The latest “meme” game to take the world by storm is Trombone Champ, a rhythm title all about the titular giant brass slide whistle. The addictive freeform gameplay, in which a mouse is all you need to fully simulate the toot-toot, is perfectly balanced with some entertaining and sometimes even truthful lore about trombone history. But playing non-licensed trombone music on a mouse lacks a certain authenticity…which is why the most dedicated players are turning real trombones into game controllers.
As chronicled by PCGamer, there are at least a handful of players who have sought maximum realism by either mapping out the game’s controls to real instruments, or making Guitar Hero-style approximations for a more authentic sliding experience. Twitter user Dan Lew has simply tied in the game’s control to a PC microphone, playing a real trombone in his room and getting the game’s control scheme to match the pitch and activate when sound was playing.
Here it looks like the game designers sacrificed a bit of realism for the sake of playing recognizable tunes. Twitch streamer Kupobucks finds the upper register of Trombone Champ‘s range nearly impossible to hit, since real trombones rarely go more than an octave above middle C, and (jokingly) asks the game developers to make a “pro mode” to transpose the game’s songs more realistically.
Rudeism, a staple name in the highly specific world of wacky custom game controls, gave it a shot as well. His version uses an ultrasonic sensor and microphone to map out a real trombone slide and audible notes to the game’s controls, which should eliminate lag and create more consistent motion.
But it’s not ideal, because the system can only use a little less than half of the real trombone’s full range of motion, and thus its actual musical range. It’s also worth pointing out that Rudeism is having a really tough time actually keeping up with the notes the game shoots at the player. That’s probably a combination of factors: one, you would need to be a real, skilled trombone player to accurately reproduce the notes the game simulates without going into hypoxia. And two, the music featured in the game is written more in a direct melody trumpet style, not the usual tenor-baritone role real trombones are typically used for in orchestra and jazz music.
That isn’t stopping plenty of other players from giving it a shot. The ever-popular Arduino is a good place to start: Greig Stewart created a tiny trombone simulacrum out of a kazoo, and needs only a range-spotting camera and a microphone to get the input into the game. As a bonus, the sound of a kazoo is perhaps more thematically appropriate for the ever-present goofiness of Trombone Champ‘s style.
Real trombonist (not tromboner) Hung Truong might have solved some of the game’s transposing issues by using a soprano trombone, with a musical key and range closer to a trumpet. He used an esp32 microcontroller, an air pressure sensor, and a distance sensor to cobble together a system that combines some of the techniques above. The air pressure sensor is actually resting inside the trombone’s bell!
For a technical breakdown of his process in both musical and computer science terms, check out the full video above. His technique probably combines the most realism with the most musically-accurate scale of all these attempts, but it’s clearly difficult even for a real musician to keep the pitch control steady. He’s working on a second version with more accurate sensors.
You can replicate pretty much all of the above systems thanks to these DIY makers’ guides and instructions, such as Github repositories for microphone input. Of course, buying a $500 instrument and a bunch of custom components in order to play a meme game might not be the wisest use of your disposable income.