December 27th, 2010
Scott Stoddard is like the rest of us. He puts his pants on one leg at a time. Only once they’re on, he makes killer web games, most notably the surprisingly addictive Robot Unicorn Attack, which controls using only “z” and “x” presses.
I sat down with Stoddard last week (and by “sat down” I mean emailed) to get the skinny on all things Unicorn Attack: How it was bred, what inspired its controls, and how it sent Erasure to the top of the music charts this year.
Alienware Arena: You created one of the hottest web games of the year. How do you respond?
Scott: Stoddard: I have a special place in my heart for cheesy art and cheesy music. It's nice to know several million people share my love. It's been very fun to see how many people are inspired by it, writing songs about it, making costumes, fan art, arcade machines, and the YouTube movies.
Robotic unicorns with rainbow-colored manes and tails? Happy dolphins?! Rainbow fairies??!! What inspired the over-the-top art style, which everyone one seems to enjoy?
I'm in sort of an interesting creative box, because I'm Mormon. A Robot Unicorn that make rainbows every time it jumps? It's odd enough to taste like Adult Swim, but I can still play test it with my 4 year old daughter. Plus Mormons love Erasure. I probably first heard 'Always' at a Mormon dance in high school.
The auto-forward movement and two-buttons controls are elegantly simple but addictive. Tell us how you came up with them.
I have to tip my hat to the original Canabalt for this. I was blown away by how deep an experience could be created with such simple controls. I had just heard an interesting talk about flow theory, and applied some of those concepts to the Canabalt formula to create the Robot Unicorn feel.
Would the game have been as successful without Erasure's "Always"? Why/why not? Did you have this song in mind while developing the game? Was it hard to get the license? Did you do all the sound design as well?
We had some family over for dinner one Sunday, and I was showing them an early build of the game. While everyone tried it out, I was going through some ‘80s and ‘90s dance ballads, and when we hit Erasure's 'Always' everyone agreed that it fit perfectly. I did all the sound design. A lot of love and polish went in to the sound, trying to compliment the theme and gameplay. I'm very happy with how it all worked out.
What's your highest score? What's the highest user score you've seen? For those who haven't gotten past, say 20,000, what do the "later stages" feel like (crazy fast, tighter spaces, etc)?
I've gotten just over 100K, but I've seen much higher scores. Once you get over 20K it's so fast that you just have to follow the rhythm and hope for the best, jump, dash, jump dash...
Any fun facts you encountered while developing the game that you could share?
Early on I wasn't sure if we could get the Erasure license, so I had my sister Tiffany Stoddard write a song that Ethan Halvorsen composed as a tribute ‘80s synth song entitled “Robots Can Be Unicorns.” It turned out great (mp3 here), but Adult Swim was able to get the Erasure license at the last minute. 'Always' became Erasure's most popular song (and still is) on iTunes and YouTube after Robot Unicorn Attack hit, so I think it's worked out well for both of us.
How has the success of Robot Unicorn Attack changed your financial independence and/or lifestyle (if at all)?
Given that the game only took a few weeks to make, Adult Swim paid me very generously for it, but not enough to change my lifestyle. I also get some nice royalties from sales of the iPhone versions.
What's next for you? What kind of games are you most interesting in making? Have the number of work inquiries increased since Robot Unicorn Attack?
Right after I finished RUA, I joined ChAIR Entertainment as lead animator. We just finished the ground breaking game Infinity Blade for iPhone, and it's been a huge success. My creative efforts will be focused on ChAIR for the foreseeable future, but I expect Adult Swim will continue to expand the RUA franchise, and I hope it does well for them.
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