USgamer is at GDC throughout the week! Keep an eye on the linked hub for news, interviews, and more!
Ooblets is the type of game that child-me would have dreamed of. It takes the quiet town life of Animal Crossing, the mundane farming of Harvest Moon, and mashes it with the endearing monster battling (and collecting) of Pokemon. It’s explicit about these references, to the point of semi-worry, and it’s a game that by all accounts doesn’t sound like it’d work in a cohesive way. And yet, Ooblets successfully mixes all these elements, and does so while while emitting the charisma of the great cartoons of today, like the charmingly self-aware (and personally referenced to me by the developers) Adventure Time and Gravity Falls.
”We thought Ooblets was too big of a concept,” said Ben Wasser, the game designer behind Ooblets. “But people really loved it.” Glumberland is the two-person development team behind Ooblets, featuring artist and programmer Rebecca Cordingley along with Wasser. Ooblets got its start when Cordingley, brightened with inspiration while playing Stardew Valley, decided to make her own game. Ooblets, once named Moblets, originally began as a side project of sorts—despite being arguably too grand a scale—and resided as secondary to the absurdist venture IT Simulator.
But despite some Twitter-bound promotion and chatter, IT Simulator found itself at a standstill. It wasn’t resonating with people anywhere near on the level that the adorable gifs of the wandering plant critters in Ooblets perked the ears of netizens. And so, the developers made a switch and put all their efforts behind Ooblets, vowing to make it the most well-rounded, endearing farming-monster-raising-town-managing simulator that it could possibly be.
Ooblets knows it’s complicated at a glance, but its tutorial level wades you carefully into its world. Your story is set up in a familiar fashion—you take a train into the small town of Oob, and immediately meet a new acquaintance. You’re ushered to find an Ooblet of your own—the game’s Pokemon-like creatures—and you’re quickly handed a mushroom wearing sunglasses named Shrumbos. One look, and I’m in love with Shrumbo. (It’s a mushroom wearing sunglasses for crying out loud.)
I’m led into my first battle to the death with Shrumbo at my side against another plant-like creature. But my mushroom friend destroys them without a thought. I’m ushered into my new quaint home, accompanied by a weed-ridden garden. I’m urged to dig a hole, plant a seed, water the seed, and later find something surprising awaiting me: a new friend, or rather, an Ooblet. This, the developers tell me, is what sets the game apart from all the other games it name-checks. Your farm isn’t merely for growing plants, but for growing food to level-up your Ooblets, and better yet, grow some Ooblets of your own.
Beneath its cheery exterior is something else delightful on the interior: a sunny sense of humor. The humor, Cordingley tells me, was inspired by anime. She notes the recent anime New Game, a series about young, budding game developers, and Himouto! Umaru-chan, a show about a popular girl who reverts to her lazy game-obsessed state when at home, as specific shows that inspired the outlook of the personalities of the citizens of Oob. Though, she credits the humor in anime as a whole as being essential to the writing of the game.
Despite all the similarities and wink-wink references to classic games, Cordingley and Wasser hope that Ooblets will set itself apart from the games that inspired them. “[We’re making] our own feel of it,” said Wasser. From the team-based battles to the upgradable and later automation-based farms (which, they note, will be able to employ machines to do the hard work, like watering hundreds of seeds, for you), Ooblets is a game about working towards a goal: and that goal is to have the most and strongest little Ooblet pals that you can possibly wield.
The game will also have a shopkeeping component, where the player manages their own shop and is also responsible for selling items and junk from it. “We’re gonna have it a little more complicated,” said Wasser, explaining that as a shopkeeper, it will feel more like a job than the simpler shopkeeping ways seen in other games. Despite my accidental game-breaking demo (hey, it happens in early builds like these, my bad), I walked away from Ooblets on cloud nine; wishing child-me could see this now and what she would think. And most of all, I felt genuinely eager to see more of it; which I will, when the game releases in 2018.