Hewitt helps make award-winning game

Adam Larck
Kyle Hewitt helped design the house and community that Octodad walks around during the game.

When Kyle Hewitt went to DePaul University to work on his master of science in digital cinema, he was not sure what he wanted to do with his degree.

However, he was sure of one thing: he was not into architecture.

“I thought of it as a possibility,” Hewitt said. “I had started doing 3D models when I was an undergrad. I had discovered games along the way, that I had really liked video games and had been playing more video games. I was really enjoying how immersive they are.”

Hewitt, a 2003 graduate of Dunlap High School and a graduate of Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, said that the school was talking about the Independent Games Festival in 2010 because the design team had made it there. He really got excited about it after his advisor spoke in one of his classes.

“I was like, ‘Wow. This is what I want to do. This would be an awesome way to build some skills and to get to know how it works a bit and understand game design,’” he said.

Hewitt decided to join the team, and would become one of the 18 students that worked on Octodad. Octodad has players controlling an octopus that tries to pretend to be human by doing everyday things.

“Our whole goal was the Independent Games Festival, and we wanted to get into the finals,” he said. “We knew that they were focusing on innovation. They always do, because they want to see new things they’ve never seen before. All the AAA-titles, they’re always doing things that are safe because they’re going to make money. Indie games, you don’t really care, you just want to have fun.”

During the process of trying to come up with a game, Hewitt said many ideas were scrapped because elements of the game had been seen in other titles. After the Octodad idea came up, the team got excited and ideas started coming fast.

Hewitt said his position on the team was a primary environmental artist.

“I was one of five artists, so we were just creating a lot of content for the game,” he said. “In my case, it was the places that the octopus was walking through. I modeled his house and then I also did the neighborhood around the house. I had to have some help from some of the other artists to finish up textures and things like that. I came up with a lot of the environmental concepts that we had. We had decided on this mid-century Americana aesthetic.”

This was his first game on which he worked, and he said he had to get some help creating graphical assets for the game.

“I had never done it before, and there’s a lot of technical things that have to get done,” Hewitt said. “You can’t have any faces that have more than four vertices (corners of a surface) in it. You have to optimize for the game engine.”

He said that he learned new techniques and tools to help along the way.

The mid-century Americana feel was not the only feel the team considered. In fact, Hewitt said another feel that really influenced what they ended with was a cartoony look.

“We looked at Ren & Stimpy a lot,” he said. “It was a lot more abstract.”

The team had to submit Octodad to the Independent Games Festival board by Nov. 1. The board looked at hundreds of entries before naming their title the winner of the Student Showcase.

Other rewards the game has received include an Honorable Mention as one of the Top 10 Indies of 2010 by Gamasutra, Top 100 Indie Game by IndieDB, one of the Best Free Games of 2010 by G4 and Funniest Game of the Year by SplitSider.

While Hewitt considered working on an Octodad sequel with the team, he said he wants to go somewhere else to learn more about game design.

“I’m going to start applying to game studios all over the country,” he said. “I’d like to get in a game studio and work in the art department, either at an internship level or entry. It would be nice to do that and learn what all goes on.”

He said he would like to stay in Chicago, but that it “would be amazing to work for Sony or Microsoft.”