Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, better known as Gabe and Tycho, the characters in their Penny Arcade just finished hosting a massive expo they like. But making video games? They have mixed feelings.
Holkins and Krahulik took time out of their hosting duties at the 2009 Penny Arcade Expo to talk to Kotaku this weekend. We chatted in front of the camera and under the boom mic of a crew that's filming a reality show around this pair of the world's most successful gamers.
How successful? Three sold out days of Penny Arcade Expo 2009 at the Washington State Convention Center, expanding next year both to the first PAX East, in Boston, and, with the addition of a four-story annex across the street, to an even bigger 2010 Seattle show … Successful enough to garner millions of readers of their online comic strip… And, Krahulik told Kotaku, when I pressed him to name the most expensive thing he ever bought at once, successful enough to buy a Mercedes three years ago in cash.
One of Krahulik and Holkins' achievements has been to turn their love of video games into an opportunity to make video games. They helped put together Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, their 2008 Xbox Live Arcade debut. They have released two episodes of the adventure game and say they are now "on the cusp" of an announcement about their game development future. They declined to provide specifics, so we talked about what they learned from the first project.
The lesson: Game-making did not turn out to be the joy they both may have anticipated.
"I discovered that I had no desire to make games," Krahulik told me during our interview.
"And I discovered that I like writing games a lot," Holkins said. "I would describe the process internally as very complex."
For both their comic strip and the game, which was developed by Hothead Games, Krahulik had art tasks. Holkins did writing.
Krahulik didn't like his role. "I think it's a lot more work than making comics," he said. "I don't think the end result is as entertaining. For me, what I like is drawing a comic, putting it up in a few hours and I get immediate feedback. .. And if you don't like that comic, there's another one Friday. With a game, I worked on that for two years, but my work was all concept, right? None of that work shows up in the game. Nobody sees it. I get no feedback."
"You get feedback on other people's work," Holkins quipped.
But while Krahulik is happy enough with his comics job, Holkins found game-making much more fulfilling. "The process is so different from our regular writing process [of the comic strip,] where it's mostly about a process of refinement, of distillation," he said. "You can write in a much more broad way in games… I could add as much text as I wanted to [in the game]. And so, for me, a lot of ideas that, under the ordinary strictures of the writing process, would be gone, I was able to keep and then polish up. … I found that process of characters having conversations in my head that I would transcribe very enjoyable. And I think it's excellent training for other kinds of writing that I might be asked to do in the future."
Holkins said that his future writing could involve books or scripts. I suggested songs. He said he already writes those.
Their comic won't stop. Their shows are bursting and beloved. They're on a game-making cusp. They seem not even slightly miserable, but if anyone thought that two guys who love playing games would automatically love making games, that's not so. It's more complex and more interesting than that.