Stuart Gillespie Cook: I have no idea really what was going on at that time. It really came from us just like having a conversation like we have every day about what are the funny qualities of this. And this, in this instance, happened to be a goose.
Christa Mrgan: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose. In Untitled Goose Game, your goal as a horrible–eh, mischievous–goose is to work out how to cross tasks off your to do list, while being sneaky enough to avoid being foiled by the local townspeople. And at the same time, annoying them all as much as possible. The result is a delightful puzzle game that has you absolutely cackling as you honk and flap your way around town. And in 2019 the game leapt from the indie game community into the wider world, where it became an internet sensation. The goose was the anti-hero we never knew we needed.
But how did four-person indie game studio House House, having made just one game previously, and that as a hobby/side project, create something so fun and so delightful that it instantly inspired art and internet memes and Halloween costumes? A game that sat at the top of the Nintendo Switch app store for weeks, beating out Nintendo’s own latest Zelda game. It even won an award from the animal rights organization, PETA.
And how did a smallish company on the other side of the world, one that was primarily known for making Mac and iOS software for web developers, come to be the publisher of that game?
Welcome to the Panic Podcast, a podcast about Portland’s Panic Inc, but maybe not exactly. I’m Christa Mrgan. Join me as I follow the quirky sub-plots, surprising side quests, and curious characters that round out Portland’s most lovable indie- software and game publishing company.
And just to let you know, this podcast does contain some light spoilers for Untitled Goose Game, but it doesn’t reveal the ending or anything major. Let’s start our story in Australia, a few years before all of the goose memes. Here’s Michael McMaster, who, like everyone at indie game studio House House, does a little bit of everything. Though, he specializes in art direction and graphic design.
I asked him to tell me how the team originally got together to make their first game, which came out in 2016.
Michael McMaster: It began when the four of us were like hanging out a lot as friends and playing video games together as friends and sort of wanted a, uh, almost like a, a summer project or thing to work on together. So that us hanging out, playing video games sort of had to maybe a bit more of a purpose or something. And so we thought we would try and make this kind of little game, maybe over the span of a summer, and maybe some of our friends would play it, and maybe they would like it.
Christa Mrgan: The game they built as this kind of a fun side project, “Push Me, Pull You,” is a local multiplayer game where you and your friends play as these long hot-dog type creatures with a head at each end. It’s kind of weird and really fun.
Nico Disseldorp: And after maybe like a month of working on this thing and having lots of fun doing it together, we went to a small festival that a friend of ours had thrown and put the game on a projector and had a bunch of our friends try it. And they had a really good time, like much better than we kind of imagined anyone could with our weird video game that we’d made. And around the same time we put some like images and GIFs of the game online and got a response from people who actually like worked in video games and, were making video games themselves and kind of realized like, “Oh, this thing’s like more exciting than we thought it was.”
I’m Nico Disseldorp. And I guess that’s like “Nick” with an, "o."Whenever someone asks what we do at house house I always want to emphasize that the most important part of our job is actually the part that we all do together. So I’d say primarily all four of us are designers, and then separately we like have to figure out what part of the game each of us will be working on. And I specifically, I’m a programmer, the only programmer on the team, so I ended up doing all programming on the game.
So there was, yeah, us realizing that our friends were having fun with the game, that people who were associated with the game industry, were interested in it.
Nick Suttner, who worked at PlayStation at the time, emailed us very early, like maybe like a month, a month and a half after we started working on the game. And said like, “Oh, this game looks interesting. Would you consider putting it on PlayStation?” Which just made no sense to us. We were working in our bedroom and thinking, what’s this. Who’s this scam email person and why are they impersonating someone at Sony?
Nick Suttner: So my role at the time at Sony was sort of doing indie biz-dev and reaching out to developers about their games that we wanted to see on the platform.
And so after having played Push Me, Pull You, I emailed them just to let them know, Hey, I love your game. I love to see it on PlayStation. Let me know sort of what that would take if you’re even interested. And was really excited to hear back from them, even if they thought I was like a spam bot or something at first.
Christa Mrgan: That was Nick Suttner. Nick will actually come back into our story a little later, and just a disclaimer: I forgot to tell him beforehand that this call was for an interview, so I just recorded his Skype audio on my end, but whatever. It’s fine. Here’s Michael again:
Michael McMaster: And so the process from like starting out, making a game as a little project to releasing a game on playStation and then later Steam was, yeah. This very weird, slow process of gradually taking ourselves more seriously, little by little. I think it was a long time before we felt like, I don’t know, quite real game developers. And probably misguidedly I still don’t always feel that way. Um, But, yeah. We ended up sort of muddling our way into making a real video game, which felt very strange.
