Joel DeYoung, Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik

Hothead Games, Penny Arcade

Posted by Gustavo Calvo-Simmons, Philip Jong.
First posted on 25 October 2008. Last updated on 01 March 2013.
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Joel DeYoung, Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik
Joel DeYoung is the producer at Hothead Games responsible for the development of Penny Arcade Adventures.

All images are courtesy of Hothead Games © 2008.

Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik

We ask Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik to describe for us the unique style of their artworks and writings in Penny Arcade.

The dialog in Penny Arcade is decisively witty, sarcastic, and satirical. Which of these descriptions do you believe best describe the writing in your comic (you can only pick one)? Why?

Jerry Holkins: I think you would have to be a pretty big jackass to describe your own writing as "witty," so that's out. You'd probably having a tough time finding a definition of satirical that doesn't include references to sarcasm, making the last choice a "two-fer" and placing it outside the realm of the exercise. I will accept sarcastic, on the grounds that it is the only possible choice.

The drawing style in Penny Arcade is reminiscent of the cel-shaded style (specifically toon shader) in classic animation and differs from the harsher or darker style used in contemporary paper comic. How does the fact that your comic is web-based rather than paper-based change the style you have chosen to draw your comic?

Mike Krahulik: Being a digital comic just gives me more freedom to do whatever I want. Most of the comics get a pretty standard 'cartoon' style color job but if a strip needs to look like watercolor or like it was drawn in the 60's or something I can do that.

Hothead Games is the mastermind behind the development of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, the episodic videogame series based on the popular web comic Penny Arcade created by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.

Fans of Penny Arcade will immediately recognize elements in the videogame that are not in the web comic. Both the heroes and villains from the original Penny Arcade are back, albeit with slight changes. Tycho and Gabe have been re-imagined as a college professor and a boxer, though their sarcastic personality traits are present as ever. Even the Fruit F*ckers are back, except they have been redesigned with a steampunk look that is a now prominent theme in this hybrid adventure/role-playing game.

The series is now available for the PC, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Sony PlayStation 3. It will be delivered as downloadable episodes and in season format, though any plan for the latter has not taken any direction at present.

Recently, we have had the privilege to interview Joel DeYoung of Hothead Games and ask the talented producer about the development of the Penny Arcade series. In the interview, DeYoung speaks about working with Penny Arcade creators Holkins and Krahulik, the challenges of turning a web comic in a successful videogame, and the changes that have been made to adapt Tycho and Gabe to 1920s personas in their debut digital adventure.

Lastly, check out our exclusive (albeit brief) bonus interview with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade!

To what extent are past stories from the webcomic related to the story in the game? Aside from Tycho and Gabe, what other characters from the comic will appear in the game?

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is a totally new setting for Gabe and Tycho. Think of it as placing them in an alternate universe. Sitting around on a couch talking about video games didn't exactly make for the most riveting gameplay, so they are instead placed in a story as operators of a detective agency that specializes in the occult. You play alongside Gabe and Tycho as you unravel the mysteries in the 1920s setting.

You've already seen the Fruit F*cker and Anne-Claire (Annarchy) and we've hinted at another character who will be making an appearance in Episode Two. But we're staying quiet on who else you'll recognize from the strip -- it's part of the fun to discover these things for yourself. Suffice it to say that there will be many familiar faces throughout the series that we're sure you'll enjoy.

Why did you choose the 1920s for the game's settings? Was the game a deliberate take to the steampunk fiction genre or a lampoon of the fictional works of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne?

As I mentioned earlier, the usual setting for the comic just wouldn't have made for a compelling game, so Mike and Jerry, Penny Arcade's creators, came up with the story. I know Jerry is a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, so the game is heavily influenced by that and has a deliberate steampunk feel -- but with a sense of humor.

Who is your favorite character in the game? Why?

It's hard to go wrong with the Fruit F*cker. That's a real favorite in the comic strip, and in our game it has been updated for the setting. So it's steam-powered and has a bunch of gears.

What was the most challenging part of the production process? How often did you meet with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik during the development phase?

The most challenging thing about production was getting the look just right. It's always a challenge bringing a 2D art style into 3D. We gave ourselves lots of iteration time so we're really happy with the result.

During production we met in person with Mike and Jerry several times. We would typically spend the better part of a day brainstorming around a white board about the game's story. Later in production, Mike and Jerry were on the phone with our team leads on a daily basis.

Why was the decision made to use the Torque Game Engine for the 3D framework? Did Mike Krahulik draw out a 3D sketch of his 2D characters to be used in the modeling?

We chose Torque for two reasons. It helped us get up and running very quickly which gave us more time to focus on core gameplay, the game's fun factor, and getting the look right. It also supports Mac and Linux out of the box and that was really important to us.

Mike didn't create any art in 3D as he works exclusively in 2D. However, He did work very closely with our 3D artists to ensure that the translation was loyal to his original work. He was also very involved in feedback on the style of the 2D cutscenes since those were designed to look like the comic.

Why did you create a separate customizable character to be the player's alter ego? Why did you not allow the player to play as Tycho and Gabe?

Actually, the player does play as Gabe and Tycho, but only during battles. We thought having a separate player character would appeal to people who have always wanted to appear in the comic with those guys. We wanted our game to feel like an interactive version of the comic and giving players that customization capability really helped to draw them into the action.

The game is a clever hybrid of RPG and adventure. What elements of each genre can the player expect to find in the game?

We wanted to capture the essence of classic point-and-click adventure games like King's Quest and Monkey Island, so when you're exploring the various environments in the game, that's the kind of experience you get. But to update that genre for today's more sophisticated gamer, we mixed it with RPG elements and that comes through clearly in our combat system. For that side of the game, we took inspiration from SNES-era JRPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy, implementing a dynamic turn-based system.

Why did you choose to use a combination of real-time and turn-based combat for the game?

We call it a dynamic turn-based system. The turn-based aspects are meant to appeal to players that like working out the best strategy to fight enemies. But we didn't want the player to be sitting around just watching moves play out. So we made some aspects of the combat more run-time to always keep the action going. Add to that the block mechanic and the special attack mini-games, and the player is very involved in the heat of battle.

What will fans of Penny Arcade find most surprising about their favorite characters in the game?

I think fans of the comic will find it interesting to see these familiar characters placed in the alternate setting. Characters like Annarchy (Anne-Claire in the game) maintain their personality but dress and behave like they would in the 1920s.

How many episodes are going to be available? Will there be a compilation release later on that will include all the episodes as a single full-length game?

The story for the first series in Penny Arcade Adventures encompasses four episodes. We have considered the possibility of bundling episodes into a "season" but haven't solidified any of those plans yet.

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