Bobby Blackwolf Interview - 5 Sep 2005

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L-R: Mike Chapman, Matt Chapman, Bobby Blackwolf

On September 5, 2005, The Brothers Chaps and Jonathan Howe were interviewed for the Bobby Blackwolf Show. It took place at Dragon Con 2005, which is the basis of the toon TrogdorCon '97.

They talked about the current status of the Homestar Runner RPG under development by Paul Slocum for the Atari 2600. They also gave some behind-the-scenes information about the making of Peasant's Quest and Stinkoman 20X6, as well as discussed the frustrations and limitations of programming games in Flash. One of their potential future projects that they mentioned is a Cheat Commandos game.

Jonathan Howe disclosed how he came to help The Brothers Chaps with their programming, and talked about his role in making the games. Howe suggested to Bobby Blackwolf that he post his interview on the Homestar Runner Wiki, so it could spread from there.

The interview was first aired on September 18, 2005. Noted as the most popular downloaded segment of 2005, it was replayed on January 1, 2006.

[edit] Transcript

Jonathan Howe at the convention

{TROGDOR! Theme plays}

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Bobby Blackwolf here with the Bobby Blackwolf Show. We're still at DragonCon 2005 and I actually got the chance— I am here with the minds behind Homestar Runner, The Brothers Chaps. How are you guys are enjoying DragonCon so far?

MATT CHAPMAN: It's been— it's been awesome. It's been very interesting.

MIKE CHAPMAN: I'm having a good time as well.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Is this— is this your first time at DragonCon or have you been to other TrogdorCons or whatever?

MATT CHAPMAN: This is our first— uh, yeah, we've lived in Atlanta all our lives pretty much, but this is our first DragonCon. Um, it's not too different from the times we've gone to visit colleges, just more— more costumes, obviously.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: I wanted to really focus on the video games that are on the site. All of them are programmed in Flash and they all had a kind of a classic feel to it. Is that— what's your big inspiration for making the games?

MATT CHAPMAN: Uh, regular Nintendo and— and below, obviously, in terms of uh, the technology. Um, huge 2600 fans. We've got, at our office— we've got, like, an Intellivision and a Colecovision and a 2600 and NES and Super NES and all that stuff. We're— we're supposedly getting a Vectrex from some guy soon which is awesome so that's— uh, that's definitely, for us, was sort of the golden age of gaming. We, you know, we've got Xboxes and GameCubes now, but— but we find ourselves more and more playing old emulator games from that era.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: One of the questions I want to ask— um, another Flash gaming site, Newgrounds, they recently were able to have success in the current gen market with Alien Hominid. Are you guys interested in possibly doing something on the current gen consoles based on your Flash games?

MATT CHAPMAN: Uh, I don't know. It seems like— it just seems like it wouldn't really be making good use of all that hardware. We were just thinking— the fact that we— we've— we've got a guy that we've been trying to get us to make a 2600 game is sort of more along the lines of what we'd wanna do.

MIKE CHAPMAN: Yeah, most of the games we wanna make wouldn't take advantage of the technology that would be available anyway. So if we can put 'em on our site, we'll just do 'em there, and if we have an idea of something, you know, that requires more power, we'll maybe do that.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: I actually did wanna touch on that. Paul Slocum, who's a wonderful homebrew programmer— he's been working on a Homestar Runner RPG for the Atari 2600 game. I've both of the ROMs of the demos and when is it coming out? Do you guys know? I thought it was supposed to come out last year or the year before.

MATT CHAPMAN: Yeah, he, uh— I think it's— it's sort of in limbo. I mean he— know he's talking— I think it was really pushing the limits of what the 2600 could do, especially with an RPG, and so uh, I think he was getting a little overwhelmed. He realized that all the work he had done, which was, you know, hours and hours and hours, amounted to like 2% of what the game would finally be. And so he just kinda— I think he kinda freaked out. So he kinda— he was on hold on that for a while, but he did say that he— he's— he's willing to look into some uh, other 2600 projects that are a little more, you know, within the normal 2600 realm. Not necessarily trying to, uh— I think that's gonna be his opus, and so the Homestar Runner was sort of just being applied to it. He could make an RPG that really didn't have to be Homestar Runner or not. So uh, so I hope he makes it someday 'cause— 'cause I would love to play an RPG on the 2600 for sure.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: One of the other RPGs I've been— I was a big Sierra adventure fan, and so Peasant's Quest—

MATT CHAPMAN: Right.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: How long did it take you to do design and come up with all the different things to do in that?