Christa Mrgan: So that was 2016. With Push Me, Pull You on major platforms like PlayStation and Steam and getting way more attention than House House ever imagined it would, this group of dabbling friends could, if somewhat reluctantly, call themselves game developers now. And they wanted to make another game. But after their unexpected success with Push Me, Pull You, the question was: what should their next game be like?
Michael McMaster: We were maybe just starting to figure out what we were going to do after Push Me, Pull You and had sort of started making a prototype about like moving a little person around in a space, and it was this focus on like 3D movement. Then that sort of didn’t completely pan out or it seemed like we didn’t quite find our footing with that game. And so Stuart, in I think August, 2016, posted at like 8:00 AM, a stock photo of a goose, in our Slack and said, “We should make a game about this.” I don’t think with any degree of sincerity. Just sort of saw a kind of an awkward looking photo of a goose, and thought it was very funny and posted it. And we all agreed that it was very funny.
Nico Disseldorp: Yeah, we were kind of in the day working on this prototype of like, Oh, this would be like an interesting character to move around in a space.
But then at the end of the day, it would kind of return back to us talking about the joke goose video game, which none of us took seriously or thought we’d ever make, but, people kept finding like, Oh, here’s like a funny news story about people being afraid of geese.
Or here’s a video of someone getting chased by a goose and eventually the hypothetical goose video game, which had grown into this more elaborate idea where a goose would run through a town at some point we realized like, oh, this game that we’re making where it’s just a, a small character running around doesn’t have as much going for it as this joke, goose idea. What if we just kind of stopped what we were doing and started actually trying to make the goose game? Did the joke idea that none of us had been taking seriously.
Christa Mrgan: So that’s what they did. What started as a throwaway joke from Stuart Gillespie cook, posting a photo of a goose to the group. Slack channel soon became the second game project for House House.
Michael McMaster: the stock photo goose that, was originally posted by Stuart in Slack was, I believe in Emden goose. which I think is native to the UK, but I’m not 100% sure of that, but it is like a classical, you know, white and orange goose, very like clean, silhouette. No, like camouflage or anything like that. This is the canonical goose.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: I still have the photos saved to like the notes section of my phone, It was, it was especially funny at a time. We were looking for an idea to make a game about, I think it, yeah, the stars kind of aligned on that one.
I am Stuart Gillespie Cook. I guess mostly I do animation, but that was kind of a created role, halfway through the game. We all kind of just do bits of everything.
Christa Mrgan: I asked Stuart why it’s so fun to inhabit this kind of platonic ideal of a jerk goose.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: It’s fun to make a mess in games. Of course, it’s even more fun to do it as this character who’s almost like folklore legend version of a goose, whose job it is to be naughty. It’s like a naughty animal in, in society. The goose is the perfect foil for a stealth game, because, in like most stealth games where you’re a spy or a soldier or whatever. If you get seen, there has to be some kind of fail state or things have to escalate to a point where there’s like violence or, it’s a game over or whatever. Whereas when you’re a goose, people can just kind of shoo out of the garden and you can start it all over again.
Christa Mrgan: This is something that’s just really nice and kind of refreshing about Untitled Goose Game. The puzzles are fun and some of them are really challenging, but there’s never that feeling of, Oh no, I died. You just get to keep bothering people as the goose with this crescendo of annoyingness. But why does that work so well? Why does the goose feel so mischievous And why is it so funny? Even the way the goose walks is funny. To speak to that, let’s meet the fourth member of House House:
Jake Strasser: I’m Jake Strasser. On the Goose game I did a lot of the environment art and level design. But yeah, at House House we share lots of the responsibilities: design and business and all that sort of stuff. The goose model was the first thing that I did on the very first day that we decided to work on the goose. And then I very soon after that made a walk cycle. I was just trying to learn how to animate and like looked at some geese and tried to replicate it. And so I guess it just turns out to be funny. We started with the goose and that was our first building block and the second thing was a person. At that point there was no design into it. You know, it wasn’t smart at all at this point, and I could just say, “I want the goose to look at the person. I want the person to look at the goose.” But suddenly, when you got them in the same space together and they’re staring at each other, like it immediately created a relationship, where it didn’t feel like there really was one before. But as soon as they looked at each other, as soon as there was some kind of eye contact, like it just, I mean, it was immediately very, very funny. And I think that helped me realize that like the scale of the game that we’re working on, it was about just these small interactions.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: Like very interpersonal reactions. It’s so much funnier for goose to do something naughty and then look someone in the eye immediately afterwards.
