Badb's Tea House and More - A Chat with John O'Kane

I had the pleasure of chatting with John about his most recent release, 'Badb's Tea House' and also chatted with him about his own insights into his development and design process!

When did you start making games, and what motivated you to do it and keep doing it?

Oh wow, the big question. I don’t really recall not wanting to make games. I think I was three or four, I saw a game at someone else's house on an old casio computer or something. It had an educational game where if you got the right answer an animation of a train would traverse the screen. I got fascinated at that point. I never really had a computer until I was about twelve, so I spent much of my time around my cousins or friends playing games on the Commodore 64 or NES/SNES. I made a few small things, it was normal to do that as well and play games. The first game I made was a lottery text adventure type thing. It was a so-so game but it did expose me to basic programming.

Playing games was usually a social thing. With my cousins we had a room with chairs in a queue and a game setup (after a really slow tape loading process), often running all day. One moment everyone would be outside playing football, then next everyone could be inside playing Frogger! It was just a part of the normal activities. So despite the relative lack of computers, we all got a lot of experience, at least playing on them. I do think it was fun to also slowly discover new genres of game as they got created. Today, as soon as you are aware of games, you sort of get the full and polished history of them thrown at you immediately..

As I went into my teenage years I kinda became that classic solitary gamer. I didn’t really make games then, I just consumed everything I could on the Amiga. After college I decided to get into making games for a living. There's good advice out there, that “you should be constantly making games”. I didn't do that, oops! When I applied to  game companies I quickly realised I had nowhere near enough skills or experience. So I started making my own hobby demos to learn what I was missing. I eventually did get employed in a company called Torc interactive (later known as Instinct technology) in the early 2000’s.

After a few years of working I went backpacking and when I came back I wanted a soft landing. I decided to do the IET Masters at Trinity college but it turned out to actually be a lot of work! While doing it I decided I wanted move more into the creative side of things, that I was playing it safe by sticking with programming only. I always loved the creative design process such as the story telling, design and drawing. So that newer direction has been where I've been going ever since.

Next question! It is pronounced BABS or BAVS? It’s BABS isn’t it?

I’m not going to answer that…

Please answer it!

I really don't know ha ha, I’m going to say BADV's with a V at the end with a silent D. I really don’t know though. It was a thing with Grandpa Pip as well, there were a lot of characters that people couldn't pronounce if you weren't Irish.

I’m Irish and I couldn't say half of them ha!

I would often have an idea of who the character was. Then I'd look up Irish mythology and find some characters that seem to have similar characteristics and more often than not someone cool would exist. For example, Badb (also known as Morrigan and other names in different european countries) seem to fit the role perfectly. It’s kinda like Egobahl. I had the main character not know how to say his name and it was just an in joke. So to answer your question, I’m not going to give you a definitive answer. (BAVS is his preference)

Before Badb’s Tea House, there was Grandpa Pip's Birthday, very similar in art style, game play, story design etc, Both games were featured in PipsVille. What was the inspiration behind PipsVille, and the games surrounding it?

The whack mode featured in Grandpa Pip’s Birthday is Super Sword Sword Shield (SSSS), but a shorter version, put in for fun.  It’s built on the same sort of tech and was just a chance to show that off.  I was working on SSSS and Chris was working on fungus, and it was a way of bringing some attention to SSSS and Fungus. When I started making SSSS, I didn’t like endless runners.

Really odd, cus you’re making an endless runner ha!

Yeah right? The bit that I realized that I didn’t particularly like was that they were endless. Like I would happily play a runner if I was told it had a finite ending. Although SSSS looks like a endless runner, it's actually a 10 minute fixed experience. I just really like the idea of learning the mechanics and techniques rather than dealing with randomness and the sense of being worn down.

I also wanted to create a sense of progression in the visuals e.g. “I got to the mountain region” or “I was at the first well” etc. That put pressure on the art requirements though. 
In SSSS, the horse runs through the village in fifteen seconds. So if I was going to build up these graphics getting reuse out of them by making a game in Fungus for each section seemed to make sense. As I was creating more graphics I needed something to the right of the village which ended up in Badb’s Tea house. The character Ann from Grandpa Pip’s seemed popular. Ann is a very excitable, dark and strong character. Badb was designed in Ann’s spirit but a little more rounded.

I moved quickly when designing Badb's Tea House so I didn't realize what the game was about until I was about two thirds through. I had to stop and make large changes. The result is sort of messier for it, but also more distinctive. People seem to have enjoyed it. I had someone call Badb’s not a game. I felt proud after that.

Badb’s was featured on a lot of sites like Rock paper shotgun, front-page of GameJolt, features in general. How do you feel about it? Pretty cool right?

It’s nice knowing that some people have seen and played it. Also getting feedback on your work is always good. In other ways it doesn’t matter, making the game was the important bit, getting that creative release. Having two games of similar style helps I think, for both me and an audience. An audience, who like what you do, is good. I would love to make a living on this and validation does help motivate you. It’s not that I have a clear goal in how I go about doing that, but thinking commercially or how to get cultural funding has to be a part of it. I don't think anyone should think less of anyone attempting to make some money to survive, we've all got do it or we won't be able to continue. No one needs to be a starving artist.

When will we see more of PipsVille?

I'm in the process of designing the next one, which will be a couple of weeks of thinking and fleshing everything out. This is always the most fun stage. With Grandpa Pips I didn’t rush into it, it was a slow burner. A lot of the rough edges were taken off it, it was mostly a puzzler game. With Badb’s the process was not as good, particularly in the middle when I was a little lost for direction. For the next game I'm going to try avoid that but keep some of the rough edges.

The next game takes place in a haunted abbey. It will probably be more of a puzzle kind of game and will roughly be around the twenty minute mark. I will do a solid two months to get the logic of the game, art, and animations done. After that I will then take another couple of months, spread out, to give me time to polish and tinker with the dialog as well as continue with other projects. So maybe before Christmas this year? 

If you want to check out more of John's work be sure to check out the links below

Twitter: @johnokane : Link

Website: Link