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Horse Talk: Clip Clop Questions With Kevin Zuhn

‘Horse Talk’ is a series here on the Octodad blog where we run intra-team Young Horses interviews. The first 2 or so questions are the same for each horse, but afterwords we crowd-source the team for things they’d like to ask the interviewee.

Who are you and what is it that you do at Young Horses?

Why hello there and thanks for asking! I’m Kevin Zuhn, the Creative Director on Octodad: Dadliest Catch. I was also the Project Lead on the first Octodad. As director of creativities, I’m ultimately responsible for what content goes into the game, and for communicating the vision of the game to the rest of the team. In that respect, much of my job involves taking in all of the wacky ideas we Young Horses spit out and shaping them into an Octodad game. I also lead the design team (and get hands on in level design), I do the high-level writing of the game’s story, and I model a lot of the objects and furnitures that you’ll find scattered around the world of Octodad!

What are your favorite games and why?

What a tough question! Forced to narrow it down to my biggest lifelong favorites, I’d say Chrono Trigger, Shadow of the Colossus, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Bioshock, and Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors. Excuse me if I lace the rest of this answer with other games I’ve liked more recently. I’m a great fan of games that weave interesting narratives (The Stanley Parable, To The Moon), and I feel most content when given an intricate world to explore (Herocore, Treasure Adventure Game). I’m no stranger to visceral action (Nitronic Rush, Bastion), clever puzzles (Offspring Fling), and quirky unusual RPGs (Recettear, Sequence). I like experiences that have been hand crafted, leading me along a clever tangle of designed challenges and narrative while still giving me interactive freedom. It’s a tough tightrope, sure, but when it happens I can feel it. I’ll get obsessed with certain games’ designs, and play them over and over again when the mood strikes me, trying to absorb them into my being somehow.

How did you get into game development?

I’ve been making games since I was old enough to pick up a pencil. I did a lot of board games before I knew how to use a computer. My parents wouldn’t let me play video games on consoles until at least junior high school, because they said it would rot my brain. They did let me play adventure games with them on the PC and I had a Gameboy, because somehow Myst and Zelda didn’t count as video games. Anyway, at some point they got me KlikNPlay, which I used to make all sorts of weird stuff. Once I got a TI-83 graphic calculator in school, I spent every math class scripting adventures and platformers (instead of learning math). I also got way into roleplaying games, and wound up administrating a sizeable roleplaying forum at some point. By the time I graduated high school, games were the only career I could conceive of going into.

When and why did you decide to play virtually every free game on the internet and become the human game encyclopedia?

I have a hunger for new experiences in games that isn’t easily sated. I would rather play 60 1-hour games than 1 60-hour game. When I first figured out that the internet had games, I’d just idly browse newgrounds and the like. Most of my gaming was still in disc or catridge form. I think going to college is what started this monster, since I had little spendable money, but lots of free time and an internet connection. There’s so much more on the net now, and in a way I’ve expanded to keep up with it. Every morning I check newgrounds, jayisgames, indiegames, and freeindiegames for new games to play, and then play all of those games. A gamejam is like a feast to me.

Have you ever made a game without a central protagonist? What was it?

Though I had to think for a bit, the answer is yes! I made a multiplayer card game called ‘Kill The Bloody Bastard’, a game about secretly poisoning drinks, which was largely inspired by a scene in The Princess Bride. Here’s a rough old version of the rules. I promise I’ll write a nicer one someday!

What technological advancement are you looking forward to most?

I’m looking forward to any technology that lets your brain plug into the internet and traverse it like a virtual world. Imagine how many flash games I could play!

You used to do a lot of outdoorsy exploration as a kid. Can you tell me a story about a specific adventure that you remember?

Ah yes! I wasn’t just a game enthusiast as a kid, I was also a martial artist and a Boy Scout. Let’s see, you’ve all heard the one about the island ruins and the bees…and the one about why I’m afraid of fish. Here’s one! I was on a trip through Maine, by way of Canada (roundabout, but scenic). We were doing a week of whitewater canoeing, paddling downstream by day and setting up camps along the river at night. I was in my tent on the second night or so, when I was shocked awake by strange animal calls. Not sure what to make of them, I started to get worried. One of my tentmates thought it could be a moose. Before that trip, I had thought of moose as bigger, sillier horses, but the older kids let us know the truth. Forget about bears in the woods, it’s the moose you want to stay clear of. Bears might invade your camp if they’re hungry, but a moose will gore and trample you to death just for being in its space. Of course the older kids were trying to scare us. As it turned out, the noise was just a couple of loons. Don’t blame me, I’d never heard a loon before! Anyway, the next day of canoeing happened. We were paddling away down a slow stretch of river when things suddenly got quiet. The scoutmaster said “There’s a moose on the bank.” Indeed there was a big bull moose standing at the water’s edge, unmoving. I didn’t fully understand until then how massive they were. Its shoulders were above my head! It made me feel like an insect. The scoutmaster instructed us to remain absolutely still and let the river carry our canoes downstream. Apparently a moose works like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, practically colorblind and more likely to see things that are moving quickly. Also like the T-Rex, it might just charge angrily into the river after us. You’d be surprised how quiet and still kids can be when it matters. We passed by it, maybe twenty feet away. I can’t tell if the moose was watching us, but it wasn’t moving from its spot, and I was too afraid to so much turn my head to get a better look at it. Creeping down the river in stillness and silence, unable to look behind me to see if what I was afraid of was gone. Eventually the scoutmaster gave us the go ahead, and with a sigh of relief, we paddled on. Later in the trip, we paddled out to a lake, and saw a pair of moose swimming at its center. Now knowing that moose can swim, I went very, very far around them.

How many lives total have you lost in games? How do you feel contemplating the number of virtual lives taken?

You are plunging me into an existential nightmare. I’d like the think that their data is persistent and that no game character experiences true death, but then that just means they’re trapped in a vicious cycle. Especially if you’re an enemy character, you get to live getting shot in the face by a stranger over and over again for eternity, or until the game is no longer played. This is why we need more games about loving your family!