MIKE CHAPMAN: We started that in, what, February of last year? I think writing of 2004 and, uh, then I think it came out in August so, what's that, like 6, 7 months from inception to having it done and uh, most of the time our game programmer was living in Boston so it was kind of a long distance thing, 'cause we would just do a lot of the writing and all the graphics and stuff and he would do all the programming. So, if he was in the same place as us it may have been a little bit less, but still several months.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Now the current game goin' on on your site, the Stinkoman 20X6 game. That's continually having new levels updated to it, or what's the deal with that? 'Cause I keep seeing like "Level 9 just added!" So it's—

MIKE CHAPMAN: Right.

MATT CHAPMAN: Yeah, the original idea was that we, uh— 'cause Jonathan, our programmer, made this editor, this really slick editor where we can make our own levels and the point was supposed to be that it was a game that he didn't always need to be involved with. Just Mike and I would sit there and be able to make our own levels, but then as we went we just ended up making each level bigger and more, you know, more of a big deal and have—

MIKE CHAPMAN: Each level is essentially its own game—

MATT CHAPMAN: Right.

MIKE CHAPMAN: 'Cause they have different mechanics and stuff.

MATT CHAPMAN: So, uh, this'll go— we just decided after we got to like level 5 or 6 that we would just go to 10 and then stop and that'll be the end of the game and we'll move on to another project. So, we put up 9 today and uh, 10 will probably be within the next month or so. And then— and then, you know, whatever the next big project we wanna focus on.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: And I am happy to report that it is— it seems just as hard as the original Mega Man.

MATT CHAPMAN: {laughs} Nice. That's good to hear. That's what we— we always wanted the uh, the frustrating factor to be—

MIKE CHAPMAN: The thing about Peasant's Quest and it's like, well we gotta keep it frustrating. You know, you type "get rocks," no, you gotta type "get pebbles."

MATT CHAPMAN: That's the nature of those games. That's— that's the whole point so uh, we're— it was nice to hear that we uh, we nailed that in terms of how much a pain in the ass they are to play. {laughs}

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: And everybody in our chat room— we still discuss, you know, where the obvious exits are north, south, and Dennis. So, it's safe to say that Homestar Runner really has had an impact on a lot of the internet communities probably that you guys don't even know about. You know, just closet fans, so—

MATT CHAPMAN: Awesome.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Uh, are you able to talk about any future Flash games on your site that's not up there yet or—?

MATT CHAPMAN: I definitely wanna do another Peasant's Quest type game. We— we've thought about maybe going the LucasArts route, uh, with the early like point and click where you've got your commands at the bottom or the uh, the later Sierra point and click interface. Um, but definitely, you know, it'll stay fairly old school. Um, it's sorta— it's funny 'cause the— the— the closer you get to that age of like Super VGA and VGA, the harder it gets to sort of emulate that. When you get out of low res, it's still like— it's bad graphics, but it's harder to— to create bad graphics. So uh, but yeah, we wanna do something else big for sure. Uh, there might be a couple other smaller Videlectrix, more arcade-y, like Atari 2600 type games in the mean time, but yeah, we'll uh— I don't know, some Cheat— a Cheat Commandos game of some kind—

MIKE CHAPMAN: Yeah.

MATT CHAPMAN: we've talked about. Or a Peasant's Quest type game that's all the— it's like the Homestar Runner characters as opposed to being the— you know, in the— in the Trogdor universe. It would just be— like you'd be Homestar or Strong Bad walkin' around saying "get pebbles" instead of "get rocks."

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Well, thank you for taking the time out to talk to the Bobby Blackwolf Show. Um, I'll try— if I ever see Paul Slocum, I'll get on him to see the game {The Brothers Chaps laugh} 'cause I have an Atari 2600. It works—

MATT CHAPMAN: Right.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: —and I'd buy the game—

MATT CHAPMAN: Exactly.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: from AtariAge. You know I'm— I'm on AtariAge and I'm— I'm friends with them. So thank you for taking the time out.

MATT CHAPMAN: Yeah, thanks so much for talking to us.

MIKE CHAPMAN: Thanks, Blackwolf.

STINKOMAN: 20X6!

{song from Stinkoman 20X6 Level 1 plays}

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Bobby Blackwolf here with the Bobby Blackwolf Show, continuing at DragonCon 2005 and continuing about Homestar Runner. I am with Jonathan Howe, who is the programmer of all the recent Flash games, probably since 2001. How you doin'? How you enjoyin' DragonCon?

JONATHAN HOWE: I'm havin' fun. It's nice to see ya, Bobby.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: {laughs} He's gritting his teeth.

