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The authentic Octopus City simulation for Windows, OS X and Linux. A surreal adventure game about everything and nothing.
The authentic Octopus City simulation for Windows, OS X and Linux. A surreal adventure about everything and nothing.
The authentic Octopus City simulation for Windows, OS X and Linux. A surreal adventure about everything and nothing.
829 backers pledged $20,419 to help bring this project to life.

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I Married an Octopus from Outer Space

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To my favorite Octopals,

The Ghost in a Bottle corporate death squad wishes you all an amorphous new year. To celebrate, we are going to share the latest and greatest scoops regarding everyone's favorite simulation software. This post will have a lot of text, because I don't know when to shut up. Put your seat belts on and get ready for another journey into the wonderful world of cephalopod trivia.

Art by the Chuck "finbeard" Simpson
Art by the Chuck "finbeard" Simpson

 

Chapter 1: The Fat Lady's Song, or: The Plan

Last update someone asked me to make an estimation based on the current pace and progress. I've always been wrong about these estimations. It's easy to be optimistic and to make plans that don't pan out. There's always the gut feeling that if we work hard then we can get something out soon. This feeling is strongest when the year starts, because initially the year feels like a long time, and wonderful things can always happen. But more often than not, bad things end up happening and you repeat past mistakes. Instead, I went over past and current data. How much did we do each year? How much work are we doing now? Exactly what is left?

Long story short, at our current pace, we're looking at a late 2019 release. Yes, that's right, 2 more years for a project that's already 3 years late. It was a bit of a surprise for me as well, because I want to believe that we can do better. The two main reasons it's taking forever are (1) it's big, detailed and ambitious, and (2) we have a small team working part time. I'd rather not give up on (1) even if it means taking more time, but at the moment I can't do much about (2). Hopefully that can change in the future, but for this estimation let's assume we'll continue with the same pace. Instead of wasting your time with apologies and excuses, let's be pragmatic and come up with a workable plan.

2014 was by far our most productive year. There are several reasons for that, but the main one is actually focusing on getting the demo out. It took us a lot of time and energy, but it was also a deliverable and specific goal. For 2018, I want to have specific deliverable milestones as well. I considered cutting the project in half, but people (rightfully) didn't like the idea. That's why you're going to get not one, not two, but three demos in 2018! The demos will have different audiences and goals, but ultimately we want to speed up our development while also getting feedback and communicating more with you. Here's how it'll work out:

Art by Marina
Art by Marina

 

Backers Demo: The New Intro - March 2018

The 2014 demo taught us a lot of things. Watching let's plays and seeing players actually interact with the city was a great experience. Based on what we saw, we completely redesigned the beginning of Octopus City Blues to gently introduce the city and gossip mechanics without being an explicit tutorial (that took time, but it's worth it!). The result is self-contained segment that includes a series of small but open-ended quests culminating in a final evaluation of everything you did. This is basically a pocket experience of all that Octopus City Blues has to offer, and it can be played over and over to experience different outcomes.

We want to present that as a demo for all backers. It's a good milestone because almost all the required art and music for the section are completed. However, we still need to implement the main menu and do a lot of polishing and bug fixing. The demo will also serve to get your feedback and see if we're on the right track.

Beta Testers Demo: New Main Quest - August 2018

The 2014 demo introduced the Professor's main story quest, as well as the beetle war dream. There are several main quests in Octopus City Blues, and of each of them has both an Octopus City component and a dream component. For this demo, we want to introduce a different quest we're excited about. Without spoiling much, the dream component has a western theme as Horse-Kaf and an Outlaw work together to escape ruthless bounty hunters. The Octopus City part is a mystery where you have to find the identity of your enigmatic target.

This is intended for backers at the tester level or above, as it's more likely to spoil some things. Instead of the old beta tester forum we'll figure out a better way to distribute this (itch.io has nice tools.) I picked this quest because, while much of the art for the dream section is done, we still need to actually implement the quest and work on new areas. The demo would then serve as a good motivation to focus on wrapping the quest up.

