Piecing together the weird world of Tearaway
Hopefully you all took the time last week to enjoy the brand new trailer for Media Molecule’s forthcoming PS Vita adventure, Tearaway. In the eyes of PlayStation Blog, it’s one of the loveliest titles inbound for any platform, bursting at the seams with invention, wit and creativity.
We stopped by Mm’s Guildford HQ late last month to check up on progress, and grabbed director Rex Crowle for a quick chat about the game’s unusual inspirations and influences. Read on to find out more about the eccentric themes that the team are pulling upon in an effort to make a truly unique video game…
First things first: paper. The entire gameworld is built out of the stuff, and you’ll be manipulating it with your god-like virtual fingers.
“I think it married together the main things I wanted to do with the game – of it just feeling very tactile and being something you really wanted to hold in your hands,” explains Rex.
“And then we also wanted to provide players an interesting way of taking stuff from inside the game, outside the game, so they can build their own version of the experience and expand it out into their own physical space.”
Surprisingly, Rex adds that he’s never had any particular interest in papercraft, per se.
“I’m a real doodler. I just can’t stop drawing all over it. It was quite an exciting change of direction for me to think about this surface that I’ve always treated as a totally 2D thing, and fold it so that it becomes a 3D object. It’s kind of like a drawing coming to life!”
As you may have noticed in the two trailers released so far, Tearaway is a game that’s obsessed with nature and the great outdoors. The environments are lush and verdant, and populated by a colourful cast of woodland creatures, including elks, chipmunks, squirrels and mice.
“Some of the early stuff we were making from paper, we made in quite a low poly way. That’s how you start making things in papercraft,” explains Rex. “But we soon realised that paper can actually be really high-poly. It’s incredibly curvaceous – it can bend and flex and do all this stuff.
“Our models actually became more interesting as the glue started to dry and the joins started to peel back. That started to show how paper is best-served dealing with quite organic shapes. It’s more interesting making a tree out of paper than it is an office block – that’s just a cube, y’know? So that ‘nature’ feel helped us best exploit the movement of paper.”
Tearaway’s story revolves around the efforts of iota – or atoi – delivering a mysterious letter to the player. Yes, a letter. Remember those? Why did Mm choose to focus on such a seemingly archaic notion?
“I think maybe I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to paper and the various ways it’s been used in the past. It feels like it’s slowly disappearing so I’d like to celebrate it a bit before it goes completely.”
The Media Molecule team tried out a number of different designs for iota before they settled on his final likeness
Myths and legends
Alongside all those familiar woodland critters, Tearaway’s universe is also inhabited by a various beasts taken straight of popular folklore – including wendigos and mer-men. In general, the game seems to tip its hat to the folk-tale tradition at every turn.
“I wanted to make sure that we didn’t just have a paper world – but we had our paper world,” says Rex.
“We’ve deliberately tried to avoid a lot of the big gaming conventions – the lava planet, the ice world and so on – in part because they don’t make any sense when you make them from paper anyway. So we tried to look at new themes that hadn’t been visited as much in the past.
“I really like Sogport because it’s this little island of paper surrounded by glue that’s getting smaller as its inhabitants rip up the land and use up the resources. It felt like we could get a really nice little ecosystem running on this island in how these creatures play together and fight together.”
Tearaway is an adventure in the truest sense of the term – a plucky young hero embarking on a noble quest in an unfamiliar, dangerous world. Think H Rider Haggard or Conan Doyle, shot through with a healthy dose of Terry Gilliam…
“To me ‘adventure’ means having a goal – the big quest of delivering this unique message – but it’s all the little surprises along the way that are really important,” says Rex.
“You’ll meet strange characters and learn about them. A whole mountain range folds up out of nowhere or a river appears – it’s slightly more like the old Odyssey-style stories, where someone is on a big quest and meeting all sorts of strange people along the way.”
Sailors and the sea
Sogport, the region of the game shown off in the new trailer and the section we got to play through, is packed with nautical references and folk who clearly get their toes wet on a regular basis.
“I’m from a small little fishing town so maybe I’m channelling a bit of my upbringing into the game at the moment!” he explains.
“But Sogport is just one region in the game. The stuff we showed at Gamescom was a different slice of our paper world and we’ll be revealing more areas as we go on. But each one tries to have an interesting twist on the whole papery construction. In Sogport, it’s the glue – and wind is a big deal too.”
Just as it did in LittleBigPlanet, music and sound play a key role in building Tearaway’s quirky universe. In keeping with that aforementioned ‘folklore’ feel, the game’s soundtrack takes its cues from traditional folk music. Check out the ruthlessly catchy number in the new trailer below for reference.
Head of audio Kenny Young has been digging out old sea shanties for inspiration, as well as writing some of his own
“The thinking behind that is again trying to tie in with the whole forgotten folklore feel,” explains Rex.
“We wanted to create music that felt like it came up from the soil, almost. The kind of music that the characters in the game might have created themselves.
“And then we also juxtapose that with you playing the game as a ‘godly being’ – so when you get to have your big dramatic effects on the landscape of pushing your fingers into the game world, the audio ambience can be very ethereal and different from the more earthy music elsewhere in the game.”
Media Molecule’s last title was, of course, LittleBigPlanet. Do the two games share any common themes?
“We’re a small team and we all put a lot of our own personality into our games. The biggest link is that a large amount of the LBP team are working on Tearaway, so you will see inevitable stylistic similarities,” confirms Rex.
“But I think the main similarity is a general playfulness in the world, and wanting to play with conventions by breaking the fourth wall all the time and actually referring to you, the player, as a character outside the game.”