At the end of each song, you’ll be rated on combos based on accuracy and point multipliers. You also get Toots to buy Tromstand Cards featuring famous trombonists, 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 might not be the game for you.
Oh yes, the baboons – there are plenty of them in Trombone Champ, probably more than you expected. And also a whole bunch of secrets.
The game’s developer, Dan Vecchitto, said that while he had hoped the game would do well, he never thought his goofy trombone playing would find such a large audience.
“It far exceeded our expectations,” he said in a video interview with The Washington Post.
Vecchitto, who works full-time as a web designer, has been developing games in his free time for over a decade with his wife Jackie, who works in the same field. Under the Holy Wow Studios moniker, they’ve released the Icarus Proudbottom series – writing games in the same faux-edutainment vein as Frog Fractions – for free online. “Trombone Champ” is their first product for sale.
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Its virality comes with some headaches.
“It’s exciting, but it’s also, oh man, it’s a lot of work,” Vecchitto said. He had naively believed that there would be less work after the game’s release: “Now after release I have thousands of players who want updates. So it’s actually a lot more pressure.”
He’d already planned to add new songs and accessibility to “Trombone Champ” over time after its release, but now that it’s gone viral, he’s setting his sights higher. He plans to flesh out the game’s plot and is considering several new features, such as a level editor. A Mac port was already in the works, but now he’s also exploring what it would take to bring the game to the Nintendo Switch. Some fans have speculated what playing the game would be like in virtual reality, which he said wasn’t even on his radar.
Of course, being mostly a one-person operation, he’s made sure that future updates might take a while.
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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 indie convention in 2016.
“It was really fun, and I was kind of in the arcade mindset,” he said. “At one point I just had a mental image of an arcade cabinet with some kind of giant rubber trombone peripheral.”
Two years later, he remembered the idea and built a prototype that used the mouse to mimic the slide of a trombone. He began working on it, which culminated in the decision to make it Holy Wow Studio’s first game sold on Steam.
During its four-year development cycle, Trombone Champ developed what Vecchitto described as a “small but very devoted and rabid fan base,” many of whom knew them in real life. During a playtest in August that was open to the public via Steam, some players live-streamed the game on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, which drew even more eyes. He had expected the game to do well and maybe generate word of mouth as players shared their ridiculous-sounding clips online.
Then came the moment when he realized just how big the game had become: the night after gaming news site PC Gamer published a review, Trombone Champ briefly overtook God of War on Steam’s chart of the best-selling games on the platform.
Why the trumpet? “It’s a naturally fun instrument,” Vecchitto said. “I’m not sure why. …Maybe it’s the volume coupled with the inaccuracy. It hits the plate with extreme confidence, but you have no idea what you’re going to get.”
The trombone can also slide between notes, unlike other rhythm playing instruments like the guitar or drums, allowing for fun noises and fluctuations as the player moves from note to note. In practice, he said, the trombone in the game works more like a sliding whistle than a trombone. At first, Vecchitto (who has no experience with the instrument) said he was nervous that real trombonists would be offended by what was essentially “a parody of a trombone”. But the feedback he’s heard so far has been positive, adding that the game was a surprise hit in the ska community, which is already clamoring for more songs in the genre. “Trombone Champ” currently features 20 songs, some in the public domain, some composed by Vecchitto, and one original track: “Long-Tail Limbo” by London-based musician Max Tundra, of whom Vecchitto has been a fan for over two decades.
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As for the baboons, this idea started out as a one-off hoax for a feature that never really made it into the game. Vecchitto originally planned three different difficulty levels, he explained.
“I really wanted to call Easy mode ‘Baby’ and Hard mode ‘Bullshit,’ but I was having a hard time finding a good ‘b’ word for Standard difficulty,” Vecchitto said. “For some reason the word ‘baboon’ came to mind. It doesn’t make sense, but I found it really funny that the default difficulty was inexplicably called “baboon”. ”
From that point on, he began adding the word “baboon” to more and more menu screens for a laugh. When he started brainstorming “Trombone Champs” basic narrative and non-playable characters, most of which are hidden in the UI, he knew he had to jump into it.
“I realized it had to be baboons, too,” he said.