“Fatherhood is difficult. Especially when that father is…an octopus”
Those sentences alone should tell you all you need to know about Octodad, a freeware PC game currently taking the student and indie game scene by storm. Developed at DePaul University in Chicago, the game puts you in control of a “loving father, caring husband and secret octopus”.
The gameplay is made up of menial household tasks like cleaning a kitchen and killing bugs but the purposefully complex and unwieldy mouse controls truly makes the player understand how hard to must be for an octopus to be a dad.
Add in a villainous sushi chef, plenty of visual non-sequiturs and a final “boss” challenge brilliant in its simplicity, and it is easy to understand why many find Octodad to be so fascinating.
To get to the bottom of this madness I decided to talk to two of the driving forces behind Octodad: Executive Producer John Murphy and Project Lead/Writer Kevin Zuhn.
Jordan Minor: How did you come up with the premise and the controls for Octodad? Did one influence the other?
Kevin Zuhn: The story we tell is that a few of our team members got inspired watching gameplay footage of Jurassic Park: Trespasser, and the hideously bad arm control physics in it gave them the notion that we could make a game about bad arm control on purpose.
They decided to justify the mechanic by saying that you were an octopus attempting to blend in to human society. So at the beginning, you could say the ridiculous story was spun around the ridiculous mechanics in order to ease the player's minds.
However, once we had a grasp on our setting and characters, the situation somewhat reversed. We would start with situations like "Funny things to do in a kitchen" and then work out how the gameplay would go from there.
Minor: What experience did the team have in game design before making Octodad?
John Murphy: Well, most of the team has had a couple of years of working on smaller projects. Most of the team is in their junior or senior year. Some of us are grad students in our second year, coming from non-game backgrounds.
Most of the artists are near the end of the undergraduate animation program, so some of them have worked on games before but some have not. No one on the team, except for one of our programmers who was on the team that made Devil’s Tuning Fork last year, had been on a team or project of this scale before.
Minor: How have you been reacting to the acclaim the game has been receiving? Were you expecting it?
Zuhn: We've been reacting with joy and mirth, and a feeling of sublime security that we did not waste our summer! After all, the more light that shines on Octodad, the brighter all of our futures look. We definitely did not expect acclaim or positive reactions or video playthroughs or anything, really!
We were afraid that we had made a game too bizarre to find a wider audience. Oddly enough, we absolutely expected, nay,demanded that there would be fan art of Octodad.
Minor: Do the developers still have trouble controlling Octodad?
Zuhn: With the mouse controls, you get used to them after a while, and the designers especially can zip through the game with unmatched speed and precision. Now that we've added Kinect controls, however, it's back to stumbling around like idiots for the lot of us!
Murphy: And as we try out new situations and challenges we find that even those of us who have honed our ability to wield Octodad’s body can have trouble if the bar for octo-dexterity is set high enough.
Minor: What do you have planned next? Would you return to Octodad? Have you considered putting out a more fleshed out version on Steam, XBLA or even in stores?
Murphy: We’re exploring our options for where to go with Octodad next. We’ve figured out who wants to continue with the project, so a smaller group of us who are graduating in June are starting a small game studio. We definitely want the world to see a bigger, more polished Octodad, and Steam, XBLA, and other platforms are all under consideration.
Aren't you glad they demanded that fan art?
One of the more perplexing questions surrounding Octodad is how could an octopus have human children with a human wife. I assumed Octodad had secretly replaced the family’s real father but Murphy and Zuhn say that is not the case.
Zuhn: Octodad isn't pretending to be a dad, he is totally the father of those children!
Murphy: Yeah, and being a dad is about nurturing, loving care, not genes!
You can currently download Octodad for free for PC or Mac at http://www.Octodadgame.com