As I made my way through the expo floor at GDC, I had but one burning thought racing through my mind: what was that 6-foot bi-pedal octopus I just saw walk past me? My question was quickly answered as I approached the DePaul University booth, where students were demonstrating their latest project, Octodad.
I had an opportunity to speak with Lead Designer Jake Anderson, who said when developing Octodad, the students realized “nothing is too crazy.” This is fitting, considering you play as an octopus masquerading as a bi-pedal human. Even the most mundane of daily tasks become daunting and intriguing when players try not to arouse suspicion from passing NPCs. The game was designed before the Kinect was available, but the clumsy control scheme lends itself well to the technology, because naturally, an octopus wouldn’t share the graceful movements of a human.
Due to the fact that the control scheme was in its infancy and is still being built, the students decided to go with a limited control scheme where players raise their arms above their shoulders to control the movements Octodad’s legs. I began with my arms raised at my shoulders in a T-pose. Stretching forward as though I were swimming freestyle allowed me to pull myself across the level, while stretching to the side allowed me to traverse the landscape horizontally. While I found it a bit difficult at first, I quickly adjusted and was moving about and furiously knocking over items…er…testing the physics engine in no time. I’m eager to see how the finished controls will perform, and at the moment I’m optimistic considering how well they’ve already been implemented.
Octodad was also chosen as one of the eight Winners in the 2011 Independent Games Festival Student Showcase, and rightfully so. The fact that a student program was able to hack the Kinect without the release of the SDK from Microsoft and have it in playable form to manipulate an octo….er…human being speaks volumes. Next to the Kinect demo was Octodad running on a PC using the standard mouse and keyboard controls, and then another monitor displaying an alternative Kinect control scheme. “The team consisted of 19 students, working after school,” Jake Anderson went on to say “although it turned into a full time project for a lot of students.” “Octodad was built on a frankenstein of 4 different engines, including PhysX, and fMod for the audio.”
Last year DePaul University had a presence at GDC as well, however it was to display their previous Independent Games Festival Student Showcase title, Devil’s Tuning Fork. In this visual tour de force, players see by using sound. Specifically, the player must navigate an unknown world using visual sound waves. Inspired by M.C. Escher’s classic optical illusion and the echolocation of dolphins, The Devil’s Tuning Forkallows the player to explore a new mode of perception through sound visualization.
The looks I received from passersby was priceless, as I attempted to knock over platforms, slip on banana peels, and run with vigor. Although future plans for the project aren’t clear at the moment, the team is considering adding smaller episodes.
If you’d like to get a hands on with Octodad yourself, you can download it here.