Why We Love Hi, How Are You
When the App Store first launched in the summer of 2008, no one (likely not even Apple) would have predicted what would come next. Seemingly accidentally the App Store team created a digital distribution channel for games and apps that put all developers on an even playing field when it came to reaching potential customers. It didn’t matter if you were a AAA juggernaut in the rest of the video game industry, you got the same shelf space on the App Store as a hobbyist developer who released a game that they worked on in their spare time.
This fostered an incredible community of independent game and software development, but more importantly, provided a platform for weird and experimental titles to not only live — but often thrive. The early days of the App Store were filled with all sorts of indies trying all kinds of strange things, from games with exceedingly odd control schemes using the brand new input methods mobile devices brought to the table, to games with premises that would never be greenlit in any circumstance where a publisher or larger video game platform needed to be involved.
It’s that primordial game development soup that allowed for the creation of Hi, How Are You, which might be one of the best early examples of super weird games on the App Store. The original developers. Dr. FunFun and Smashing Studios, through Hi, How Are You, basically asked the question of, “What would happen if we took one of the most popular albums of one of the most popular outsider musicians, and made it a playable game?” The result is a digital love letter to Daniel Johnston, an American singer-songwriter and artist who passed away earlier this year.
The story of Daniel Johnston as a musician and artist is as important as the story of Hi, How Are You when it comes to appreciating the game as much as we do. Johnston got his start in the late 1970’s, teaching himself how to make music by singing along with himself playing a piano and chord organ, which he recorded on cassette tapes using a boombox which wasn’t even in stereo. In a way, this origin story isn’t much different from many of the best mobile game developers who just got their start fiddling around on their computers making tiny games that they would release and share with anyone willing to play them.
Similarly, Daniel Johnston began his path to fame by moving to Austin, Texas, where he gained a small following and the attention of the local music press by giving out copies of his cassette tapes to anyone who was willing to take them. Daniel slowly built up a fan base… but just as completely random circumstances happen on the internet today to make something suddenly popular, Johnston was catapulted into cult popularity via the strangest of catalysts.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain loved the music Daniel Johnston was making, and was often spotted wearing Johnston’s Hi, How Are You album t-shirt. Through sheer coincidence, Cobain was wearing this shirt in what turned into one of the more iconic photos of him, where he’s waving to a photographer while standing next to Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you at all followed the alternative rock scene in the early 90’s, there’s a good chance you saw this photo — potentially without even registering what the shirt was about.
Thankfully for Daniel Johnston, of the massive amounts of people who did see said photo, a small slice of them were curious enough to look into the weird frog on Kurt’s shirt. If you fell down that rabbit hole, you’d discover that the frog’s name is actually Jeremiah the Innocent and is one of the many recurring characters in Daniel Johnston’s art. The character is easily his most famous, to the point that the Austin record store Sound Exchange asked him to paint a mural of it on the side. It’s still one of Austin’s most popular murals, although the building has changed hands several times. Currently it’s a Thai place called, “Thai, How Are You.” No, we’re not joking.
Daniel Johnston had a rough few decades between the 80’s and 90’s, and then it almost felt like a new generation discovered him through the advent of prolific online music sharing through services like Napster. It even led to a two-disc compilation album titled The Late Great Daniel Johnston which featured Tom Waits, Beck, Guster, Death Cab for Cutie, and other popular musicians covering his songs. Johnston was even the subject of a documentary titled The Devil and Daniel Johnston which won loads of awards, further increasing the prestige of Daniel Johnston as an artist and musician.
So, not only are we huge fans of Daniel’s music, but it’s also really interesting how the seemingly random events that increased his notoriety as a musician are seemingly just as random as the things that make a mobile game suddenly go viral.
As far as the game itself, it’s also super fun.
Hi, How Are You borrows elements from games like Frogger, Pac-Man, and incorporates a host of puzzle platformer elements while drenching the entire experience in Daniel Johnston music and art. It’s executed so well that if you’ve never heard of Daniel Johnston before, the game serves as a great entry point to get a taste of his world. On the other hand, if you’re a huge Daniel Johnston fan, you’ll immediately be in love by the time you see the title screen.
GameClub has completely updated Hi, How Are You, making this App Store classic playable once again. Not only that, but we’ve also done a complete graphical overhaul of the game making this iteration of Hi, How Are You the best version of the game yet. Hopefully you like it as much as we do, and we would love to think our efforts on the game might expose new people to the Daniel Johnston universe, giving them opportunities to become fans of his work as well.