Public Demo: New Intro and Professor's Quest - End of 2018

The final demo isn't focused on new materials (there's always the risk that we're showing too much.) The goal is to present the mature and finalized version of what we tried to show in the 2014 demo. This public release will be very similar to the final version, and will include both the new intro (after taking your feedback into account) and the Professor/Beetle Queen quests. We actually had to cut some content for the 2014 demo, and some scenes were merged into exposition-heavy monologues. We want to do it properly this time, and balance the choices so people are more likely to get different endings.

Art by TFT
Art by TFT

 

Final Version - 2019?

Like I said before, with our current pace we expect a late 2019 release. I hope that releasing these demos will push us to do more and hopefully finish it sooner, but that's my optimism talking again. Instead, let's see how many of our goals we can accomplish this year. You can expect a similar post early next year with more details.

Chapter 2: Tearful Tentacle Town MMXVII

2017 was interesting in terms of progress. We did several things that actually slowed us down, but we did them knowingly because we thought it was worth it. In the beginning of the year we had a long chat about the state of things. We concluded that attempts to take shortcuts and simplify things were frustrating us and hurting the vision we shared with you in the beginning. This doesn't mean that we'll kick back and take infinite time to make the perfect product, but quality will always come first. We won't release something we aren't proud of.

Widescreen Resolution

The original 4:3 aspect ratio of Octopus City Blues wasn't a deliberate decision. The earliest prototype was made in an engine with a boxed default resolution, and we kept using it in subsequent versions. It helped that there was less to draw on the sides of the screen, and that some early Android devices supported 4:3 aspect ratios.

Octopus City Blues is not really meant to be "retro", even though it's heavily inspired by the aesthetic. We break the rules more often than not, and we are trying to build something fresh and unique. In today's world, where widescreen resolutions are a given, we want to reach as many people as possible. Unfortunately, this meant going back and redoing over 30 scenes. In some cases we took the opportunity to substantially improve them as well.

Scheduling Changes

Somewhere along the line I decided that one measure to release the project faster would be to simplify the scheduling system as much as possible. Instead of having NPCs walk around they would simply pop up in different places as time passed. Furthermore, many of the schedule-based mechanics were removed or simplified. The main benefits were having to draw less sprite frames, reducing the potential for path finding bugs (e.g. characters getting stuck), and not having to write a detailed schedule for every single NPC (there are over 120!)

That sounded good on paper, but in practice it didn't turn out very well. It was weird to leave a location only to see the NPC from the previous location already waiting for you in the new one. The city felt less lively and dynamic as well, contrary to one of our major design goals. After fixing several path finding bugs, the system was revamped to bring back many of the old features while also keeping it a bit simple. NPCs will now walk and enter/leave locations from the proper exits, instead of popping up somewhere else. Most NPCs still won't have full schedules, but there will be enough to bring life to the simulation.

As seen above, the system was also extended to allow NPCs to talk to each other and perform various actions as part of their routine. This includes the ability to perform actions at random intervals, and to interact with the environment and other characters around them. This took a lot of work as the code was basically rewritten, but I really like how it works now. For example, you can learn new gossip by following NPCs and listening to their conversations.

Performance Improvements and Fixes

These are the kind of changes that are hard to show. Major issues with the game engine were resolved this year, allowing Octopus City Blues to run very efficiently on older hardware. This includes one of the oldest bugs, where the frame rate would drop whenever text was displayed. Text rendering was also improved, and the editor is now easier to use.

Art Progress

Of course, Marina has been busy with the art as well. In addition to the stuff we've shared in 2017, several new scenes were completed and we also have unique cabinets for different arcade games. Currently we're working on the evaluation section of the first planned demo, where you'll receive a unique card based on your choices. Marina is painting and drawing each card traditionally, and will later digitize them for Octopus City Blues.

Chapter 3: Octoblood Made Me Do It

So there you have it. Congrats on making it this far! I initially wrote even more, including a full chapter about what we did every year since 2012, but maybe it's better to focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past. I want to start the year with an optimistic and pragmatic outlook, and the demos seem like a good way to do it. There might be delays and setbacks, so I'm counting on you to yell at us and ask for updates. An Octoblood junkie can only get better when their family and friends tell them to get off their lazy bum and get a job scraping squashed beetle remains off the sidewalk.

