Robot Unicorn Attack kind of changed the world. The game was a perfect storm of rainbows, fast-paced twitch gameplay and an Erasure soundtrack, and with a baffling 25.5 million plays on AdultSwim.com, the game has been played by approximately every single person on the planet. All that’s left is to peer into the mind of the man responsible for this monstrosity.
Read below for my interview with the game’s creator Scott Stoddard, where we discuss the inspiration he took from games like Canabalt and Brutal Legend, some of the insane stuff Robot Unicorn fans have made, and the fact that Erasure has actually played the game. No, seriously.
How did Robot Unicorn Attack come to be?
I had a short freelance window at the end of 2009. I had just finished Radioactive Teddy Bear Zombies for Adult Swim, and they asked me to squeeze in one more game for them. I had been really impressed by Adam Atomic’s Canabalt game, and decided that riffing off this simple mechanic would be doable in my short timeframe. I had also just attended a talk by Fred Marcus about flow theory, and wanted to apply some of the ideas what Adam started with Canabalt.
The art was indirectly inspired by Brutal Legend. They let you explore the world of heavy metal album cover art, and I thought, “What if you could explore the world of Trapper Keeper art?”
Was the idea yours?
Other than the influence from Canabalt, yes, it was all my idea.
What was the nature of Adult Swim’s involvement with the game?
First off, I have to say that Adult Swim is great to work with. They are really helpful in the process, but never got in the way. I basically pitched my game idea, and they said “Go for it! We’ll pay for that.”
It can be an interesting challenge for me to develop for Adult Swim because I’m LDS (Mormon), and a lot of their content is a little extreme for me. Trying to hit that edgy Adult Swim flavor while being consistent with who I am, well, Robot Unicorn was just right.
We have to talk about the Erasure song. Like…how? Was it expensive to license? How did that even happen?!
That’s a fun story. I had some friends over for dinner and we were playing an early build of Robot Unicorn. While they played, I used Rhapsody to sample a bunch of sugar pop ballads. When we happened on Erasure’s ‘Always’ everyone agreed it would be perfect, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to license it.
Ethan Halvorsen, a good friend of mine who did the music for Death Vegas and Radioactive Teddy Bear Zombies, actually composed a mock 80′s ballad for the game. I was really happy with it, but when Adult Swim came through with the Erasure license, we had to go with the added nostalgia of the known song.
The way I understand it, Erasure actually tried the game personally before giving the go ahead to use their song. I wish I could have seen their reaction the first time they played it. Considering the popularity it has brought back to their music (last I looked ‘Always’ was their most popular song on iTunes, and their #1 vid on YouTube), I think they’re glad they let us use it.
The game is obviously pretty silly, but it’s also super polished and awesome looking. How long did it take you to make?
Thanks! I spent about 40 hours on it over 2 or 3 weeks. The initial game was up and running in a day or two. A good chunk of time was spent on the unicorn animations, and the rest of the time went into playtesting and tuning.
As simple as the game is, I think it’s actually one of my most polished games, and really hit the audience exactly how I hoped it would. Lucky for me that audience just happens to be much bigger than I expected.
People react really strongly to the theme and song at first, but the hardcore gamer in me wants to believe that the gameplay also has a lot to do with the success of Robot Unicorn.
It wouldn’t be overstating it to call this whole thing a phenomenon, right? Television commercials, a t-shirt, countless ‘Always’ covers, an arcade cabinet, even a fursuit… this game has inspired a lot of crazy peripheral stuff. What’s your feeling on all this official and unofficial merchandise?
It has been really fun to see the fan response. Deviantart.com has a huge collection, and I even saw a heavy metal band that wrote a song about it on YouTube. I’m glad so many people have had so much fun with it. For me it’s just really nice to go out with a bang, since this is my last freelance project for the forseeable future.
How involved were you in the just-released iPhone version of the game?
Adult Swim used another developer for the port. I playtested a few builds, and I sent comments to Adult Swim hoping to get it closer to the original. They’re getting pretty close, and it’s exciting to see it on the platform.
What’s next for you? I’m sure people are excited to see how you could possibly follow up RUA!
RUA was my last freelance game, so I’m focusing on my day job now with Epic-owned ChAIR Entertainment (the guys who made Shadow Complex for XBLA). Fans will just have to look to our next project to see my work.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Scott!