I’ve dipped in and out of the world of Cyanide & Happiness for years, whether that’s via their own website, or through various repostings of their strips on reddit or Facebook. It’s safe to say though, that I’ve grown up with this hilariously dark series for as long as I can remember so to finally be able to sit down with one of the creators, Kris Wilson, was a dream I never thought I had, come true.
Of course, this all came about because of the Kickstarter campaign for the Cyanide & Happiness Adventure Game, the first fully-fledged video game that’ll take place in the world of C&H and bring some of the series’ much-loved characters to life-like never before. But before all of this, we wanted to dive deep into the history of the series which began way back in 2005.
Once I’d got over Wilson’s Skype picture which is from one of the creepiest C&H comics, we got right down to the series’ beginnings and how the crew behind this comic got together. As it turns out, they owe a lot to Newgrounds, a website which grew in popularity in the late nineties filled with web comics, Flash games, and animations.
“Yeah we really owe a lot to Newgrounds and we like to still collaborate and work with people within the Newgrounds community and everything, and I know we’ll be doing that a lot for the game. It’s a huge place for us as far as Newgrounds goes, that’s where we all met initially, and Tom Fulp is our animation dad in a way,” revealed Kris.
“We all attempted to make animations back then, and yeah I mean Jesus, we were using laser mice for computers to do those and everything, and you know I took a break, like ‘this animations to hard I have a job, I have to go to school!’ I was doing some animation work for websites, but the comic was supposed to be a nice break you know, do a frame of drawing instead of a couple of thousand aha! And so a lot of it has that look of like a scribbly mouse for that reason.”
Looking back at Cyanide & Happiness’ history we talked briefly about how the comic has become one of the granddaddies of web comics over the years along the likes of Ctrl+Alt+Del, MegaTokyo, and Pennyarcade, and it was interesting to see how C&H was one of the first to break away from this video game focus.
“When we were first coming onto the scene with like web comics and everything, it was mostly video game web comics that were out and about. You would have things like Toothpaste for Dinner, and White Ninja, and some of those gag comedy ones, but yeah, it was mostly video games. It’s very surreal that we’ve come this far, it’s amazing. Because we were essentially passing notes like you would in a classroom, but just, you know, over the Internet.
“We’re having a great time with it, you know especially when we’ve been doing theme weeks and stuff. It’s kind of like a prank where oh Dave did a comic about a guy who make a bowling ball expression, and then you know I’d follow it up with another one, and then it would be Rob’s turn for example, we write both together and separately with that which keeps it interesting for us,” Kris explained.
Keeping things interesting and unique for C&H hasn’t always been easy. With 13 years of comics behind them Kris told me that they’ve often run into some of the same ideas they’ve done before. Luckily, they’ve created a sort of game between them to make sure things stay somewhat original.
“Oh man, as far as recreating stuff we’ve already done there’s been times where we’ve been writing and sending each other our ideas and it’s like oh here’s an idea, and someone will say ‘oh I did that about 6 years ago’ or there’s been times where we’ll write a comic, and sometimes draw a comic, and realise that ‘oh I actually wrote and drew that myself 8 years ago’ yeah that’ll happen, especially with the short format. But you know we try to catch it, and one of the most important things about it is, for us, to try new things within the strip without completely changing what it is, as well as something that’s really helpful for us on a creating writing side is changing formats.”
“we moved that onto the card game, and it’s just something that really helps us creatively to stretch our legs”
“So when we write for cartoons it’s a different experience, and when we write for interactivities in our comic books where we have crosswords, word finds, and things like that, we get to try this new type of writing and it’s something that helps us out a lot. As with this game where we’re getting to write in the game format and it gets us to try new things and to not have the possibility of writing something that we may have already done something similar to. It’s almost selfish in a way for us as writers to get to make it that much more interesting for us! To try something completely new and different. Same with the card game, we had so much fun making the random comic generator on the website, that we actually had to stop ourselves from using it all day! We weren’t getting as much work done, because we were having fun randomising it and sending each other the strips and trying out new frames and stuff like that,” he said.
“So we moved that onto the card game, and it’s just something that really helps us creatively to stretch our legs, try new things and get new perspectives, and we also collaborate with a lot of good writers and that helps us to not write in a vacuum or anything of that nature. The comic strip itself is 13 years old, and that’s how I feel we’ve kept it fresh and new, especially for the audience, as well as us. It was just last week I finished up a 3 week-long soap opera that was in the comic strip, about a dad who can’t stop making dad jokes even after he found out he’s not the father of his child. Things like the depressing comic week stem from us trying to give ourselves something new and interesting.”
