Jay Tholen Talks Dropsy

Published: September 8, 2015 1:00 PM /


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Dropsy is not what you'd expect from an indie game in 2015. It's not a walking simulator, a horror game, or a puzzle platformer. No, it's a bizarre throwback to the old point and click games of the 90s, starring an obese and rather frightening clown who just wants some hugs. So I managed to email the brains behind Dropsy, Jay Tholen, to discuss hugging, his inspiration, and other point and click adventures.

TechRaptor: For those who don't know, what is Dropsy?
Jay: Dropsy is a textless Point and Click adventure where you play as a clown who, in spite of his kind and gentle nature, is feared and misunderstood by the inhabitants of his town. The game begins five years after circus fire that turned him into an urban legend, and the goal is to clear your name by helping people, while uncovering details about Dropsy's nebulous past in the process. 
TechRaptor: Dropsy is quite the strange game. How did you come up with the concept for Dropsy?
Jay: The base sprite for Dropsy was taken from an old abandoned platformer I was making like 11 or 12 years ago, and then re-purposed in 2008 for a little Choose Your Own Adventure forum game. Posters would give me commands like 'go left!' or 'facepaint the dog!,' so I obliged, and Dropsy was born. In 2011 I decided to use Dropsy and select bits of his crowdsourced mythos for a full game, and have been working on it ever since.
TechRaptor: What other pieces of media inspired Dropsy?
Jay: Earthbound is far and away my biggest influence in terms of video games. The lighthearted childs-eye-level aesthetic in spite of some heavy subject matter really appealed to me, as did its weird take on American culture. I loved the positivity that seemed to bubble up from it, and wanted to capture a bit of that in Dropsy. Other than that, I'm really into weird prog-rock sub-genres like Canterbury and Zeuhl which I'm sure have informed the design process in how colorful and maximalist it is. Every scene basically slams the color spectrum full of disparate hues.
TechRaptor: Something unique about Dropsy is that there is no dialogue outside of gibberish and symbols. What is the purpose of this choice?
Jay: The reason for that was initially because Dropsy could only speak in an incomprehensible 'aughgugrgh!' babble language in the forum game, and oftentimes misunderstood the desires of others. Using pictograms instead of text seemed like a perfect way to include human communication without Dropsy himself speaking. Having to parse the meaning of a series of 21x21 icons also does a lot to simulate some of his communication difficulties.

Later, this became invaluable for the purposes of localization. Other than a few compromises, like the inclusion of the American dollar sign, the game tells a complete narrative that can be understood by anyone able to play it - regardless of language. 
TechRaptor: The most recent Dropsy trailer claims you can 'Hug everyone you meet.' Will hugging have any practical purpose in the game?
Jay: In my mind I separate the game's puzzles into two types: hug and story. Hug puzzles are primarily optional, and involve earning the trust of the various characters in order to cajole a hug out of them. There are noticeable effects on the world that occour after solving hug puzzles, and some of them even affect one another. Story puzzles, unlike hug puzzles, will confront you with a problem directly, and exist to push the narrative ahead. The points of interest for story puzzles are clearly marked on the worldmap, so you can resume the game's primary adventure at any time.
TechRaptor: How will Dropsy stand out from other point and click adventures?
Jay: I'd say the two primary differences are Dropsy's textless approach and the game's open world aspects. There is also an immense amount of lore that I've written for Dropsy's world and history. This is definitely a game for people who enjoy writing detailed wikis.
TechRaptor: Classic point and click is a very niche genre these days. Why make a point and click?
Jay: The original forum game was framed to look like a point and click, so it felt like a pretty natural choice. I also like the genre's storytelling potential, and though I've never been a big fan of adventure puzzles, I think we've been able to make most of ours fit the world quite comfortably.
TechRaptor: Dropsy is quite an oddly adorable character. What's the story behind his design?
Jay: He was the boss in the circus level of a horrible zombie platformer I was making as a 16-17 year old. The project was abandoned, but I'd always loved the sprite, so I use him a the protagonist for the aforementioned forum game. I dig the idea of hiding a powerfully loving, gentle being inside an unattractive wrapper.
TechRaptor: Trailers and the steam description for Dropsy mention 'dark secrets.' How far will the game's tone stray from whimsical? And how dark are we talking?
Jay: It gets pretty dark - though Dropsy remains a light throughout.
TechRaptor: What plans do you have for games after Dropsy?
Jay: Maybe a few smaller, fun, dynamic projects. To be frank, working on adventure games is quite heavy on the work and light on the fun. Due to Dropsy's hand-crafted nature, I know precisely what is hidden in every nook and cranny. There's no way for me to be surprised by my own game as one might be with a game that involves systems that can clash. In an adventure game, if a system works in an unintended way, it's 100% always a bug. I'm sure I'll be returning to Dropsy's universe someday, but for now I just want to take a break from involved projects. 
TechRaptor: And finally, can I get a damp clown hug from Dropsy?
Jay: Or course! *warm damp hug*

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TechRaptor: Thank you for your time.

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Filmmaker. Entertainment critic. Genre film aficionado. Has bad taste and hot takes.