At some point in life, we’ve all been told by an elderly relative or inspirational Instagram quote that looks aren’t everything. In the case of Ooblets (opens in new tab), however, they certainly help. The game’s suite of colourful characters and luminous environs are endlessly endearing, and act as the perfect hook for drawing you into its world of comforting tranquility and pastoral whimsy.
The indie town-farming sim, which is due out next year for PC and Xbox One (published by Double Fine), was only officially announced last February, but it’s already generated a sizeable whirlwind of attention, and is even up for one of our very own Golden Joystick awards (opens in new tab) in the entirely appropriate category of Most Wanted Game.
What you might not know is that Ooblets’ development team, Glumberland (opens in new tab), is made up of just two people - Rebecca Cordingley and Ben Wasser - who have been squirrelling away on the game for the past few years from the comfort of their own home, where they also live together as partners.
”Our apartment looks like a war zone between armies of fast food wrappers and dirty laundry” admits Ben, but that work-home dynamic has also enriched the development of Ooblets in some surprising ways.
Take the game’s amazing dictionary of brilliantly made-up names for things found throughout its world, from Frunbuns and Snoot Boots to Dooziedugs and Tumtumsday, many of which were inspired by the pair’s very own home-grown glossopoeia.
“We’ve lived together for about a decade so we've developed a lot of silly words and names for things just as part of our daily interactions with each other”, Rebecca tells me, “so it made sense to apply that in the game. We're drawn to the idea of creating these little worlds with their own societies, so we want them to have their own language and unique ways of communicating, while having them still make sense to Earth-language humans. Reality is boring!”
As the game’s chief writer, Ben describes the creative process that goes into fleshing out the world of Oob with weird and wonderful names. “Sometimes something will just pop out at us, sometimes they’re just dumb puns, sometimes it takes coming up with lists of component words from thesauruses and wikipedia entries and mashing them together, and sometimes Rebecca will use something temporary and we end up keeping it.”
Dumb puns aren’t the only thing that Ooblets has going for it, though, the game describes itself as a “ farming, town life, and creature collection game inspired by Pokémon, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing”, whereby players grow the eponymous Ooblets from the soil before sending them out to battle in the open world.
Considering the timeless appeal of the Pokémon games, not to mention Stardew Valley’s recent success story, you can see why Ooblets is already being described as everyone’s favourite games rolled into one. As you might imagine, the Glumberland team are just as big fans of the town/farming/social simulator scene as anyone else, and offer their explanation as to why it remains such a beloved format for a video game.
“I think part of the appeal of town sims is just an urge to create this little living and breathing world.” says Rebecca. “The genre offers so many opportunities for expressing that urge creatively! Especially on the programming side, I've always enjoyed doing simulation stuff and seeing cute little characters live their little lives within the rules you set for them. And then on the art side there’s so much personality you can add. Majora's Mask is a big inspiration. Not so much in terms of gameplay or anything, but definitely in inspiring me as a creator.”
Gotta hatch 'em all
Ben also points to the therapeutic escapism of the genre as an important aspect that Ooblets intends to deliver on. “I recently read Candide in an effort to be more well-read (it didn’t last long and I instantly went back to sci-fi), but the whole novel is just page after page of how terrible and cruel life is for everyone, and it all comes to the conclusion that the answer is for people to cultivate gardens."
"I can’t say I understand exactly what he was getting at, but beyond Ooblets literally being about tending a garden, I think it’s valuable for people to focus on something small, manageable, and positive in the face of all the complexities and difficulties of real life.”
History suggests Candide was onto something, too. Romantic pastoral literature became popular reading material in Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries, when urban upheaval brought about by the English Renaissance and Industrial Revolution germinated a longing in many to return to the tranquility of country living.
Now, with the turbulent political climate of 2017, those same sentiments to ‘get away from it all’ are starting to find a ready audience once again, except it's no longer just books or plays, but video games like Ooblets which are offering a peaceful space of respite from the turmoil of the real world.
And you can already tell that Ooblets is becoming something of a real crowd-pleaser. The game is still a while away from release, but it already has a lively community of followers via its Patreon community (opens in new tab), which Rebecca and Ben use as a forum for updating their backers with important info and fun development insights.
“We tend to think of Patreon as more of a community than a funding source”, Ben explains, “since the audience there is invested in what we’re doing and we can interact with them in a more personal and direct way. Every update we send gets emailed to our patrons and we can read all their feedback. It’s like a small friendly club that gives us a lot of encouragement.”
Even with Double Fine and a Patreon community of hundreds behind them, developing Ooblets as a team of two still makes for a massive professional undertaking. In general, Rebecca takes responsibility for conjuring up the game’s art and programming, while Ben is in charge of writing and design, but both find themselves multitasking a variety of assignments on any single working day.
“Jumping between so many tasks that are so vastly different can sometimes be hard, because there's always a bit of time needed to re-familiarize yourself with how that particular system works - be that art, programming, business, or writing”, explains Rebecca.
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“If you're on a bigger team, a programmer usually wouldn't be responsible for every single system in the game. So there's a lot of information to hold in your head about how all these different parts of the game work. You have to wear a lot of hats, and all of those hats are complicated. I never get fed up of designing new Ooblets or characters, but the reality of making a video game as a small team is that there are going to be a lot of tasks that you hate doing, but you just have to knuckle down and do them anyway.”
All that hard work seems to be paying off handsomely, though, as Ooblets has all the makings of an instant indie must-have for 2018. Plus, the recent critical and commercial success of Cuphead (opens in new tab), which also started out as a project of just two people, bodes well for Ooblets’ chances on the market.
Even so, after finding out that their title was nominated for a Golden Joystick award this year, Rebecca almost couldn’t believe it: “We still don’t see ourselves on the sort of level that all those other games are at, and we're honestly a little terrified at the expectations folks seem to have for us! We try not to get too concerned with comparing ourselves to our peers but it’s definitely nice to have our work recognized.”
Like the look of Ooblets? Why not support them in this year’s Golden Joystick Awards (opens in new tab) by voting for them and all the rest of your favourite games before the ceremony takes place on November 17, next month.