Tycho talks New "Penny Arcade" Game

Tue, May 27th, 2008 at 11:00am PDT | Updated: May 27th, 2008 at 5:46pm

Video Games
Jonathan Callan, Contributing Writer

Penny Arcade's "On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness " is due out this week.
A few months ago, CBR News spoke with Jerry Holkins, better known by his Web pseudonym Tycho, about the release of the new "Penny Arcade" video game, "On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness," the first in a planned series of playable "Penny Arcade" adventures. Developed by Hothead Games, the project has gone through some delays, but the game, also known as "Episode 1," is released this week with an announcement on "Penny Arcade's" website. The prequel comics to the game's Lovecratian/Steampunk-inspired story can be found here, along with the PC and Mac versions of "Episode 1."

CBR News speaks again with "Penny Arcade's" Tycho about the process of making the game and it's stylistic flourishes.

Tell us about the game.

It's designed to be an episodic, humor, horror, adventure game, with an RPG-style combat system designed to evoke, essentially, the days of yore. And those elements are placed in a narrative context that is... extremely silly, I guess would be the way I would put it.

This has been something fans have wanted for years. Was there a bit of hesitancy to be put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, after operating for so many years as game critics?

Oh absolutely. It's been a tremendous challenge. Hopefully we've done something that people can appreciate. But it's definitely horrifying. The best I can do is, just as we do with every other project, kill ourselves in the production of it. Just work as hard as we can on it and then release it.

A page from the "On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness " comic.
You've been critical of IGN and other reviewers over the years. Is there concern about how critics might treat your first foray into the medium or that a badly reviewed game might somehow damage your credibility as critics?

I suppose that's a possibility, but I think that being able to criticize and analyze a game and describe the moment to moment experience of playing that game is a different skill-set than being able to design and execute a game. That's the reality as I see it. There's no question - I definitely worry about it, but I know that those [two skills] are different things and should be regarded as such.

The game is set in a world that's a combination of steam-punk, Lovecraft and existing "Penny Arcade" characters. Why the choice of setting, given the comic's modern style?

Because the modern day setting isn't apt for a game. I suppose we could have tried to finagle some way to get a real scenario going in the continuity of the strip, but the strip itself doesn't really have a continuity. It doesn't have a lot of rules. It's whatever we need it to be for that particular strip. But we have these personalities that people have come to relate to and enjoy. Each strip is just an opportunity to put those personalities in conflict with different events and elements and other characters. So that's basically all we've done - we've taken the familiar personalities and put them in a context that has a lot of inherent drama.

How did the game come about? Did Hothead approach you?

They did. Hothead approached us, I think, looking for the license. Because they were all readers and they wanted to put a project together based on "PA." They had just put their studio together and they wanted to work on something they thought they would enjoy. Then when they presented it to us - we wouldn't have cooked up an idea like this on our own - we were interested by the idea, but we know that we would have to be involved with a project like this in a very intimate way. So it essentially became a co-published product, instead of a licensed product.

A page from the "On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness " comic.
I think they would have been more than happy just to get the rights or the ability to use it, but once we saw the sort of things we could do in that setting... I mean, obviously we'd never done it before and that's what everybody wants to do right? Make a video game. Everybody wants to try their hand at it.

How different was writing comedy for a game as opposed to a three times a week strip? Did you find yourself with more freedom to explore longer comedic moments?

Yes, exactly. Basically when you do a comic strip where you have your three panels it's all about editing and truncating it. In this, there's actually multiple ways a conversation can turn out. So you can use more of what you've written.

The "Monkey Island" video game series is obviously a big influence on "On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness." Was "Monkey Island" creator and "Rain Slick" producer Ron Gilbert involved from the start or was he a natural choice once the format was decided?

Well, I think they brought him in because as developers they hadn't put a project of that type together before. As a result, they basically just wanted to go to the source. They wanted to go to someone who had experience shipping product in that context. You know, he has a sort of language - not a programming language, but a visual language he's developed for describing how game events take place. He can diagram out a game very quickly and get an estimate, even of how long it would take the average user to play. He just has a tremendous amount of experience doing this kind of work.

He basically comes in and he plays the builds and tells us what he thinks. It's pretty invaluable.

A page from the "On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness " comic.
Did you beg him to tell you the secret of "Monkey Island?"

No, I didn't do anything like that. But when I was up writing the game, he was there as well, so we had a lot of opportunity to talk about things, and I did come up with a unique nickname for him: RON DMC.

"Penny Arcade" co-creator Gabe has been rather vocal about the death of the turn-based RPG. Was this an attempt to revive a mode of game-play the two of you have a lot of affection for?

I don't know if it was an attempt to revive it. It was more an attempt to make an homage to it. We weren't trying to bring it back and say: 'this is what has been missing all along'! It's really more of an attempt to appreciate it. To go back and say, this was interesting. But it's not resuscitation. It's not like we're rubbing the panels trying to bring it back.

The cast of characters is one of the most important aspects of the "Penny Arcade" strip. There's a certain number of announced characters in the game: Anne, Gabe, Tycho, Fruitfucker Primer. We'd imagine gamers and fans should expect a certain number of surprise cameos in addition to these?

Oh certainly. I mean, you see Thomas Kemper fairly early on. And then obviously, it's episodic so many, many more characters that people crave will be making an appearance. Even some fairly recent ones will be popping in.

Dark Ravendark Talon Blood? Bat-Jew? Jesus? Mr. Period?

I mean, listen, these are episodic games. I can't give it all away. But you'll definitely recognize quite a few faces. We put it in there for people to enjoy.

A page from the "On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness " comic.
What about Brenna and Kara, the wives of Gabe and Tycho, both in and out of the strip's continuity? Did they make it into the game?

They haven't made it into the game as written, although I think that they're unhappy about that. So I may have to put my shoulder to the grindstone and get them in there.

The game will soon be available on X-Box Live Arcade, as well. Seems like this is a big step toward expanding its potential market.

Yeah. I spend a lot of time playing Live Arcade games, as I think a lot of people do. There's a lot of times on that system when Live Arcade is the only good goddamn thing on there. I spent a lot of time playing "Marble Blast" when there was really nothing else to do. And there's nothing of this type on there. There's no sort of RPG/adventure games on there at all. It seems like a really good fit actually, for the controller and so forth. I think it's a really good match. But I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up somewhere else too.

The episodes themselves, do they each follow an over-arching plot that you have a specific ending in mind for? Or is each a separate story unto itself?

It's based on the idea of a pulp serial, where each chapter has its own ending but there's a lot of connecting plots through mustache twirling, damsels on the railroad tracks and that kind of thing. That's really what it's drawn from.

Do you have a final ending in mind?

Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I have the whole thing plotted out.

How many episodes are you planning in total?

I will never say.

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TAGS:  penny arcade, webcomics

 
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