Since the early days of web comics, Cyanide & Happiness has branched out into animations with shorts, and weekly series. The team also took to Kickstarter prior to this to fund their first card game, Joking Hazard, which was a huge success. But moving into the video game market is new territory for them. Fortunately opting for the point & click adventure route allowed them to keep a similar formula they use for their web comic and animations, allowing for much more creativity.
“We have all loved point and click adventures from our childhood, and the process of writing it is something that we really, really wanted to jump onto. You know we’ve done writing for interactive segments of some of the comic books we’ve released and activities like that, choose your own adventure kind of stuff, and we have a really great time when we lay out a document, and we all just kind of riff on things, and a point and click adventure is perfect for that, because you know whatever the character is examining, or picking up, or interacting with, we get to go in and do our thing.
“We have the old classic inspirations like Sierra games, and you know Monkey’s Island, Grim Fandango, everything with Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer, as well as the Gabriel Knight games, things like that. Basically we’ve gone through a couple of game concepts before in the past, on like what kind of platform we think would really bring the C&H comedy to the forefront, and the whole format of adventure games is really what we’re excited about,” Kris explained.
“Also there’s also a bit of a renaissance I feel happening with point and click adventure games, where they’re coming back in a way. A lot of them are being re-mastered, and new audiences are getting to experience them, and we basically get to do that without having to rely on nostalgia of you know like ‘hey this game looks like Monkey’s Island’ and it’s all pixel graphics and things of that nature. We get to try new things and basically approach it in a really nice secular, compact way.”
A renaissance there is indeed, especially with the recent release of the Manic Mansion spiritual successor, Thimbleweed Park, and Daedalic’s long-running Deponia series. Point and click games are coming back in a big way. So it’s a perfect time for the Cyanide & Happiness Adventure Game to come along.
“I hope people are getting to bounce off all of these titles like Deponia, and all the point and clicks that are coming out and getting to try them, because I think a lot of them have their own unique aspect to offer, and we definitely want to be a part of that. We want to bring more light to point and click adventure games so where more people are familiar with them and trying them out, then that’s a win for us for sure.”
With the Cyanide & Happiness Adventure Game, the team are working with Roger Barr and the team at I-Mockery. We wondered why they decided to work with I-Mockery, however the answer soon became pretty obvious when we discovered that Barr was a long-time contributor over at Newgrounds.
“[There’s] lots of reasons [we wanted to work with Barr], some of the games he’s worked on in the past, that we have played before, he’s one of those Newgrounds community members that we’ve known for years. There’s always the option, like okay, we could have gone to a developer studio and just tried to go door to door. But what we wanted was someone who gets the humour, someone who has experience being an entertainer, and understands what we do so we can have that strong voice on the side of the development as well, not just the writing and voice acting. He’s made some great games for Adult Swim, he’s made some amazing games for Newgrounds and he’s green-lit a game coming out this fall called Grave Chase. His sense of humour and what he has to offer is really pivotal for what we’re doing, so were not just writing jokes and delivering them to a foundry that makes games.”
“we get to communicate and make the game with the audience, which is something that we’re really excited about.”
“He’s showing us different mechanics that we can utilise, and just things that would be funny. He’s adding a whole lot, he’s been writing, he’ll be doing some of the voice acting as well, and everything that he’s done in the past has also had a high angle on comedy, and a dark of brand of comedy as well. So yeah he was actually referred to us by Maddox, from Best Page in the Universe, and we had known him for years and we were like ‘oh that’s perfect, that’s a perfect fit we’ll get in touch with him and see how this works’ and it’s been working out really well.”
Given their success on Kickstarter in the past, we wondered what about the platform do they find so appealing, and what about crowdfunding do they find beneficial to them as creators. It also allows them the freedom to build upon the idea they already have with stretch goals and other aspects that are unique to crowdfunding.
“For me as a creator, not only do we have the previous experience where we know what to expect, we know the kind of questions people are going to ask, and we’ve had experience delivering and designing the kind of reward tiers that people come to love for things like this. Kickstarter is great because we get to basically flex the game with the amount of support we can get, as well as the development time we’ve put into it. So we have our baseline where ‘ok we can feasibly make this game’ and then if we come up with things we wanna add to it, it’s like ‘ok with the support we can add to this’ and then you know if people, like our experience with Joking Hazard, want to push it above and beyond that, then we have so much more we can include.
