(Bloomberg) -- The trombone has gone viral.
Trombone Champ, the self-proclaimed world’s first trombone-based rhythm music game, has racked up tens of millions of video views on social media since it launched last week.
With a similar game design to Guitar Hero, players command a virtual trombone with their computer mouse in an attempt to follow the melody of classical music like Mozart’s Eine Kleine, Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz and the US national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, with predictable results.
Its wildly chaotic and silly gameplay makes Guitar Hero seem like something on offer at Julliard.
Warbling notes, multiple unexplained references to baboons, and loading screens explaining that “two to four spiders - on average - live inside a trombone” keep the entertainment factor high.
The gaming community is impressed. PC Gamer declared it to be a “serious contender for game of the year.” Game reviewer IGN proclaimed, “move over Guitar Hero,” and the London Symphony Orchestra invited people to go “head-to-head with our trombone section” on Facebook.
Some corners of the music world aren’t so ecstatic. Jazz expert and author Ted Gioia wrote that he is “embarrassed” by the game, and said he wishes “it had really just been a joke,” in an email to Bloomberg News. Although he admits to laughing when he first saw a video of the game.
His concern is for musicians. “Trombonists don't get much respect in the world, and I doubt this game will help their cause,” said Gioia.
The game’s creator Dan Vecchitto was prepared for worse. “I honestly expected real trombonists to hate the game, because it’s not even remotely realistic,” he told PC Gamer. “The reception from them has been extremely positive.”
Steven Greenall, the creator of the pBone, a plastic and affordable trombone which sells for £140 ($155), is effusive in his praise for the game. As a trombone player who's used to sitting in the back of the orchestra, “it’s nice to be in the spotlight, for once.” He notes that during the pandemic, brass playing was banned and business was bad. Now he sees the potential for higher sales. “Anything that clarifies what a trombone is good, it will inevitably raise awareness,” he adds.
The viral success of Trombone Champ invites comparisons to the mid-2000s craze for Guitar Hero and its plastic music accessories, which generated billions in revenue for Activision Blizzard Inc. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock racked up more than $1 billion in sales alone.
Vecchitto plans to capitalise on the game’s viral popularity. He spent four years working nights and weekends at his home in Brooklyn, New York, to build the game’s code with the help of his wife, Jackie, who together own the game development company Holy Wow Studios. They consulted musicians and worked with play-testers and visual artists to make sure the tone was just right, and that the virtual character was holding the instrument correctly.
The idea for the game came when Vecchitto, a saxophone and clarinet player who has never played the trombone, was building an arcade cabinet, or machine, for an earlier game. "I suddenly had the idea for an arcade cabinet with an enormous rubber (it had to be floppy rubber) trombone controller, with the player desperately trying to match a bunch of squiggly note lines headed their way,” he told PC Gamer. Future developments might include leaderboards so players can compete with friends, the ability to add new songs and the possible addition of a rap song.
In his definitive history of jazz standards, Gioia writes that “not every horn [like the trombone] survived the transition from swing to bop during the middle years of the twentieth century.”
Will the trombone survive its transition to the rhythm game universe? Its future may be in the hands of a game developer who, in fact, plays the saxophone.
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