We’ve been covering Octopus City Blues for awhile now, but now I’ve had the chance to sit down with their boss, Firas Assaad, to talk about their very unique game.
Without further ado, here’s our interview:
Niche Gamer: For our readers who haven’t been following Octopus City Blues, could you briefly go over the concept of the game, and its overall story?
Firas Assaad: Octopus City Blues is a 2D adventure game about a city built on a giant octopus. It emphasizes exploration, replay value, and the consequences of choices. In the game you assume the role of Kaf Kafkaryan, a cowardly tentacle trimmer who explores a variety of bizarre dream worlds.He slowly uncovers a twisted conspiracy with serious implications for everyone in Octopus City.
NG: What was your main inspiration for Octopus City Blues?
Firas: I drew ideas from numerous sources, but the game focuses on the titular city and I wanted to visually represent the organic growth and decline of cities in the real world. I was inspired by movies like Brazil, City of Lost Children, Existenz, Akira, Dark City and Blade Runner, games such as Beneath a Steel Sky, Maniac Mansion, Mother, Deus Ex, Shenmue and SMT, and novels by Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville, Neal Stephenson, and Kafka to name a few.
NG: Why a giant octopus? Why not just another underwater steel clad dome?
Firas: Tentacles are visually interesting. They spread all over the city and people really hate them. I wanted the city to feel alive and the octopus provides a perfect vehicle to express that.
NG: The game is clearly based in a post apocalyptic type scenario, with the city the game is based in as the last bastion of human civilization. Can you go into details about how the surface world came to be how it is?
Firas: The reasons for it will be explained in the game, but I don’t think the “why” is important to the story. Some post apocalyptic stories focus on the apocalypse, while others focus on what happens afterwards. Octopus City Blues is about modern Octopus City and the past details are there but they aren’t emphasized. I thought that the idea that the last human city is barely kept alive by machines is fun to play with.
NG: So let’s talk about Kaf. He’s described as a cowardly, middle aged octoblood junkie. Why did you choose to go with an anti-hero for the main character?
Firas: We have a lot of fun designing scenarios where Kaf is involved because he’s always defying expectations. Kaf’s helplessness is humorous and it’s easy to empathize with him. There are also some story and gameplay reasons for it, but I can’t discuss them yet.
NG: Can you talk a bit more about Kaf’s backstory, and how you came about designing him as a character overall?
Firas: Kaf’s past is a central element of the overall story, so I can’t talk about it. I wanted to design a pathetic and unlucky character who lives with his mom and who frequently gets in trouble. Kaf is an unlikely protagonist whose attempts to improve things tend to backfire. We tried to represent that visually as well, by designing a balding middle-aged man who resembles a sad clown.
NG: You talk about how Kaf and other octoblood junkies use the blood as a drug to have wild dreams as an escape. Could you go into detail about the process and how it came to be used as a drug?
Firas: Octoblood is a vile substance with a foul smell. It tastes terrible and can make you sick. On the other hand, it can also triggers powerful hallucinations. People consume Octoblood in a variety of ways, including smoking and preparing cocktails to improve the taste. They turn to Octoblood because they are really desperate and the hallucinations provide a pleasant escape from reality. The government of the city has declared war on the substance, but corruption is widespread and it’s very hard to monitor every tentacle in the city.
NG: Can you give an example of one of the more wild dreams that Kaf might experience? Some of the ones you’ve described already are pretty out there.
Firas: One of the first dreams Kaf experiences takes place in a war zone where two armies of dung beetles are fighting a perpetual trench war. Kaf is recruited by one beetle army to lead an offensive and capture the queen. In another dream, Kaf assumes the role of the aging horse of a notorious cowboy who has betrayed his gang and is getting increasingly paranoid.
NG: You tout the world of Octopus City Blues as an open world experience. How open are we talking? Will you be able to just ignore the main story for awhile and do lots of silly side quests?
Firas: Here’s the thing, we would love to provide the ultimate Octopus City simulation with numerous story branches and many ways to advance the story. However, we are a very small team and we don’t want to bite more than we could chew. Therefore, we’ve decided to limit the scope of the game as much as possible. We will be designing the main story quests first, and then we plan on adding as many silly side quests and optional content as we could. We will try our best, but we know that we will have to make some sacrifices along the way.
NG: The NPCs all have their own schedules, does this mean the game has a set time system, or a 24 hour system?
Firas: Game days will be much faster than earth days. We don’t have hours but a day is over once all NPCs completed their daily cycle. You can advance days by going to sleep, but if you don’t sleep for a long time Kaf will sleep on the spot. You need to be careful where you let Kaf sleeps or he might get robbed and wake up in his underpants.
NG: While we’re talking about the NPCs, the dialogue system sounds very robust. Could things get very complicated with all the possibilities waiting in the city?
Firas: It’s a balancing act between presenting a lot of interesting choices and managing the complexity of the game. While we utilize the dialogue system in normal conversations with NPCs and in optional side quests, we make full use of the system in the main story quests. Fortunately, there is only a limited number of those and we try to limit the different possibilities to a reasonable number. Again, we will begin with the simplest design and the most essential dialogue options and we will expand based on time and funding.
NG: The game is DRM-free, and you mention how you can change in game assets. Does this mean the game can be modded by the community?
Firas: I don’t want to make promises, but we would love to make an open game and to provide the community with the tools to mod it. The game engine will be eventually open sourced and all the game files can be replaced by players.
NG: Are you a Hall & Oats fan?
Firas: (laughs), sometimes.
NG: You live in Kuwait, while the rest of your team is basically all around the world. Has this proved challenging in your development process?
Firas: On the contrary, it’s actually very enabling. I’ve met very few people who are interested in game development in Kuwait and it would be very hard for me to find a team without reaching out for people globally. This is very easy these days thanks to the large variety of communication and collaboration software.
NG: You seem like a stand up guy, why are you described as the malevolent CEO of Ghost in a Bottle?
Firas: The ultimate goal of Ghost in a Bottle Industries is the hoarding of precious gold. We pride ourselves in our total disregard for ethics and our willingness to do just about anything promote our corporate agenda, including interviews such as this one.
NG: Lastly, would you ever be interested in a Octopus City Blues sequel if the original does well enough?
Firas: I have so many ideas that don’t involve 8-legged molluscs, so I hope I get the chance to work on other things as well. With that said, Octopus City Blues is a short game in an interesting setting, and there’s a distinct lack of Octopus City simulation games, so we might consider making another Octopus City game if we had a good idea for one.
NG: Did you have anything else to say before we sign off?
Firas: The game is made by all of our team members, I might’ve had the original idea but everyone contributes a lot and it wouldn’t be possible without Aaron and Marina.
NG: Excellent! Well thank you so much for your time Firas, I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.
Firas: Thanks. I had a lot of fun.
If this interview got you excited for Octopus City Blues and you haven’t pledged yet, you can view their kickstarter page here. They recently crossed the $14K mark, meaning the game will get even more animated cutscenes.