After digging into the demo at PAX East, I decided I wanted to get in touch with someone from the Octodad: Dadliest Catch team to talk more about the project and its development. A few emails with Young Horses’ CEO and Community Manager Phil Tibitoski lead me to Kevin Geisler.
Kevin Geisler is a Producer and Programmer at Young Horses working on Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Dadliest Catch is the official sequel to the original Octodad, a game that started out as a student project at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.
Mr. Geisler was kind enough to sit down and chat with me about this crazy game and how things are moving along in regards to its development.
What is Octodad: Dadliest Catch?
Octodad is a strange beast. In this game, players play an Octopus who is husband to a human wife and father to human children. They must use unique controls to move Octodad about a single day, with flashbacks, while concealing the fact that he’s an octopus from his family. Limbs are controlled independently, so walking and interacting with objects in the environment is deliberately challenging. That translates to a really unique take on in-game mechanics.
So, for instance, slipping a wedding ring onto your patient future wife’s finger is cause for hilarity, alarm and challenge.
Octodad was originally a small game built as a student project. But, the former students that now make up Young Horses always knew they wanted it to be something a little bigger. “It started at GDC, the GDC after we were one of the IGF Student Showcase winners,” Geisler started out. That was in 2011. “We always had the mindset when we were competing for the IGF that we might take it further as a company. By that point it felt like we got a lot of positive feedback for the game and a lot of press.”
“We decided to actually try to do something with it.” There were 18 or 19 people working on the game, and they needed to scale that back in order to make the future Octodad: Dadliest Catch a manageable thing. So, they did, and that’s how they formed Young Horses. But, more on that in a bit.
Below the Silly is Something Oddly Scary and Sad
Octodad: Dadliest Catch will have a complete story. The team will explore a full day in Octodad’s life. They will investigate his backstory and force him, and gamers, to visit an aquarium with his family.
I told Geisler that I felt that Octodad: Dadliest Catch was silly in its premise and basic mechanics, but that there’s also this really dark layer below all of that. He agreed. “The first game we did, we didn’t talk about [Octodad’s] past, really. So, with this one, we actually develop his character through his past and through his struggles as well as having more of a family challenge.”
At the aquarium, Octodad will struggle “with being in an environment that he’s familiar with, and there’s kind of this backstory that’s sad and touching on top of this stuff that’s hilarious.”
Octodad is an imposter. He wants the life of a human, he wants the love of a wife and he wants to watch his children grow up. To earn those seemingly simple things, Octodad has to go to great lengths of pretending. Just like Octodad’s personal fear of being outed, Geisler shared with me that the Young Horses team feels sort of the same way.
We’ll touch on this again later, but Geisler says that “we’ve got this imposter’s syndrome going on: are we actually good enough to make this game?” That line connects the hopeful developers to the hopeful human protagonist of Dadliest Catch. Is he good enough to fool his family into loving him, and are these young programmers, writers and artists good enough to share a genuine version of their vision with gamers?
The Team Behind the Game
Geisler is one of eight people working on Octodad: Dadliest Catch. As Producer and Programmer, as he explained, he “is in charge of actually getting the project developed.”
“…I’ll run the product schedule and help decide technologies, as well as create the features for the designers and artists.” As for the rest of Young Horses? “We have eight people,” Geisler responded. “For the most part, we all have full time day jobs outside of this project. But two of the guys, Kevin Zuhn and Chris Stallman, are actually working full time on the project, and we are, essentially, subsidizing their living expenses while they get to work on the game full time.”
This is a small team who, in most cases, are working on an ambitious little project with what free time they can spare. When they aren’t at their day jobs, they’re at home in their office. “We’re actually working out of our apartment. We have this makeshift office in the dining room where we all have desks set up, and we can work together. Three of us live together in the office, and then two others actually live across the hall in the same apartment complex.”
Insert your best Friends joke here.
“And then two others live probably about 10 to 20 minutes away, still in Chicago. Then we have one other, our Sound Artist, who lives in Ottawa, IL, which is a few hours from Chicago.” These are all young guys with, as Geisler told me, an average age of about 24 or 25. Apart from Geisler’s personal experience as an intern at Activision, they don’t have much when it comes to time spent developing and shipping commercial games.
That’s where the fear comes in.
Fear of an Inside Joke
If there’s one big thing that I gleaned from Geisler during our discussion about what Young Horses is concerned over, it’s that Octodad: Dadliest Catch simply won’t catch on.
Geisler explained that the team making the game represents a very specific slice of the gaming world. He explained that they’re all young, dedicated gamers, but that they are making Octodad for everyone. “We lucked out pretty well with [Kickstarter],” Geisler said of the game’s successful funding on the platform that helps indies get to work on whatever it is they’re selling. Octodad’s sequel ran on Kickstarter before Double Fine broke the mold and shattered records with their adventure game, so the Young Horses team was ecstatic by the fans who backed the game and brought them over their $20,000 goal.
“Essentially, we didn’t have much to show beyond the original game and some ideas about where we wanted to take the next one. We were able to make a pitch and do pretty well for the time.”
$24,000, the number they actually hit, might not sound like much when it comes to making a game. However, Kickstarter was about more than just the money earned. Kickstarter helped build a community for Octodad, especially as their project garnered support from more famous indie developers like Markus “Notch” Persson of Minecraft and Mojang fame.
That support, though, was not enough to ease Young Horses’ collective anxiety. “We’re always kind of doubting ourselves, even though there are people saying ‘oh, it’s great!’ and ‘you should just release it now,’” Geisler told me. “We, on the other hand, are kind of perfectionists. We worry about whether or not the game is good enough yet, are people going to get tired of it? If we mess up the launch, will people be interested later on?”
“We look at other indie games, and it’s hard to tell if we’re taking on too much or if we’re not doing enough.”
While Geisler put nothing but modesty on display, I asserted that there’s really a special buzz surrounding Octodad: Deadliest Catch. These are my words, not his, but I genuinely think that the Young Horses team is onto something seriously special. Octodad is a concept with some interesting layers to it.
It’s a straightforward game with unique controls, it delivers a huge dose of humor and it’s unlike anything else being developed.Young Horses might be afraid that Octodad: Dadliest Catch will suffer the fate of being a far too inside joke, but I sit on the opposite end of the spectrum: this game is hilarious, and everyone thinks so.
It’s Working, Slowly But Surely
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is being built in order to make people happy.
When I asked Geisler what the team sees as their pillar for development, he explained that the game’s humorous aspect keeps them focused. Even more than that, the game’s mechanics help. “We could have humorous writing and good characters, but I think that’s all strengthened by the actual mechanics and doing something different…Having people play the game, talk about the game while they play it and to see them laughing is a really good feeling.”
Young Horses have January of 2014 on their calendars as a potential release window, but Geisler told me that locking down a date has been tough. While January is hopefully the latest date for the game’s release, Geisler said he doesn’t want to disappoint fans with a missed release window.
On a personal note, I’m really looking forward to Octodad: Dadliest Catch. While playing the game at PAX East, watching its trailers and flipping through its screenshots, I found myself sporting the goofiest smile ever. That, to me, is a really good sign.
You can learn more about Octodad: Dadliest Catch by heading to the game’s official site.