Developing a horrible goose and a huge following

We chat with House House developer Nico Disseldorp about their latest project Untitled Goose Game

Last year, House House received support from Film Victoria for the early development stage of Untitled Goose Game. Through our most recent round of funding, announced this week, we’re helping the talented team take the game through to release. With a huge online following, unique gameplay and a truly distinctive style, we chat with House House developer Nico Disseldorp to find out why the game gained such a following, how it compares to Push Me Pull You, what talent is behind the project, and why they call it a ‘slapstick immersive sim’.

Congratulations on receiving API – Games funding to complete Untitled Goose Game! Where are you currently at with the game and when will you be releasing it?

Thank you very much! The game is coming along well. We are currently working on some of the later areas of the game, and want to release the game in early 2019.

What was the inspiration behind this game and who’s it for?

The very simple, literal inspiration for the game is a goofy looking stock image of a goose that Stuart posted in our group chat with the caption ‘let’s make a game about this’. Somehow that went from us riffing on what was good about a goose (the whole animal is only two colours), to different hypothetical game designs (there’s a church fête and you just absolutely destroy it), to the kind of half stealth simulator, half silent comedy film we’ve got now.

As for audience, this game started out pretty much just for us, almost as an in-joke – we thought the idea was funny, and would be a good testing ground for a few things we wanted to experiment with. The fact it has resonated so well with people was a very welcome surprise.

The game has been getting a lot of attention online – what makes it so appealing to players and what has your strategy been for building such a strong audience?

I think part of the reason the game is popular online is that the game is easy enough understand just by watching it for a while. Even if you’ve never seen the game before and don’t know what you are looking at, it’s pretty easy to work out what is going on.

There’s something about being the goose that seems to be very appealing to people. I think lots of people like to play pretty much every game by trying to break everything and make a big mess, and they see our goose and recognise part of themselves.

In terms of building an audience, I think we just focus on the things that we think we do well. For us that is videos, so we’ve let our two trailers be the main way we’ve shown our game online. I often feel like there is lot of pressure to always share more and more online in all different ways but as a small team we can’t do everything.

How does it sit alongside Push Me Pull You? What are the key differences and how is it similar?

Both games are premises to create physical comedy. In Push Me Pull You, the humour comes from the uncanny movements of these strange bodies, and from the strange communication required to do anything when you and your partner are joined together.

The goose game’s comedy is much more character driven and situational.

Can you tell us a little about the development process? What have been the major challenges and what have you done to overcome them?

The most difficult thing was trying to work out what exactly we were making. We knew from the start that it was a game where you are a horrible goose, but it was harder to know what format the game would take, what exactly would you do? We just put a goose into a scene and kept trying to add ways for the goose to do something funny, hoping that eventually it would make sense.

Right up until we released our first trailer in October 2017, we were quite worried that we had made a game that we liked because of this funny character, but that other people might not get the joke or want to play. Thankfully they do.

How many people and disciplines have gone into the creation of the game? How does the team come together?

There are four of us in the core team. We have all known each other since we were teenagers, and eventually figured out that we were all interested in videogames. We got together as a group about five years ago, when we started making Push Me Pull You. Michael and Stuart have a fine art background, Jake studied film and TV, and I’m a self-taught programmer.

We design everything collaboratively, and our roles are pretty fluid, but we have our areas of specialisation too. Michael tends to work on art direction, graphic design, and UI design. Stuart works on character design and animation. Jake does the level design and environment art. All three do lots of modelling. I do all the programming.

Outside of House House, Dan Golding, who did the music for Push Me Pull You, is again helping us with the music for the game, which this time around uses arrangements of Debussy. Our sound designer is Em Halberstadt, who has been hunting down physical versions of our in-game props and recording them for us. We’ve had help with art and animation from Melbourne artist Kalonica, who has problem solved lots of our art issues. We also get support from our publisher, Panic.

What excites you about Victoria’s games industry currently and what’s next for House House?

When I’m at game events overseas people sometimes ask me, “is there a game developer meetup in Melbourne?”, and it’s kind of hard to summarise how far past that point we are here. The scene is big enough that it accommodates lots of different kinds of development, and the different kinds of events and networks needed to support them.

You see it come through in the kinds of games that get made here. There are world class IGF nominated commercial videogames, but also incredible experimental works that might get released for free online, but also make a huge impression locally when they are embraced by places like Freeplay or Bar SK. There’s not just one model of development that works in Victoria.

As for House House, we still have to finish our game. We know that people are excited to play, which is both very motivating and a bit intimidating. After that who knows, we have a million ideas for games we’d like to make next, but won’t really know which one feels right until it’s time to start.

Image: Untitled Goose Game by House House, which was funded through Film Victoria’s Assigned Production Investment – Games program in the early development stage in 2017 and again to complete the project in 2018.