Icarus Proudbottom Interview

Icarus Proudbottom

Developer Holy Wow Studios spent the month of July creating Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing, a game you can and should go play right now. The title clearly indicates its genre, but the game’s humor and charming personality elevate it to a status beyond that of a simple typing game.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dan Vecchitto and Jackie Lalli of Holy Wow Studios about Icarus Proudbottom‘s development, the appeal of typing games, and the duo’s upcoming project.

GamerNode: Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing was made for the Something Awful GameDev Competition VIII, which meant you were limited to a one-month development period and the subject of subversive educainment. How did those restrictions affect the creation of the game?

Jackie Lalli: It wasn’t easy! There’s only two of us and we both have full time jobs so we worked on our free time. Thankfully, our dev Dan is the most motivated person I know. We hardly hung out with friends during the month we were working on it, and when we were all we could think about was the game. It was a huge relief once it was completed!

Dan Vecchitto: It’s a lot of work and makes life pretty hectic but otherwise I really enjoy having a one-month limitation. It forces you to focus on an achievable goal. Plus it’s kind of exhilarating when you first begin work and think “in one month’s time, this game idea in my head will be finished! A real thing!” Whereas when you work on a bigger project you sometimes have no clue when it will be completed.

Probably the biggest thing that helped with the time limitation is the fact I’ve been using Flash to make games for around 10 years. I know everyone hates Flash now but I’ve reached a Zen Level where I can think of a concept and immediately know whether or not I can do it, how to do it, exactly how much time it will take, exactly how to structure it out, etc.

It also helped that the game is actually really simple – there are basically only 4 main systems: one for setting up words & typing them, one for dialogue, one that controls cinematics, and one that controls sound. Every single thing in the game is basically one of those four things. I was able to get the main systems pretty much completely set up in around a week or two, which left lots of time for art, music, cinematics, and general polish.

As for the theme, it didn’t limit me at all because I’ve had the idea for this game for a while, like a year or so. I forget when or how I first came up with the idea but I’ve always thought it would be neat to make a typing game that starts off really innocent but, as time goes on, you start to type out these horrible harmful things. Before the contest was announced we were focused on Icarus Proudbottom Starship Captain, but once I heard the theme I was like “ok, ok. This is the perfect opportunity to take a one-month break from Starship Captain and pump out this typing idea I’ve had.” It’s also probably good for exposure, because now whenever we go public with Starship Captain people will be more likely to remember the Icarus Proudbottom name.

Icarus Proudbottom

GN: What were the main sources of inspiration for Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing? When I think of typing games my mind immediately goes to Typing of the Dead, but I imagine there must have been other influences.

DV: To be honest, I’ve played very very few typing games. I played Typing of the Dead on Dreamcast, which yeah, is absolutely incredible, and I remember playing a game in college that involved sharks?…

When we first started to brainstorm ideas for IPTT, I looked up YouTube videos of classic typing software like Mavis Beacon, Mario Teaches Typing, etc, but mostly when I saw these videos I was like “wow… these games look horrible!!” They’re all pure edutainment though, their main goal is to legitimately teach, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t be able to pull many fun gameplay mechanics from them.

There are tons of games that influence IPTT, don’t get me wrong, just not many typing games. The scoring system is inspired by pinball, where you end up with these ridiculous scores in the billions. The “S+” ranking system is a play on Ikaruga, which has this insane grading system where the best score is something like “S+++”, which I find hilarious because what the hell does that even mean? The Typogatchi was an idea I had at the last minute, but it’s kind of inspired by these mobile and Facebook games where they try to hook you with some stupid addictive gimmick. When Jackie made the art for the RPG stat screen I think I told her “basically, make a background that looks exactly like the one in Dark Souls.” The ending is inspired by games like Super Metroid or Half-Life 2, where this familiar object from the beginning (baby metroid /gravity gun) comes back at the end all supercharged and kicks ass. And a lot of our jokes remind me of stuff from Charles Barkley Shut Up And Jam Gaiden, where there’s a big intricate system that doesn’t actually factor into the gameplay at all.

GN: Speaking of typing games, why do you think that core design philosophy appeals to so many people? I don’t usually equate the words fun and typing, and yet I found myself having fun while playing Icarus Proudbottom. In many ways it feels like another form of subversion and ties back into the overall topic for the Something Awful competition.

