Way back in 1996, two University of Georgia students, Mike Chapman and Craig Zobel, created The Homestar Runner Enters The Strongest Man In The World Contest as a parody of the chidlren's books of that bygone era. Shortly after this the characters introduced in that book - Homestar Runner, Strong Bad, Strong Sad, and Pom Pom - would make their console debut as a cartoon created in the Super Nintendo game Mario Paint. In 1999 Mike Chapman and his younger brother Matt launched Homestarrunner.net ("It's Dot.Com!"), creating what could possibly be the most family-friendly flash humor website available on the internets.
Now some 12 years after the characters' initial video game debut, Strong Bad and friends are set to make their triumpant return to a Nintendo console with Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People, collaborating with Sam and Max developers Telltale Games on the episodic adventure title. I recently met with The Brothers Chap at a gourment Atlanta restaurant to discuss the upcoming game, the perils of voice-acting every character on your website, and of course, the finest cuisine available in the United States.
Scattered, Smothered, Covered, And Gobbled
Okay, so we met at a Waffle House, but for three guys who grew up in Dunwoody Georgia, the memories afforded by the greasy diner-style restaurant far outweigh the gastro-intestinal distress we were sure to encounter later that evening. As it turns out, Mike, Matt and I all lived in the same area growing up, and while I never ran in the same circles as they did, my younger sister Nadine was in several of Matt's classes in Peachtree Middle School while Mike and I were attending Dunwoody High School. Apparently there's even a picture of Matt in my mother's house somewhere, though trying to find one specific picture in my mother's house is akin to trying to find a specific grain of sand in the desert.
This particular Waffle House was down the street from Peachtree Middle, and in an affluent Atlanta suburb where parents made damn sure that there wasn't much for their kids to do after midnight, it had long been a haven for area teens.
We order nothing healthy, and Mike inquires as to having his hashbrowns gobbled - topped with turkey - which leads to the waitress attempting to have the cook add this new type of hashbrown decoration to the menu. The cook is confused, the waitress bemused, and the whole thing comes to a head when we're told they've no turkey anyway, but we nearly made Waffle House history right there.
The Videlectrix Connection
It is important to note that while Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People (SBCG4AP) is the first console game based on The Brothers' creations, cutting-edge gaming company Videlectrix has been making games for the series for what seems like decades, with blockbuster titles such as Secret Collect, Pigs on Head, and of course, Trogdor.
The brothers explain that Videlectrix is very much involved in SBCG4AP, to the point where Mike even created a high-res logo for them (they didn't have one of their own) in case Telltale wanted to use it at the beginning of the game. The original press release for the title even lists Videlectrix as Telltale's partner for the game, a fact that confused some of Telltale's investors.
Matt explains, "Some shareholder called concerned, asking, "Who is this partner? Who is Videlectrix?" and (Telltale CEO) Dan Connors responded, "They use computers to make video games." That was all he said."
We use computers...to make video games is Videlectrix's slogan, and the fact that Telltale's CEO understood Homestar Runner that well was very encouraging to the Chapmans, who had been approached about creating a Homestar Runner video game in the past by folks a bit less understanding.
"Very rough things," explains Matt Chapman. "There was a dude from Sega of America awhile ago that we were kinda just talking to. I was like, "Is there any way that this wouldn't just be put into the factory and stuck out on the other end with something that looks kinda like our characters?" And the guy was like, "Ehhhn, probably not." He was very up front, and we were like, "Well thanks for being honest, we'll pass."
Nintendo fans from back in the days of the NES might recognize Strong Bad from one of the first console wrestling games, Data East's Tag Team Wrestling, which featured a duo called The Strong Bads.
"Oh yeah, absolutely. The Strong Bads. We were just doing some dumb thing at Kinko's for friends. We weren't planning on all of this happening," says Matt Chapman.
Not to worry though, before they started merchandising they had a lawyer check things out to make sure everything was cool, though they still expect that 50 years from now they'll be sitting around and some Data East guy will show up waving a lawsuit around.
Telltale Fits Like A Glove
The Sega pitch wasn't exactly exciting to the brothers, who never owned a Sega console but claim to have "had friends who owned Sega." The offer from Telltale Games was much more enticing. They were already fans of the Sam and Max episodic adventure series, and knowing their pedigree was a bunch of "old LucasArts dudes" it was much more a case of hearing from exactly the people you wanted to hear from.
The episodic style was also a big pull.
"The episodic thing matches our style better than one big $40 game," says brother Mike.
Brother Matt continues, "We're treating each episode of the game as an episode of the website...trying to fill some game that has 20 hours of gameplay and some stupid plot would have just been lame."
Telltale's understanding of their series has also afforded them the chance to fit all of the fan-favorite characters into the game. Matt explains that the company has been more than accommodating.
"I've actually been surprised at how many of the characters their willing to put into the episodes...the amount of them, and the breadth of them."
I asked if my particular favorite characters would be making an appearance, the old-timey versions of Strong Bad and company, but so far nothing is planned. It would require an entirely new set of 3D models, but the Brothers did hint that if enough fans asked for them a future appearance wasn't out of the question.
Voice And Butt Problems
Since younger brother Matt does every voice for the website aside from the one female character, Homestar's girlfriend Marzipan, the rigors of recording all of the sounds for five installments of a video game have taken their toll.
"In the first two episodes I've recorded maybe double of what we normally record in a year. It's definitely taken it's toll...I've had to be much more conscious of my throat."
Along with cutting out things like caffeine and sugar in his drinks (never mind the sweet tea he drank with his lunch), Matt has turned to various herbal remedies for his vocal woes, including a rather unconventional voice cure that might have done more harm than good.
"I had the hot toots for three days after this one lady gave me a jar of honey and she was like, "Put an inch and a half of it in a glass, and squeeze in as much of a lemon as you can and just shoot it until the jar is gone." If my throat got better it really didn't outweigh what it did to my butt."
Sometimes you just ask a question and get much more than you bargained for.
Just A Couple Of Nintendo Fanboys
Both Mike and Matt admit that they are Nintendo fanboys (they'd been playing Mario Kart earlier that morning), though as you'll often find the most fervent fans are the biggest critics as well. Matt echoes the sentiments of many a Nintendo fan when he calls out the Wii's lack of online community features.
"All Nintendo has to do is start an online service and we'll pay $50 a month just so we can play Mario Kart and chat with our friends."
It's for just that very reason that they both own an Xbox 360 as well as a Wii, but the only Sony system you'll find in their office is a PlayStation 2, and it's only there because of Guitar Hero.
"Harmonix's Alex Rigopoulos called us up and said "Hey, we're thinking of including one of your songs in Guitar Hero 2, so we're going to send you two copies of Guitar Hero!" So we were like, "Wow, we've gotta go buy a used PS2!"
The Final Bite
We talked for a good couple of hours, often about subjects that had nothing at all to do with Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People, from Speed Racer to Star Wars to The Matrix, but all of the little side conversations that you'll never know about serve to pinpoint the very reason so many people find Strong Bad and friends so iressistible in the first place. It's the type of humor that comes from a couple of guys sitting around a Waffle House eating bad food and just talking about whatever comes to mind. If the game manages to capture even a small portion of that feeling, it'll be something special indeed.
With that, I leave you with the last room temperature bite. Enjoy!