Christa Mrgan: As the goose, you’re being a jerk in a way that’s very intentional, but you’re never doing it in a violent way and it’s never too extreme. Okay. There’s this one little boy that you harass and torment in an especially mean way. Here’s Nico again:
Nico Disseldorp: The things that the goose could do to the boy got meaner over time as well. Like at one point we’re like, “okay, there’ll be like, maybe a character over here who you can steal the glasses of.” And then over time, like the, the boy got a bit younger and we’re like, “Oh, okay, what’s a good way to steal his glasses?” Or maybe you’ll be able to untie his shoes and like, okay, I guess he’ll be a coward as well. And then kind of every time we did that, it got a bit funnier.
Michael McMaster: We completely sympathize with the characters in the game. I think, there’s been this sort of tendency by some players to want to sort of have some way to like, almost write their own fan fiction to like vilify the villagers. But, as far as we’re concerned, you are a horrible goose and the point of the game is that you’re nasty. Like, these people don’t deserve this treatment. You need to come to terms with that if you’re playing our game.
Christa Mrgan: So you just get to annoy people and feel their annoyance, but with no real harm done. And then there’s the honking. Untitled Goose Game features a dedicated button that players can press to honk. And it’s maybe the best part of the game, in my opinion.
Nico Disseldorp: Obviously one of the most integral actions in the game is the honk button. So within a few days of us starting the game, we already had like honks in there and, we had the radio playing music and we had a few different sounds going in. I think humor, especially physical humor like this, is really helped by sound.
Jake Strasser: One of the starting points was to have the player kind of embody the character. So our priorities were more directed towards just like letting you puppet this creature. So the honk eventually had all these sort of game play ramifications. But at the beginning it was just: you’re a goose, so of course you should be able to honk.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: I think it’s such an important part of the game. If the goose kind of honked on its own, i t would maybe lead to like some more emergently funny moments, but I think so much about game is about like you’re in charge of the pacing of it and the timing of it, which is obviously so important in comedy.
Michael McMaster: I feel like honking is almost the clearest kind of expression of the power fantasy of being a goose. When people pick up a controller, one of the first things they do is honk and they immediately get this very like, abrupt, really crisp honk. And then the next thing that they tend to do is honk, like over and over and over again.
Christa Mrgan: So when the team had gotten the game to a point that it was playable, they wanted to let people try it out. So they decided to submit it to indie game festival Fantastic Arcade in Austin, Texas. Which meant they needed a trailer.
Nico Disseldorp: The festival’s lineup was going to be public, so we had to put something online so that there’d be like a URL for people to click on.
Michael McMaster: We thought, you know, they shouldn’t be announcing a game for us. We should put up a trailer just to say like, Hey, here’s a, here’s a video game by us. We don’t know how big it’s going to be or anything like that.
Jake Strasser: When I was putting the trailer together, I was sort of thinking of it more as like almost like documentation rather than like a piece of advertising. It’s just quite long and like, it shows off a lot of the game. Like it just shows off most of how to play that first section.
Nico Disseldorp: And at that point, the game didn’t have a title at all. In, I think the project name was just “goose,” but we didn’t want people to think that our game was called “goose” or called “goose game.” So we said, "okay, what’s the most obviously placeholder placeholder title we can find? We’ll call it untitled goose game, and then we’ll be guaranteed that no one will think that’s the real title and we’ll have perfect permission to change it later.
Christa Mrgan: Hmm. I wonder how that worked out. So they clicked publish on this trailer that wasn’t super flashy or slick, but more like three minutes of gameplay. And then had this placeholder title. They didn’t know how many people would really be into a game about a mischievous goose.
Michael McMaster: And then lots of people were into it . I think we put it up at like 4:00 PM or 5:00 PM Melbourne time. And then it sort of, it blew up. And I didn’t sleep that night because I was just like looking at Twitter the entire time and emails, flooding in, that kind of thing.
Jake Strasser: Yeah, like we had no no idea how it would be received in the way that it was. We were expecting for like, yeah, I’ve a few people to take notice and nothing to happen really.
Nico Disseldorp: When the trailer became very popular and everyone started to know our game, even with this placeholder name, we kind of gave up at some point and said, okay, I guess maybe it’s just an Untitled Goose Game.
Christa Mrgan: The trailer took off in a big way, going viral, the way things do on the internet. And on the other side of the world, in Portland, Oregon, two longtime friends and business partners , Steven Frank and Cabel Sasser, were laughing hysterically at the antiques of this ridiculous goose.
Cabel Sasser: I remember Steve sending me a Slack message and saying maybe nothing. But just, I definitely remember getting a link to the video, clicking it, seeing Steve sort of off in my peripheral vision, laughing, and then myself immediately laughing, watching this video. Uh, it was amazing how quickly that teaser trailer sort of got you. It was just like you understood the game within seconds. You immediately could feel how fun it would be to play that game and be that goose. It was just such a strong trailer, but also such a strong concept for a game. And so, uh, we were just sitting at our desks laughing multiple times, watching it over and over again.
