In 2004, Christophe Galati was sitting in a Paris restaurant eating fried octopus when he first began to daydream about an eight-legged video game hero. What Galati didn’t know at the time was that this idle reverie was the start of his own adventure one that would lead to a publishing deal and trips to game shows on the other side of the planet.
“I began thinking about how octopuses are often portrayed as enemies and how it would be cool to show a different side and have a nice, friendly octopus for once,” Galati tells us. “So I started building my game concept around the idea of an octopus saving abducted people.”
That initial daydream would eventually become Save me Mr Tako! – a 2D platform-RPG born in large part from Galati’s memories of playing classic Nintendo games of the early nineties. Its four-colour pixel graphics and chiptune soundtrack were inspired by the distinctive look and feel of the Nintendo’s monochrome Game Boy; Galati even gave his game a Japanese subtitle – Tasukete Tako-San – to make it sound more authentically like a forgotten handheld classic from the Far East.
Galati was still a 19-year-old student when he began work on Tako, and his octopus game concept was essentially a hobby – something he worked on in his spare time to flex his budding development skills. At the time, he wasn’t thinking about it becoming a commercially released title.
“When I started to work on Tako, I was in my second year of study and wasn’t very excited about my internship. So Tako became a way for me to have fun and relax after long and boring days, even though it started to take up all my nights and weekends.”
Having dabbled in RPG Maker as a child, Galati later began studying game design at Isart Digital in Paris. Mr Tako was developed in Unity, the platform he’d learned at school; the pixel graphics were drawn in MS Paint, while Tiled Map Editor was used to design the levels. At a game jam, Galati later met Marc-Antoine Archier, who composed the music.
A handheld tribute
By September of 2014, Galati had put together a working demo. It was little more than a side-scrolling runner at the time, and when Galati uploaded his code to IndieDB, he might have thought the game’s journey would end here. But Galati’s timing was impeccable: his monochrome platformer was pitched as a tribute to the Game Boy, which was then celebrating its 25th anniversary. To Galati’s surprise, word of Mr Tako quickly began to spread, particularly on social media. It was the positive feedback that prompted Galati to turn his demo into a fully featured game.
Canny timing aside, it’s easy to see why Tako created a ripple of attention. Its 8-bit sprites are simple yet beautifully constructed; its platforming action – which involves using jets of ink to stun enemies and use them as platforms – is a charming riff on a similar mechanic in Metroid II. Even in its early state, Tako felt like a game stuffed to bursting with ideas – and as Galati continued work on his game, and showed it off at events, it gradually evolved into a deeper action-adventure with a hub-world and a detailed back story inspired by Final Fantasy.
“It was pure joy to see it all come to life,” Galati recalls. “As development continued, I applied to many different indie game events, where I could show off what I was working on to more people and hear what they thought. Staying motivated during a long project can be difficult to do, but loving the game I was creating and following my own vision always helped steer me in the right direction.”
The next big turning point for both Galati and his game came in January 2016, when he quit his job at Persistant Studios to work on Tako full-time. To save money, he moved out of Paris and back in with his parents in the south of France – a gamble that soon paid off. Later that year, Galati applied for a spot at the Tokyo Game Show – and was somewhat shocked when his application was accepted.
Galati scrambled to crowdfund the money for his plane ticket, but the journey soon proved to be a crucial one: at TGS, Tako caught the eye of Nicalis, the publisher behind such acclaimed indie games as The Binding of Isaac and Cave Story+. Unexpectedly, Save me Mr Tako had found its perfect home.
The main event
“Attending gave me credibility as a developer and also changed my life,” Galati says. “It was at this event where I met with Nicalis to discuss the possibility of bringing the game to Nintendo Switch, and it led me to sign with them just a few months after TGS. I’ve learned that it’s very important to attend game events as a developer. You’re not only able to see how players react to your game, but participating also helps you feel like you’re a part of the community.”
Save me Mr Tako made its debut on the Nintendo Switch eShop on 30 October, marking the end of four long years of development, and the moment where Galati’s youthful dream finally became video game reality.
A Link to the Past
Born in 1994, Galati was far too young to have lived through the 8-bit era himself, but his formative gaming experiences came from his older brother’s collection of Japanese classics such as Kirby’s Dream Land, Final Fantasy VI, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
“There is something simple and magical about these types of retro games,” Galati says. “They had so many limitations, but they still gave us so many things to experience and allowed us to use our imagination more. During the Game Boy era, you never knew what you were going to get; everything was new and there was a lot of experimentation, since the system seemed to be ‘less serious’ than home consoles.”