Thumpies: The Making of an Odd-Ball Rhythm Game (Part 4 of 4)

“Songs, Sigils, and Sing-a-Longs”

On the same night that the Thumpies team recorded voices for characters in the game we decided we had better narrate the song titles as well.  I have the honor of being the voice you hear when you choose a song/level, probably because I was the only one who knew how to pronounce them.  Some of their names are admittedly quite strange.  Dave created all the music in Thumpies yet he didn’t mind letting me name all of his songs.  During the game’s development Dave would periodically send me an MP3 file of each new song as he completed it and I would excitedly throw my giant headphones on and ready myself to have a listen.  I’d listen to each new song on a loop over and over while I worked away on the artwork for the game, studying the music as I ‘zoned out’ and painted.  I’d pull influences out of what I was hearing to help come up with many of the visuals.  I’ve always loved creating artwork to music and what I listen to while I work usually helps shape the artwork greatly.  While analyzing Dave’s music I tried to pull some inspiration from each song to come up with something nice and strange for each song’s title.

I had recently been to Iceland for a weeklong trip to see the very unique country and its culture and while I was there I attended a free concert by two of my favourite musicians, Björk and Sigur Rós. Because of this experience I decided to mix Icelandic language influences into some of the song titles in Thumpies.  There’s a song I called “Fædd” and it’s one of my favourites - full of chipmunk-like voices, piano, and a beautiful echoing flute that comes in at the end.  Fædd means ‘birth’ in Icelandic, and I thought it was fitting due to the warm, happy, childhood-like feeling of this song.  Another interesting name choice was for a song that starts with the sound of dripping water and then pics up its pace with a lot of double bass rhythm.  I blended what I was hearing and named it “dripPLe basS”. Kind of a blend of  triple bass, dribbling and dripping. There’s also a song called “PhAD-or-LeEns” that has a very fat and lurching brass bass line and a very French sounding accordion throughout, so I mixed up ”Fat Orleans” and “Fat or Lean”.  Another favourite of mine I called “ÆthuRi-AwL” which has a very ghostly and ethereal sound to it when a theremin comes in at the end.  The theremin was used in a lot of old sci-fi movies in the 50’s because of its eerie sound.  You’d recognize it to hear it (if not to see it) … it’s a strange contraption with antennas that effect frequency and volume and it’s all controlled by the musician moving their hands around.

I also came up with little symbols or sigils to visually represent each song.  I wanted the sigils to be like little magic talismans or seals that get unlocked with a burst of leaves from the Great Tree.  If the bizarre song titles were too much for a player to remember then perhaps they’d become familiar with something more visual like these iconic and colour coded symbols.  The circular frame for each sigil was based on a dream catcher, and most of the symbols inside have some obscure meaning.

On another occasion Dave’s good friend Erick came out and sang along to the game’s theme song that was still in the midst of being created.  I love how it all turned out!  It really feels like it could be a wacky Saturday morning cartoon theme.  Erick’s voice bops along with the tune in a Muppet-like voice and if you leave the game’s title screen and main menu going for a few minutes you can hear him scatting along for quite a while, eventually losing the beat and trailing off into nonsense…

“Thumpies Unleashed”

When Thumpies was released on the iTunes App Store on Feb 17, 2010 it was on a Wednesday that I dubbed “Thumpday” and I created a facebook group to post YouTube trailers, screenshots, artwork, and any news updates.  We also wanted to make a place to hopefully interact with fans and get some feedback.  I don’t think we had done much of that kind of social interaction/marketing before but it’s become a big focus now in a lot of studios.  We also made half a dozen Thumpies character profiles on facebook so they could occasionally comment and converse with a little bit of weird character.  They argued with each other sometimes.

I’d never really felt so personally connected to a videogame project I’ve worked on in the past, and right up until the release day for Thumpies I honestly don’t think the fact the game would be reviewed even entered my mind.  It felt like we had this amazingly unique opportunity to run with a weird idea that had a lot of potential and just play with it.  Suddenly my stomach dropped.  “Oh crap, what if no one even likes it?!”  Happily almost every review I ever saw for Thumpies seemed to find it extremely refreshing and they loved the bizarre visual style and the unique and infectious music.  Many requests came in through user reviews and facebook comments about wanting a way to download MP3s of the Thumpies music.  I’m still hoping we can do a CD album someday with artwork and stickers and stuff.  I personally listen to the development MP3s all the time as I imagine all the other projects and genres I’d love to do with Thumpies if it ever became more of an ongoing franchise.  There’s still a chance, and we’re working on something new and exciting that could definitely take place in the same “Thumpie-verse”.

With the news that Thumpies had won the award for “Mobile Entertainment of the Year” in Seoul, Korea for 2010 we quickly stepped up production on an iPad version of the game as soon as we started hearing screen resolution specs for this new larger device on the horizon.  Dave had an idea of using the larger screen to spread things out a bit and have some of the drum pads farther back in the distance to get a bit more visual depth into the game and it adds a little extra challenge to the gameplay too.

A PC/Mac version of Thumpies was developed very quickly and I had to scale up and touch up much of the artwork because we originally never foresaw the game being released on anything other than a small touch screen mobile device and this was before the days of the iPad and the higher resolution Retina display of iPhone 4.  We wanted the PC version ready to be able to showcase it on a nice big screen at the upcoming D.I.G. London conference in November 2010.  I pulled a few long nights and an all-nighter right before D.I.G. making stickers and posters to give out at our booth and I did my best to make some fuzzy Thumpies toys out of dollar store supplies.  They turned out alright I guess and they grabbed people’s attention, but I can picture them in my head so much cooler so someday I may take another crack at making them with some real art supplies.

“Bongo Beats”

For the D.I.G. London conference Dave rented 4 large bongo drums and between him and Kalon they set the game up to work with little diodes connected to the bongos that would register the player’s drum hits.  This 2 day event attracted plenty of members of the local videogame industry. There were also tons of students from 3D modeling/animation courses and computer programming courses that all seemed very interested in the videogame industry and as they filed by in a constant stream our little booth definitely caught their attention.  Lots of people tried out this bongo version of Thumpies.  Some found it a little intimidating playing in front of a crowd, and some loved playing it so much they kept coming back for more whenever the booth wasn’t too busy.  When a couple students asked when the game was coming out I said “Actually it’s been out on the iPhone for the better part of the year.”   They both pulled out their iPhones and downloaded it right then and there over the venues free WiFi.  One thing we definitely discovered at the conference was that people liked to play Thumpies together like a multiplayer game.  If they weren’t at all musically inclined then they just wanted to be responsible for a single drum, so 4 people would play at the same time and they had a blast.

Well, I think I’ve dragged out my love of this project long enough with these blogs – this being the 4th part and all – but hopefully I’ll still have a lot to blog about with our current and future projects too.  I’ll try and get some more of our studio’s artists to pipe in with their unique experiences as well.  We’ve got a lot of interesting projects on the go this year that we’re very excited to let loose!!  I might even have some more toys to design ;)

2 Comments + Add Comment

  • hey! just wanted to say this game is awesome! thanks for all the hard work! please either add a feature that allows you to make your own song or multiplayer to make more complex songs! those are just my suggestions

  • This was indeed a great project to be involved with. Since day one, the originality of Thumpies game was enticing, and it turned out that the game is still fun to pull out and play over a year after the fact. The developers worked very hard on this project, and their attention to detail made this game the hit that I think it is. Can’t wait for more titles from Chris and Dave and the gang at BBB. Keep making London proud!


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