By Jeriaska . April 7, 2008 . 10:21am
Gabe and Tycho, creators of Penny Arcade
Since the webcomic premiered nearly ten years ago, the vision behind Penny Arcade has brought about PAX, an annual convention in Seattle, and Child’s Play, a charitable organization that provides toy drives to children's hospitals. The next venture by the illustrator and writer team Gabe and Tycho is games–an online game store focused on digital distribution called Greenhouse and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. The game stars the characters from the comic strip, but in a completely unfamiliar setting. Just what can we expect?
Siliconera: What kinds of stories are you drawing from to situate the plot and setting of your game?
Gabe: The visuals are 1930’s Lovecraft with steampunk.
Tycho: I genuinely like the horror of an H.P. Lovecraft. We’re actually trying to make a story that is funny, but is at the same time horrifying. It’s basically a society emerging from its mystical past. It isn’t so much that magic does not exist, it’s that it’s out of fashion. People who spend a lot of time thinking about magic are basically considered weirdos.
Siliconera: How have you been involved in deciding the look of the game?
Gabe: I am essentially one of the concept artists. I draw all the character designs, a lot of the weapon progressions, all the environments. As far as translating them into 3D, there’s constant communication. They send me back the models and I send back any notes. But the fact is that their guys are really talented.
Siliconera: How did you come to collaborate with Hothead Games on this title?
Tycho: We knew these guys from before. They were all part of a company called Radical Entertainment. If they had not been the ones to ask us, I’m not sure we would have done it.
Gabe: That group had a history of taking comic book properties and making games. They worked on The Hulk, The Simpsons: Hit and Run. There really hasn’t been any trouble translating 2D into 3D. The most fun I’ve had has been taking the characters and re-imagining them for this environment, especially the Fruit Fuckers. The steampunk Fruit Fuckers with the light bulbs on top and the rivets—that stuff has been really, really fun to do.
Siliconera: In terms of allowing people to design their own characters, was player participation something that you had thought about from the project’s inception?
Tycho: Yes, in fact I would say that was the core idea. One of the first things we established was that the player would not play as Gabe or Tycho–that they would create a character that interacted with them. That was the first decision we made, probably.
Gabe: We have a character generator, so you can cycle through a bunch of different options for eyes, hair, clothes. Then the character that you create becomes a 3D model in the game, and also is inserted as a 2D character in all the flash animation. You join a party with Gabe and Tycho, similar to Kingdom Hearts. There, you don’t actually play as Disney characters, you play as Sora alongside them. That gives them the freedom to actually write the Disney characters the way that they need to be written.
Tycho: You essentially have a ranged character in the form of Tycho, you have a brawler in the form of Gabe. Gabe is the muscle of the Startling Developments Detective Agency. Then you have a weapon-based melee character, and that is the role that the player takes up.
Siliconera: What kind of gameplay did you envision having in your title when you were in the conceptual stages of development?
Gabe: For us, we’re big fans of role-playing games, so it was sort of a no-brainer. We wanted to make the kind of game we would like to play.
Tycho: In general, this is basically modeled around a J-RPG style progression. You can talk to NPC’s, sometimes they will give you quests, you have missions to accomplish.
Siliconera: How do Gabe and Tycho find themselves in this incredible setting? Is it part of an extended dream sequence?
Tycho: No, we want it to be an actual story.
Gabe: The comics don’t really have linear continuity; what we have is character continuity. The characters always behave how you would expect them to behave, no matter where we drop them. We have these two characters and we like to tell stories with them. Penny Arcade is one of those stories, this is one of those stories, and so is the CTS.
Tycho: This is much more of a linear story, like a book or a movie. It has a discrete beginning and end.
Siliconera: How does this story take on elements of role-playing games? If magic has ceased to be practiced in this universe, doesn't that present a problem in terms of carrying over the traditions of the J-RPG genre?
Tycho: In the context of the game there is still a mystical Academy that has been retained—I assume for zoning reasons—where Tycho has studied the supernatural. So he is basically like a Fox Mulder-type character–essentially a crank. Gabe doesn’t disbelieve it… he just has his own things that he’s thinking about.
Gabe: Like beating things up. He knew that most famous and wealthy people started out as orphans, and he had a happy family, so he left them to become an orphan, assuming that would help him become famous in the long run. So, he ended up becoming a street fighter. He’s really our brawler character. The combat is also funny–you’re fighting ridiculous creatures most of the time.
Siliconera: How long have you had Xbox Live Arcade in mind as a venue for the game?
Gabe: We had hoped, but we weren’t sure that it was even a possibility. The content of the game we thought would keep it off the service.
Tycho: Back in the day, before the parental controls had been executed on the platform, I think they would possibly have been wary about having a program like this one on the service. Where we had trouble was occasionally in our comic strip we make fun of specific brands and so forth. For legal reasons we had to shift the names of a couple things. When you look at the global legal ramifications for a piece of software, they put a fine-tooth comb on it.
Siliconera: Have you found that the videogame industry has been receptive to your charity activities?
Tycho: We have a lot of industry support for Child’s Play. The trade group has its own charity as well that gives to a number of different foundations.
Gabe: We always get huge donations from Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony.
Siliconera: What do you have in store for the next PAX?
Gabe: We have really stumbled on what I would say is the perfect recipe for what makes PAX. So at this point we’re just making it bigger each year.
Tycho: Hopefully annually we get better at managing the influx. It’s become a pretty big deal and it takes a lot of work to run it.
Siliconera: Last but not least, any word on a release date for the game?
Gabe: In a couple of months, I would say.
Tycho: Watch the skies!
Images courtesy of Hothead Games. Photo credit Jeriaska / Siliconera.