A few days ago, I learned about a game called Octopus City Blues when its Kickstarter kicked off. Adventure games are something of a rarity, and Ghost in a Bottle’s game looked looks like it has the potential to be an intriguing one.
So, I reached out to Firas Assaad, head of Ghost in a Bottle, to learn more about Octopus City Blues direct from the source. What better way to find out about a game’s true potential, right? The result was illuminating.
Firas Assaad: It’s a concept that evolved over several years. You look at real cities and the way people talk about them as if they were living entities. They grow and decline, they are welcoming or oppressive, they are shaped by the people living in them and they shape the lives of their inhabitants. I wanted to make a game where the city was the main character, and Octopus City Blues was born. Of course, it’s not an entirely novel concept. I was inspired by other fictional cities such as China Mieville’s New Crobuzon, Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris, the main cities in games like Final Fantasy 7 and Beneath a Steel Sky, and movies like Brazil and the City of Lost Children.
Tentacles are visually interesting; they are very gross and animated, and they grow everywhere. The ducts in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil were a major inspiration because they helped shape the movies unique look and also worked as an important metaphor representing the dehumanizing nature of technology and the oppressive Orwellian state. The contrast between the organic tentacles and the steam machines keeping them alive is one of the themes of Octopus City Blues.
Finally, the idea for Kaf Kafkaryan was developed independently as the ultimate anti-hero. He’s a coward who is hated by other characters, and this is reflected in gameplay mechanics such as stress and guilt. There are too many good looking young protagonists whose only weakness is that they are too reckless, and then you have anti-heroes who are just edgier types with a heart of gold.
GT: The art direction is really unique for Octopus City Blues, and I don’t think I’ve really seen many other games that look like it. What made you decide to go in this direction?
Assaad: All the credit for the unique art direction goes to our artist, Marina. She’s an extremely talented professional artist and I’m really lucky to have her on the team. I wanted the game to resemble both early VGA games with their weird and vivid colors and SNES games with their beautifully detailed pixel art. Octopus City Blues is a very visual game and I’ve spent a long time looking for an artist who could pull it off.
I saw Marina’s art and instantly knew that she’d be perfect for this game.I only have to give her basic descriptions and she goes on and adds her own style and ideas. She places a lot of attention on small details. In the trailer for example, you can see an animated rat in the back alley scene or a cockroach making its way across the dinner table. It’s very hard to find an artist who enjoys what she’s doing as much as Marina does, and I think it really shows in the quality of her work.
GT: In the Kickstarter description, you mention how detailed the world of Octopus City is, and how each NPC is really his or her own person. How detailed will encounters between these characters and Kaf be?
Assaad: While all characters are important, some are more important than others. We’d like all characters to be involved in at least one main or optional quest. They are all unique and weird, and their interactions with Kaf change as the game progresses. For example, you can see a ticket vendor in the trailer’s centipede train scene. This guy would be a very minor character in other games, and he’s just there to allow you to access the train. In our game, however, he is a very shy guy who almost never leaves the ticket booth. You can see it in the animation too, he opens the window to give people tickets then quickly goes back inside. You’ll learn the reason for his shyness, his relationship with some other NPCs, and maybe even help him get outside. He’s probably one of the least important characters in the game.
GT: You’ve also mentioned that Octopus City Blues will offer multiple solutions for obstacles Kaf may face. Is there an early example you could provide that isn’t too much of a spoiler?
Assaad: Kaf has a job interview early in the game. He can prepare for it by taking a shower, practicing the interview scenario with his pet tentacle/wife, putting on a suit or a sombrero, or going to the interview in his underwear. The suit can get dirty on his way to the interview, and depending on how he interacts with the secretary at the company he’s applying at he might end up waiting for a very long time. I don’t want to spoil the interview itself, but your choices in preparing for it are important and the answers you give in it have consequences later in the game. After the interview, Kaf might be attacked by thugs who want to steal his suit, but only if he put one on in the first place. There are many other scenarios that are more interesting, but you’ll have to wait for the demo later this year to learn more about them.
GT: How does Kaf’s addiction to Octoblood influence the game, aside from the rather obvious “dreams” he’ll get to encounter because of it?
Assaad: Octoblood addiction isn’t physical, and there is no dependency forcing people to consume it. People do it because reality is very bleak and the dreams are a way to escape it. There’s a social stigma on Octoblood consumption. People hate tentacles in general because they are foul smelling and obtrusive, and junkies are shunned by society. There are criminal gangs involved in Octoblood distribution and processing, and a crazy cult promoting the practice. Kaf’s involvement with the substance is important to the story and affect his relationship with others. The dreams he has also have tangible manifestations in the real world.
GT: Right now, Octopus City Blues is only coming to PCs. Could you see yourself branching out and going to Android and iOS as well?
Assaad: That’s definitely something we would like to do. PC is our primary focus, and that’s where we want to release the game first. But we would like as many people as possible to play it and are interested in branching out to other platforms. We’ll talk more about this in the future.
GT: You’re getting close to the $7,000 goal you’ve set for Octopus City Blues on Kickstarter. Do you have any stretch goal ideas?
Assaad: We were hoping we can take some time out after launching the Kickstarter and had no idea that it’d get close to the goal in a few days. We are now working on some stretch goals to reveal once we reach the primary goal. The important thing for us is to keep the scope of the game manageable and not to promise people anything that would slow the development of the game. We’ll talk about all of that really soon.
Assaad: I used to draw levels for my favorite games when I was little. I found about RPG Maker in 2000 and made a few (awful) games. I studied Computer Science hoping to get a job in the game industry, but was faced with the reality that there are no game studios were I live. I struggled with making several ‘epic’ projects on my own and had to give up because of the lack of funding or the amount of work involved. With Octopus City Blues, the idea was to make a smaller game (6-8 hours) without complex mechanics (no physics or combat). I’m fortunate to work with a really talented and passionate team, and crowd funding allows many exciting projects to exist that wouldn’t have seen the light otherwise. I hope Octopus City Blues will be the first of many games to come from the Ghost in a Bottle Zaibatsu.
GT: There aren’t many game developers from Kuwait. Do you feel your cultural background adds any unique inspiration and perspective to your games?
Assaad: I’m not sure about that. The culture here is heavily influenced by foreign mass media and I have watched the same movies and played the same games as someone in the US or Europe. It’s hard for me to judge the impact of my cultural background on the game, but a lot of the people and situations you’ll encounter in the game are inspired by real life. I’ve asked both Marina and Aaron for eastern influences in the art and music, but that’s mostly because I’m fascinated by the cultures of central and south Asia rather than my own country. If I made a game about Kuwait, it would probably take place in a city built on a large chain of American fast food restaurants and shopping malls.
If Octopus City Blues sounds like the kind of game you’d like to play, you can help it get made now. The Kickstarter is ongoing, in the hopes of bringing Kaf’s adventure to Windows, Macs and Linux. The project needs $7,000 to get funded, and last I checked it had just passed the $5,000 point. If you want a copy of the game as a reward, remember to pledge at least $10.