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Dropsy is an Adventure Game About a Clown Who Hugs Everyone

(Image by Jay Tholen)

(Image by Jay Tholen)

An oddly lovable clown gives hugs to all in an open world, point-and-click adventure.

Dropsy is an open world adventure game by Jay Tholen, an independent artist and musician based in Florida. The game releases Thursday on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux for $9.99, being published by Devolver Digital.

Dropsy is partly based around getting hugs from people. The game has been dubbed a “Hugventure.”

On the surface he might appear to be a creepy clown, but Dropsy is just looking to be loved. The game plays with this element to flip the expectations and any preconceived notions of the other characters in the game world and that of the player.

There isn’t any text or traditional dialogue in the game. Everyone in the world talks through visual icons, a design done on purpose to create a universal language that anyone can play with.

Dropsy obviously has some challenges in his life. His mother along with several other people in the town died in a fire at their circus, which ruined his family’s career and good name. His father is severely sick. He doesn’t have any hands (he lost them). He can’t communicate normally with people because of a speech problem. Dropsy can talk to animals though, who understand his special way of interacting and aren’t freaked out that he’s a clown.

The world around him is a messed up place too, with most people misunderstanding Dropsy and rejecting him before even realizing his kindness, positivity and innocence. The game deals with issues like mental illness, acceptance and belonging through Dropsy’s quest to find himself and his place in the world.

Puzzles are solved by helping people fix the problems in their lives. After helping some of these NPCs in optional tasks you are rewarded a hug from them. Since it’s non-linear and open world, items in Dropsy will remain obvious where they belong to and solutions to puzzles will be geography-based. Players can choose their own path, interacting with different characters throughout the world in the order they want. The game’s narrative ultimately stays linear though.

Dropsy also has a day and night cycle. When Dropsy sleeps he enters the Dreamworld, a nightmare sequence where the player can learn more about the story, the clown works out his problems and understands the secrets of his past.

Dropsy the Clown and Jay Tholen have a long history together. The workings of the game began in 2011, with Tholen using Kickstarter in October 2011 to buy $200 development software. A second failed Kickstarter in June 2013 to push towards a full game didn’t meet half of its $25,000 goal. Tholen tried again in October 2013 and finally got Dropsy funded. The game received $24, 921 on its Kickstarter to fund development and also got the interest of Devolver Digital, who became the game’s publisher.

The idea of the Dropsy character goes even further back, as a boss featured in a different platformer game he was making around 2004, according to Tholen. In 2008 a message board community on Something Awful brainstormed ideas for the character in a “choose your own adventure” story. Posters would tell Tholen what the next scene should be and he would create it.

Chris Schlarb, a musician and composer, made the game’s soundtrack. Schlarb’s involvement was one of the Kickstarter’s stretch goals. He performed the music with a live band. The album is out on vinyl but limited to 500 copies. Schlarb also did the soundtrack for NightSky (2011) from Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren.

Tholen composed the music for Dropsy’s alternative Dreamworld sections, mashing up the music from Schlarb. The game’s music features jazz, guitar, prog rock elements and more, creating a mellow atmosphere that goes along with the game’s weird pixelated world and Dropsy’s appearance.

To develop Dropsy a few other people were brought together to help with programming and animation, such as the A Jolly Corpse team. Tholen’s own studio is called Tendershoot. He made another game called Atomic Santa: Christmas Omega in December 2014, a parody about the supposed war on Christmas.

With how long he’s planned the character and its evolution into a full-fledged game, Tholen hopes Dropsy has a deeper meaning than just being a fun experience. He wants it to impact people, positively changing perceptions of themselves and how they see others, he said in an interview. Tholen was partly inspired by a scene between Mr. Rogers and Joan Rivers on “The Tonight Show” in the ’80s. Mr. Rogers turned the comedian’s demeanor around just by singing to her. Tholen wondered if he could apply that same positivity and transformative aspect to Dropsy.

Dropsy is also available on itch.io, the Humble Store and GOG, with DRM-free versions to download.

Watch the game’s trailer:

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