates to Poptropica or not!
Thanks to Mitch for taking the time to provide his insights into the processes at Poptropica HQ and more. Be sure to check out his Poptropica book, The Secret Society, coming April 11! 🤓✌️