‘Trombone Champ’ is bigger than anyone could have predicted

Making the trombone sound good is an art – an art in which “Trombone Champ” has no interest.

The trombone rhythm game exploded (pun intended) on social media this week as players shared videos of themselves slaughtering Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and other classic songs. Released on September 15, its mechanics are similar to games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band: players move their mouse up and down and click or press a key in sync with notes cascading across the screen. Stay on the beat, and the words “Perfecto!” or!” appear. Fail, and you’ll be heckled with “Meh” or “Nasty” instead.

At the end of each song, you are scored based on combo accuracy and point multipliers. You are also rewarded with Toots for buying Tromblunder cards featuring famous trombone players, baboons, and dubious facts (the trumpet is “the coward’s trombone,” according to one entry). Fair warning: if that’s not your sense of humor, this game might not be for you.

Oh yes, baboons – there are a lot of them in “Trombone Champ”, probably more than you expected. And lots of secrets, too.

Game developer Dan Vecchitto said that while he had hoped the game would do well, he never imagined there would be such a large audience for his silly trombone playing.

“It exploded way beyond our expectations,” he said in a video interview with The Washington Post.

Vecchitto, whose full-time job is in web design, has been creating games for more than a decade in his spare time with his wife, Jackie, who works in the same field. Under the name Holy Wow Studios, they’ve released the Icarus Proudbottom series – typing games in the same vein of edutainment faux entertainment as “Frog Fractions” – for free online. “Trombone Champ” is their first product to sell.

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Its virality was accompanied by a few headaches.

“It’s exciting, but it’s also like, oh man, it’s a lot of work,” Vecchitto said. He had naively believed that after the final release of the game, there would be less work to do: “Now, after release, I have thousands of players who want updates. So it’s actually a lot more pressure.

He had already planned to add new songs and accessibility options to “Trombone Champ” over time after its release, but now that it’s gone viral, he’s aiming higher. He plans to flesh out the game’s story content and is considering several new features, such as a level editor. A Mac port was already in the works, but now it’s also investigating what it would take to bring the game to the Nintendo Switch. Some fans speculated what the VR game would be like, which he said wasn’t even on his radar.

Of course, being a largely one-person operation, he covered that any future updates might take some time.

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“Trombone Champ” was originally inspired by arcade cabinets. Vecchitto built one with his wife for their two-player typing game, “Icarus Proudbottom’s Typing Party,” for an independent convention in 2016.

“It was really fun and I was kind of in the arcade spirit,” he said. “I just had a mental image at one point of an arcade cabinet with like a giant rubber paper clip peripheral.”

Two years later, he remembered the idea and made a prototype built around using the mouse to mimic the sliding of a paperclip. He started getting into it, culminating in the decision to make it the first Holy Wow Studio game sold on Steam.

Over its four-year development cycle, “Trombone Champ” developed what Vecchitto described as a “small but very dedicated and rabid fan base”, many of whom knew in real life. During an August playtest open to the public via Steam, some gamers streamed the game live on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, which have even more eyes. He expected the game to go well, perhaps generating some word-of-mouth buzz as players shared their ridiculous clips online.

Then came the moment he realized just how big the game had become: the night after gaming news site PC Gamer posted a review, “Trombone Champ” briefly overtook “God of War” on the charts. of Steam’s best-selling games on the platform.

Why the paper clip? “It’s a naturally funny instrument,” Vecchitto said. ” I do not know why. … It could have to do with volume combined with vagueness. He walks into the plate with extreme confidence, but you have no idea what you’re going to get.

The trombone can also glide between notes, unlike other rhythm playing instruments like the guitar or drums, allowing for fun sounds and fluctuations as the player moves from note to note. other. In practice, he said, the paper clip in the game works more like a slide whistle than a paperclip. At first, Vecchitto (who has no experience with the instrument) said he was nervous that real trombone players would be insulted by what was essentially “a trombone parody”. But the feedback he’s heard so far has been positive, and he added that the game has been a surprise hit with the ska community, which is already calling for more songs from the genre to be added. “Trombone Champ” currently features 20 songs, some in the public domain, a few composed by Vecchitto and one original track: “Long-Tail Limbo” by London musician Max Tundra, of whom Vecchitto has been a fan for over two years. decades.

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As for the baboons, this idea started out as a one-time joke for a feature that never made it into the game. Vecchitto originally planned to include three different difficulty levels, he explained.

“I really wanted to call the easy mode ‘baby’ and the hard mode ‘bonkers’, but I was struggling to come up with a good ‘b’ word for the standard difficulty,” Vecchitto said. “For some reason, the word ‘baboon’ came to mind. It doesn’t make any sense, but I thought it was really funny to have the standard difficulty inexplicably called “baboon.” ”

From then on, he started incorporating the word “baboon” into more and more menu screens for fun. When he started thinking about the underlying narrative and non-playable characters of “Trombone Champ,” most of which are hidden within its UI, he knew he had to commit to it.

“I realized they must have been baboons too,” he said.

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