Chickadingding, Fleeble, Gullysplot, Plob. “Why, the good people of Rock Paper Shotgun have finally lost it!” you might cry. But these nonsense words are poised to become household names. They’re the names of a selection of Ooblets, the titular cutesie creatures of Glumberland’s upcoming town life indie game.
If you’ve seen any of the grassroots marketing behind Ooblets, you already have an idea of the charming, laid-back world it's attempting to create. You can easily see sprigs of Pokémon, Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley in its garden, but that’s not to say it isn’t making any meaningful strides of its own, experimenting with and riffing off the features it's drawing influence from.
“We're hoping that when people first play Ooblets they'll see very clearly how it's unique from any of its component inspirations,” says Rebecca Cordingley, who shares development duties with her husband, Ben Wasser. “We've put a lot of ourselves into everything and over time it's drifted more and more off into its own thing.”
Clever design decisions have been made during the iterative development process, which is well documented on Patreon. The combat might be the most significant departure, shifting from a traditional, Pokémon-style battle phase into a unique, non-violent card-based dance battle. Your little critters have a defined set of disco moves that they can unleash on opposing Ooblets, shaming them into backing off when they realize they’re not ready for this jelly. Upgrades add more cards to an Ooblet’s deck and status effects probe strategic thinking from players.
Cordingley also cites “growing Ooblets and shopkeeping” as key features that push Oooblets away from its forerunners, as well as the distinct otherworldly setting of the game. Current locations range from the floating town of Port Forward to Kibbon, which is described as a “mythical creature that’s a mixture of a kitten and a gibbon.” Just how you’ll explore that particular environment is left up to your imagination, for now.
Both Rebecca and Ben are self-taught game developers, embarking on the ambitious project just two years ago. They aren’t afraid to bear their heart and soul with Ooblets either, letting passion and personal taste drive what appears in the world, rather than convention.
“We're making a game that's basically tailored for all the things we personally want in games. I've never enjoyed violent games, and I'm a very quiet, reserved person, so it would be somewhat out of character for me to create a game that heavily featured conflict, violence, or competitiveness,” Cordingley tells me. “My hope is that there are other folks just like me who will enjoy it too!”
During the prototyping phase for Ooblets, the first sticking post was the visual style, something they wanted to curate before building the rest of the game. “I remember the first thing Rebecca made was a little scene with a couple plants in it, ” Wasser tells me. “Then we made a random creature for it, which I believe was what has now become Unnyhunny.” Unnyhunny, if you haven’t got your Oobledex on hand, is basically an onion with a running headband on. It is adorably plump, wears shiny red boots, and has a warming aura about it that demands protection. Ooblets,at this stage of development, is mostly caught up in this inviting, idiosyncratic art design.
“We usually just have a rough idea of a type of creature we think would be cute like a cactus or lil’ grassy guy, or a bear wearing pants, and I'll either just throw it together in Maya pretty quickly, or one of our freelancer friends will sketch out a concept,” Cordingley explains.
The pair cite a wide range of influences, from Natasha Allegri’s Bee and PuppyCat, to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Noelle Stevenson’s graphic novel Nimona. “I used to make all the Ooblets myself, but lately we've been having a lot of freelancer friends help out and design their own Ooblets and it has really helped broaden the range of styles and character in the Ooblet designs.”
The undeniable charm and diversity of the dainty Ooblets is part and parcel of why the game has been such a compelling fixture at expos, as is the clever writing. This is Wasser’s department, and with “16 core characters and then a bunch of filler NPCs” the task is mountainous - but Wasser has already peppered the game with some fantastic dialogue. One of the lines I saw shared after the game’s showing at PAX West was a quip from an NPC in a nondescript house, which read “I started a gaming blog just to get free game keys, and now it’s got international print editions and 35 employees...”
“I worry a LOT about the writing. It's pretty difficult to figure out how to balance normal character dialogue and jokes, and then balancing jokes that I think might be funny with what other people might think is funny,” Wasser explains. “A lot of the humour that might work at expos and on Twitter might not work as well for kids playing at home, so I'm constantly reworking my approach.” Despite Wasser’s worries, the game is attracting a wide audience, with GIFs and quips from Ooblets gaining substantial traction on social networks like Twitter, catapulting Rebecca and Ben’s zany world into the public eye.
“Social media has honestly been everything for us. Without the audience and positive reinforcement loop that they provide, we'd have given up on Ooblets within a month or two. We don't have an advertising budget or marketing team, so it's just us sharing what we're doing that's built up whatever buzz the game has,” says Wasser.
This positive buzz got the attention of many interested parties, leading to a publishing agreement with Tim Schafer’s company Double Fine, and help from a variety of talented freelancers.
Despite the onslaught of pressure brought on from the mainstream spotlight, Rebecca and Ben are keen to stay grounded, and, most importantly, to keep having fun with the passion project they embarked upon many moons ago.
“It can be pretty scary and isolating trying to make big decisions in a two-person team,” Wasser says. “We don't have any of the background or experience to know whether we're on the right track or not, and the expectations definitely seem bigger than what faith we place on ourselves. We've decided to just have fun with it and do our best and hope that other people like what we end up with.”