Note: This article contains some pretty serious spoilers about both Icarus Proudbottom typing games, so if you haven’t finished those yet, you probably shouldn’t read this article!
If you found this page after sticking through all 5 episodes of World of Typing Weekly, THANKS! We hope you enjoyed our little typing mystery series. If you’re curious about Icarus Proudbottom: Starship Captain, we’re planning to announce some exciting news about it within the month! Watch this space for it, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Thanks and Extended Credits
A few people, groups, and websites helped us immensely throughout the development of the Icarus Proudbottom typing games.
Firstly, we need to thank the Something Awful Forums, since both Icarus Proudbottom & The Curse of the Chocolate Fountain and Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing were made for the annual Something Awful Gamedev competition. Without those competitions, the character of Icarus Proudbottom wouldn’t exist!
Secondly, we have to thank our supporters. There are a few crazy people out there who made a big difference. Wiley Wiggins discovered Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing somehow and made it a part of 2013’s Fantastic Arcade at Fantastic Fest – an amazing opportunity we can’t thank him enough for. I wish we’d been able to make it out to Austin!
Ben Serviss, who writes for Dashjump and a few other sites, has been a big supporter from the start. His insanely overblown praise for Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing was a big confidence-booster. He also donated his time to playtest and give feedback on World of Typing Weekly, which, in retrospect, is a pretty big job we should have paid him for.
The voices in the last episode of World of Typing Weekly were proved by our real-life friends Kyle Munley and Simon Taylor. Kyle is a “Real Voice Actor” by trade, so hearing his astonishing, booming voice coming from Jerry really made our year. Simon is a hilarious sketch comic who does great characters and we knew from the start that he could bring lots of magic to the Icarus Proudbottom universe.
A final Thank You goes out to the assorted fans out there, especially those who do video playthroughs. Without a doubt, the most rewarding thing about making games is seeing YouTube videos of people enjoying your game.
What’s the purpose of this article?
In this article, we’re going to talk about what worked and what didn’t work in the development of both Icarus Proudbottom typing games. If you’re a game maker, or planning on making a game, maybe you can learn from our mistakes! Or, if you’re a fan of our games, then this can be like a fun little “Making Of.”
All of the Icarus Proudbottom games are very tightly related… it’s impossible to talk about one without talking about the others! So we’re going to start with the first game, and work our way up to World of Typing Weekly. Feel free to skip whatever you don’t care about.
Before we get into the making of the games, we should talk about Holy Wow. Appending “Studios” onto the name gives people the impression that we’re bigger than we really are. We’re just two people, with “real” day jobs, who do some game development on the side.
Dan does all of the coding, most of the “fast” artwork (small pieces that can be made pretty quickly), and all of the music and sound effects, and most of the writing. Jackie does all of the “slow” artwork (big pieces, like backgrounds, that take a long time), and assists in writing. She also is mostly in charge of our communication – Facebook, Twitter, all of that bullshit. We also have two cats who assist in lap warming and morale-boosting.
Dan is the one writing the majority of this article, so when the word “I” is used, that’s me talking, Dan – hi! Just switched from third to first person!
A Short History of Icarus Proudbottom
We made the first Icarus Proudbottom game for Something Awful’s 2011 GameDev competition. The theme of that year’s competition was “you can’t [___________]”—The game had to have some sort of limitation. We decided to make a game where the protagonist couldn’t stop pooping. We eventually named the protagonist Icarus Proudbottom—”Icarus” because he flew too close to the sun, and “Proudbottom” because it’s a funny last name for a guy who can’t stop pooping. In the game, we also introduced is Jerry Owlkin, an ancient American Indian Spirit Animal who joins Icarus on his journey.
The Something Awful GameDev competition lasts 30 days – and so, after 30 days, the game was done. It had a fairly quiet release, but around six months later a bunch of video game websites began to write about it. How they discovered the game is a total mystery to us. We’re pretty terrible at publicity and outreach, but back then we didn’t do anything. No Facebook account, no Twitter, no website, no email address. If there’s a takeaway here, it’s that a game with an absurd / disgusting-enough premise has the potential to generate some publicity on its own (as long as it’s not offensive or actually revolting on some base level).