Christa Mrgan: And then, Cabel wrote an email.
Michael McMaster: And I remember like being like in the dark, in, in my living room, just like staring at my phone, looking at an email from Cabel, from Panic, who at the time I knew as like, a weird Mac software company that also published this really amazing game, Firewatch, and sort of silently freaking out and like messaging in app group Slack being like, “Hey, is anyone else awake? Like, this seems good.”
Cabel Sasser: I just sent the shortest email in the history of the world. I wish I had it so I can give you the exact words.
Jake Strasser: He just said like, “So do you guys need a publisher?” And that was the whole body of the email.
Cabel Sasser: I just felt like if I was gonna write this enormous email trying to like puff ourselves up and oversell ourselves, that it would just, it seemed like the people that made this game would not be impressed by that kind of email. Plus, I wouldn’t even feel really comfortable writing that kind of email. And um, yeah, so I hit send.
Christa Mrgan: And House House was interested! But suddenly they had a lot of options and offers and they were still pretty new to game development generally, so they weren’t sure which path to take. Should they go with the Mac and iOS software company that had only previously published one game? A game that they really liked, but still. Or should they take a safer path and join up with a company that was already more established in the gaming industry?
Jake Strasser: It was a bit of a process to kind of finally decide what we wanted. And like, throughout, throughout that process, panic was probably like our emotional pick.
Um, But then we kind of, yeah, needed to make sure that it was the right business pick as well.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: That whole process was maybe us trying to, like, trying to find reasons why, like is this a smart move? Like maybe it wouldn’t work, but I think kind of secretly hoping all along that, let’s, let’s do the fun one.
Cabel Sasser: It was not a high pressure or high stress situation at all, which was really nice. It was just like, if this is the thing that’s going to happen, it’ll happen.
Christa Mrgan: Aw, come on. I’m trying to add some drama here, Cabel.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: Let’s, let’s go with the, with the one that’ll be like more interesting or more unconventional. And I think that was absolutely the right decision.
Jake Strasser: The more we talked to Cabel and Steve the better sense we got of how they wanted to work and then they were also working with Felix and Nick.
Christa Mrgan: See, I told you Nick Suttner would come back into this story. But wait, have we talked about Felix?
Felix Kramer: I’m Felix Kramer. I’m a producer and BizDev person within the industry. I do a little PR as well. I work with companies like Panic and Fingi and Fellow Traveler. And obviously goose.
Jake Strasser: They, have worked on a million different projects and, like we’d known them through just like the indie game scene for awhile.
And they’re just like, a beam of enthusiasm and champion for other games and like,
Stuart Gillespie Cook: And just seem to have great taste. Like everything they touched just seemed to be at such a high quality.
Felix Kramer: So I’ve known the house house guys a little while I work with some people in Australia as well. And I just think they’re so, so lovely and charming. And as they were looking to sign with Panic, a Nick Suttner, an old time friend of mine in the industry and colleague, were talking about working together. He had just gone indie from his big corporate life. And, we kind of have a lot of overlapping skills, but complimentary in a lot of ways too.
And so we were discussing working together and around that time, I have a mutual friend of Panic’s and Nick’s and mine, named Jake Rodkin.
Christa Mrgan: Okay. So I could do a whole side tangent here about Jake Rodkin and how he was kind of like this cosmic force that brought everyone together,
Cabel Sasser: Jake kind of became a spiritual advisor in goose insofar as he just hung out in our Slack channels and every now and then would pop up and say like, this is cool, or, you know, Oh, here’s a little idea.
It was really nice, kind of having him in the background,
just, like a Godfather of the game, if you will.
Christa Mrgan: Right, but I’m trying to cut this podcast down a bit, So to hear more about Jake and from him, You should check out the hopefully upcoming podcast episode about Firewatch, which was the first game that Panic published, and one that Jake worked on with his company, Campo Santo. And that episode might exist at some point, maybe… hopefully. But Jake is also on a whole bunch of other podcasts about games and pop culture and other stuff that you can check out at idlethumbs.net in the meantime. Anyway, back to Felix talking about Jake and how things came together:
Felix Kramer: He was telling me that a really cool thing would be, if Panic started up a publishing sect, that I could help them out. Yeah. And so, I called up Nick and we had a meeting and we decided that we could bring a lot to the table and at the exact same time, I kind of had an inkling that goose was talking to Panic, but sort of, it all fell together pretty serendipitously now that in retrospect it’s easy to see like, Oh, that all just happened and that’s really cool.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: All the games we knew about Felix seemed to have some involvement in some way. Felix was a good wagon to hitch ourselves to, maybe.
