He must have been a gangly pre-teen. I am sure that he felt out of place standing a foot above everyone. He desperately looked for ways to fit in. He dressed and talked like the other kids, but still his awkwardness and clumsiness would would always make him fearful that he would reveal his true nature. He is an octopus. A true cephalopod, though he breathes air and enjoys Letterman and nachos (one could assume so at least). Years have passed, and now he has a family. A real wife. A human wife. His children are lovely, though he fears that one day they all will find out his greatest lie. He is Octodad.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch has humble beginnings as a student designed game in 2010. It garnered enough critical praise at the 2011 Independent Games Festival to catapult it into a successful Kickstarter and now a cult classic. That group of students, now developer Young Horses, set out to do something different, and succeeded. “Our goal with the original Octodad before we knew our Cephalopoda hero was to create an experience unlike anything we'd ever played or seen in games,” says Phil Tibitoski, Young Horses CEO and Community Manager. “This started with some serious brainstorming and pitching of various ideas based on the restrictions of no shooting, no platforming, no elves/dwarves/knights, and things like that. Out from this creative pressure-cooker came the idea of micro-managing a character's movements by controlling each of their limbs one at a time.”
But how did developer Young Horses know that the most appropriate avatar was an octopus? "Originally the game was about an alien inside the head of a human cyborg controlling him with levers, sort of like Men in Black,” says Tibitoski. “Then that alien became an octopus, which at some point caused us to ask ourselves why we didn't just put the octopus in the suit. From there we talked about him having a family and them not knowing he was an octopus. A lot of the plot flowed from that initial session.”
PC, Mac, Linux and PS4 users can enjoy Octodad. There is no word on Young Horses placing Octodad on other platforms anytime soon, though a free title update for existing platforms has been announced for this summer. “We've heard the cries of those who are in need of more dad, and we're here to deliver,” says Tibitoski on the Octodad website. And deliver they shall with, “over 40 new objectives, 20 breakable plates, over 0 unconscious ragdolls, an unspecified amount of new octopus sounds, and probably a pizza!”
The suit strutting octopod begins the game by getting hitched. Ah, matrimony. What a great place to start a game about being awkward and on display. Controlling Octodad is much like wearing your pants as your shirt and shirt as pants. It works as long as you don't think about too hard. But as soon as I became conscious of this things went poorly. And they indeed went poorly. As I was toppling presents and wedding cake I realized something that developer Young Horses may not have intended. I AM Octodad. That is to say, I fight his fight, to remain calm in the face of mundanity in my everyday life. I struggle to keep my overlong limbs from crashing into space, boxes and people. I have also been known to fall down for no apparent reason whatsoever. If there were a poster child for the uncoordinated, it would be I. To say the least, I get what Octodad is feeling. It reminded me of the films of Buster Keaton. A man, caught often in situations of a perceivably unremarkable origin, being tossed and thrown to an unfortunate, yet comedic result. This made more ridiculous in Octodad because you are an octopus. But that is not to say that there isn’t any empathy for the non-human hero. As he is stripped of his human trappings, laid bare with his tentacles showing we see a spark of genuine human emotion. Though anthropomorphically endowed, Octodad does leave unspecified a certain trait that would allow for procreation. I have to admit I was hoping for a Lovecraftian reveal of the fathering of his children.
Playing Octodad is a morsel of anxiety laced fun. The anxious nature of flopping about, however, never felt detrimental to the overall experience of trying to mow the lawn, cook hamburgers or swab the deck. And you do all of those things under the scrutiny of those around you, with actual dotted lines honing in your every move. While it was generally obvious how to move onto the next scene, it didn’t stop me from playing with goofiest character control system I have used. As I navigated the flashback portion of the game where our tentacled hero recalls first meeting his wife, I found myself struggling to pull an oar out the ship’s control room. What I didn’t realize was that was not at all what I was supposed to do. Though even when I realized this I did not care. As I tried to pull the oar through the door to the deck of the ship I felt like I was recreating an ancient comedy schtick, that I was a part of something greater. Or I was just an octopus trying to pull an oar perpendicular through a door. Either way it was amazing and hilarious.
While try as you might to master the menial tasks (and some not so menial), Octodad accomplishes a perfectly simple feat; it made me smile like an idiot. Try to describe this game to someone without grinning, it is nearly impossible. Try to play this game without giggling, it would be a challenge. This game oozes with a personality that is matched by a surprisingly, perhaps unintentional side effect. It shines the light on our human vulnerability. Octodad engages the basic need to be seen for who we are not just what we are.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is available on Steam and PlayStation 4. Release date for the free title update is TBA.
Day 21 | Young Horses, Inc.