George Fan, the co-creator of the phenomenal hit Plants vs. Zombies, generated some excitement last month when he announced Octogeddon, a new game he is developing at his new indie game studio, All Yes Good. The PC title is an arcade-style action game where a giant Octopus becomes angry and destroys the world.
Fan sat down with me at a cafe recently to go through the first live demo of the game, and I think the title is brilliant. The gameplay is full of Fan’s weird sense of humor while combining both fast action and strategic thought. I would expect no less from the creator of Plants vs. Zombies, a game that played a role in Electronic Arts deciding to buy PopCap Games for $650 million in 2011. The sequel, released in 2013, has been downloaded more than 25 million times.
But Fan parted ways with PopCap a while ago, and he’s bent on creating something fresh.
“We try to make everything funny and original,” said Fan, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Fan got the idea for the game during a game jam, Ludum Dare, in 2012. One person was supposed to design an entire game, from the gameplay to the art, in 48 hours.
“They gave me a theme of evolution, and I like when they give you a theme because it means everybody has to start at the same place and has to make it in 48 hours,” said Fan. “The theme of evolution made me want to start with something little and evolve it into something complicated. An Octopus with eight legs fits that.”
Fan prototyped the game with a small core team, which included a designer, a programmer, and an artist. That’s just the way that Plants vs. Zombies came to life. Fan prototyped the game on his own and then joined PopCap games, where others (Rich Werner, Tod Semple, Laura Shigihara) helped him bring it to fruition.
All Yes Good decided to announce the game a day before World Octopus Day, on October 7. The company has several former members of the PvZ creative and development team, including lead PvZ artist Werner and PvZ programmer (XBLA) Kurt Pfeifer. It plans to release the game on Steam for the PC in early 2017. The title will be available for a one-time purchase price.
In the game, players become Octogeddon, a giant mutant octopus. At the outset, Octogeddon watches a video on the Internet of a sushi chef chopping an octopus into sushi. Then, he becomes enraged and embarks on a quest to destroy the world. His first mission is to destroy the Statue of Liberty.
“We set up your goal in the game and why you want to do it,” Fan said. “Every now and then, we want you to look at your octopus and see how ridiculous it looks.”
He starts out relatively harmless, with just two tentacles. You move the arrow keys left or right to rotate the tentacles to match up against attacking objects. If you hold down an arrow key, you’ll roll forward or backward through the landscape.
Octogeddon has to use his limbs to attack items coming in at slow speeds, or he can dodge them by moving. After you complete a round, you earn some points to use toward purchasing more tentacles and new weapons to attach to yourself. Eventually, Octogeddon becomes an ultimate eight-legged killing machine, able to wipe out whole cities and those defending them. Over the course of the game, he tries to destroy a bunch of the best-known landmarks in the world.
On paper, the experience doesn’t sound like much. And it is ridiculously simple in an age of complicated video games with deep story lines. But this is about old-fashioned fun.
As you progress, you pick up the DNA of other animals along the way. You get the DNA by knocking down buildings that say “DNA” on them. And then you morph the Octopus tentacles to use the weaponry that is associated with the other animal types. A snake, for instance, spits venom. That was the first weapon I got.
Next, after I added a new limb, I acquired a lobster claw. The claw was good at grabbing and crushing projectiles, which now took the form of planes, tanks, and other missiles. I acquired porcupines, which were useful because they fired projectiles in the air. As things started coming at me from the sky, I remarked to Fan that it felt a little like Missile Command.
The difference is that you have to think strategically about shooting objects with all of your arms. If your aim is slightly off in terms of the trajectory of the object attacking you, you could miss it, and it could hit you, costing you one of your three lives. If you lose all three lives, you have to start the level over again.
Once you can shoot in multiple directions at the same time, you’ll be a much better killing machine. The objects start coming in from all directions as well, however, which makes you act like a juggler. It’s nonstop action, at least until you clear a massive wave.
You can shoot objects, such as toxic waste trucks. But when they explode, they let out toxic gas. So, you have to move Octogeddon away from that toxic cloud as quickly as you can.
At some point, you’ll have a multi-headed beast. You can use bees as a kind of homing missile to attack swarms of objects that are circling around you. The elephant snout can grab things. The chicken head can hatch eggs that move out at slow speeds but have a long range. When they come into contact with something, they explode, sort of like explosive mines. You can also use coral as a defensive measure, and you can wear a snail shell as a helmet.
Fan said his favorite was the frog, which grabs enemies out of the sky with its tongue. And once you grab them, you can swing them like the arm of a clock and then make them crash into something else.
Each kind of weapon has a different purpose, and you may want to reconfigure your animals based on what is coming in the next wave. The title features a lot of attention to detail. For instance, the lobster claws make snapping sounds. During a late-stage battle, you’ll hear a cacophony of sounds as explosions burst all around you.
As you approach the Statue of Liberty in the first quest, you run into a boss. The boss is a big machine that tries to smash you with a meat tenderizer. It also tosses butcher knives up in the air. The targets appear on the ground, and you have to move Octogeddon out of the way in order to dodge the knives. If you charge the machine enough times, you can do damage to its red eye and eventually take it out. But you have to constantly watch out for the giant tenderizer.
“We try to introduce one new useful thing in a level and one new bad thing in a level,” Fan said.
I managed to get through a couple of levels in the one-hour preview. In the second level, you make your way through Sydney, and you eventually destroy the famous opera house. But before I got there, I had to take out a giant robot kangaroo, which kept spawning baby kangaroos. I couldn’t stop playing it because it was so engrossing.
The levels have their own kind of minigames, such as one where the attackers come at you in a familiar way that resembles the classic title Centipede.
“It’s half action, about lining up your shots, and half strategy, about what kind of arms you need to defeat what is coming at you,” Fan said.
I had to fight the bosses more than once. By the end of it, I was exhausted. The game is clearly worthy of Fan’s reputation for zany fun that he established with Plants vs. Zombies. I’m looking forward to seeing more levels and clever features, and I expect we’ll have a lot of modes like Plants vs. Zombies eventually developed.