Cabel Sasser: We’re lucky that we work with Nick and Felix. They both have a lot of experience in the game publishing while we don’t have. They have different perspectives and different abilities that I think combine really well. And so they’re a super useful sounding board in these situations. So we’re putting together sort of our terms and just running stuff by them and by each other. And, it was just really smooth. I just know it really came together. It felt really easy and it felt really comfortable and nice talking with them.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: So Nick Suttner, worked at PlayStation , as an account manager back when we were kind of first starting our first game,
Push Me, Pull You. And would have been like our top pick to work with again if we were able to. So the news that he was kinda like going freelance and had joined up with Panic was super welcome.
Nick Suttner: I was like, “Oh, I’ve worked with those devs before. I’d love to work with them again.” And we sort of all wanted to work with each other in this weird triangle.
Felix Kramer: And it rarely happens that way in the industry that we all wanted to work together. So, um, yeah, from my perspective, I just kind of, I got lucky and I’m super honored to be able to work with everybody in it. And it was all timing
Christa Mrgan: So the fact that Nick and Felix had joined forces with panic really helps sell the House House team on taking Panic on as their publisher. And it helped that Panic had its own reputation for being attentive and meticulous.
Jake Strasser: if we got the sense that they are as like detailed driven and kind of careful but enthusiastic and like, I think our values aligned
Stuart Gillespie Cook: Our values and just like our taste. Like so much of it just came down to like, Oh, these people make tasteful choices and we can see ourselves like, yeah aligning with them so clearly.
Jake Strasser: It’s clear how much they care about what they do and I think, that was just so attractive to us.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: Not to be too sycophantic or anything, but I like, I do just feel so constantly like, Oh, we made the right choice. Yeah. It worked out like this. All the reasoning we had when we chose to to kind of partner with Panic.
It all just did kind of come to fruition and did work in the way that we kind of anticipated .
Christa Mrgan: And having made the decision to sign on with a publisher that they suddenly had the ability to do more of what they wanted for the game. Here’s Nico again.
Nico Disseldorp: Once we started working with Panic, one of the first things that we did was contact Em and say, will you be our sound designer?
Christa Mrgan: Em Halberstadt a sound designer who lives in Vancouver
Nico Disseldorp: I think sound is very important to the goose game. And she came on board and immediately put together a very ambitious, plan for all the different sounds that the game could make.
And perhaps central to that is the fact that the game is full of lots of objects. Objects, are kind of the language that is used for the goose to interact with the people in the game. It’s all very centered around these objects that can be kind of picked up or moved around or dragged around and when they’re on the floor, they’re physics objects so you can kind of walk into them and push them around too and, and decided that each of these objects in the game, which in the end is like,
I don’t know, 160 of or something. each one would get its own unique sounds for getting picked up by the goose and dropped by the goose and picked up by people and knocking on different surfaces and all these different types of interactions. And she really just went above and beyond in making all of them sound really nice. Like each object is just fun to play with so I think this really kind of rich soundscape that Em’s made is kind of a reason why it’s fun to just sit around and play in this game.
Christa Mrgan: And this rich soundscape is complemented by the game score, which is somewhat unique in its execution,
So the game’s music was made by Dan Golding, and it’s all adapted from all Debussy piano solo pieces from his Preludes. And it was actually a very early thing to come into the game in a sense, or in one form or another. Um, So we had this radio object as one of the first objects that went in the game as we were kind of thinking, okay, this game is going to have the of stealing lots of things.
What’s something that would be very different to steal? What about something that was very noisy? So the moment that you picked it up, it started playing music and then the characters in the game would know where the goose was. And we had to find something to play over the radio and put some music into the game.
And we tried, not that many things before putting, one of these Debussy preludes on the radio. And it just felt really right. Like, it was very funny. it kind of sounded a little bit like. Silent film music, which kind of really felt right for the game that we were making
And then we got to a point where we wanted to put a trailer up and we realized like, Oh, we can actually use those Preludes because they’re in the public domain. We just need a new recording of them. So we went to Dan Golding, who did the music for Push Me, Pull You, and is a friend of ours from Melbourne and said, look, this is very late notice, but tomorrow by tomorrow, can you have a brand new recording of one of these preludes for us.
And he said yes, and did a really good job of it. And that kind of was the music in the trailer, and instantly became the music that was associated with the game in people’s minds. And interestingly, after that trailer went up, we started getting lots of people contacting us and telling us that they loved the “reactive music” in the trailer, which was a complete misunderstanding. That people heard that kind of music, and I guess because it reminds them of things like silent film music and Mickey Mousing from cartoons. And it has that kind of stop- starting nature. They saw that the action on the screen sounded appropriate with the music that was playing. And rather than thinking, Oh, they’ve cut their trailer around a piece of music, which is what Jake did.
