Starting off as a goofy game for Let’s Players to sink their teeth into; Octodad evolved dramatically into a full title 3 years later. The team; Young Horses, also evolved during this time as they moved on from their submission to the Independent Games Festivals as university students, into a full fledged game development company. Their experiences had been exciting for them and I was lucky to get to ask them some questions that pertain to who they are, what they did and why they did it! Here is an interview I had with Phil Tibitoski, CEO and community manager of Young Horses Games:
First off, what made you guys go with “Young Horses” for your company name?
It was at GDC 2011 that we decided to form the studio and as of that first decision we were in search of a name for the company. It was inside a Chinese food place near our university that John Murphy, one of our designers, suggested the name Young Horses. His reasoning and what we now run with is that we’re young, slightly rebellious, and playful people who like to create games that delight.
What inspired you to get into game design; and ultimately lead you to the creation of Octodad?
I’m not fond of the fact that my own reasons are the norm for why someone would get into game development, as I’ve heard more varied stories from other people with more interesting backgrounds. However, the basic thing is that I’ve played games since I was 3 years old and have always loved them. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is what made me first wonder how video games were created, and was the first time I looked through the credits wondering exactly what each person did. What was programming exactly? etc.
The thing that led me to aid in the creation of Octodad, along with 18 others, was applying to an extra-curricular program to create a game for the Independent Games Festival. Luck would have it that our team was made up of an equal amount of like/not-like minded people which created just the right amount of strife and cooperation.
What exactly made you guys go for such a particular concept as an Octopus trying to avoid suspicion of his true nature to his family/everyone?
Seth our audio guy has explained this before in a pretty concise way, “We had pitched for three days of basic ideas…one page pitches. So…we split up into teams of three and four and basically sat around for an entire day, banging our heads against the wall, trying to come up with eight-page pitches to bring back to the team… John Murphy, one of the artists and I were in a group together and we were like, ‘okay lets just go crazy.’ Somebody said something that reminded me of Descartes so I was like, ‘what if you were kind of a passenger in your own body?’ And then someone was like, ‘what if you were driving your own body?’ ‘What if you’re a guy inside a robot and you were driving them?’ ‘What if you’re an octopus in your head?’ ‘Well, what if you’re just an octopus?’ And that was how it happened.”
The film “Being John Malkovich” was also drawn upon for initial inspiration. The idea that no one knew you were an octopus came about from how funny it was that obviously Octodad isn’t human. The absurdity of it all was a driving force in a lot of decisions. We wanted to express the feeling of being clumsy and being out of place or other. We wanted players to feel that way.
Prior to the kickstarter, how did you feel about the success in popularity Octodad garnered with loads of people and Youtube Let’s Players?
Prior to the Kickstarter campaign we were happy with the reception the game had received. However, we were still unsure as to whether we could ever sell a full “pro” version of Octodad, or that we could actually create such a thing. It was daunting, but the Kickstarter forced us to commit to the project since we had backers who were depending on us to deliver.
How chaotic was working with a gameplay focusing on wacky physics? Were there strange glitches or bugs that you had to fix because they were a tad too much?
Besides the normal struggles of game development the physics of the game were something we had to fight with throughout all of development. You can see some of our trials with the physics of Octodad the character in this video:
How would you say the two and a half years it took to complete Octodad changed or improved in terms of experience and dynamics for the team?
I think one thing we learned throughout the project, and are still learning, is that the team building required to keep us together and motivated never really ends. Teamwork and studio culture are things we’re always looking to improve.
If there were something you would change with the Octodad games that you thought would improve it, what would that be?
In my opinion with Dadliest Catch we spent too much time attempting to make the game exciting in the traditional sense. The end of the game comes to a sort of climax that doesn’t always feel like it’s a fitting thing for the Octodad universe. We potentially could have stuck with every day situations and circumstances rather than an aquarium cafeteria blowing up or attempting a stealth MGS level.
We did go back and try to adjust as much as we could after we realized our mistake, but that was post-release and something we didn’t understand until the game was out.
One of the biggest features that you’ve offered is the PC version’s Steam Workshop; has there been any fan made content that made you chuckle or got your interest?
There have been a couple funny levels, but my favorite is one called The BIG Squidowski where a modder recreated The Big Lebowski bowling alley in game with some interesting stuff to do.
The experience you guys have had; starting as a bunch of Uni students and putting out the first Octodad and becoming a finalist for the Independent Games Festival, must have been humbling. What did you guys learn throughout your journey so far?
The biggest thing I believe we learned is to be as self-aware as possible. I think one of our strengths as a team is our unrelenting self reflection as a studio to improve on all that we do as best we can. Being honest and empathetic with each other is important, and being aware of what’s going on in the industry has helped inform our various decisions that led us to where we are today.
With Octodad’s impeding release on the Xbox One and WiiU, what other plans do you have for our beloved Cephlapod father? Or maybe something entirely new?
Other than the ports we’re currently working on we don’t have any big new plans for Octodad just yet. Our next game isn’t Octodad related as we’re looking to branch out a little and see if we can escape being a one trick pony. We love Octodad, but it’s all we’ve known for like 4 years and we’re ready for a break. Our goal as a studio is to explore new and weird things that can be done with games while telling stories that people can relate to.
Are there any plans to work with other companies on some other form of collaborative efforts?
Not currently, though we did just release an Octodad costume for LittleBigPlanet 3!
If you guys were to create a completely different game, what would be the genre, theme and context and why?
We know all these things as we’re working on a new game right now. The only thing I can currently say is that we’re aiming for it to make you feel weird. (Which is almost always our goal.)
Finally, if you had any advice for budding new developers or teams to hit the industry, what would you suggest?
Be kind. Treat people like people. Make what you want, but be aware of what others perceptions of those creations are. For better or worse I think knowing what others think of what you do is helpful as long as you accept it and grow.