From Something Awful To Kickstarter: The Tall Tale Of Dropsy The Clown

It started as a Choose Your Own Adventure thread on the Something Awful forums back in 2008. Artist and programmer Jay Tholen stopped by with a few MS Paint comics, encouraging other users on the site to decide what Dropsy would do - and where he'd go. Forumites would stop by with absurd suggestions and ideas, expanding wildly on an already-surreal storyline. All good things must end, however, and the thread eventually drew to a close with a happy ending and a new life for our somewhat-grotesque hero.

It's worth noting at this point that our corpulent clown friend has been around a little bit longer than one might expect from the thread. According to Tholen, Dropsy originally got his start as a boss in a sidescrolling zombie platformer coded when he was 17. "He was the boss of a circus level," mused Tholen. "That was 2004, I believe. In 2008, I repurposed him as the protagonist of that original Choose Your Own Adventure thread on Something Awful.

It's a wide world out there...It's a wide world out there...

As a result of that thread, something kind of funny ended up happening.  Users began requesting - even demanding - that Tholen turn this whole narrative into a proper video game. They didn't just want a series of stills on a deep, dark corner of the Internet; they wanted to see the strangely loveable clown walk on his own two legs. Tholen decided it was worth a try, and immediately set to work gathering a team. 

I'd imagine the users - who refer to themselves as "goons" - felt a certain sense of pride, seeing Tholen's efforts. After all, it was their input that effectively created Dropsy. That Choose Your Own Adventure thread turned Dropsy from a zombie-circus-clown-thing to a fully-fleshed out character.

I think he's a tough too lovable to be a zombie.I think he's a tough too lovable to be a zombie.

"The feedback from the posters formed the core of what Dropsy is. His character is almost entirely defined by the suggestions in the first two or three threads, so that will always impact the rest of the game," explained Tholen. "After that, I sort of took everything from the threads and pruned it down so Dropsy himself and the universe he lived in was at least a little logically consistent. One of the things I've kept from the threads is his penchant for "Clowning" things - basically painting crude clown faces on people and things. There will also be a lot of unwelcome hugging, which is also carried over from the thread." 

So. More on Dropsy: he's big, he's ugly, and he probably smells of sweat and old socks. He's not terribly bright, he doesn't understand speech, and he stores things in his pants. He has a penchant for giving people unwanted hugs and drawing clown faces on everything.

He's also one of the most lovable protagonists you're ever going to meet.

What ultimately characterizes Dropsy is his innocence. He doesn't understand danger, cruelty, or evil. He doesn't know hatred or anger. To him, everybody's a friend. And friends get hugs. 

That carefree attitude is likely as not the only thing that's kept him entirely sane (well, relatively speaking). See, Dropsy's been dealt a bit of a bad hand in life.  Originally a local celebrity and small-town hero (a direct result of his ability to effortlessly communicate with animals); Dropsy has ended up completely reviled as the result of a fire which ended up burning down his family's circus. Now, he and his father make a living gathering and selling scraps.

Oh, one more thing: with only his faithful dog Eughh as a companion, Dropsy's going to save the world.

There's some twisted stuff in Dropsy's dreamworld.There's some twisted stuff in Dropsy's dreamworld.

There's no guarantee he'll realize he's saving it, though. Since it kind of goes without saying that Dropsy isn't your typical video game protagonist, it should also be fairly clear that he's not going to be 'saving' anyone in a traditional fashion. 

That isn't the only subversion in Dropsy, either. One of the big selling points of the game is that it's an entirely text-free adventure. Dropsy's not really capable of understanding human speech, and as a result, the team behind the title has devised a new system of communication by which the story will be told. Of course, players aren't always guaranteed to understand what's being said - they are playing as Dropsy, after all.

Maybe he wants a hug?Maybe he wants a hug?

Even more interesting is the fact that the game world of Dropsy is entirely free-roaming. There are no plot-designed tracks keeping you moving along a particular route. That's fairly unprecedented for an adventure game, particularly a point-and-click, which are often characterized by puzzles and sequential events.

"Dropsy hasn't done away with that stuff," explains Tholen on the Kickstarter page. "Just de-emphasized. The major difference here is the fact that puzzles are geographically oriented. The world is littered with hints that get more and more frequent and apparent as you near the geographic core of a puzzle. Once you discover that core location, you'll only be required to perform a few of the aforementioned traditional actions to solve the puzzle and progress in the game. This allows puzzles to support the narrative in a stronger way, and helps alleviate problems that arise with hard to decipher 'game designer logic."

Also, your inventory is in your pants.Also, your inventory is in your pants.

Dropsy isn't the only one who's had a rough go of it: the game is evidently on its third round of Kickstarter funding. The first didn't really ask for all that much (just a bit of basic software), while the second fell short of its $25,000 goal. Things are looking pretty good this time around, though - as of the time of writing, the Kickstarter's raised just $2,000 shy of its goal, with a full 27 days remaining. 

Assuming the Kickstarter reaches its goal and everything goes as planned (I don't see why it won't), Dropsy will be dropping onto PC October 2014.  I'll definitely be giving it a try.