Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Young Horses

Season’s greetings, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. Today’s guests are Young Horses, the people behind the hilarious Octodad, and its sibling-in-gestation: Dadliest Catch. They’re a group of ex-students from DePaul University in Chicago, and a great bunch of folks while they’re at it. While these interviews usually take place with a solitary member of staff, Young Horses teamed up together to tackle my lines of investigation as an eight-pronged attack force. There’s a tentacle joke in there somewhere. Be sure to add it in the comments!

Who are you, and what’s your role in Young Horses?
My name is Kevin Geisler, and I am a producer and programmer.
How did you get started in the industry?
We all went to school together at DePaul University in Chicago, which is how the game originated. For the past few years, we’ve been honing our skills in game development in some way or another. In the interim between working on Octodad the student project and Octodad: Dadliest Catch, I took on a programming position with Activision. Even though it was just an internship, I feel like that experience has helped a lot to shape our approach with development and, in particular, how to avoid many of the pitfalls that large teams end up enduring.
The controls in the first release were notoriously difficult, reflective of any cephalopod’s paternal difficulties. Are there plans to make things any more straightforward?
The whole purpose of the controls has always been to convey the difficulties of an octopus trying to be a normal human father. Still, there were a lot of technical issues in the first game that caused unintentional frustration. We’re keeping the awkwardly hilarious controls while fixing a lot of the bugs where the player had felt unfairly cheated. We’ve also been adding automated cameras and better UI cues so that players can concentrate more on completing the challenges at hand.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Young Horses
Seven men, one disembodied head. Ladies and gentlemen: Young Horses
Who are you, and what’s your role in Young Horses?
I’m John Murphy. I’m a designer and an overly-sincere troll.
Where does the name ‘Young Horses’ originate?
We’re young, silly and playful. We’re sometimes cute and sometimes beautiful. We’re sometimes rambunctious and want to break rules. Some of us have, have had, or would like to have long flowing manes. Also, this YouTube video.
What has changed from the first game?
One of the things that I’m excited about, and that people who have been playtesting the sequel seem to be excited about, is how much more stuff there is to play with and to destroy. Also, the story is all-new (with just enough from the first story to initiate new players), and is just incredible.
Who are you, and what’s your role in Young Horses?
I’m Kevin Zuhn, Creative Director of Octodad: Dadliest Catch and resident troglodyte.
What’s a day in your life like?
I work full time on Octodad, with occasional side jobs. The Young Horses office is also the apartment where I live, so that means I don’t leave much. I roll out of my bed and onto the internet at about 7 am. Every morning I have a stockpile of websites to browse, and I’ll read every article and play every new game that I can. I need a lot of momentum when getting into my work, so I like to have this winding up period of morning entertainment for several hours. I start working on the game at 10 am. My work lately involves fixing and rebuilding levels, and making an endless stream of art assets. I’ll take an extended lunch break to cook up something nice and maybe read a little more. On an easy day I’ll work until 7pm, and stop when my girlfriend calls me. On a hard day, after talking to her I’ll jump right back into work until I fall asleep at midnight. Assuming Chris (our lead Artist) is around, I’ll spend a good amount of time in discussion with him on our direction (in these talks, the two of us perpetually circle our kitchen table clockwise). On days where I’m alone, I’ll just sit by myself with radio shows and talky television to occupy my brain during the tedious parts of modeling and design. Nights and weekends, more of the team is around, so I can spend some time talking to them about what they’re up to, and participating in much larger discussions (wherein we don’t circle the table, but sit around on couches).
What has changed from the first game?
There are a lot of new mechanics in the world! The first game mostly had physics boxes, spheres, and doors. But now we can play with jointed ropes, wheels, springs, slippery surfaces, wind forces and more. Our environments are larger and smoother now, as well. You can shamble across Octodad’s house without having to load each room as a separate level!
How did the team work to give Dadliest Catch its own distinct style? I heard somewhere that it was the eighties imitating the fifties, yet taking place in the future. Where does that leave us artistically and perhaps more importantly, temporally?
Temporally, Octodad the character exists in a timeless world where the fifties never really ended. The values and styles of that time, most specifically the concept of the nuclear family, never died out. There are a lot of anachronisms in Octodad, such as flat screen televisions and self checkout stations, which we chalk up to the march of progress in technology and modern convenience. If Octodad‘s world was like ours, though, the current storyline would take place in the 70s.