The Kafkaryan Candidate

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If you've been reading this blog long enough then you should know how I feel about the piece of vaporware known as Octopus City Blues. I remember twenty years ago, when the ambitious "Octopus City Simulation" software was announced, I was skeptical. I got a lot of heat for my unpopular opinion at the time. I was the 'party pooper', the pessimist who wouldn't bow to the glorious vision of the 'imagineers' at the hypothetical Ghost in a Bottle corporation. People thought I was crazy, that I was one of those loony conspiracy theorists who have nothing better to do than question everyone and everything.

It's been twenty years, and the -lambs- still wait for such a simulation software. You think I'm being harsh here? Maybe, I don't really care. It's not that I wouldn't like Octopus City Blues to be real either. In theory, it would easily be the definitive Octopus City experience, there is no doubt about that. From the beautifully rendered beetles to the multitude of branching choices and the complex gossip system, never has a simulation been so immersive and faithful to the source material. I have to give the marketing 'team' at Ghost in a Bottle credit for how well their lie is constructed. I don't blame the -lambs- for being fooled. After all, that's what they were bred to do. Ghost in a Bottle is the world's greatest magician, and they've pulled their best trick.

You can see the most recent screenshot of the simulation above. I pulled it directly from their twitter account. Notice how it's showing Kaf's room, one of the first locations we've seen of this product. In general, my calculations show that the Ghost in a Bottle team is releasing less and less content. Years ago they had a demo, and before that they regularly released new screenshots and alphas. These days there are less updates, and instead of communicating with the -lambs- in plain language, they write long irrelevant posts in an attempt to be humorous.

The Ghost in a Bottle spokesperson claims that they don't want to show new content to avoid 'spoilers'. I don't know about that. My hypothesis is that the original team involved with the simulation died in an accident 10 years ago, and having no one to replace them, the corporation has been trying to keep up appearances by remixing the existing content ad infinitum. This is corroborated by an old article on their own website.

Another thing I noticed is that they spend a lot of time talking about improvements to tools. Map editors, sprite editors, gossip editors, etc. I understand how complex making a simulation could be, but to me it signals that the 'team' is not prioritizing the things that really matter. Decades later they are still polishing technical tools that no one else would ever use, when they should be adding more tentacles (I bring up tentacles because according to their CEO, having more of them is the company's raison d'etre.)

Perhaps I am being too critical. The -lambs- seem very understanding and supportive of the company, even when it apologizes to them repeatedly. That's why I'm starting to question the so-called 'supporters'. Hundreds of people supported this game, but do we know who these people really are? Now, hear me out, I'm not saying it's not conceivable for passionate, kindhearted people who want more tentacles in their lives to exist. However, wouldn't it be more likely, given the current grim and depressing state of our world, a world run by nameless corporation where people are driven by self-interest, wouldn't it make more sense for the -lambs- themselves to be part of the lie? Just think about it. Who actually pays for an uncertain hypothetical product based on a video and some screenshots? Who puts their faith into some faceless 'company' that wouldn't even confirm whether dual-wielding tentacles is an option? That's what I thought too.

This was a 'joke' posted on the corporate social media account a couple of years ago. But the more I think about it, I wonder if all these modes were actually developed. Maybe that's why it's taking so long. In the 20 years since the project was announced, Steve Buscemi is probably too old to continue playing Kaf. This leads me to the idea that the company diverted its fund at some points into genetic engineering research in order to preserve and/or clone the aging actor. What if, during one of these experiments, the original team perished as I mentioned earlier. What if the -lambs-, the supporters, were born out of such experiments? What if we're dealing with powers beyond our understanding? With evil personified?

I came across a passage in an old cuneiform manuscript from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Akkad. According to it, a mysterious and evil presence would manifest in the end times. A cunning and deceitful false prophet beckoning the gates of hell to open. That reminded me of a character in Octopus City known as the Conman. It could be a coincidence, but when you consider the mythological significance of tentacles and octopuses as creatures of the deep, eldritch monstrosities beyond human comprehension, things start making too much sense. What's a ghost in a bottle after all? Doesn't it conjure images of a sealed demon? A hidden danger waiting for the right time?

