The last time I spoke to the happy-go-lucky crew of Young Horses, they were getting ready for the Independent Games Festival, where their debut game, Octodad, had just been named one of the event’s Student Showcase finalists. Octodad fell short of taking home the Student Showcase award, but the overall positive experience was enough for the game’s crew to carry on together towards their next endeavor.
That group of DePaul University students have since banded together to form Young Horses. One of their first goals is to bring Octodad back for an encore. Thus Young Horses started up a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for development. The campaign was successful, bringing in well over the target goal of $20,000 with days to spare.
With Octodad 2’s development on track, it looks like now is as good a time as any to check back in with the fun-loving team at Young Horses. They were more than happy to talk about Octodad 2, its ongoing development, their experience with Microsoft’s Kinect, and when everyone’s favorite patriarchal cephalopod will make his triumphant return.
IGC: Last time you spoke with us, Octodad was just starting to make himself known to PC gamers. Here we are, over six months and several awards later. Were you surprised by the positive response that the first Octodad game received?
Phil Tibitoski (Programmer): Releasing a game is kind of like how I imagine it would be to send your kid to school on their own for the first time. You’re nervous as to whether any of the other kids will like them and you really don’t know what to do with all of your new-found free time. This causes you to just worry constantly for a while until they finally come back home at the end of the day. With Octodad, it was like our kid went to Kindergarten and came back having both invented cold fusion, made the football team, and gotten a sweet date to prom. So yeah, we were pretty surprised.
IGC: With Octodad 2 on the way, where does Octodad’s story go from here?
Kevin Zuhn (Project Lead): There’s so much left we have to explore with the world of Octodad, be it different places or different times. Octodad 1 was a look at the Dad’s daily life (yes, even the part where his dining room was on fire) but in the sequel, we want to see his life when it gets complicated. There are challenges that face a father and challenges that face an octopus. There are those times when the Octo and the Dad are at odds. There are public places with lots of smashable objects stacked on top of each other. Our silly cephalopod will stumble through them all! Not only that, but we do want to explore many of the insane questions that we brought up the first time, such as ‘How did Octodad become a Dad?’, ‘What’s up with that Sushi Chef?’ and ‘Where does Octodad get all his neckties?’
IGC: Gameplay-wise, what can players expect to see in Octodad 2 that might be different from the first game, if anything?
John Murphy (Producer): It’s pretty early in the prototyping process, and nothing is for sure yet. You can see some of our super-rough early prototypes in the Kickstarter video. We don’t want to spoil anything yet, so for now, if you want to think about potential new features, just ask yourself “what awesome, hilarious octopus-themed gameplay could a dad experience,” and your imagination will probably take you to similar places to those that we’re currently exploring.
IGC: When we first spoke back in January, you were all young students from DePaul University in Chicago. Now here you all are, having branched out to form your own studio. What challenges have you faced in forming Young Horses?
Devon Scott-Tunkin (Programmer): Many cutely sized challenges have reared their terrifyingly adorable heads over the last year while forming our studio. Getting all of the people together that were really passionate about making a sequel was no small task. We really wanted to remain independent on this project, so finding a little bit of funding was daunting, but luckily Kickstarter was a perfect fit for us and we met our fundraising goal without issue. But really it’s been a lot of small things: managing the time of everyone when people have all sorts of day jobs/schedules and sleeping habits, finding a convenient office/home, computers exploding, agreeing on pizza toppings, strangers living in our basement, and getting the bank to convert all of our Kickstarter money to pennies so we can swim around like some sort of Scrooge McDad.
IGC: Now that you’ve had a full game’s worth of experience, what lessons did you take away from the first Octodad game that are helping you along towards creating the second?
Kevin Geisler (Gameplay/Audio/Visual Programmer): One of the core goals we have for the sequel is to really nail down a polished experience. With the original, the deadline was pretty short, so a lot of areas didn’t quite get the attention they needed. In particular, we’re working on having much better in-game feedback and guidance so that players don’t feel so frustrated. We are also aiming to improve our graphical presentation with a fresh art style, in-game cutscenes, and UI to really give the game a professional look. Since the scale is is a lot larger this time, we’ve also been working on building up a custom editor that makes iteration and content creation much quicker.
IGC: One thing that you guys had a lot of fun with was a Kinect tech demo for Octodad that you showed off at GDC. How easy is Kinect to work with and can you see yourselves making a full-fledged Kinect version of Octodad?
Phil Tibitoski (Programmer): Working with the technical aspect of the Kinect was not nearly as difficult as we initially thought it might be due to the awesome open source tools we used (NITE/PrimeSense). The real challenge came in designing a control scheme that would reward movements that we interpret as intentional and separating those from the unintentional idle stances that people tend to have.
As such a small studio, we need to make sure we don’t get overexcited and tackle too many things at once. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin at the expense of quality. We’re currently completely focused on finishing the PC/Mac version of Octodad 2, but we’re open to the idea of creating a full-on Kinect port with special Kinect features/game modes. That will depend on our ability to find the right partnership to bring the game to a console, as well as the success of the PC/Mac game.
IGC: One of the biggest challenges in creating any kind of comedy sequel is keeping things funny. Have you had any trouble so far in keeping the game’s humor fresh? Or do you feel like you guys are a long way from hitting that wall?
Kevin Zuhn (Project Lead): If anything, we have a crisis of too much humor! It was that way with Octodad 1 and it’s already happening on Octodad 2, we have too many funny ideas to stuff into one game. The members of the team all have different comedy stylings whether it be absurdist, situational, stand-up, or slapstick, and we fight constantly about which jokes would be funniest to include. We’re liable to start a laugh riot. Some of us are really into puns. Really, as long as we can keep up the silly atmosphere of our team, and never stop joking with each other, I don’t think we’ll hit the wall on humor.
IGC: Last time, I asked about the difficulties of marketing a character like Octodad and since then, you’ve hit the world with hilarious trailers and Octodad merchandise. There’s still a chunk of the gaming population that doesn’t know about Octodad, so are there any other ways that Young Horses plans to spread the word about Octodad 2 and the character, in general?
John Murphy (Producer): We’re going to create a huge Octodad-shaped balloon fill it with hydrogen gas, fly it over a major city, and see what happens. But really, we’re going to keep asking all of our successful game developer friends about useful guerrilla marketing strategies, stay active in the various communities of people who love to play and make games, and spread the word in as many ways as we can think of. We’ve also talked about various partnerships and other media that Octodad could get his tentacles into.
IGC: Finally, on a lighter note, since nobody wanted to claim it, what happens to the life-sized Octodad costume from the Kickstarter campaign now?
John Murphy (Producer): I think we did a bad job of making it clear that we were going to make a new costume to fit the person who donated in order to get it. The one in the picture is the one that is tailored to fit me, so I’ll keep using it for various promotional jokes and when I go on first dates.
IGC: It’s always a pleasure, guys! Do you have a target release date for Octodad 2 yet?
Phil Tibitoski (Programmer): Right now we’re saying Summer next year. It’d be nice if we could get it out for Father’s Day!
IGC: Thank you, everyone at Young Horses, for talking to us about Octodad 2!
For those that own the original Octodad, be sure to download the free update that includes two new levels. These levels will tie up the story of the first Octodad and build some anticipation for the sequel. Indie Games Channel will continue to follow the progress of Young Horses, as they move towards Octodad 2 and beyond.
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