TRombone Champ, the musical computer game, has received more than 20,000 downloads since its release last week, and gameplay videos have trotted out on social media with beloved songs ruined by horrific trombone playing.
The game is like Guitar Hero but with your mouse as the trombone. You move it up and down to simulate the slide and click to blow the horn. Her goal is to play along to trombone classics like Beethoven’s Fifth, Hava Nagila and Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
The game is all about the joke – in fact, “it’s a joke first and a game second,” says its creator Dan Vecchitto, who is “surprised and happy” by the outpouring of enthusiasm. “I don’t know why there isn’t more comedy in games because games can be so funny.”
It’s also very difficult. Aligning the cursor with the notation flying across the screen is harder than it sounds, especially since you can’t keep the mouse button pressed indefinitely – this causes your character to gasp and gasp out of breath. The game rates you on an AF scale, and I couldn’t do better than a C. My virtual trombone playing reminded me of listening to a third grade practice for a lecture, all the honks and screeches and melodic pitches ruining an otherwise pristine backing track. The absolute joy of the game is how silly that sounds.
The whole thing is framed by a Zelda-like storyline: As you begin, you are informed by an important-sounding voice: “One day you will tear the fabric that binds this land together… but until that day comes, you must toot.” Do your trombone, brave soul, and you might just become the trombone champion after all.” There’s also a mysterious “baboon” mode that rewards deeper investment in the game — baboon is an “inherently fun word,” says Vecchitto — and Legends of a “demon” that players can summon.
Vecchitto, 38, is not a trombonist himself, but he is a musician. Instead, he came up with the idea for the game after seeing a mental image of an arcade game cabinet with a rubber trombone in which people would “swirl around” to make music “and it would always sound bad.” He later decided to use a mouse to mimic Trumpet’s movements.
He developed the game largely on his own, with his wife Jackie Vecchitto contributing art and one of his favorite musicians, Max Tundra, adding a music track (most of the music is public domain material). He thought the project would take six months; Instead it took four years – although that also included working alongside his day job as a UX/UI web designer, “and then of course Covid slows that down too. Half of 2020 has been a wash.”
While he was working, “I was kind of worried that other people wouldn’t get it,” he said. It seemed to him that “it would be quite difficult to sell a game if the concept is: you can’t do it well”.
He had “definitely not expected a breakthrough” success. Prior to Trombone Champ, the Vecchittos’ Holy Wow Studios had developed a few games that were shared by avid gamers, but the scope was “really small,” he says. It was “super unexpected that it really breaks out of this little niche.”
“I’m glad the game made people laugh and happy.”
He hopes the success will allow him to devote more time to game development. He wants to create an arcade version of the game that fits his original vision; others have suggested it would work well in VR. He also plans to add more songs and create a Mac version of the game which is currently only playable on PC.
Vecchitto was initially concerned about how the game would be received by the trombonists. Turns out he had nothing to fear: they loved it. “I wasn’t aware that there was a vibrant trumpet streaming culture. There’s about three different people that have reached out to me who are celebrity trombone streamers that I didn’t know was a thing.”
In fact, Colleen Wheeler of the International Trombone Association (ITA) – a community of 4,000 trombonists in 74 countries – says: “It is abundantly clear that this is the best game ever created.” The game, she notes, is “Perfectly timed” for the 50th anniversary of the ITA, which hopes to use the game at its celebrations, according to its managing director, Magnus Nilsson.
When asked via email how similar the gameplay was to actual trombone playing, Wheeler wrote, “When it comes down to having the time of your life, it’s one and the same.
“I recommend everyone in the world to get the game and start practicing right away. Hopefully you can’t resist the siren’s call – and also secure yourself a physical trombone. Your best days will be about making music,” she added.
“If this game brings you joy – and it will – why not put a trumpet in your life?”