At the time, we were developing under the name “1-2-3 Blast On!” We eventually moved away from that name because it was impossible to remember or Google. Even our closest friends would say “1-2-3 Blast Off” or “3-2-1 Blast On.” The name we eventually went with, Holy Wow, is taken from the first line of the game (“Holy wow, I can’t stop making boom-booms out my bottom!”).
The Birth of Icarus Proudbottom: Starship Captain
After the first Icarus Proudbottom game, we were pretty directionless. We started making a game called Star Gods, which would be a Metroidvania in space. You’d play as an inept villainous duo, like Pokemon’s Team Rocket, as they search a mysterious asteroid field for a mythical superweapon. One of the two main characters was Mark 22, who we would reuse for later titles!
The game wasn’t coming along horribly, but it felt like it was missing a “certain something.” In the future, it’s possible that we will revisit this concept, because there were a few things we really liked about it.
Jackie’s always been a huge Star Trek fan, and I started to get really into it thanks to the power of Streaming Netflix. At some point, we thought it would be great to make a game that parodies Star Trek, or involves controlling a spaceship from its bridge. Something like Artemis Bridge Simulator, where you issue commands to control a ship, except single-player. Eventually, we realized that we were more interested in this idea than Star Gods and decided to put Star Gods on hiatus.
Shortly afterwards, we realized that we could use the Icarus Proudbottom cast as the main characters and make the game a comedy. Before this point, we hadn’t imagined Icarus Proudbottom becoming a recurring character at all. But the more we thought about it, the more excited we became – wow! We could place these characters in all sorts of different games.
Early Starship Captain Concept and Development
When we first started making Starship Captain, I was still using Flash and Actionscript 2. Before long, I realized that this was probably a bad idea since AS2 is very old, pretty slow, and not ideal for large projects. And so, after a few months, I canned most of the coding I’d done and moved to Actionscript 3, which promised dramatically faster operating speeds.
At some point after that, we began to wonder whether pixel art was the way to go. Firstly, the low resolution was causing problems. It was difficult making spaceships that looked unique, and we couldn’t put any detail into the character’s uniforms. We were trying to create an emblem that would be pinned onto their chests, but with huge 8-bit pixel art all we could do was a white square.
I began to draw the characters a lot on pencil and paper, and really liked how Jerry looked without big harsh pixels. He’s a round guy, and his roundness loses some of its appeal in pixel form. At some point, I popped open Photoshop and made a quick digital sketch of Jerry, which you can see to the right. I loved this sketch so much that I said “ok, forget it. No more pixel art.”
In retrospect, pixel art didn’t relate to the game anyways. The game doesn’t reference old school games, nor does it play like an old school games. Using pixel art would feel pretty arbitrary.
The takeaway from this? I dunno! Don’t start building a game in an old programming language that you know won’t make the grade. And don’t default to an art style that you’re comfortable with just because you’re comfortable with it. Before you start a project, really look around for visual inspiration, and choose whatever fits the game best.
Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing!
I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point years back, we came up with an idea for another little comedy game – something called “Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing.” The premise wasn’t fully fleshed out, but it would be some sort of typing game where Icarus has you type ridiculous things. At the time, our plan was to possibly bundle it with Starship Captain, although we had no firm plans/schedule to develop it.
However! In the summer of 2013, another Something Awful GameDev competition happened. The theme that got chosen this time was “subversive edutainment.” As soon as I saw this theme, I was like “uh, this is freaking perfect for the typing game.” At this point, we were working pretty hard on Starship Captain, so we were reluctant to stop for anything. But the opportunity seemed too good to miss – we already had a killer idea. And the competition was only 30 days – in one month, we could resume development on Starship Captain. Additionally, releasing another Icarus Proudbottom game before Starship Captain could help us build a bigger audience.
And so, with all of this in mind, we decided to take a one-month break from Starship Captain development to work on Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing. Little did we know how much time would eventually be sapped by typing games!
Making Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing!
The month of July was spent in a fevered development frenzy. Our division of duties was pretty good – Jackie worked on the large background pieces and any time-consuming pieces of art. I started by coding the big classes that control the entire game, and then started to pump out as much “quick” art as I could.
Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing was built in Actionscript 3 using FlashDevelop. The whole game is split into a few big classes, which I stubbornly call “controllers.” If you’re not interested at all in how the game is built, skip this part!
First is the SoundController class, which controls all sound effects and music. Here are the most common functions we use the class for:
// sound effect and the amount of time the game pauses while it plays, in milliseconds
// stop music
Second is the TypingController class, which has all of the typing artwork and handles the typing gameplay. It also controls the backgrounds that appear behind the typing. It also houses the GUI – the hearts, soul gauge, etc. Basically, it’s where the gameplay happens. In retrospect, the GUI and the backgrounds should have probably been totally separate classes – this caused us some problems when developing World of Typing. These are some of the most common functions this class is used for:
// puts the text to type on the screen with a wonderful animation
typingcontroller.setTypingCopy("Welcome to Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing!");
// sets a timer
// plays the Ready Set Type animation and starts the game
Third is the CinematicController class, which sits above the typing controller. This class displays all full-screen cinematics. Generally, this is the only way we call this class:
Fourth is the DialogueController class, which sits above the cinematic controller. This controls all dialogue – which character appears, what they say, the character’s facial expression, etc. Generally, this is what it looks like when we call this class:
dialoguecontroller.doDialogue(["Hello.","Welcome to Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing.","Holy freaking Crap."]);
dialoguecontroller.doDialogue(["I am an Ancient American Indian Spirit Animal.","Naught. Thine. Thou.","Holy freaking Crap."]);
Finally is the GameSequenceController class. All this class does is hold the entire “script” for the game, which is essentially a big array full of the functions shown above. The GameSequenceController goes through the array, slot-by-slot. It can also jump forwards and jump backwards. Whenever you die in the game, it just jumps backwards one slot, which is ALWAYS a doTypingCountdown function. This is generally how we use the GameSequenceController:
// advance the game one event
// jump to another spot
And that’s it. I’m pretty comfortable with Flash development by this point, so I was able to hammer out almost all of the above in around four days. And at that point, the majority of “real” coding for the game was finished! Very few additional components were needed, which left us tons of time to develop insane amounts of music, artwork, sound effects, & more.
This is what the actual game code looks like – you can see that it’s basically a very linear, easy-to-read “script,” almost like a movie script:
We knew Teaches Typing would be an almost entirely linear experience, so this system was perfectly fine – especially ideal for a game with a strict, 30 day development limit. However, for a larger game, this system has some pretty serious limitations. Any amount of non-linearity is really difficult to integrate into this system, which eventually became a problem in World of Typing.
Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing Art
Even though Teaches Typing uses the same characters and pixelated style of Chocolate Fountain, we redrew all of the characters from scratch. One of the benefits of using a recurring cast of characters is that, the more you use the characters, the more clear your image of them becomes. You’re no longer “shooting in the dark,” trying to make a character you like – you know exactly what the character is supposed to be before you begin. Here you can see how Icarus and Jerry evolved between the first and second Icarus Proudbottom games:
For colors, we started by Googling screenshots of typing software. We knew we wanted something bright and energetic, to match Icarus’s enthusiasm for typing. Eventually we decided to go with a beachlike set of vibrant pastels, and stuck to this palette as strictly as we could. The color palette even extends into the characters’s outfits!
It’s very difficult finding pixel fonts that look great and are easy to work with. Eventually, we decided to use Andrew Tyler’s PixelMix and Aansa for almost everything.
Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing Storyline
At first, the Teaches Typing storyline was going to be pretty simple – basically, the first half of the final game. Icarus would teach you typing, the player would eventually start to type out these nefarious contracts, and then eventually Jerry would have you “hack” to undo the damage. The end.
About halfway through the month, we had the idea to integrate some sort of virtual pet into the game, called a Typogatchi. Normally, we wouldn’t have time to implement an idea like this so late in the game. However, like much of Teaches Typing, there’s really no gameplay involved – the virtual pet is basically just a little cinematic that pops up and you can’t “really” interact with it.
