Interview with Okabu Developer HandCircus

I recently had the opportunity and privilege to interview Simon Oliver, founder of the London-based indie development studio HandCircus. The company is currently prepping for the release of its first console title, Okabu, scheduled for launch on the PlayStation Network later this month as part of Sony's Only on PSN promotion. Simon was on a time crunch, so I made sure to get to the important questions regarding Okabu, which looks to be a promising download.

GameZone: First off, who is this game for? What types of gamers should check out Okabu, and what can they expect upon playing the game?

Simon Oliver: This game is for people that like to try new experiences. We have created something that is very distinctive, and we want gamers to share the experience with other people. For example, a core gamer playing with his girlfriend.

GZ: How did the core concepts for this title come to fruition? Is the game inspired by any other titles?

SO: True inspiration for the game came from a TV show called Planet Earth, which goes around the world and focuses on different environments. There's a scene from the Okavango Delta where nature comes to life, which really inspired me in creating Okabu.

There is also a show called Monkey Magic based on a Chinese myth or legend that was on TV when I was a kid. It was about a hero monkey that flies on the back of a cloud, which was the inspiration for the cloud-flying heroes.

In terms of actual mechanics, we spent a lot of time prototyping ideas. We're a really small team of five people, so we rapidly prototype, an idea surfaces in the morning, and by the afternoon it is being tried out in the game.

GZ: Keeping with the presentation, the visual design is similar throughout all HandCircus games, which is something I can really appreciate. What drove you to go with the cel-shaded graphical style as opposed to something a bit more realistic?

SO: When moving from iPhone to PS3, we wanted something that would look smoother, and to establish a noticeable art style for our fans. A lot of games are very gray and very brown, and we wanted something that is distinctive and new–something that pops–and with Okabu, in a number of magazines, lately that is exactly what it does with the colorful images. If we attempted to make something ultra-realistic with such a small team, we feared we wouldn't get the quality that we would really want, so we decided to go the direction of stylized, bolder art.

GZ: How long is Okabu, and does it have any extra content?

SO: The game is eight hours at the fastest play-through, and about 16 for those who collect all the medals and achievements. The campaign is spread across four worlds and includes four endless mini-games where most of the competition will come from, so there is a lot of replayability in Okabu. Also, in each level there are four different objectives that are hard to get on each play-through: collectibility, time challenge, hidden mystical egg pick-up missions, and combat medals.

GZ: Is it possible that we'll see HandCircus expanding to Steam, XBLA, or WiiWare?

SO: Everything's possible at this stage!

GZ: As a big fan of indie studios and indie games, I like learning about the favorite games, developers, and inspirations for indie devs. What would you say are your favorite developers and games?

SO: Capybara, Hello Games, Sprinkle on iOS, Curve, Hydroventure (Fluidity) on WiiWare. Lots of recent games on the downloadable space are really exciting. I spend the most time downloading games on PSN, XBLA, and iOS. Limbo by Playdead is another example. Red Dead was fantastic–loved the large, expansive worlds where you can really lose yourself, jump on a horse, ride into the sunset. Also, the 16-bit Nintendo era was a big inspiration for me personally.

We hope you got a nice look into the world of HandCircus. Okabu definitely seems like a title to watch out for. And with local co-op, plenty of content for solo players, rich visuals, and an interesting soundtrack, gamers looking for a solid download should definitely keep their eyes on Okabu. Check back here on GameZone when we review the game and give you the skinny on the latest title from HandCircus. Okabu is set to land on the PlayStation Network on October 18. Watch out for it!

I would personally like to thank Simon Oliver for taking the time to answer my questions. Looking forward to another interview down the road!