And instead they thought, Oh, they’ve made a way for the piano to react to the action that’s on screen, which wasn’t what we were doing at all. And at the time seemed very intimidating and beyond our skills, but somewhat naively perhaps we thought like, well, maybe we’ll just give it a go.
We’ll try doing what it is that people think that we’re doing. And it took us a few different tries to find the system that worked the way it works in the game now, but actually not that many.
It was kind of simpler than it looks. The final system has two different recordings of the music chopped up into tiny little pieces. So there’s kind of the high energy version, as we call it, which is close to the version as Debussy would have composed it.
And then a new low energy version that Dan made specifically, which is like the same thing but kind of played softer or with more harmony or, with some pauses in it or something like that. And then at any given moment, the song can continue playing, you know, high energy or dip down to low energy and back up again, or go to silence for awhile just by choosing the next sound file, according to the action that’s onscreen. And Dan realized he could kind of just tell the computer to brute force split everything up into tiny, tiny pieces. So in the end, every track is split into, hundreds of different, wave files, all of which just play like two beats of music and then have like a nice long decay afterwards. And that turned out to make it feel very reactive because within like a second of the energy in the game changing, the energy and the music could change, too.
Christa Mrgan: It’s really seamless. The way the music follows what you’re doing on screen as the goose. It feels like having someone live score your performance. But beyond the bigger budget for things like sound design and the reactive musical score, having a publisher also meant having someone else to help deal with a more stressful or less exciting parts of getting a game out into the world.
Cabel Sasser: I didn’t want them to have crunch time. I think they work at a totally reasonable work schedule and they have, you know, a good work-life balance as far as I know from my perspective, and I wanted to maintain that as much as possible. And so we tried to be really careful with that with schedules and stuff. A thing that I like personally is trying new things or taking on new challenges. Almost become a bit of a running joke. Like if somebody will suggest something totally preposterous.
Like what if we, commission a bronze statue of the goose? Actually, now I want to do that, uh, to go in a park somewhere or whatever. I think most people would be like “hahaha.” But there’s a part of my brain that’s immediately thinking about, okay, how would we do that? Let’s see. We’ve got to find an artist and a sculptor. I may need to find like some kind of Foundry. We need to do like a 3D model of it, and then we’d get it over to the, now we’ve got to negotiate with the park to try to find the land. And then, you know… I love doing that. It’s super fun for me. And so on a scale of a game like goose, it was lots of little new things to learn and lots of little things to handle. Publishing a game on multiple platforms. I’m amazed now that we’ve done it, that any game gets published at all. The systems are so wacky and archaic and weird. Every platform has their own funky portal with, I mean, I could fill 19 podcasts with me talking about this stuff, but they’re very, uh, what’s the word? Byzantine. Is that a word or is it Byzantine? They’re complicated. There’s lots of tricky stuff in getting a game out the door. And, I just wanted to make sure that they didn’t need to worry about any of it.
Christa Mrgan: And well, maybe not as complex as erecting a bronze statue of a goose in a local park, as a bigger buildup to the launch of the game, Untitled Goose Game had a booth presence at two PAX events. “PAX” stands for Penny Arcade Expo. It’s a big gaming festival. And some House House members flew to Seattle for PAX in 2018. Here’s Jake again:
Jake Strasser: I think I, I approached it with a bit of trepidation.
But then to get there and like, see, just the incredible amount of work that had gone into our booth and had this team of people who are helping out and working at the booth, so that we didn’t have to ever feel harrowed and like, could actually have fun while we’re there was, that completely changed the experience of PAX for me and I had a really good time. That booth felt like some kind of pivot moment for the goose game. Like a, it was a decision that we as House House probably would never would’ve made ourselves like to put all of this money and time and effort into PAX.
But like, we’re so glad that Panic had sort of the vision and just the energy and the enthusiasm to, to pull it off. And I think they like, absolutely did. Having this big, special- looking booth, I think just elevated the game in people’s minds. I think that it felt like a bit of a, a moment where the goose game became real for lots of people, and then that seemed like never would have happened without Panic pushing for it.
Christa Mrgan: And so things were rolling along for Untitled Goose Game. The PAX booth in 2018 helped build momentum and then the game was shown a second time at PAX in September, 2019. And that was where Panic and House House finally announced a release date for later that same month. And everything was going generally pretty smoothly, when, of course, right on the eve of the release, there was a problem.
