Did you get a chance to read my last editorial about independent developers and comedy based videogaming? Of course you did! (If not, check it out here. I’ll wait for you). Shortly after the editorial posted I got to catch up with the creative director of Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Young Horses, Inc’s own Kevin Zuhn.
What led you to do a comedy based game?
Zuhn: When we started as a group of students, we had a pretty rigorous pitching process and no ideas were off the table. But we’re silly people and I think we’re drawn to the sillier ideas. We want to have fun making our games, and it could be that’s easier working with comedy!
Did the idea for Octodad come from gameplay mechanics?
Zuhn: The original pitch for Octodad was inspired by a video of Jurassic Park: Trespasser, which had phenomenally wonky arm physics. The core of the game idea was the unusual controls and bumbling physics! To excuse that gameplay style the main character was an octopus in a human robot suit. In that sense, the mechanics and the story were always directly related.
There are a lot of great observations of being a father in Octodad. Did you find it difficult to balance the more touching aspects of the game with the more comedic parts of the game?
Zuhn: The great thing about Octodad is that there’s more to him than slapstick buffoonery. When we started Dadliest Catch, we knew that the story would dip into sad and heartfelt moments (the tank scene was something we imagined at the beginning). There’s always something both sad and funny about Octodad, so the balance came through pretty naturally.
We did have to take great care when writing the family, Scarlet in particular, to make sure that they didn’t come off as antagonists even when they were in conflict with Octodad. They’re Octodad’s heart. Any level that didn’t have the family in it needed to be extra comedic to make up for that missing heart.
How did being a smaller development group affect the comedic style of Octodad, versus if you were a major developer?
Zuhn: On a small game like Octodad it’s easy for each of us to have a voice. You can hear John Murphy’s (Young Horses Level Designer) penchant for marine science puns all over the aquarium, or Majdi Badri’s (Young Horses Level Designer and Writer) rambling stories told through Octodad’s children. There are jokes crammed into Octodad‘s environment art, and I’d say his body physics are a comedic expression of our tech team.
The other result of having a small team is that we fought a lot. By our rules, any piece of the game was up for critique by anybody, so we spent a lot of meetings arguing about which jokes we thought were too lame or crass. That kind of open critique definitely forced us to sharpen our collective wits!
Did you find the process of creating a game that made people laugh problematic?
Zuhn: The biggest problem with a comedy game is that it’s really hard to test whether humor is working without finished assets. Octodad throwing a gray box is not nearly as funny as Octodad throwing a wedding cake! But thinking on it that’s how most creative work goes!
Are you likely to stay in comedy or is Young Horses looking to branch out on their next effort?
Zuhn: I said before, we’re silly people and we like silly ideas. We don’t want to chain ourselves to comedy, we’d be happy to branch out if we have a compelling enough idea, but I have a feeling that humor will seep its way back into anything we do.
Do you expect the comedy market to grow in videogaming with the rise of independent developers?
Zuhn: Comedy games definitely seem to be growing again, especially with the aid of youtube playthroughs. I don’t think they ever truly left, but they certainly haven’t been the face of the industry in decades. But now the market is expanding in every direction, and indies are at the forefront.
Do you think that Octodad will help expand the market?
Zuhn: Octodad may not be the biggest comedy game of the year, but I think every little bit helps. The more comedy games there are, the more we break the perception that games don’t do comedy.
Zuhn, Kevin. Young Horses Interview Tom Surette. 18 06 2014. Email excahnge .