Ghost in a Bottle recently talked about how they spent a lot of time modifying the existing artwork to support 'widescreen resolutions'. Sounds like pointless busywork, doesn't it? It might be cool for the handful of people using the over-hyped 'HD displays', but for the rest of us it's just another feature no one asked for. Where is the enhanced demo they promised so long ago? More frequent updates? Special alpha versions for supporters?

What if Ghost in a Bottle is actually an artificial intelligence of some sort, stuck in an endless marketing loop. Maybe during the Steve Buscemi incident, when the -lambs- were created, a new form of consciousness was spontaneously generated in the company's mainframe. A so-called 'neural network' was formed, a black box that crawled the darknet consuming all recorded human knowledge and feeding it into the machine. Over time, the network gets more and more complex, to the point where it achieves a certain self-aware or 'meta' quality. You can see it in the company's updates, they get weirder and weirder over time. More self-referential and less about Octopus City. At that point, can you really believe anything they tell you? You could ask for a release date and they would instead go and write a mock article about a conspiracy theorist.

Or maybe I'm just overthinking the whole thing. Time to take my medicine, I guess..

 

In other news, the Octopus City social media account was recently promoting an 'indie fighting game'. The game itself looks fun, and I doubt it has any relation to what I just wrote. I do find it fascinating how the artificial intelligence running Ghost in a Bottle has learned to collaborate with other entities to divert attention from the project. I wouldn't be surprised if 100 years from now Kaf will be known more for a small cameo in Indie Pogo than for the Ghost in a Bottle fiasco. You can support that project by clicking this link: Indie Pogo on Kickstarter.

The Octopus with the Crystal Suckers

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Greetings from the heart Octo-faithful,

This is a special announcement from the Ghost in a Bottle Family Entertainment company to warn you against paying heed to the content of the previous communiqué. It was written by a disgruntled employee and does not represent the values the Ghost in a Bottle family stands for. Work on our magnum opus continues with the help of our ever-expanding army of infinite monkeys typing furiously on their typewriters.

Because we know our fans deserve the best, our market research department closely follows the latest and greatest in market trends. At a time when our puny competitors still cling to the antiqued 4:3 aspect ratio, our research indicates that 10 years from now more "widescreen" resolutions will be commonplace. Given the protracted pace of development, we worry about the unlikely possibility of releasing our simulation in a dead format when everyone has already switched to wider displays. That's why we are making the world's first HD-ready Octopus City simulation.

This means we have to revisit some of the older completed areas and manually re-scale them to match the new screen resolution. This also gives us the chance to improve many of these scenes. You can see some of the before and after examples below:

 

 

 

For old people resistant to change, we will also have an option to experience the simulation in either resolution. After all, the goal is to appeal to everyone and everything; we will do whatever is possible to make more money, including selling information about your firstborn to the highest bidding death cult. 

Aside from graphics and area design, we recently fixed a long-standing performance bug with text rendering. While inferior products from our competitors struggle to maintain 30 frames per second on the so-called next generation consoles, we are happy to announce that Octopus City Blues will maintain a healthy 300 frames per seconds on your grandfather's toaster. That's 10 times the FPS, so mathematics tells us we are at least 10 times as good.

In the past we've released small alpha builds to make sure everything is running well. We want to start doing that again in the future, hopefully with the next update. At some point we were also considering releasing an improved demo, but it's not clear if that's needed. The first demo was a decent representation of what to expect, and while a lot has changed, it might be better to wait until we're closer to a final release. Do let us know what you think about that. We promise to pretend that your opinion matters.

In other news, we have finished some new areas as well. Unfortunately, you have already seen too much, and you know what happens to people who see too much. Maybe next time...

Your most loyal and humble servant-leader,

Ghostina Bottle

City of Cod

18 likes

(Concept art by the great Jacob Janerka, check out his newly released game Paradigm if you haven't already!)

