Oct 23, 2013
Over the coming weeks, Gaming IQ will be publishing a fortnightly column that spotlights the latest & greatest the indie gaming developer community has to offer. Stay tuned for highlights from the most exciting and innovative indie studios!
Young Horses Games are an indie games studio based in Chicago, and pride themselves on creating unique experiences for all kinds of gamers. They have gained widespread attention in the media, and are set to make a “splash” on the indie scene.
After the success of their college title Octodad, they are now working on a sequel which is seeing release on Steam and PS4, named Octodad: Dadliest Catch. We had a chance to speak with Philip Tibitoski, who is President and CEO of Young Horses.
Philip Tibitoski: I think having some sort of education is great, but it depends on what you’re planning to do and what kind of tools you’re using to create games. In University they taught us how to do things technically, but the only way we’ve gotten better is through experience, as there’s only some things you can learn from making games.
gIQ: How much did you learn from the original that you implemented into the upcoming Octodad: Dadliest Catch?
PT: We learnt to work together as a team and communicate ideas, and make compromises when needed. Also, it was a chance to get to know one another before we got onto this bigger project. All of it is safer as it was extracurricular, and trying to get things ready for the Independent Games festival.
We had about five months to develop the first one, so it was a bit of a time crunch, so we learnt from that. When we’ve had more time, we decided on our own deadlines, and having the goal of having it done for IGF motivated us.
gIQ: The first one gained a lot of praise on the internet. How integral to Octodad’s success do you think the comedy aspects were? Would it have done as well without the humour?
PT: I don’t think so. What helped it spread and to get people to know about it was the fact it’s very watchable. Someone will do a YouTube Let’s Play, and then everyone wants to watch it because it’s funny and entertaining, and everyone has their own experience and style of moving him around.
gIQ: So, regarding the original and the sequel, what would you say is the best way to gain publicity for Indie developers? Do YouTube videos have the biggest impact?
PT: I think they had the largest impact as far as getting as many people as possible to see the game. Early on in the first game we had a guy play it, and it currently has 1.6 million views. With a download link in the description, it gained a lot of attention. It also gained more traditional attention on places like Kotaku as well, and we certainly don’t skimp on either side, as both are important.
But for reaching the most people, a Let’s Play has helped us the most. We recently had PewDiePie play Dadliest Catch Preview version and he is one of the most subscribed people on YouTube, around 11 million, and so each of those videos has around 3 million views.
gIQ: Do you find it overwhelming so many people have seen your game, with the original being a mere university project, and now you’re releasing on Steam and PS4?
PT: It’s a bit nerve racking. I mean, it’s awesome and we’re really happy with it. But it’s also interesting to have a pre-existing audience, which we never had with small school projects. This if the first time any of us have done a console game, so it’s interesting and adds pressure with the amount people have been hyping it and getting excited about it. And now we have to deliver. It’s interesting to have that kind of attention before the game is even out.
gIQ: You’ve chosen to release the game on PS4; is there any reason you haven’t chosen the Xbox One?
PT: Well initially the only reason was that we could not self-publish, and now they’ve chosen that we are certainly looking into it. I’m not sure how far that will go, but we are definitely interested, as we have nothing against any one console, and we just want to get the game out to as many people as possible.
gIQ: With The Dadliest Catch, it’s a lot more adventurous than the original iteration; what would you say the most challenging aspect of development was?
PT: I think keeping the original feel of the game towards the awkward funny thing, but also getting rid of unintentional problems. Some of the mistakes in the first game led to happy accidents that people wouldn’t have enjoyed so much if we perfected things.
Finding a balance in making sure it plays how people expect Octodad to play, but also improving upon those things so that there’s no unintentional frustration we haven’t decided to put into the game. The game is about four hours of gameplay for the average player in the story mode. It’s four times the length of the first game.
gIQ: Are you looking to put in other modes aside from the story?
PT: You could record your best times on levels for speed runners, and also collectible items in the game like ties, and you can wear them with different designs on them. There’s some other stuff we haven’t quite talked about yet, but we definitely have an ace up our sleeve, or at least I believe we do.
gIQ: I also saw you’ve chosen to support the PlayStation Move on PS4, which has had underwhelming support so far. But obviously it would be really good for Octodad with a lot of other games merely having motion control tagged on.
What are your thoughts on the potential of motion control and how much it adds to Octodad?