“It’s great because it’s not exactly a feeling of ‘oh this is indie development, we’ll just do our thing and then release it’, we get to communicate and make the game with the audience, which is something that we’re really excited about. Having them be able to include their input and, to contribute to the game, it feels like we’re making alongside them and that’s really important for us. This game will have a fair amount of fan-service, but newcomers won’t be lost at all, we just really want people to enjoy experiencing it in an actual realised universe, and the fact they get to join in on the effort to make it a bigger and better game is exactly what we hope for, and what Kickstarter helps us with.”
On the Kickstarter page, the game mentions chapters, and as fans of the series we wondered what we can expect in terms of how many chapters are planned, and what we can expect from each.
“We have three chapters planned, and the storyline is written out for them. For some of the later chapters we have room for flexibility, where if we want to add more, or if funding from the Kickstarter gives us more room to add things like side quests, certain characters, and mini games, things of that nature. From the perspective of how it’s looking currently, we’re looking at about 4-6 leisurely hours of gameplay, for each chapter,” he revealed.
“It’s very exciting because we have a good storyline, great arc characters that change, which I feel a lot of point and click adventure games didn’t have the room to do, they had to often go on with the adventure and then close it up really quickly. I feel that with the chapter releases, we will have time to improve as things go, to have more depth with a lot of the story since we are doing a straightforward storyline, which is something you won’t see in the weekly animations, but something you will often see in our animated series.
“Yeah so the gameplay and the three chapters looking for 4-6 hours of leisurely gameplay for each, with, depending on the stretch goals, and which ones are met, we’ll be doing side quests for certain characters, and optional side quests so people will find them within the game and get to go experience the side story. Three chapters is what we’re looking at.”
One thing we find with many Kickstarted games is that while they initially plan a release on one platform, they’ll often have stretch goals for other platforms too. So we were wondering, if the console stretch goals aren’t met, is there still a chance we could see the game come to other platforms too?
“There’s potential, we will be opening up a PayPal for people who are late to the campaign who might want to contribute, or get certain rewards that are available. For console release a lot of it has to do with the expenses of optimisation, localising language, and things of that nature. So we’re always going to be pushing for it but basically what the Kickstarter will allow us to do is be certain that we can hit that goal and most importantly get to consoles sooner, which we’re interested in.
“It’s a goal yeah it’s a good question, and it’s absolutely a goal of ours and you know we want to make this game [and] give it the best opportunity we possibly can, and Kickstarter is one of the main steps, but were gonna be doing everything we can to get it out in the best spot possible, being mechanically sound and everything.
“We’re new to the gaming industry, but we’re not new to crowd-sourcing a product, getting it out to people, and finding as many ways a possible that people [can] enjoy it. The Kickstarter [is] where it’s a really big indicator of the size of the game, we will want to get on consoles as soon as possible and really push for that, I know that certain for games, you know release a game in October of last year and you might be barely getting an Android or Switch port by this time. So we don’t wanna make people wait too long in between when not only chapters are released, but when the full game is released.”
One thing that kept being tossed around when the campaign launched was that “If South Park can do it, why can’t we?” But how similar will the Cyanide & Happiness Adventure Game be to South Park: The Stick of Truth or the upcoming title, The Fractured But Whole? Will the game be making fun of Point and Click games, of pop-culture? Or are we to expect something a little different?
“we’re trying to be able to still hold the flag for the internet side of things as well”
“In some aspects yes, [the game] will be kind of parody of itself, there are jokes and characters that really lend itself to that. Just knowing us and how we write I know we are gonna land on some of that. The main thing that was inspirational from South Park: The Stick of Truth, was for me, the wandering around the town and talking to people, and having certain activities and side quests you can do within the town giving you plenty of reason to explore and experience it. That was, for someone who’s been watching South Park since I was 8, really big for me.
“You know, South Park, it’s amazing what they do pull of and how they kind of bring the universe together, and you know we’re trying to be able to still hold the flag for the internet side of things as well. And yeah you know everything as far as we’ve been making animations for close to 8 years now, for the last 4 years they’ve been weekly, and a lot of that, the process of that, with our writing, and the animation, and everything is very similar, so we really wanted to go with a full game that we could really sink our teeth into and give fans something they like. While at the same time, we wanted to avoid doing little mobile games and things of that nature, we wanted to make people able to interact inside the C&H universe and feel like they are a part of it. So yeah for us it’s been a next step that we’ve wanted to jump to for a few years now.
“And yeah we’re not doing the RPG mechanics or anything of that nature, we’re going more towards the puzzle solving and mini-game direction as you would with point and click adventures, but we want to include fun side quests and stuff for when you’re interacting with characters, they might unlock customisable cosmetic items, game features, stuff like that. The feeling of walking around the physical universe is really amazing and we’ve got the C&H universe all mapped out as far as how it looks, what it will be like to walk around it, and explore it and really get into the game storyline, as well as just how our characters are reacting to it.”
