From the dorm to E3’s biggest stage in one year flat, Octodad’s road to Sony’s press conference
Just a year ago Octodad: Dadliest Catch's Phil Tibitowski was still at DePaul University studying game design. Last Monday his team's game was being shown onstage at Sony's press conference in one of the biggest and most watched gaming events of the year, and now he's teaching people how to play the game at Sony-branded demo kiosks on the show floor at E3.
Even the most ambitious up-and-coming college game designers probably aren't predicting they'll go from zero to sharing the stage with Destiny and Assassin's Creed at E3. So how did Tibitoski and Young Horses actually get here?
Octodad: Dadliest Catch invites you to play as an octopus who has a job, a family, a nice house, and just wants to be left alone to live his life. You're tasked with doing everyday actions while hiding the fact that you're not a suburban father, but an octopus. It sounds silly, but the themes are oddly touching. The team behind the game have wanted to break into the business for a very long time.
“Since I was 12 I would read about E3 in EGM, or watch the online streams later on, and think about 'oh, how amazing would it be to have a game up there'?” said Tibitoski when I managed to grab a moment with him at the crowded Sony booth on the show floor. “Because I've wanted to make games since I was like 8 years old.”
“I think all of us on the team have had that dream at some point, and it's insane to think that we just did that and we were up there with stuff like Destiny,” he continued. “I'm like 'what the hell!?' Bungie is actually part of the reason why I got into game development.”
Even though they've all been dreaming about this for a long time, the real reason they're up on stage seems to be an insane work ethic. Any success with Octodad: Dadliest Catch will always lead back to the team's breakout freeware hit, Octodad, which came out back in October 2010. The game gave them a spotlight that attracted huge amounts of attention to their company.
“This is our first commercial game and we decided to go huge with this 3D physics game, which is insane,” said Tibitoski about the difficulty of making a game like Dadliest Catch. “When we were making the first one we thought 'this is stupid, nobody is going to like this.”
Nonetheless, they stuck with it and the game was a huge success for a student project. As a result, they started working on Dadliest Catch for the IGF 2011 Student Showcase where they were honored as one of the 8 winners. It's there that Young Horses caught the eye of Nick Suttner, an account manager at Sony who liases with indie game developers.
“He's kept up with us over the years, and he's come by at every PAX we've done and talked about our plans with us. And at the last PAX the PS4 was beginning to be discussed. And so we asked if it would be possible to get a kit because we were thinking about doing a console port, and we heard that they switched over to the PC architecture and that self publishing was really easy.”
So the kits came, and within four weeks they had Octodad up and running on the PlayStation 4 development kit.
“We ported it and they thought it was really cool that we did it so quickly, but it wasn't that difficult since all of our stuff was C++ and it works really well with it,” said Tibitoski. He also mentioned that everyone on the team also has a second job to support themselves while working on Octodad, making this accomplishment even more impressive.
“And so they said 'we're doing this cool thing with all these indies on stage, do you want to be a part of it'.” Tibitowski explained.
With such little time until the E3 press conference, if the team hadn't worked to get that PS4 build up and running so quickly this opportunity, an opportunity most game developers would sacrifice a goat for, might have passed them by.
“It definitely brings a sense of legitimacy to the studio,” he said. “It's wild that all of this is happening all at once. It's been a total rollercoaster ride. I've been a bit speechless these past couple days. I got back to the hotel last night and decided not to go out to E3 parties. I just sat there and watched twitter. And just watched a stream of Octodad references flow down my screen. It's been great.”
I thought back to Phil sitting in class at DePaul. What would Phil v. 2013 like to say to Phil v. 2008?
“Keep fucking going. Work harder. The first two years of college I didn't really do a whole lot as far as making games. Then I slowly picked up more and more towards the end, but I feel like I should have started sooner. “
“But it seems to have worked out,” he said with a smile.