Learning How to Be a Terrible Parent at PAX Prime

Shaun checks out a pair of indie games that paint an entertaining (if slightly terrifying) picture of parenthood.


Who says video games are for kids? Not the indie developers here at PAX Prime, that’s for sure. Earlier today, I took a stroll through the indie game corner of the show floor and came away impressed by a pair of games that were all about life as a parent. Sure, they were about being a pretty lousy parent, but let's not get picky. We'll start with fatherhood...

Octodad: Dadliest Catch

Octodad: Dadliest Catch is the heartwarming story of a father, a mother, and their two children. Only... there's a bit of a problem. The father? He's not actually a human being. He's an octopus. In disguise. And his family has absolutely no clue as to his true identity.

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Therein lies the twisted brilliance of Octodad. The entire game is you carrying out perfectly ordinary daily tasks, from making coffee in the morning to mowing the lawn in the afternoon. But since you're an octopus with floppy tentacles for arms and legs, everything you do is profoundly, and hilariously, awkward. You may have figured out how to disguise yourself in a man's dress suit and stand upright, but that doesn't mean life is going to be easy for you. This is one disguise that requires some effort.

Walking isn't too tough. You hold the left mouse button and slide the mouse to move your left leg, and then do the opposite for your right. It looks a bit like a Gumby drunkenly stumbling out of a bar, but it gets the job done. But when you need to use your floppy boneless appendages to, say, barbecue some hamburger patties for your kids in the backyard? That's when things get interesting.

In the grabbing mode you freely move the mouse to flop your amorphous arms about and then left-click to grab onto something. It's kind of like throwing a hose around with a claw mechanism at the end of it. The rub is that messing up too much builds a suspicion meter, and you certainly don't want to risk losing the family you've worked so hard to build.

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So when you're cooking lunch, if you accidentally smack your daughter in the face with a hot, greasy hamburger patty instead of delicately placing it on the bun, that's gonna add to the suspicion gauge. But not so much that it stopped us from slapping little Sally in the face with a hamburger. What? We couldn't resist!

If you’ve ever played the 2D track-running game QWOP, you might see some similarities here. These are two games where the all the fun is in the intentionally awkward control scheme. It’s one big physics sandbox where flopping your arms around a 3D space filled with objects and trying to perform delicate tasks is a bizarre but thoroughly entertaining task. Add to that the twisted backstory of you trying to live a secret life of lies and deception and it becomes that much more interesting.

Octodad began its life as a free student project (which you can find here) before getting Kickstarted into a larger, more fully featured digital release. That work-in-progress PC title is the version I got to play here at PAX, and I’ve got to admit, it won me over with its profound weirdness and improved presentation. The development team is hoping to have the game out in 2013, and it recently became a candidate on Steam Greenlight.

Offspring Fling

Offspring Fling, on the other hand, is all about being a mother. In this 2D puzzle-platformer, you play a fuzzy animal living in a forest that’s lost her babies. So you embark on a quest across 100+ levels to get them back, leaping across pits of acid, deciphering fiendish switch puzzles, and generally avoiding the deadly hazards that seem to plague anyone unlucky enough to live in a 2D sprite-based world.

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Instead of traversing across all that stuff to reach your babies, however, you actually find your babies pretty early on into each level. And the way you reach the goal is to literally hurl them across the screen to trigger switches and lighten the load so you can jump higher and farther. Sure, it’s probably not the safest thing you can do with a newborn fuzzy creature, but you’d be surprised how resilient those tykes are!

I played the first four or five levels of Offspring Fling, and boy does that game get tough in a hurry. It’s definitely more of a puzzle-oriented game than a twitch reflex type of one. Levels are filled with switches you can only trigger by throwing your baby clear cross the screen, and narrow passages that you can’t get through with a pile of babies on your head, so it’s almost like a sliding-block puzzle figuring out how to set them aside to get everyone to the destination one at a time. Whoever said being a mother was easy?

Another interesting thing about this game is the way it sheds light on your own priorities as a (virtual) parent. At one point I accidentally threw one of my two babies into a pit of acid, then proceeded to think to myself, "Welp, lost that one. At least I've got this backup baby!" Only, the game didn't feel the same way--it made me start the level over. At that point I immediately realized how terrible my reaction was. Yes, the game about hurling babies managed to make me feel bad about myself.

Offspring Fling recently came out on Steam for $7.99, and includes a level editor so you can make your own baby-throwing playgrounds. You can find the official website here.


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