Trombone Champion has been the star of my timeline this week; I constantly come across absurd renditions of songs like ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’. But in a conversation with Dan Vecchito, the founder of Trombone Champion Developer Holy Wow Studios brought up something that I think is a major factor in the game’s success: we just don’t see much comedy in gaming right now.
Games have been pushing the boundaries of Capital-S Serious Storytelling for a while now with series like The last of us. Others remain popular for their high quality and stressful competitive multiplayer. But we just don’t see many games embracing their own comedy the way they do Trombone Champion is doing.
While there are a growing number of games designed with intentionally lower stakes, Trombone Champion continues by celebrating failures. Missed notes, which are penalized in other rhythm titles such as Guitar Hero, are part of the game’s appeal. The success of Trombone Champion shows that there is a market for games that go all-in on comedy, says Vecchito. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it) Return to Monkey Island here, which came out this week and is very funny.)
The first idea for Trombone Champion was that it was going to be an arcade game, Vecchito said. After creating a multiplayer arcade typing game, The typing party of Icarus Proudbottom (which you can play at the Wonderville Arcade in Brooklyn), Vecchito thought about other types of games that would be interesting to play as an arcade machine. One involved a trombone, which sounds fantastic to me to be honest; I would travel very far to play an arcade game that allowed me to jam to tunes with a physical trombone controller.
But there are some obvious impracticalities with that idea. (I can’t imagine a trombone controller outliving too many half-drunk people swinging it around.) So instead, he experimented with a trombone game that relied on a mouse. You can see some of that early work in this prototype from four years ago, already showing the promise of what the game would eventually become.
— vecchito (@vecchito) July 28, 2018
Vecchito ran with the idea and spent the next four years building it Trombone Champion. He has a full-time job (he spoke to me during his lunch break), so he mostly worked on the game in the evenings and weekends, with some breaks in between. His wife contributed most of the artwork.
Now that the game is over, he thought “foolishly” that they could relax. But given the game’s level of success, they’ll be working on some much-needed fixes and addressing some of its biggest requests, such as localizing the game in other languages and adding accessibility options. He plans to explore how to bring the game to consoles, including the Nintendo Switch (imagine using the Joy-Con controllers to mimic trombone!), and says a few developers have reached out to them. to potentially help bring the game to virtual reality. You can get an idea of some of the updates he’s thinking about in a roadmap shared last week.
Right now the vast majority of the songs are public domain, and he wants to add more, especially from other musicians, like that one currently in the game of Max Tundra. If you were wondering, Vecchito doesn’t play the trombone himself, but he is a musician; he even contributed a few songs to skatebird, the indie skateboarding game where you play as a bird. (One of those songs, ‘SkaBIRD’, can be played in Trombone Champion.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice the national anthem in Trombone Champion. Though I don’t think I can ever play it as hilarious as this.