JONATHAN HOWE: No! That's not true. Come on! I am having fun. I've never been to a con like this before so... it's— it's been fun.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Uh, you've worked on pretty much all the Flash games, pretty much, uh, that people play nowadays, like the Peasant's Quest and Trog—

JONATHAN HOWE: Trogdor, since Trogdor came out. I— what— basically what happened was that they were a little smaller back then and I emailed them and I said, you know, I make games and I'll do it for free. I just wanna work with you guys and I can make a little more advanced games and they were like intrigued by that. So we uh, started working together and then I moved down here and I've been working with them on bigger games like the Stinkoman game and the Peasant's Quest game, been our big projects.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: What have been the pitfalls with doing Flash game development? What have been some of the challenges that people maybe don't see because it looks like the games are so simplistic with all the graphics? What are some of the more complicated things you've run into making 'em?

JONATHAN HOWE: Well, it's— it's interesting 'cause we've got Flash, which is now, you know, like all— it's got C++ type language and stuff. It's very advanced and you're trying to make these older games with it. So it's like almost like trying to kill an ant with a bazooka, but the bazooka can be unwieldy and {laughs} hard to hold. So, uh, and we actually have performance problems, which is sort of ironic, um, especially in Stinkoman. Like lots of scrolling and stuff 'cause Flash is trying to render all these, like, tiny shapes and stuff. So um, and also you mentioned earlier when we were talking about the save games. Um, it was a little trickier then it might been normally to make save games for Peasant's Quest or something like that, but mostly it was just, every project that we start turns out to be bigger than we thought it would be. So Peasant's Quest, you know, we knew it was gonna be a big project, but we probably estimated it would be a quarter of what it actually took us. So I mean, we work on it six months and then I came here in January. We started working on Stinkoman and um, we're just— we just finished level 9. We put it up today and we're trying to pull out a finale. So, you know, it's been— it'll be 10 months, probably that it took to do the project from start to finish.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: So— so you moved down here?

JONATHAN HOWE: Yeah, I was livin' up in uh, Massachusetts and um, I went freelance and I decided to move down here to be closer to the scene with Homestar. So, it's been a lot of fun.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: And I will be happy to report that Stinkoman is as hard as the original Mega Man games. I told them in their interview earlier. So congratulations on that.

JONATHAN HOWE: Yeah, thanks. I don't know whether that's something to be proud of. Certainly a lot of people have been coming by the booth trying it out. We have it set up on a GamePad and um, it's uh, it's {laughs} upsetting some people so uh, I think we got it right! Right? {laughs}

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: How, um— so it's a collaboration? Is it both— do you work with The Brothers Chaps or do they kinda design it out, art it out and then tell you kinda what they want, or how does that work?

JONATHAN HOWE: We uh, sorta talk about what we wanna do next, like what cliché we wanna sorta shatter or whatever. Um, they'll maybe give me some starting graphics and then I'll go and plug 'em in and we'll try it out and see what's missing and see what we need to add. So we sort of, like, swap back and forth and they do most of the graphics and the cutscenes and then I make the cutscenes where I do all of the music. I actually use, um, GarageBand to make all of the music, which is sort of another bazooka/ant kinda situation 'cause I limit myself to using the three voices in the percussion because that's the way the Nintendo was.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Yeah.

JONATHAN HOWE: So I'm using this like wonderful like program that I really like working with and I'm only doing three voices, so...

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Yeah.

JONATHAN HOWE: {laughs} ...that's fun. So um, you know, we sorta just like talk about the story together, but they do the cutscenes and stuff and then we— they make the levels usually. I made some of them, but depends on who's free when the time come— comes time. And then Ryan playtests them for us. {laughs}

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Are you able to reveal— like what— any idea where you guys are probably gonna go next? What genre you're gonna go after next?

JONATHAN HOWE: Um, we have been talking about— we want— we kinda wanna do a Peasant's Quest sequel 'cause we just had so much fun doing it, but it's a lot of work. Um, I have been sorta whipping up a Duck Guardian sequel. Although it wasn't very popular, we— we were very fond of the design behind that and we wanna keep going with that. And um, I know we've been talking about— we wanna do something with the Cheat Commanados because they're just— would translate really well. I can't say more of what that would be, but we're just really trying to put uh, Stinkoman game to bed. That's my major focus right now.

BOBBY BLACKWOLF: Thank you very much for spending some time with us. Enjoy the rest of the con.

JONATHAN HOWE: Hey, no problem. Thanks.

STRONG BAD: IT'S OVER!

{The Cheat is Not Dead plays}

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