The game’s ending felt slightly lackluster, and we came up with the idea of a double ending – what if, after the hacking sequence, it was revealed that the true enemy was the Typogatchi? Thank god we came up with that idea, because otherwise the game would be half as effective. If there’s a takeaway here, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to jam new gameplay ideas into your game as long as you’re sure you can develop them without destroying your development timeline, because you never know how much one extra mechanic well end up adding to your game.
Reaction to Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing
Teaches Typing got a much better reaction than we anticipated. A lot of publications picked it up almost immediately. They picked it up so quickly, in fact, that it ended up being a bad thing – there were some issues and bugs we wanted to patch out, but because the game was made for a judged competition we couldn’t make any changes to it until judging was finished.
We were much more prepared this time around – a few days before the competition was over, Jackie made Facebook and Twitter pages for Holy Wow Studios. We also threw together a quick website. Thank God for this, because otherwise we’d have no way to communicate with our fans.
It’s hard to tell which game got more attention: Chocolate Fountain or Teaches Typing. It seems like Teaches Typing got more attention overall, although a YouTube video of PewDiePie playing Chocolate Fountain got over 2 million views, which is way more exposure than Teaches Typing got from any one source.
Should we make a sequel?
We were planning on having Teaches Typing be a one-off thing. However, the game got more positive press than we anticipated. We really wanted to jump back into Starship Captain, but a few things made us think twice. Firstly, Teaches Typing was built in a way that made editing the script extremely easy. In theory, we could just edit the script file, and bam! We’d have another game. Secondly, we wanted as big a fanbase as possible before seriously jumping into Starship Captain. We thought that making one more quick typing game that built off the success of the first one might help with that. And so we decided: A Teaches Typing sequel would probably be worth it if we could make it quickly & if it increased our fanbase.
What would we do with a sequel?
Deciding what to do with the sequel was pretty difficult. We’d already exhausted most of the typing-related puns and jokes we could think of. And the atmosphere of the first game—over-the-top jubilance, for no reason—couldn’t really be repeated without feeling tiring. We also couldn’t repeat the same basic storyline as the first game, yet the first game’s storyline was so basic and relatable (friendly character revealed as villain, villain threatens earth, player overcomes villain) that it’s difficult to break from.
Our first idea was involved time travel. Things would begin changing mysteriously in the Typescape, and it would somehow become clear that some force in the past was affecting the present. Of course, Icarus and Jerry would have to travel through time to fix the problem.
We still like the concept, and an incredible title came easily (“Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing In Time”), but there were lots of complications. We could have the user go to Shakespearean times and type in Old English, but is that actually funny? If it is, how quickly does joke grow tiring? Which other times could the player travel to? None come to mind easily – or, at least, none that yield an obvious gimmick involving typing.
This concept would also require a ton of art and assets – to make a Shakespearean locale feel Shakespearean, you need Shakespearean language, backgrounds, music, and characters. And it’s not like we’d only have one time period… we’d have lots, and each one would need a whole set of assets!
Finally, we never finished fleshing out the plot. Who would the villain be? How would the user actually use typing to fix the past? With a lot of brainstorming, we could probably answer these questions. But the game felt like it would be overly difficult to plan out and build, and part of the reason for us doing a sequel was that we thought we could do it quickly.
Around this time, we started binging on Twin Peaks (Thanks, Streaming Netflix!). If you’ve never seen Twin Peaks, what the heck are you doing, close this browser window right now and get started. For those who haven’t seen Twin Peaks, here’s an extremely boiled down synopsis: —it’s basically a murder mystery with lots of mysterious elements. A girl is murdered in the town of rustic town of Twin Peaks, and a lovable FBI agent comes to investigate.
At some point, we made the connection—a murder mystery could be great for a Teaches Typing sequel. The story is easy to grasp. It allows for lots of great character interactions. And it was easily integrated with typing: the user could use typing to question witnesses, search for clues, and write case files.
The real question: if we’re doing a murder mystery, who should the victim be? Should we take the Twin Peaks route and have the victim be a mysterious character that the viewer never knew? We didn’t think people would “care enough” about that. Let’s be honest. This is a typing game built in Flash. If episode one was like “hey, here’s a guy you’ve never seen named Ed, and he’s dead,” I don’t think users would stick around. The murder had to be interesting.
