As It Happens

This video game about playing trombone badly is blowing up — to the shock of its creator

Dan Vecchitto — creative force behind Trombone Champ — didn't mean to make a hit video game.

'It's one of those games where it's like the worse you do, the funnier it is,' says Trombone Champ's maker

A simple, animated character jams out on a red trombone against a bright pink and purple backdrop. Little pink and purple sliders line the screen, and there's white text that reads: "Nasty!"
Trombone Champ is a deceptively simple rhythm game that's taking the internet by storm. (Holy Wow Studios)

Dan Vecchitto didn't mean to make a hit video game.

Vecchitto is the creative force behind Trombone Champ, a simple computer game in which players emulate jamming on trombone, usually poorly, and almost always to hilarious effect. 

It was a weekend passion project and side-hustle for the Brooklyn-based web designer, and he never expected it to take the gaming world by storm.

"I've actually been really pleasantly surprised by the reaction," Vecchitto told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "I didn't expect the game to blow up to this degree, or even a fraction of this degree. It's been kind of insane."

WATCH  | Trailer for Trombone Champ:

Part of the game's appeal is that almost anyone can play it. All you need is a computer with a mouse and a keyboard.

It's a rhythm-based game, in the oeuvre of Guitar Hero or Rock Band. You pick a song and play along, following the notes as they appear on the screen. If you move the mouse forward, the note goes down. If you move it back, the note goes up. 

"It's intended to emulate kind of the motion of using a trombone slide," Vecchitto said.

All the while, a little animated trombone player — designed by Vecchitto's wife Jackie Vecchitto, a web designer who did all the game's trippy graphics rocks out out on the screen.

The game's song library is made up largely of classical music and national anthems, including O Canada.

"I kind of had no budget,"  Vecchitto said. "So a lot of it was … just, like, what's free? What's public domain?"

While the gameplay is simple, hitting the notes correctly is deceptively challenging. But that's kind of the point.

"It's intentionally impossible to do well," Vecchitto said. "It's one of those games where it's like, the worse you do, the funnier it is."

Scaling down his big, floppy trombone dreams 

When Vecchitto first came up with the idea for Trombone Champ, he envisioned something bigger — literally.

"I was imagining it as like a physical arcade cabinet-type experience with a big, like, rubber floppy trombone that would kind of, like, resist you as you're trying to use it," he said.

"I just has this mental picture of, you know, people fighting with this big trombone, just trying to play the music, and it sounding terrible."

A simple animated character blows into a gold trombone against a backdrop graphic of white horses. White text reads: "Perfect!"
Jackie Vecchitto created the trippy graphics for Trombone Champ. (Holy Wow Studios)

But he had neither the time, financing or know-how to create that kind of hardware. Then one day, it struck him: maybe he could do it with a mouse?

"So then I made … a really simple basic prototype using the mouse with terrible graphics. And sure enough, I think it worked just as I imagined. It was funny," he said.

"I decided, hey, this would be a good little game I could throw together quickly. Then I spent a lot of time on it. Way too much time."

A man in a red tuque stands outside in the snow holding up a black rooster in both hands and making a goofy facial expression.
Developer Dan Vecchitto says he never expected his game to take off the way it did. (Submitted by Dan Vecchitto)

In fact, he and his wife spent several years putting the final touches on Trombone Champ. After all, he says, this was a nights and weekends project with no real deadline. 

"I wasn't depending on it for money. I could just keep plugging away at it," he said. "So I just kept making it stupider and stupider and adding more dumb ideas. Any idea that made me laugh, I put it in, regardless of whether it's a good idea or a bad idea."

The game has been making huge waves online — being dissected and discussed on social media and gaming websites. It's even drawn the attention of real-life trombone players.

"I was always concerned about what real trombone players would think because, as you can tell, I wouldn't say it's very respectful to the trombone.... But actually, I've been kind of shocked. They've been almost entirely positive," he said.

"There's been a few people kind of nit-picking realism, and one person said it was disrespectful. But considering that this is a video game and that oftentimes you hear a lot of really strong negative reaction to video games … I'm actually kind of shocked at how pleasant everything has been so far."

On Twitter, the London Symphony Orchestra described the game as "actual genius."

Vecchitto is hoping the game's success means he and his wife can work towards making their side-hustle company Holy Wow Studios into a full-time venture.

"I've always kind of had a dream that, you know, like if we had one runaway success, we could probably use it as an excuse to start it full-time," he said. "And I guess this is it. It seems like I don't think we're going to have one bigger than this."

Interview produced by Katie Geleff.

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