octopounce isn’t available for download. sorry! (wait – now it is!) the artxgame organizers are negotiating an arrangement that will allow the game and her siblings to run at a bunch of events. and that’s fine with me: the game isn’t designed to be played alone on a home computer, it’s designed to be played at events with large groups of people. if you’re going to E3 next week, you can play it at the indiecade booth at the south hall, booth 652. i do plan to make the game available for download in the future, so don’t stop believing!
octopounce was created for artxgame, a joint project between giant robot and attract mode. visual artists were paired with game designers to create games that would run at opening night of the game over / continue? show at the giant robot gallery. my partner in crime was saelee oh, who does watercolors and collages of beautiful things. she provided me with hand-painted underwater scenes to drift in the game’s background while i animated big-pixel characters to move and play in the foreground.
the play comes from two places: super mario war, a four-player game where every player is mario and every mario is trying to jump on every other mario’s head, and a game called “take the money!” from the otherwise disappointing warioware: mega party games. in this game, a paper bill floats down from the top of the screen and players jump to try and be the one to catch it. players can jump onto and stand on each other’s heads to get closer to the bill: so despite being less than ten seconds long, a number of relationships are created between the players (the winner is typically standing atop a pyramid of the less fortunate, making it a pretty incredible game metaphor for how money creates social stratification).
in octopounce (also frequently called “the squid game”), the players’ goal is to catch fish and other creatures as they swim by. the creatures are usually just out of reach of the players, who are bound to the bottom of the screen like the characters in most platform games. but they can jump and, being squishy octopodes (that’s the plural of octopus, not “octopi”), if they land on one another they can bounce off even higher. so players jump and squish and bounce off one another, trying to gain the height necessary to catch the passing fish.
because of the nature of the event – game controllers would be passing hands quickly between members of a large crowd of showgoers – i wanted the game to accommodate changing players as easily as possible. when a player puts her controller down and walks away, her octopus falls asleep. sleeping octopodes drift through the waters, acting as both obstacles and launching platforms to other players. when someone picks up the controller again, the octopus wakes up. the game runs continuously, regardless of how many people are playing it: octopodes who aren’t being played are simply sleeping.
i eschewed a numerical score tally, thinking it would cause too much attachment of players to their octopodes (you don’t own your octopus, you’re just borrowing her). so score is simply marked by the brightness of the octopus – or rather, the opacity. a sleeping octopus is fairly see-through, but an octopus who’s catching lots of fish is solid. i put a text scroll on the bottom of the screen to periodically update players on who’s doing best. it also welcomes new players and explains how to play, helping new players to join without disrupting the game.
i observed people playing on the night of the giant robot show. the gallery was crowded, but the game was set up in front of a window, and i spied on players through the glass. when i did manage to be inside, one of the things i noticed was players cooperating: one player allowing her octopus to be used as a springboard so another player could bounce up and grab a fish. the game’s scoring doesn’t accomodate a dual-victory – only one octopus becomes brighter – but since scoring is so trivial and there’s no punishment for not catching fish this is totally legitimate in the eyes of the game.
how about some press? here’s a tiny cartridge review by eric caolli, who got to play the game prior to opening night, and here’s a clip from the co-op webshow featuring octopounce and the other artxgame collaborations. and this footage of the game in motion was taken by a showgoer on game over / continue?’s opening night. if you get to see the game at E3 next week, why not take some more video for me? make sure you bring a friend.