Nobody suspects a thing — An interview with Philip Tibitoski of Young Horses about Octodad: Dadliest Catch

This article was originally posted on my other website, The Dialogue Tree.

I talked with Philip Tibitoski of Young Horses to learn a bit more about their game, Octodad: Dadliest Catch.

Octodad 2

The original Octodad was started as an extra-curricular project by 18 students at DePaul University in Chicago. The student floated many different ideas for a game, a few of which were made into prototypes. The kernel of an idea for Octodad came from the 1997 PC game, Jurassic Park: Trespasser. While an ambitious FPS for its time, Trespasser is mostly remembered for its awkward controls, allowing the player to control the main character’s arm independently of the way the camera, which mostly resulted in floppy limb movements, difficult aiming, and graphics glitches. In the hands of the Octodad team, that idea blossomed.

Tibitoski said they were interested in the idea of playing as someone puppeteering someone else, like the film Being John Malkovich. The original pitch was for the player to control an alien controlling a human, trying not to look suspicious amongst humans. Then someone asked, what if he also has a family? From there, Octodad was born.

In a few weeks, the team put together a prototype to show at the Independent Games Festival, using cutscenes to hold together a narrative about an octopus trying to live a life as a human and avoid making his family suspect that he’s secretly an invertebrate.

Comedy was always a part of the Octodad formula. “Pretty early on, we realized it was going to be something weird,” Tibitoski said.

Critics compared the awkward but addicting quality of the gameplay to another indie darling, QWOP. The hilarity inherent in the gameplay and the bright Rocko’s Modern Life-styled aesthetic charmed the indie community, and the reaction surprised even the game’s developers. The reaction was so strong that seven of the original developers decided to form a company and work on a full version of the game, fresh out of college. Thus, Young Horses was formed to start a new project, Octodad: Dadliest Catch.

“With this one, we really wanted to knock it out of the park,” Tibitoski said.

Though only seven of the original team went on to form Young Horses, the other 11 people involved still owned a piece of the rights to the concept. In order to secure rights, Young Horses drafted a contract that would essentially give those people each a 1% stake in the success of the sequel.

In order to get funding, they turned to Kickstarter, prior to the post-Double Fine Kickstarter explosion of 2012. “We had heard about Kickstarter through ‘Indie Game: The Movie,’” Tibitoski said. The put together a prototype and a pitch video for what was then called Octodad 2.

Octodad 2 reached its modest funding goal of $20,000 on August 10, 2011, and the team was began work on what was still a passion project.

“Six out of the eight of us have full-time jobs,” Tibitoski said.

Even in their spare time, Young Horses is currently hard at work developing the sequel and showing it off at gaming conventions like PAX.

Tibitoski says they’re hoping to incorporate a Steamworks level designer into the finished game to let players create their own levels. If early trailers are an indication, we can anticipate the sequel to provide some challenging scenarios, some of which, Tibitoski says, even he can’t finish all the time.

“It’s all about riding that line between frustration and fun.”

Octodad 1

Octodad: Dadliest Catch goes much deeper than the original, both in terms of gameplay and story. Tibitoski said that in the sequel, you’ll be able to go out of your home, out into the world, and interact with other people. We’ll also get to take a deeper look into the mind of the titular mollusk.

While Tibitoski says we shouldn’t expect the game to ever lose it’s light-hearted tone, there’s room for introspection. With regards to the original, some players have taken Octodad’s need to be accepted by his family as fear that he won’t be loved if he doesn’t fit in. Others have suggested that the awkwardness of the controls is a metaphor for the inherent awkwardness of human interaction. According to Tibitoski, some have even seen it as a metaphor for being disabled.

Tibitoski said that since finishing the first Octodad, the team has taken a step back to look at an underlying message under the gameplay and how they might have influenced it without really considering it.

“We’re all awkward in our own way,” Tibitoski said.

Octodad is planned for release later this year.

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