DV: Typing games probably feel good for the same reason rhythm games or shooting games (I mean arcade ones where you hold a physical light gun) feel good – the player’s input directly leads to an effect. In most games there’s an intermediary – for example, in sidescrollers, your button inputs control a guy on screen, and most effects are caused by him. Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all, it’s just a different gameplay paradigm. In rhythm games and typing games, you press a button and the game instantaneously reacts to you, rather than to a character, and this direct connection makes the game feel really physical. And unlike dancing games or rhythm games, most people can already type at like 80 words per minute, so there’s the joy of using a skill you already know. For comparison, in a game like DJ Hero, when you first pick it up you don’t have the skill yet because you’ve never touched that controller before.

JL: Towards the end of July (the deadline!) we had a few of our friends come over to test out the game. Everyone who played it picked it up with no problem even the ones who don’t play video games that often, which is a fantastic sign! Like Dan mentioned, typing is a skill most of us already have, so when presented with a typing game, everyone is like “OH YEAH. I’VE GOT THIS!”

Icarus Proudbottom

GN: Humor plays a big role in Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing, and it’s been similarly important in past titles from you guys. Do you find comedic writing particularly challenging? We often hear how difficult it is to implement humor in video games.

JL: This is definitely Dan’s territory since he wrote almost the entire game. I love the humor. You don’t find it too often in games nowadays and that’s a shame. Portal does a fantastic job with humor. Surprisingly well considering the gameplay was so unique and fun that it would’ve been great with or without humor. For me, the games I remember for years are the ones that use humor as a tool alongside gameplay. I’ll never forget Psychonauts, I played it when it first came out in 2005, but I still remember some of the lines from it. Humor works wonderfully as a connection between the player and the game and it’s a shame that you see so many of the big budget titles forgetting about that.

Oh, and if you wanna talk humor, when we were creating the music for the credits for The Curse of the Chocolate Fountain, Dan spent a great deal of time hooking up his mic to the computer and was having problems getting the mic to work. After finally getting it to function and getting ready to play a marching band starts playing right outside our apartment. No joke. And apparently it happens every year in July here on our block in Brooklyn because we heard them AGAIN while we were working on Teaches Typing! Fun fact: “Corazon De Typing” was recorded in our apartment bathroom.

DV: Most game makers focus on a gameplay concept and then add jokes to it. Which, yeah, is how you do it if you actually want “a good game.” But luckily we don’t care about that, ha ha!! With both Icarus Proudbottom games, we essentially start with a joke, some concept that’s easy to grow comedy around, and then build a game about that. Being just two people also helps the comedy grow. Big studios generally work with these finalized, approved scripts that have been OK’d by a hundred different groups. We have the freedom to make up tons of jokes as we build and play the games, and then implement them immediately, which is important because when you actually play the game lots of times these jokes come to mind like “ah, we should have Icarus say this!!” It’s extremely hard to sit down and write a joke, it’s much easier to experience something and kind of riff on it, and then polish the riffs over time.

I’m also really into having jokes that are funny on at least two levels, or jokes that have a one-two-three punch, like one feeding directly into another. For example, the RPG stat screen in itself is funny in a few ways, partially because of its incongruity and partially because of the titles of some of the stats. And then when you finish, Icarus immediately delivers the joke “hm, in retrospect, we should have put ‘gender’ on there…” I think that’s my favorite overall comedy moment in the game. I’m also a big comedy nerd and I like to really analyze and deconstruct things I find funny.

GN: Perhaps the most important question of all: how did you guys come up with the name Icarus Proudbottom?

DV: In 2009 we made the first Icarus Proudbottom game, for another Something Awful GameDev competition. The theme for that one was “you can’t ______” – there had to be some obvious limitation in the game. The winning game was about a guy who had no legs, and he had to use his arms to drag himself around. Our idea was a game about a guy who can’t stop pooping, and he’s flying around through the air with the force of his own poops. A week or two after we began development we realized we needed a name for the character. I wanted something related to the pooping, or at least related to the general situation, without being way too obvious (for example, Poops McPoops or Poopy McGee would be too obvious). I thought “Icarus” was a funny first name because of the legend. “He flew too close to the sun on wings of poop.” There’s also something innately funny about naming such a stupid character with a disgusting premise after this Legendary Mythical Figure. I think “Proudbottom” came to mind because it’s just a funny last name for a guy who can’t stop pooping. I like the name a lot because it’s not tied too directly to the pooping, it kind of stands alone, and it has a nice ring to it. Plus it’s easy to remember.