PT: At this point I feel most of the technology isn’t quite there, and it doesn’t play as accurately as people would like it to be. There’s certain issues with that in most games, but with Octodad at least you don’t have to be completely accurate and that’s the point, it works really well. It’s just an additional thing you can try, as even though we are supporting it, you can still play with a DualShock 4.
It’s really good in arms mode when picking things up and tossing them, and when squeezing the trigger it feels like you’re picking them up. Overall it works really well.
gIQ: You got your hands on the new DualShock 4, is it a big step up?
PT: Yeah, we have a PS4 dev kit, and we have Dualshock 4s in the office. I’ve played with Dualshock 3s, and it is a huge step up. Dualshock 3 the convex films on the joysticks and my fingers would always slip off, and the distance between them was too short.
On Dualshock 4 they’re concave, further apart, and have a little ridge so your fingers don’t slip off, and rubber rather than hard plastic. It feels much better with smoother triggers with more resistance, as Dualshock 3 seemed loose to me. All around it’s much better feeling.
gIQ: Sony have listened to developers on that front too, then?
PT: From what I’ve heard they’ve talked to a lot of people who made first person shooters and games that require more accuracy, and talked to the guys developing Second Son, and it seems a lot better. I think I like it more than the Xbox 360 controller, and that’s saying a lot.
gIQ: Would you ever consider DLC for the upcoming game if the popularity was there?
PT: Yeah we definitely have ideas we would like to explore. The problem is that we have too many ideas that we think would be great. If the game does well enough we could potentially do something like that.
gIQ: So you’ve been Greenlit on Steam, what was your experience with that and how important do you think it is for Indie developers, regarding gaining sales and publicity for the game?
PT: Steam is pretty much the place to be if you are creating a PC game. It is difficult if you don’t already have a large community or calling to come vouch for you. You can easily get lost in the crowd. When we went into Greenlight we had already kind of created a community with players linking to it which helped us a lot win the campaign. We were in the second batch of games.
It is what it is, it’s steam trying something new, doing something best for the market, but not always best as it’s more of a popularity contest more than anything. It’s difficult when games that maybe wouldn’t have gotten in but were curated as someone saw something special in that, people picked them up and realised they’re worse when picked up.
gIQ: With Octodad it’s very unique and stood out,including the character, the styling, and the game play. How important is being unique and innovative for indie developers compared to mainstream titles?
PT: I believe with smaller teams, like us, we don’t have the financial resources to compete in production quality; we’re not going to be able to make a game that looks like Killzone 4.
All we have is our own identities and personalities we can put into these games, and make something very different, whether that’s how it tells a story, or it plays, or how it look. It’s important to stand-out and say this is whats special about what we’re making, and this is why only we can make this; and that’s how you sell yourself.
gIQ: In the run up to our own organised QA and localization forum in San Francisco this December, we have been asking developers how important they consider these areas. How important is quality assurance and localization for Octodad: Dadliest Catch, and for indie developers in general?
PT: It’s difficult to support these types of things when it’s your first game and you have limited revenue stream, but with ours we’ve been attempting to get as many languages as possible, at least in subtitles and the menus. We have a very global audience, especially our Spanish community. We noticed with Lets Play that we had to prioritize where we seek attention, but at the same time do as much as we can. At some point it could have a crowdsourced translation, or hopefully once we start making some money we can pay someone to properly do it. We definitely would like to, it’s just a matter of time and resources.
As far as QA goes, from the beginning we’ve been publicly playtesting the game, taking it to our university, or a local gaming café, like Ignite Network. We will bring it, have them play publicly and watch them play, watch out for bugs and perfect the design. We have short interviews: what they enjoyed, what they didn’t enjoy, and why so. Also not only what they like that we have, but what they would like to see. We mix playtesting, QA and unit testing all in one mash. We do that every one or two weeks.
gIQ: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring indie developer, what would you say?
PT: I’d say the most important thing you can do is get involved in the community, and get to know as many of us as you can. Talk to as many of your colleagues as possible, as our greatest asset was that with little financial stability we are all willing to help one another out for free.
I’ve never seen any instance where someone has turned us down when we’ve asked for help. Whether it’s advice or helping us get into a conference or anything like that. The good thing to do is get as involved in the community and give back whenever possible.
gIQ: That does sound very worthwhile. That was a very interesting insight into the world of Young Horses and Octodad, I cannot wait to play the finished game!