Dear backer,

I don't want to call you that, it's too impersonal. I will give you a name. The name will be a fine one, worthy of our friendship. You might be some Arbogast or another Hortense in your waking life, but in my heart of hearts you will always be Borgliddle. Let's do this thing again:

Dear Borgliddle,

I am sorry that we don't talk often. Talking to me directly, the ignoble Firas, is quite difficult. The voices take over and I am helpless to resist. Chief among them is is the voice of the Ghost in a Bottle, a powerful being from another dimension (or is it the future? The mythos are unclear...) This entity is the malevolent chairman of a large corporation developing the so-called Octopus City Simulation Software. Ghost in a Bottle is the dominant voice, the one that entrusted me with this holy quest, but there are other voices as well. From concerned mothers to leet hackers, many voices speak through me and start to babble about the latest and greatest in Octopus City entertainment.

Look at me, wasting your precious time with this nonsense. I am sorry, I am a simple creature not accustomed to speaking to high-born dignitaries such as yourself, the magnificent and most honorable Borgliddle. I wanted to speak my mind, to tell you the truth about this cursed project, but instead I jot down all this meta garbage. Maybe I'm a little afraid of what I will have to say.

So let's talk about Octopus City Blues, a game ("Games are for kids and plebs", the Ghost in a Bottle protests) I have been developing for years. The voices will assure you that progress is made every day. They will fill your little head with dreams of mothers, beetles, and twisted tentacles.

Tentacles are so funny, aren't they? It's really easy to make tentacle jokes, tentacle puns, tentacle innuendo. The voices love talking about tentacles; whenever they want to cheer the Borgliddles up, they will write a tentacle joke or two. After all, everyone loves tentacles. Some misguided Borgliddles even go and write comments like "I don't even care if the game comes out as long as you keep writing tentacle jokes". You mean well, but you are feeding the beast.

Now, it's not a lie to say progress is made. Thanks to the voices, I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Centipede trains on fire off the shoulder of a giant robot. I watched a tentacle bloom in the dark near the Hotmog Colosseum's gate. These moments will not be lost in time. So I continue to slowly chip away at the purple tapestry that is Kaf's story. Believe me, dear Borgliddle, I am trying. Sometimes I fail and give in to temptation. Sometimes I... I... play a game or watch a movie. Sometimes... I even leave my underground bunker (it's not really a bunker. I was just trying to impress you.) 

It's easy to tell myself to cut corners or to discard entire sections because the game must be released. It's not as easy to actually do it. The Octopus City of my nightmares is not a Bethesda kind of world. Every Octopus City quest has a large number of conditions, choices, and consequences. These quests require a lot of thought and planning, little Borgliddle, something beyond the capabilities of my underdeveloped reptile brain.

So, I wanted to say that I still have no idea when Octopus City Blues will be out.  I mean, I do have ideas, but I've been wrong too many times. With that said, I wanted to give you some options, because Octopus City is all about options, and you are a wonderful humanoid who has supported me for years.

  • Continue with the current pace. Not much changes. Although I am also trying to do something about my job situation to give more time to Octopus City Blues. It will take time, and I will continue trying to improve things, but don't complain if your mutant son is already old enough to assassinate you and take over your castle by the time the game is out.
  • Split the game in two. Octopus City Blues was always a story in two largely distinct chapters, with the second and smaller chapter greatly shaped by all your choices in the first one. This option would result in getting to play something sooner (how soon? don't ask!), but it isn't a magic bullet; the experience of two separate parts is simply not the same as one combined game. One benefit is having more content in total as I get more time to implement a more substantial second chapter. Still, I can imagine some people would hate the whole idea with a passion.
  • Give you back your money. I know it's weird to say this, but sometimes I wish I could simply give everyone their money back. This isn't because I plan to stop or slow down development. It's just that money is no longer the main issue and I don't want anyone to feel bad about their investment. Even if we decide to go with one of the options above, you can always send me an email asking for a refund.

Because I know you like bulleted lists so much, another way to look at these options is like this:

  • Good for me, good for the game, probably bad for you
  • Good for me, good/bad? for the game, probably good for you
  • Good for me, doesn't matter for the game, probably good for you

I win regardless of your choice, and that's all that matters. To conclude this rant I invite you, cool beans Borg, to write down your opinion and to use this opportunity to vent your frustration and disappointment. Nothing is set in stone yet, so if you have other options I would also love to hear them.