We decided to name the spirit owl Jerry because we were watching through all of Seinfeld at the time (DVD box set) and thought a simple name like Jerry was funny for this mythical spirit animal who transforms into a katana. Also the name is friendly and approachable, which is a big thing in the Icarus Proudbottom games, having characters that are warm and friendly and just seem like cool dudes.

Icarus Proudbottom

GN: You guys are working on another Icarus Proudbottom game, called Icarus Proudbottom Starship Captain. At the end of Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing it mentions that there might be a Kickstarter for the new game. Can you give us any details on the upcoming project and/or its development?

JL: I’ve been a huge Star Trek fan since I was a kid and I’ve slowly converted Dan over the years. I’ve played almost every Star Trek game there is and while some of them come close, none of them really give the feel of what you see on the show. They usually focus too much on action which doesn’t seem fitting to me. We want to create a game that’s heavily dialogue based where you’re the captain giving orders to each crew member for every function of the ship. Tell your helmsman to plot a course, he’ll acknowledge, punch a few buttons, and then the ship will turn and start maneuvering. And, in proper Icarus Proudbottom, fashion, there will be plenty of opportunity for comedy.

Artemis Bridge Simulator is a hell of an amazing game. We’ve hosted a couple games at our apartment here in Brooklyn. Once with friends from Something Awful! Both occasions were incredibly fun. We want to sort of capture a similar feel of Artemis but perhaps in a drastically different way since it’ll be a single player game.

Given its pacing, it might not be for everyone, but I do think it will fit into a certain itch many of us Trekkies have for something like this. I guess we’ll find out! But, like we’ve mentioned we’re working on this during our free time, so we’re trying to get a playable demo as fast as we can! After that, we’ll see about putting up a Kickstarter…May fortune favor the foolish!

DV: The game won’t require you to be a Star Trek fan, of course, because it’s really just a fun action adventure romp in space where you meet lots of neat aliens, investigate weird stuff, interact with your cool dude crewmembers, and solve puzzles. It should communicate the joy of exploration and discovery, but with the additional Lucasarts Adventure-like joy of being able to talk to and hang out with these really funny cartoon characters who are voice acted well. But, if you happen to also be a Star Trek fan, then yeah, tons of these moments and dialogue will have a second meaning to you.

GN: You’ve indicated that game development is currently done in your spare time. Has it been difficult juggling that with full time jobs? Do you guys hope to eventually work in game development full time?

JL: No joke. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take some motivation. It takes a lot out of you working during your spare time! We’ve both done this before, with the first game, so at least we had some idea of how to pace ourselves. For The Curse of the Chocolate Fountain we really crammed for the deadline! It would be a lot of fun to work in game development full time, but time will tell I suppose.

DV: Every day I dream of death. I spend all of my time looking at screens, and when I’m not looking at screens, I feel guilty because I think “agh, I really should be working on the game now!” Eventually, yeah, it would be awesome if we could do this full time, just release one game every year-and-a-half or so. I have a billion game ideas. Starship Captain is really fleshed out, but I’m hugely into an idea like Icarus Proudbottom Kart, where the focus is purely on fun driving rather than items. Go Karting in real life is a supremely fun activity and it’s weird that the video game version feels so completely different. We’ve been watching Twin Peaks and now I’m into an idea like Icarus Proudbottom and the Mountain Murder Mystery, an open ended adventure game where you have to solve a murder, and the game doesn’t do any thinking for you, you actually have to find the clues and figure it out. Plus a few games ideas that aren’t explicitly Icarus Proudbottom related.


GamerNode thanks Dan and Jackie for their time. More information on Icarus Proudbottom and the upcoming Starship Captain can be found at Holy Wow Studios’ official site.


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Author: Anthony LaBella View all posts by
My first experience playing a video game blew me away. The fact that Super Metroid was that game certainly helped. So I like to think Samus put me on the path to video games. Well, I guess my parents buying the SNES had a little something to do with it. Ever since then my passion for video games has grown. When I found that I could put words together into a coherent sentence, videogame journalism was a natural interest. Now I spend a large majority of my time either playing video games or writing about them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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