Octodad is a quick little game, full of charm, put together by a team from DePaul University. Taking control of an octopus attempting to keep his cephalopod nature a secret from his human wife and children, the player must perform a to-do list of chores around the house. Sounds easy enough, right? But then you get to the controls, which are a perfect balance between ‘impossible to use’ and ‘insanely fun,’ and you begin your day in the life of Octodad.
Having played the game myself, and having enjoyed it thoroughly. I sat down to talk with some members the team behind the project. The interview is after the jump, but if you’ve never played Octodad yourself, then check out the trailer and then go grab a download for yourself.
Where did this come from, this concept of a secret octopus dad?
John Murphy – Producer: “What happened was we spent a few weeks, pitching ideas, and we got to a point where we kind of knew we wanted to do a physics-based, puzzle-based game. Nick, Seth and I were brainstorming, and sort of discussed this idea of a person driving a person, and Nick goes ‘What if it were an OCTOPUS driving a person?’ That, and we had been watching videos of ‘Jurassic Park: Trespasser,’ and saying ‘you know, we could probably turn this into something fun and good. So we brought this idea of an octopus driving a person back to the team, and it slowly just became an idea of the player controlling an octopus, but with these hilarious controls.”
Was there a point where you stepped back and said ‘These controls are…’ well, I guess ‘out of control’ is really the only way to say it? I mean, this whole concept of ‘hands mode’ and ‘feet mode,’ and I’m trying to do the tasks, but I’m just wildly slapping shit off tables. I think a big-wig game head might look at the concept and go ‘this is unplayable’ but it was really the charm of the game.
Kevin Zuhn – Lead Programmer: “we didn’t know how the control-scheme was going to be, right away. We actually tested a bunch of different schemes, many of which were easier, like we tried WASD for the feet, and it was just boring, or we tried dragging the lower body around by the upper body. And it was funny, but the controls that we liked the most were the ones in the game. As far as the whole ‘spacebar to switch hands/feet mode’… we had actually kind of designed Octodad as two separate games: one where you were controlling his feet, and another his hands.”
“At one point, we did discus using two mice”
Okay, so that was the gameplay, where did the story begin to originate, about this octopus with a secret human identity and human children and a wife, or his nemesis ‘the chef’?
Kevin: “Well, originally we were just going to have it be him going to work. Like everyday life sort of. But then the idea came out that he was really a family man. The conflict with the chef was actually more prominent at the beginning, but it was too usual, this idea of a guy that Octodad has to fight. So the focus of him living this human life sort of just took over, over time.
John: “It was pretty clear actually, that the family man idea was catchy. When we presented it to the team, the idea that the octopus had a human wife and – somehow – human children, they all just burst into laughter.
Yeah, a lot of the charm was in this straight-faced presentation of a 1950’s and 60’s-era ‘Leave It to Beaver’ family, only the dad is an octopus…
Concerning the gameplay were the puzzles in the concept originally? Or was it a later matter of ‘what can we ask the player to do with these controls?’
Kevin: “Well, there were puzzles planned from the beginning, and once we had the octopus idea, we knew we wanted him to do things with his ridiculous arms. But it became difficult to know the specific puzzles, because we hadn’t nailed-down the setting yet; we weren’t sure it was his home until later in the project. Once we knew where he was going to be, then it was just a matter of finding appropriate tasks.
Where did the decision to have hand-drawn, motion comic-type cutscenes come from? Were these originally concept art that then later got put in as the cutscenes?
Nick Esparza – Lead Artist: “It was the slide-show comic idea pretty early on, because we made these movies sort of to show what the gameplay and mood would be like, and we liked it.”
Benjamin Canfield – Lead Visual Designer: [Kevin] Zuhn was making Octodad comics in his free time for fun and decided to make some to introduce the game. We had them pop up for game testers to read just to give them an idea of what was going to happen in the level. Everyone thought the original rough slide-show for the game was funny so the next logical step was to make the motion comics. Zuhn’s work was turned into storyboards for the artists and they took the black and white pencil drawings and gave them a bit more life.”
Once you released Octodad, it seemed to get a ton of coverage from even main-stream game sites. Did it surprise you how quickly and how much coverage your game got?
Brian O’Donnell – Lead Programmer: “I think it was a bit of both shock and relief. There was a bit of concern, with this out-of-this-world control scheme – we had been playing with it, we knew it, we didn’t think it was hard, but obviously any new players would just be thrown into it. So when we released it, and most everyone reacted to it the same, and most of it positive, I think everyone just let out a sigh of relief. It was such a big question mark with the controls.”
John: “I was especially relieved, just ‘cus I knew how hard the whole team had worked on it, and I knew it was my job to make sure people had heard of it.”
Even with the controls, I feel like the game was never a ‘task.’ There was this feeling of ‘oh gods, how am I gonna do that?!’ whenever a new objective is presented, but despite the anxiety over them, the objectives were never too difficult. I think that balance of perceived difficulty, along with a steadily moving game, was a lot of the magic of this game.
Where did the art decisions come from; this bright, art-deco sort of approach?
Nick: “Well, I kinda of wanted “world of tomorrow” feel to it. And the game was already so weird; we just thought that crazy colors would fit it well. Kyle Hewitt, one of our artists, also has like an architecture background, so he was kind of combining function with craziness.”
Benjamin: “In the beginning prototypes we split into teams and took two different approaches to the art style. One was to try and directly take Ren & Stimpy into 3D. The other was inspired by old fifties cartoons and illustrations (from magazine/print). Ren & Stimpy takes heavily from the fifties as well so it all sort of fit together (I think that the humor of that show was perfect for our team, too – we had viewing sessions for an hour or two a couple of days). After this phase of prototypes it was time to narrow the style down. We found more inspiration from Pixar’s The Incredibles (more fifties). Teddy Newton (Day & Night) had amazing cutout collage character designs in the movie’s art book – they had amazing patterns and beautiful forms. We had a sort of “use whatever you want” approach for texturing – as long as it emphasized what you needed it to. Octodad’s skin is a sponge, for example.”
For the audio design, who did the voice of the octopus? Was there a casting call with cues like “be an octopus pretending to be a human?
Seth Parker – Lead Sound Designer/Composer: “Yeah, we had professional voice actors do it, and the auditions were great. We’d get one like “This is Bob, auditioning for the role of Octodad,” and it would be entirely serious. So we just had a bunch of guys ‘blub’-ing and ‘blurb’-ing.
What about how you made the noises? Were they digitally created? Or were you actually doing in-studio noise engineering?
Seth: “I actually made almost all the sounds, with the exception of maybe some background noises. For the octopus footsteps or grabs and stuff, I actually went to a party store and bought like $20-$30 worth of play-doh and silly string and spent a day in my bathroom with whoopee-cushions or slapping play-doh around. It was probably the most fun day I had ever had.”
What was the weirdest noise that you can remember making for the game?
Seth: “Well, I recorded myself eating a banana really loudly, and just like doing mouth-farts. I think the banana/mouth-fart noise might be for when Octodad grabs things.
The game seems to end abruptly, and it feels to me like there is more there, and that there was supposed to be more there. Did time restrictions cause you to cut out much from the game?
Kevin: “Oh yes. There was a lot that we just couldn’t fit in, and a lot that we wanted in. We just didn’t have the time to finish it all, but we’re working on that now; finishing the story and maybe putting in some of the other things we wanted.”
John: “I really, really wanted the grocery store. So badly.”
So then, is there a plan to do more after this first game?
Kevin: “Well, we were always going to at least finish the story. Even if the game had been hated. We probably would have cried, but we would have finished the story. Of course, the love that it did get is only spurring us forward now.”