Jerry could have been the murder victim, but I was reluctant to do that. Jerry’s arguably the most interesting character in the Icarus Proudbottom universe. Plus, a dead animal isn’t fun.
Finally, we decided that the best idea would probably be to have Icarus himself be the victim. It felt like the most shocking choice. Also, we could then have Jerry be the one to investigate the crime, and he seemed perfect for the role. Finally, we knew we could always bring Icarus back at the end.
We knew we would need more characters for this game—you can’t have a murder mystery without a good number of suspects. And so we figured, why not use characters we already had created for Starship Captain? If Icarus and Jerry appear in multiple titles, why not the other characters? And so we decided to bring in everyone else – Digby, Kelso, and Mark 22. We also introduced a few new characters – Lucida and Apollo.
Deciding to go episodic
With the massive success of Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Doublefine’s Broken Age, it seemed like episodic games were really taking off in a way they weren’t before. Also, we started to think hard about how the episodic nature of TV shows affects viewers’s attachment to the characters. Would any Star Trek fans feel a strong attachment to Kirk or Picard if the TV shows never existed, and the characters only existed in movies? We were also inspired by podcasts, and wondered how people would react to something like a “gamecast.”
These seemed like the potential benefits from going episodic:
- Engaging with users for an extended period of time, rather than in a single one-hour burst
- Possibility for increased word-of-mouth, since users interact with the game for 5 weeks rather than 30 minutes
- Increased opportunity to flesh out our characters, which makes the characters richer and users more connected to them
At first we had no idea how many episodes the new game would have. I threw out the number 15. However, we weren’t tied down to any specific number. As we started to flesh out the storyline, it shrunk to around 8 episodes, and then finally 6. At the last minute, we decided to combine episodes 2 and 3, and so the game ended up with 5 episodes.
Writing the ending for World of Typing Weekly was tricky. Teaches Typing had a double ending we loved, and it felt like we needed some twist at the end of the sequel.
When brainstorming ideas for Starship Captain levels, we would sometimes come up with ideas that sounded great on paper but didn’t really work as a game. Jokingly, I would say “we can save that plot for the TV show.”
One such idea was an episode of Starship Captain that begins with Icarus teaching typing in the Typescape. Things would get weird, he would get communications from his crew, and eventually it would be revealed that the video game Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing took place within the Starship Captain universe—the whole thing would be some insane parallel universe, or an alternate dimension. We loved the idea of tying the two games’s universes together.
At some point, we realized—wait a minute, why just sit on this idea? There will never be a Starship Captain TV show. Let’s use that idea. Let’s have the detective receive mysterious communications throughout the game, and then eventually reveal that the whole game was occurring in the Starship Captain universe? It would be a great way to “close the curtains” on the typing games and ease the player into the next Icarus Proudbottom series.
An additional benefit was that we already had the Starship Captain art assets built in Flash. We wouldn’t have to start from scratch, we could just pull them in.
If you’re a Star Trek fan, maybe you recognized the nod to Star Trek TNG episode The Inner Light. Picard is given a flute which is a bit like the object Icarus is given by Apollo…
The idea of the Typescape was a bit inspired by the nexus from Star Trek: Generations. That said, many sci fi plots have variants on this concept! Also, there are actually other Star Trek reference bits we’ve squeezed throughout World of Typing Weekly, did you notice them?
At this point, we’re going to list out a ton of mistakes we made in development. This might sound pretty negative since we’re listing out mistakes. However, this isn’t the case! We really love World of Typing! By listing out what we did wrong, maybe people reading this articles can avoid some problems with their own games!
Mistake: Underestimating the amount of work making the sequel would take
Because we already had the engine and lots of art built, we foolishly thought we could pump this thing out in a few months. Classic noob mistake! The game ended up being way more work than we thought.
- The storyline is four times longer and much more complex than the first game.
- We ended up introducing 6 new characters. The first game had 4 total.
- We ended up making around 7 backgrounds, whereas the first game had 2.