Chris Stallman, Lead Artist, jumps in here to give us the low-down on the art direction:
Artistically we are attempting to capture the design sense of the 1950s, pulling inspiration from their ads, product design, and architecture. That is our starting point in everything we do. Yet, if something calls for a VHS player or some other piece of technology that wasn’t available in the 50s, we do our best to make it look like it was from that time. Really, it comes down to having a huge folder of images from the 1950s with ads and photos to use as a spring board into whatever is getting worked on.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Young Horses
Phil closes up the stable after a hard day’s work.
Who are you, and what’s your role in Young Horses?
I’m Phil Tibitoski, President of Young Horses. I handle PR/Community Management and I’m also President, so I handle business stuff when needed as well.
Tell me about your team, Phil. Who are these Young Horses?
The Young Horses are a group of wily youngins straight out of college who want to make games on their terms. We’re currently a team of eight developers who love working together and basically live on jokes as if they were some sort of deranged mother’s milk.
What’s the development community like in Chicago? Has the presence of DePaul nurtured a circle of indie operations?
The community in Chicago went through some rough times in recent past due to the closing of Midway, and other big studios nearby who were forced to cut down on their work force. Lately though, we’ve seen a total resurgence and a lot of hope coming out of the community. As far as I know the two operations that have come from DePaul include us and The Men Who Wear Many Hats who created Organ Trail for iOS/Android.
There are other independent groups that have also been doing well like RagTag Studio and their game Unstoppable Fist, or Sinister Design with Telepath RPG: Servants of God. Honestly it’s beginning to get a little difficult to keep track of all the indies in the area, but there’s also a few indies who’ve recently popped up from the Midway crash like RobomodoIron Galaxy, andPhosphor. We all help each other out whenever we can and I believe we’re growing the community in a way many haven’t seen before in the Chicago area.
So, how was your first Indie Megabooth experience?
The Indie Megabooth is something to behold. We had a ton of fun with all the other developers and would not have been able to pull off nearly as awesome of a setup without all the collective effort. Our booth was packed all three days, and everyone who played the game walked away with a smile on their face. I think all in all we had a great show!
That’s great to hear! You were exhibiting Dadliest Catch, the sequel to the hilariousOctodad. Can you tell us more about it?
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is our bigger and better version of Octodad. We’re looking to raise the bar in all areas of the game and overall provide the best experience we can put together for players. The game is going to be released on PC, Mac, and Linux mid to late 2013 with a brand new story. We hope to have it on Steam, and it’s actually part of the Greenlight program right now. The more up-votes we receive the more likely we are to get the game on Steam!
Back to Chris Stallman, Lead Artist.
What is the hardest thing about being an independent team? And what is the most rewarding?
Getting everyone together in one room to work on anything is very hard. Since the majority of the team has full time jobs, scheduling is a nightmare. For a majority of the day, the office is empty save for one or two people. The weekend is really the only time we can all get together, but social events can complicate that. It boils down to the unfortunate reality that most of the team can’t work on the game full time. While that may be remedied for our future projects, we’ll just have to do the best we can for Octodad and his family.
The most rewarding thing about working as an independent team is being able to have direct input into all aspects of the game. Really, anyone on the team has the choice to be as big or little a part in how the final game turns out. From programmers making art and giving music advice, to artists and designers trading hats, it allows for team members to be completely invested in the game, not just doing their ‘designated’ job.
Who are you, and what’s your role in Young Horses?
I’m Seth, Sound design and Music composition.
Finally, what’s your most prized videogame possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back?
My most prized video game item is probably my Nintendo 64. I have pumped so many damn hours into that system that it’s not even funny. It’s hard to pick a game to go along with that, but I’ll go with NBA Hangtime. My reasons for choosing this game are many, but it’s mostly because it had John Koncak as a playable character. Also, you could do dunks and grab your crotch. He just looked incredibly funny doing it.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is still in development. You can vote for it on Steam Greenlight here.

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