Cabel Sasser: The day that the game was coming out, we got a support email from a reporter who had gotten a review code of the game from the Epic game store and downloaded it and it would not launch. And we’re like, Oh, Hmm. Lovely. And looking into it more, I tried to reproduce it on my own machine, downloaded to my Mac, looked at the binary that got downloaded, and it was the Windows version. So we were, it was so lucky that that guy emailed us with about an hour to go into launch. We sprung into action. We swapped out the versions. We had totally inadvertently tagged one version as Windows and one of version as Mac. That would’ve been a tough launch. But, all crises were averted. It was amazing.
Christa Mrgan: And so on, September 20th, 2019 Untitled Goose Game launched on the Nintendo Switch and the Epic game store for Mac and PC. Thankfully, without crashing. And the reaction was positive, which Michael says was a huge relief.
Michael McMaster: The first trailer we put up online was really well received, but also that was at that point like two years before we were able to release the game. I think one of our kind of deepest insecurities was that maybe we’d made a game that looks really good in a trailer, but people don’t actually enjoy playing.
And so it was like very relieving and a very pleasant surprise, that when it came out, people actually enjoyed playing the game as well as watching it.
Nico Disseldorp: It seems like people like the game for the same reasons we do, which is nice. That’s not something that I would have necessarily assumed. Like, okay, people like watching this video, but, are they going to be into the weird parts of the game or the difficult parts of the game or things like that. But, it seems like for the most part, people like the same sorts of things that we like about it.
Christa Mrgan: And that relief about people actually enjoying playing the game soon turned to surprise as that positive reaction continued to grow and again was bigger than they expected . But I feel like at this point, maybe they should’ve seen it coming? At least a little bit.
Stuart Gillespie Cook: There was nothing that I think could have prepared us for this. Like even I think Jake, you’ve said before that like even the like nasty little voice in your head that is like, what if you are successful? What if it does all work out? I think even that part of my brain didn’t anticipate the game kind of going more mainstream. I think the best I’d ever hoped for was that, Oh, this will be a game that is popular amongst game enthusiasts or like in the gaming press or, or whatever. And even that was like kind of a pipe dream level thing. So seeing like seeing it kind of go outside of that sphere and into, like, broader culture, um, has been very special, but also overwhelming.
Cabel Sasser: When the game started to roll out, of course, we’re looking at Twitter and we’re looking at everything and we’re looking at the reviews and stuff. And it definitely was like, Oh man, it’s, it’s resonating with people. And that feels so good. The best bits that we saw were little video clips that people, when they kinda got to the punchline at the end of the game, which I won’t spoil, but there really is a punchline. Like the whole thing is basically a setup for a joke. And to see that land felt so great to watch. There’s this amazing clip of this woman playing the game and like you just see her face, like the realization sink into her face of what she’s seeing and what it all means and how it all connects and just begins belly laughing uncontrollably. It was just amazing.
So the first wave of reactions were these real personal, real cool bits of people playing and enjoying the game, and that of course, felt great, but then you start to see it going to places beyond like the indie game universe. And that’s when it definitely started to get wild.
Jake Strasser: the first few days was like, Oh yeah, this is, this is kind of what I expected. People were talking about it. And we’ve got lots of nice reviews, which was really great. like, this is still within my realm of understanding. And then like it just kept building over that week and I was like, Oh, okay, this is, this is, this is fun. This is, everyone’s being really nice. And like lots of people are talking about it. And, but then it got into the second week and I was a bit like, okay, like, all right, let’s just put the brakes on a little bit. Like this is getting a bit much. it just kept, kept building and kept snowballing, in a way that I think eventually took me off guard a little bit.
Felix Kramer: I think from my perspective in BizDev, I always knew goose was going to have an impact within games. What I didn’t realize was that it would be so viral outside of games, and I think the moment I definitely sort of digested it fully and had to sit with it and go, Oh, we have something bigger than games is when I saw the protest signs at the Brexit protest in England, and quite a few of them had goose references.
Christa Mrgan: Yeah. Goose references on anti-Brexit protest signs in England, Goose Halloween costumes. A flood of incredible, lovingly made fan art. Articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post and Time Magazine. And memes. So many memes.
Nico Disseldorp: The goose can be like a meme format. It’s not just that there’s a couple of funny images that go around. It’s like, there’s like the photograph of maybe like the goose with its knife in the mouth. Then you can put any caption underneath it and people kind of know what that’s meant to mean.
Or, an image of the goose honking at the wimpy kid and you can label the goose something and label the wimpy kid something. And I think maybe that’s because there’s just like a very clear conflict and like power dynamic in those images that you kind of don’t even need to have played the game to understand. You can just see it and go, Oh, okay, that kid’s scared of a goose. I get that.
Christa Mrgan: The goose had gone beyond the standard realm of video games, crossing over into popular culture. The goose was mainstream. Even celebrities were playing the game and posting about it.