- The first game had two main cinematics, but this one has countless more.
- Integrating the Starship Captain part of the last episode took a lot of time.
- A whole new soundtrack, twice as long, was written from scratch.
- Simply putting the episodes online on a weekly basis, plus promoting them, takes much longer than you’d think.
Mistake: Not communicating the theme of the game well enough
This is a tricky one. We wanted the murder to be a surprise at the end of the first episode, so we didn’t want to call the game something like “Icarus Proudbottom is Dead!” However, the name really says nothing about the murder mystery theme. In retrospect, it might have been smarter to call the game “Icarus Proudbottom is Dead,” because then people would immediately understand the premise without having the play through the entire first episode. The “surprise” would be diminished, but the surprise is only lasts 10 seconds of the series – is it worth giving the entire series a misleading name just for that?
Mistake: Overestimating the effect that going episodic would have on the game’s popularity
We thought that going episodic would have a big effect on the game’s popularity… However, this didn’t really turn out to be the case. Of course, we can’t pinpoint the exact reasons why, but we can guess.
- Dropoff: While going episodic keeps your biggest fans interested for longer, lots of smaller fans will simply drop off / forget about the game over time.
- Episode Quality: To get people hooked on anything episodic, the first few episodes have to really knock their socks off. While I don’t think the first episode is “bad,” in retrospect, it probably should have been a lot crazier and left the player with more questions. The second episode is a lot stronger than the first, but how many people who played the first stuck around for the second?
- Distractions: Even hardcore fans can’t “tune in” every single week—people have lives! Our storyline was designed in such a way that people who “take a break” can come back confused. It’s too easy to forget who said what, what clues were found, etc.
Mistake: Choosing a theme that doesn’t gel with the game engine
As we mentioned before, the Teaches Typing engine is great for extremely linear games, but doesn’t really work with non-linearity. When we started to show friends World of Typing Weekly, the feedback we got was obvious—Hey, this is a murder mystery, yet the player has no freedom. It would be great if you could walk around non-linear way and search for clues yourself. And I agree! That would be amazing. We built the game for the engine, rather than building the engine to match the game.
Mistake: Not focusing harder on press outreach before the launch of the first episode
Based on our experiences with this game, it feels like websites don’t want to report about a game that launched a week or more in the past. And that’s understandable – it makes a website look bad when they say “oh, hey, check out this thing that’s been happening for the past 3 weeks.” As a result, we got a good number of mentions when the first episode launched, but after that, it was increasingly difficult, or impossible, to get anyone to write about the game.
Mistake: Not seeing a firm deadline for release earlier on
Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing came out August 1st of 2013. We originally planned to have the sequel come out in late 2013, around October or November. However, we didn’t have any sort of deadline, so we worked pretty slowly. Soon, because of procrastination and a Holiday Season Madness, that date slipped to mid-January. Thanks to Earth Defense Force 2017, that slipped to early February.
Around this point we began to get frustrated – we made Teaches Typing in July of 2013, and now it was almost March of 2014. Almost 8 months had passed! We were fast approaching a point where a sequel seemed pointless. So finally, we said “let’s pick a hard release date for episode 1,” which became March 8th.
We don’t really regret delaying the launch that long, because the final product wasn’t polished enough to meet our satisfaction before then. However, part of the we made the sequel was because we thought we’d be able to make it quickly and easily using the existing engine. In the end, it took longer than it should have.
Mistake: Releasing at a really bad time
So we decided to launch on March 8th, because that’s when the game was done. It turns out that was a pretty busy time in the game world – Dark Souls 2 and Titanfall launched the same week, and Game Developers Conference happened just a week later. In conclusion, there were lots of big games to write about and World of Typing Weekly got overshadowed pretty dramatically. How much more attention would we have gotten if we released at a quieter time? No way of knowing!
Questions From Readers… Like You! Yes, you, in the shirt!
That covers just about anything. If you have any questions at all about a specific part of making the games, shoot us a Tweet or ask us through Facebook. We’ll respond to any question worth responding to and append it to the end of this article!
Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for playing the games! We have so many more plans, so stay tuned for exciting news in the future!