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Octodad's fight for fun over frustration Exclusive
 Octodad 's fight for fun over frustration
November 13, 2013 | By Mike Rose

November 13, 2013 | By Mike Rose
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More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

"People perceive the game as difficult, or as frustrating, which I don't really like. I like to think of it as being very different than what you're used to."

Philip Tibitoski, co-founder and president of Octodad: Dadliest Catch studio Young Horses, was part of the original student team that created the free version of Octodad back in 2010, which acted as a springboard for the upcoming full release.

The first game was made in around five months by a team of about 18 people, and saw players taking controls of an octopus who is living a lie -- a father to a family that don't know his true form. The controls are ridiculous to a hilarious degree, and completing mundane tasks is made far more tricky that you'd expect.

As Tibitoski noted in a video interview with Gamasutra, "it wasn't necessarily the best we thought we could do - it was just what we thought we could do within that space of time."

But once press outlets and players started picking up on the student project, and it became obvious that there was a spark that was really capturing attentions, a studio peeled off from the project and began working on a full game based on the original prototype.

"There was a lot of stuff that we wanted to fix in a way, because some of the problems with the first game were not in any way intention," says Tibitoski. "But we definitely wanted to keep with it being an awkward, funny, weird experience, and we wanted to keep the controls in the same kind of way."

It was cleaning up and expanding on the original release that the Young Horses team was aiming for - "to get rid of the frustration that we didn't intend to have, and make it a little bit more smooth and intuitive, but still be about him trying to manage his physical movement, while trying to do these things that are usually seen as simple."

It was in expanding on the original concept where the team began hitting its first stumbling blocks. Turning a half an hour experience into four hours led the devs astray numerous times, in terms of what the game should play like.

Notes Tibitoski, "We ended up creating these levels that were a little too 'gamey' for Octodad - even getting into platformer territory sometimes. We had to kind of reel ourselves back, and say no - this game is about mundane situations, and making that funny."

"It was really easy to want to make spaces that were more exciting than their real-life counterparts," he continues. "For example, in the aquarium, which is a pretty big section of the game, a lot of the exhibits might start to get a little large and unrealistic... we just ran into a lot of trouble with people playing the game, and it being way too hard."

Hence, with Dadliest Catch, the Young Horses team is looking to move away from Octodad being perceived as a frustrating toy, "and more trying to cover that up with the charm of the character, and having a lengthy story and stuff like that - we just weren't able to really pull that off with the first game in the way we wanted to."

octodad 1.jpgThis was another sticking point -- the first Octodad had a short story to it, but most players were focused on the crazy controls and trying to overcome the protagonist's movement, and thus focused less on the tale of his life and woes.

"In this one, we wanted to make it so that we could tell this full-on story, and get that across to people," says the dev, "because that's part of the game that we think is really important, that I don't think we got to extenuate as much with the first game."

Of the player focus on the controls, he notes that, "You go into a first person shooter, and if you've ever played a first-person shooter before, you have a pretty good idea of how to play this one. With our game, you're thrown into the deep end with something you've probably never done before as far as controlling a character in a game goes."

That's why Young Horses decided from early into development that teaching how to play Octodad from scratch was going to be an important part of the experience, otherwise people might just not "get it."

Adds Tibitoski, "We box you into that first part of the first level, and say, 'You're not getting out of this room until you know what you're doing to some extent.' But once you've got it going, you hear from a lot of people 'Oh, this is actually pretty intuitive - I'm surprised that I'm controlling it as well as I am.' People often surprise themselves with how quickly they learn how to move him around."

As such, if there are other developers planning to enter this "QWOP-like" space of games with silly controls, Tibitoski offers the following: "Be prepared for that backlash initially, of people saying 'This is impossible, why would you do something like this.' I think we've worked through it, and since then it has, to our surprise, gotten larger than we thought it would."

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