For Kris, this was a way for 12 years of comics to come to life. For fans to be able to explore areas of the C&H universe which may have only appeared once or twice in previous comics or animations, to be able to explore the world in a way which has never been done before in the comics, shorts, or animations.
“It’s been amazing doing that, like I mentioned we have the town, city, and world mapped out there, and as we go we just keep coming up with great call-backs. Like, say you walk into the Le Telepathé restaurant, where they read your mind, and give you what you ordered with your mind, and it really just opens up a lot of different experiences that feel very much like the cartoons, and it includes a lot of characters that really fit with what’s going on.
“You can just kind of explore and experience that in lots of ways. It’s been great since we have over 4 years of weekly shorts, and we have 3 seasons of the animation and everything it’s been building itself in a way very surreal to us, where we wrote a script like ‘this is a joke and a short’ and then suddenly it’s a place you can freely walk around, and go next door to another place that might be recognisable, and it just feels great for us and we know it will for the fans as well,” said Kris.
“With the point and click adventure format it gives people reason to be like ‘oh I’m gonna try this, or I’m gonna observe that, or try handing this over’ which gets to unravel all of these crazy situations.”
I then started chuckling to myself imagining a character walking into Le Telepathé and being served a butt on a plate, y’know in typical Cyanide & Happiness fashion. That’s when Kris thought it would be a good time to roast me.
“Yeah well I mean I think you just read your own mind there, as far as what you would order there,” he laughed. Yeah, thanks Kris.
As C&H is such a long-running series you can’t ignore the huge community this comic has, so we wondered whether the team were taking on board input from fans, and whether it would affect certain outcomes in the game? We also wondered whether we’ll be seeing some beloved characters return, such as Seizure Man and Obese Maurice.
“Oh yeah we’re definitely allowing outside input, and that’s kind of why Kickstarter was one of the platforms we wanted to go with. For example just last week someone mentioned that we should include a test your patience reference in there, which is a comic that Dave had done I think about a week and a half ago, and that was a great suggestion and it’s perfect it’s like ‘yeah we got a spot for that that’s great’ and we can make a test your patience min-game out of it, and so that suggestion, which was just a comment on our Kickstarter, page is definitely going in our game. That’s the kind of the interaction and feedback that we’re looking for.
“For long-term fans of the comic I could tell you that a mysterious eye-stabbing murderer is on the loose, and I can tell you that if you can find him throughout the game you’ll have a certain Ted Bear survivalist giving you advice along the way on how to survive the post-apocalypse. For fans of the comics you can really just expect a lot of everything, from our superheroes in the past.
“I can [also] tell you that we have already got some places in their for Seizure Man, and an Obese Maurice, I think that it would be criminal not to include him. As well as Charles and his girlfriend, and yeah that’s something that is a bit of a love letter to our fans in that sense. We get to include these characters that people have come to love which is great, because you know our comic is often a gag-a-day kind of strip, and the fact that people have grown attached to characters just is very surreal and we just love writing for them.
“So yeah, I want Seizure Man in this game, I want Obese Maurice in this game, Seagull Boy, one of Dave’s characters, I want him in there, he’s essentially a flying head, the head of an old man with wings on his head. What’s great about that, I feel, is that when you have a series like ours and say you’re not familiar with the C&H universe and you play the game, when you have characters like the purple shirted eye-stabber, or the man who can sit anywhere, it doesn’t take a whole lot of exposition to really get on board with what they do and who they are.”
“blue shirt guy all the way!”
On the subject of characters, we had a really important question left to ask Kris: Green Shirt guy, or Blue Shirt Guy.
“Oh man, that is a tough one. You know I think I was a green shirt guy when I was younger but I think I’m coming around to the blue shirt guy these days, blue shirt guy all the way!”
What about the other characters, like Yellow Shirt Guy?
“He’s a rare one! Yeah like mustard and grey shirt guys and girls, they’re the rarest for sure! We have to avoid a lot of the yellow spectrum, and a lot of the dark brown spectrum, and everything like that because some of our characters can end up looking naked when they’re not so! It’s lead to people having some really interesting interpretations of our jokes!”
The Cyanide & Happiness Adventure Game is still seeking funding on Kickstarter sitting at cool $443,280, $143,280 over its initial funding goal and with 14 days to go, too. So if you haven’t backed the campaign, what are you waiting for?