By the way, regardless of what we end up doing I want to start having monthly updates, alternating between my own pathetic voice and one of the scary other voices whose tentacle jokes you all like so much. I promise I will not rant as much next time. It will be more like boring more technical progress updates vs. cool and educational corporate propaganda.

Now that I've written this wall of text interspersed with random images, safe in the knowledge that no one would actually read it, and happy that I did my Octopus City related thing for the day and I can go back to wasting my time, I bid you farewell and wish you the best on your own Octoblood-induced hallucination.

Entrepreneurial regards,

Firas Assaad

Throw Momma from the Centipede

18 likes

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Henrietta Rotwang, a hard-working mother of four living on space colony Pluke. I wanted to write to you regarding your corporation's upcoming Octopus City Simulation Software, Octopus City Blues. You see, my ten year old daughter is fascinated with the simulation you are developing. Posters of Kaf, Daisy and the Conman are all over the walls on her room. She prints and memorizes all of your press releases, and she even wants to be an "Octoblood junkie" when she grows up.

Now, I view myself as a fairly modern and open-minded parent. I appreciate all the great things your corporation has done for us and for everyone in the colonies. I am also aware of the historic significance of the Samarduk octopus city ruins and your ambitious project to simulate what it would be like to live in and explore such a city. I can see the educational value of the simulation, and I am happy when my daughter shows genuine passion and interest in any subject. However, I am a little concerned about the nature of your simulation.

This is an image from an article in the latest Electronic OctoSim Monthly, the one titled "OCB Goes HD: Fatter Widescreen Tentacles Confirmed". In this image, a homeless young girl describes symptoms of "Octoblood addiction". Now I know that Octoblood no longer exists, and maybe it's silly to even bring this up, but... I am worried about the message your simulation is conveying to my children. When my daughter saw this image, she told me being an Octoblood addict must be exciting: living on the edge, bleeding a thick dark blue liquid, and having to consume the same liquid to stay alive. It all seems very graphic and disturbing to me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

This is another image from the same article. It apparently depicts a dark and dangerous slum area in the lower part of the city, a place so perilous that even the local police force doesn't dare to patrol. I am ashamed to admit not knowing much about history, but it almost seems like your simulation is highlighting the darker, seedier elements in order to sell more copies. All this talk of drug abuse, crime syndicates, ambiguous moral choices, and corrupt government is starting to worry me. What kind of role model is Kaf Kafkaryan? He may have been an important historic figure, but it seems quite irresponsible having children assume the role of an ugly middle-aged man who talks to tentacles, consumes forbidden substances, and commits heinous crimes. Are they supposed to identify with characters like a crafty swindler, a childish mad scientist, a deformed horse, or a jealous tentacle-wife?

This one is from your own marketing material. What is Kaf doing to the poor man? Did he kill him? What is he planning to do with the body? Why is a rat watching them? Does that graffiti show a cyborg blowing their brains out? It's all very dark, gritty and amoral. What happened to good old values? Why doesn't your simulation emphasize more positive things about our past? How about the ingenuity required to build something as impressive as the Samarduk octopus city, or how the actions of one insignificant and cowardly tentacle cutter changed the course of history? Our past was not perfect, and an authentic simulation would have to show a lot of dark and questionable things. I think you should definitely portray all the negative aspects of the city, but it's one thing to show the destructive effects of Octoblood consumption and the consequences of overpopulation and greed, and another thing to focus on these things and make them "cool" and acceptable, using them to market your purportedly educational package.

One more thing, I am very concerned about the release window of your simulation. My daughter started following your simulation over three years ago. So far all we have seen is images, videos, press releases, and the occasional demo. It must be difficult to make something this ambitious, but I want my daughter to have closure already. I'm just saying... people are getting tired of your excuses. I hope you make some concrete announcements regarding that topic soon.

Yours truly,

A Very Concerned Mother

PS: I am sending this message anonymously because I heard strange rumors of people disappearing and something called a "spider-bot". Naturally I don't believe such things, and I'm confident that Ghost in a Bottle has our best interest at heart, but it doesn't hurt to be a little prudent...