Cabel Sasser: Chrissy Tiegen, who is, you know, a famous person and has lots of followers and I mean, she is a gamer, which is amazing, but is not known foremost as a gamer, unlike say, a streamer or whatever. That’s when I think we realized that this is going in a different direction than I ever could have imagined.
It was our dream. Actually. My dream was that this game would reach an audience that wasn’t necessarily gamers or indie gamers or people that are, you know, on top of every release or whatever. That it could reach people that, just enjoy entertainment or just want to laugh or just want to do something with their family, or you know, like that. There’s, those are usually two pretty separate zones and very rarely do those two zones combine. And somehow they combined with this, and it was just amazing to watch. The reactions were amazing. The fan art was amazing. The articles and fiction written about the game was amazing. It’s just this infinite source of wonder for us. It was great.
Christa Mrgan: So Untitled Goose Game was a hit. It was nominated for a bunch of awards, topped Nintendo’s US sales chart for several weeks. Got a special bit part with some Muppets at the Game Awards in Los Angeles. And yes, even won, House House a “hero to geese” award from PETA, which proclaims that the game shows players that geese are individuals with their own feelings, wants and needs. And according to everyone involved , working on the game was almost as low stress and fun as repeatedly stealing a groundskeeper’s keys.
Jake Strasser: I mean, just been absolute pleasure. Like, we talk to them almost every day on Slack and like, just being constantly in communication for the last two years. Yeah, pretty much. Almost. Um, yeah, it’s been so relieving through this, have these people somewhere else in the world who are like, we trust to do a good job.
Cabel Sasser: it was so nice working with that team. They’re such good people. They made such a cool game. We are so lucky to have been a part of that experience. It totally just like elevated our year to this incredibly magical place that it’s very hard to put into words. You know, they put their faith in us and, um, I’ll just be forever grateful that we got to work with them on that.
Christa Mrgan: Me too. you can learn more about Untitled Goose Game, like where to get it or how to buy some goose socks by visiting the website goose.game And I didn’t see a good way to bring it up before, but I wanted to mention that house house also received some help and funding to get set up as a game development studio from Film Victoria, a government organization that helps fund independent media projects. Isn’t that cool? Thanks so much for joining me for this episode of the Panic podcast. Be sure to subscribe: for this first season about all kinds of interesting side quests and weird tangents that only Panic can bring you.
This podcast was written, recorded, and edited by me, Christa Mrgan. The theme music is by Panic’s own Cabel Sasser. And I used sound effects and parts of the score from Untitled Goose Game.
Special thanks to House House, Nick Suttner, and Felix Kramer for appearing on the show. Until next time, here’s Cabel talking about his goose Halloween costume:
Cabel Sasser: For the record, I’m not really a Halloween costume person. I can’t really explain that. I know people love putting together Halloween costumes. I find it very stressful. I find it like ahh gives me the same feeling of like I’m about to star on the school play or whatever. There’s really no pleasure for me in that universe. Only nervousness. However. The goose costume, I kind of had a suspicion that I could get some help.
And so I went to alibaba.com, which is the incredible global marketplace of suppliers. Um, literally typed in “goose costume,” found a company that made an inflatable, goose costume for like a foie gras protest. Had like, “hashtag no more foie gras” Am I pronouncing that right? I don’t really eat foie gras. Literally, I don’t think I’ve ever literally had it. And so I emailed them and I was like, “Hey, that’s a pretty sweet goose costume. Do you think you could do one for me that has a crown on top?” Because, if you finished the game, that will make sense to you. They’re like, “Absolutely.”
So they send me a little digital rendering of one with a crown. It was a very weird crown. So I did a little paint over on it and said like, maybe make this part red and put the ball on top of stuff. And then the next day there was an updated digital rendering and I said, “looks great.”
And then two weeks later in a duffle bag arrived an inflatable goose costume. That thing is wild. It Is very difficult to walk around in. But it was really fun. I took it to my daughter’s school for their Halloween parade and all the kids were dressed up and I kind of hung off to the side and when all the kids saw the goose, they just lost their minds.
And I sort of waddled my way through the Halloween parade. Uh, very difficult when the kids start sort of punching the goose and pushing the goose. It’s very stressful. I have a lot of, uh, uh, uh, empathy now for a Mickey Mouse or a Donald Duck. I don’t know how you do that to a lesser degree at Chuck E Cheese. I feel like of all the mascots, Chuck E gets it the worst. I feel like kids know that Chuck E is kind of a low-rent mascot and they just take out all of their aggressions on Chuck E. They pull his tail, they, sorry, Chuck E. I feel really bad for you.
But a goose costume was very, very fun for me.