I just played the best dad and octopus simulator on the market. And no, they weren’t two separate games. Octodad: Dadilest Catch is a game where you play as an octopus masquerading as a husband and father of two. Everyone in the game is oblivious to the fact that you’re an octopus – which is comically obvious – with the exception of the antagonist of the game, who’s life ambition to expose the titular character for what he really is; an octopus. In addition to accurately portraying what it would be to live life as an octopus, the game is also extremely funny, the main draw of the game.
Octodad is solely a comedy game, meaning that there is little to no action or violence. All of the game’s objectives center around dad-like tasks that make please your family – pour juice for your daughter, grill up a few burgers, mow the lawn, etc. The comedy mainly comes from the games controls. As you can imagine, being an octopus and trying to accomplish these
objectives isn’t the easiest thing to do. You try to grab a coffee mug and you end up knocking over and breaking everything in the cabinet[i]. The narrative of the game is also funny, giving the game both scripted and interactive jokes. This is why the game works.
Writing a comedy based videogame is problematic. The interactive nature of videogames allows each player to move at their own pace; the game’s material is experienced at the speed of the player (Mackey). The same comedy game that is boring and lacking jokes for one player could be too slapstick to another person. Proper pacing is essential for setups and jokes to work, so it’s difficult for writers to develop material around a pace that’s indeterminate (Mackey). For every Psychonauts, Sam & Max, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day there is a slew of games with sophomoric humor and broken gameplay[ii].
Since videogame comedy is difficult to produce there is the feeling that comedy games need to offer something besides humor, which downgrades the importance of the genre. If a game features both comedy and action, but the action is easier to produce and would draw more players, what is more important to the developer? This waters down the role of comedy in videogames as now there is the benchmark for producing passable jokes (Mackey), which is no good for developers or consumers.
With Octodad managing to get it right, it raises the question of whether the key to videogame comedies lays with independents. With the low overhead costs of independent games the balance between creativity and profit is skewed towards creativity. This allows independents to take bigger risks as they’re not under the pressure that major developers face (Cobbett.). There is also the added incentive of producing games that would stand out because of their difference. This means it may be worth indie developer’s time and effort to break the comedic code, which could produce a new genre of funny, innovative games.
This push isn’t likely to come from major publishers as the industry has no need to deviate from formulaic, annual release games. Those games are safe, easier to produce, and have a built in audience. They’re now essentially updates of their predecessor. The graphical gap between indie and major developers is still large (Cobbett.), and with the new generation of consoles launching, it’s unlikely that publishers would invest money into a more challenging development. In addition to this, there is also the push back from major retailers against the digital push. Major developers have preexisting relationships with large retailers and would likely wait until the industry shift before focusing on digital releases, as to not upset Wal*Mart and the like as they still generate the majority of sales (Irwin.).
The digital age has brought us into the golden years for independents. Publishing and marketing for developers is both inexpensive and widely available, allowing independent games to be both known and experienced by almost anyone. Smaller development teams are bringing in more income and attracting more creative talent to independent development (Irwin.). This could lead to more experie
nced game designers leaving larger ventures and try their hand at creating more personal ideas and concepts. The conditions are present for independents to forever change the industry. Just as independent film has forever changes the film industry, independent developers can create new and innovative IPs and genres.
This all means that Octodad: Dadliest Catch could be one of the firsts in a new genre. It may not be the game that everyone is talking about, but that may change. The next independent developer may look at Octodad and see way to improve comedy based gaming. Who knows, maybe Young Horses, Octodad’s developer, themselves may find themselves on an anticipated games list with a sequel.
And maybe there is no answer or secret to comedy games. One thing that I learned from being a father is that you never really know what you’re doing. No one teaches you how to do it, you just need to figure it out for yourself. I’m sure this the industry will figure this problem out for themselves, too.
From Geeks with Wives, Happy Father’s day to all you Octodads out there!
EDIT: Continue this article with The Octofather Part II: Young Horses Games interview!
Resources and Further Reading
Cobbett., Richard. “Is indie gaming the future?” TechRadar. . 19 09 2010. Web. http://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/is-indie-gaming-the-future-716500#articleContent. 06 06 2014.
Irwin., Mary Jane. “Indie Game Developers Rise Up”. Forbes.com. 20 11 2008. Web. http://www.forbes.com/2008/11/20/games-indie-developers-tech-ebiz-cx_mji_1120indiegames.html. 06 06 2014.
Kelley, Kevin. “SXSW 2009: Being Indie and Successful in the Video Game Industry.” Joystiq. . 17 03 2009. Web. http://www.joystiq.com/2009/03/17/sxsw-2009-being-indie-and-successful-in-the-video-game-industry/. 06 06 2014.
Mackey, Bob. “No Laughing Matter: Making Humor Work in Games” Gamesutra. . 2014. Web. http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132586/no_laughing_matter_making_humor_.php?print=1. 06 06 2014.
[i] Speaking as a father, I can attest that isn’t too far off from the truth.
[ii] As a side note, I realize Conker’s doesn’t have sophisticated humor. What made Conker’s work was that it was a “kid’s game” but for adults, offering more than just humor. The concept of the game is not being far from if Mario 64 was developed by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I actually wish more Conker’s games were made, besides that disappointing XBOX reboot.