I can’t exactly remember when I saw Owlboy for the first time, but I do remember it was quite a while ago.
Like… years ago. Literally years.
The visuals were fantastic, the character had a strong design, and it looked exactly the kind of action-adventure game that I love to sink my teeth into. Back then, I thought the game would be out in another six months or a year, but it never appeared.
More time went by, and I’m pretty sure I saw it at conventions at least once or twice more, but still, it never showed up.
Every now and again I’d wonder what happened to it, so it’s a testament to how appealing it was that it stayed in my memory for so long. One day, just as I was about to google its fate, the developers reached out and let me know that their passion project was finally, finally, finally reaching a stage of completion after nine-ish years.
It’s so close to being done, in fact, that they sent me a demo, and I love when I’ve seen so far.
The visuals are just as good as I remember, it feels great to play (tested with an Xbox One controller on Steam) and the game design is quite interesting – Otus, the titular owlboy, can fly freely around his environment, and he teams up with friends to get through puzzles and to defeat enemies. This team-up while flying is a great mechanic, and one which offers many possibilities.
Although the demo was short, every minute of it was top-notch, and if it’s representative of the final game’s quality, it’s absolutely going to be one to watch for.
While a final release date hasn’t yet been announced, I’m expecting to get more news on this at PAX West next week. For more information on Owlboy now, you can check out the website at D-Pad Studio.
In the meantime, one of the level designers, Adrian Bauer, was kind enough to answer five questions for me…
BG: So tell me, what is Owlboy?
AB: Owlboy takes place in a world where the land floats high above the ocean. Otus is a plucky young owl still learning from his strict mentor, Asio, and this is an action-adventure game about flying with Otus’s friends. Otus is a mute and still a kid, and that makes life difficult, but he is giving his all to be there for people who depend on him. It’s a highly detailed and lush pixel-art world with distinct and colorful environments to explore — he’s on a journey to grow into Asio’s expectations and more.
BG: Why should we care about Owlboy?
AB: You should care about Owlboy if you’re drawn in by whimsical melodies, exceptional artwork, likable expressive characters, dramatic yet lighthearted stories, and are a fan of classic games.
BG: What’s the story behind the game and your studio?
AB: Owlboy started with Simon sketching flying characters. He eventually settled on owls after a suggestion from his (recently married) wife, Julie.
We (Simon, Jonathan, Blake, myself) abandoned our RPG, Project Rhapsody, and begun our quest in the land of Microsoft XNA. Unfortunately for Blake, his quest came to an end when he was slain by a grue around 2009. Our party grew again a year or so later when it was joined by Jo-Remi, and Henrik. The journey has been a long and difficult one but we’ve kept going for the goblet of Hootonia.
A great deal of our growth as people and developers has come from Owlboy. Blake (the programmer who started with us) had bills to pay and stuff to do, so he left us around 2009 to work for a series of developers. Jo-Remi and Henrik joined us after a year of little-to-no possible progress on the game or our tools. Jo was considering a job at Lionhead and also lived across town from Simon. Henrik is Simon’s younger brother and a published author.
They got to work immediately, fixing and optimizing relentlessly. Systems were overhauled, fire belched and then quenched with gallons of beer and tea. We earned industry recognition with our IGF nomination in 2010 and that really made us feel like we had legitimate potential.
We continued developing, earning recognition, balancing life, sometimes unbalancing life. Life can be crazy and you never know what will strike you down for a time. Simon, Jo, and Henrik shifted into full-time work on the project after the Norwegian film fund started helping out. It wasn’t much but it was something to keep them focused. Jonathan continued to compose in his free time and we introduced him to other developers like Alsono (Heart Forth Alicia). I continued to work full-time at my job and eventually had to move after finishing university.
As time went on, my life has gotten quieter and it’s easier to put in more Owlboy hours. Along the way as we hit development milestones we were accepted into the Pax10 2013, GDC Best in Play 2015, and other nods from the Norwegian scene. Actually I should point this out now before it becomes confusing — Simon, Jo, and Henrik are in Norway. Jonathan is in the USA, and I’m in Canada. We work around the clock picking up when the others go to sleep.
Something else that we did along the way is test the waters with our first commercial game in 2013, Savant Ascent. We finished this one in about 5 months, and then came back to it with a few free content updates. We needed a break from Owlboy and our musician friend Aleksander Vinter (Savant) wanted us to make him a small game.
Fan reception has been excellent to this day. It ended up being a very good thing for us as it filled in the financial gaps for the guys in Norway and kept us focused on Owlboy. That game gave us a very good look at what a launch on Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, and iOS is like. It was a great learning experience, but was getting too distracting so we put the planned Sony ports on hold until after Owlboy.
BG: How soon can someone play Owlboy, and on what systems?
AB: Owlboy will be initially released for Windows PCs. You will be able to buy it on Steam but we are talking to other stores — Savant can be found on almost everything, for example.
We will be porting the game out of XNA so we can do Linux/ Mac next. It’s just that right now we’re focused on a stable and solid game. Supporting too many platforms at once with a small team makes a backlog and people are unhappy when it seems like we’re not responding. We’ll also eventually talk about consoles when the time comes. If we started to convert the game to FNA now, we run the risk of major setbacks.
Right now actually you can wishlist the game on Steam and that will help you keep track of it if we don’t have support for your computer just yet.
BG: If you could say one thing to a prospective player to convince them to jump into Owlboy, what would it be?
AB: The feedback for Owlboy has been absolutely glowing from everyone who’s picked it up, and I think that the game has touched a sweet spot with people who just want incredibly polished games to play. We have left a great impression, and I think it’s because we’ve been so insane about letting nothing lag in quality.
Infinite thanks to Adrian Bauer and D-Pad Studio for their time, and look forward to more Owlboy information in the very near future!
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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