Shameless favouritism alert: PlayStation Blog ruddy loves Puppeteer. It’s one of the liveliest, loveliest and most downright out-there platformers to come along in years, and plays beautifully to boot. It arrives in stores on 11th September, and if it’s not on your radar yet, it’s time to stick a pin in it. This is a game unlike any other you’ll see on shelves this year.
With just a few weeks left of development, we caught up with the game’s director, the ever-insightful Gavin Moore, last week to delve a little deeper into his deviously dark creation.
When we spoke last year you explained that you were making Puppeteer so that you had something to play with your young son. What’s his verdict now that he’s been able to play it?
Gavin Moore: He loves it! He likes playing it either on his own or with his Dad, which is nice.
If I’m playing Kutaro and he’s playing the secondary character – Picarina or YinYang – he tries to kill me all the time because he wants to be Kutaro. He thinks Kutaro is him, and that it’s his game. He thinks he made it and that he owns it! He keeps asking me when he’ll get his royalties.
It’s interesting… people walk past the game and first of all they hear the narrator and the music and it drags them in. Then the visuals pull them further in, and then they pick up the controller and they’re hooked. He’s completely ‘in’ the game when he plays. With other games he’s ‘outside’ them, but Puppeteer surrounds you. He really wants to know what happens next.
What have you learned from watching your son play through it?
Gavin Moore: How kids can break your game! They’ll do anything and everything to get through the game. They don’t want to be thwarted at all, so they’ll spend a very long time trying to get through something even though they might not have the skill to do it. They’d rather not ask for help.
Puppeteer is being localised into 22 languages. How do you make sure none of the game’s eccentric sense of humour is lost in translation?
Gavin Moore: You talk extensively to your translators and make sure they understand exactly what the game is about and how important it is to get across those nuances. And they really did a great job. But it was also important to make sure that the actual voice actor quality was there too – and I think we have some of the best voice recording I’ve ever heard in a PlayStation game.
You originally recorded all the voices in the game yourself, before eventually bringing in actors. Were you sad to see all your hard work binned?
Gavin Moore: I spent a long time doing the voices originally – I spent about a year on it. But after a year of listening to it I became sick of hearing my own voice. And, talking to my producers in America and Europe, it became clear they were getting sick of it as well! So we decided to hire professional actors to do the job rather than a game director… who probably shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.
You revealed the game’s co-op mode at E3 last month. How hard was it to balance having the two characters on screen at once?
Gavin Moore: It’s difficult. We spent a long time on it. Initially we made the whole game as a grey box, with no artwork in there. We got the single-player game working correctly and then myself and our artists went away and drew loads of image boards – we have a massive stack of 500-600 of them – which we then gave to the team to go away and create all the gimmicks and little things in the game.
While they were doing that I was balancing the game’s two-player mode. Myself and my chief game designer would always play the game in two-player. We knew it was balanced as a single-player game, but we had to make sure it worked in multiplayer too.
When you’re testing a game you’re playing it on your own. You’ve played it 1,000 times and you know exactly where to go and what to do. I wouldn’t call it a chore, but it’s certainly a task. But when you play it with a friend you always find different things and different ways to muck around. It was a lot of fun testing it that way.
Platforming aficionados love to scrutinise jumping physics. How did you ensure controlling Kutaro felt right?
Gavin Moore: We’re not an ordinary platformer. We’re not a sidescroller where you have the freedom of moving continually to the right. We’re kind of locked to the screen – the set has to scroll with you. So it was very important first of all that the speed you’re running at and the speed the set is moving at work at the proper rate, so it looks like you’re moving through the world rather than the other way around.
And you also have the scissor mechanic – they’re not just a weapon, they’re a way of moving. So if we were going to give you, say, a double jump… it takes away the ability of the scissors – instead you could double-jump between platforms. So balancing the scissors with the basic jumping was very important.
Then what we did was take one programmer and our lead animator and we made them sit next to each other. They would literally make animations and program them in. I’d come along and say, “You need to take one frame out of this jump” or, “The velocity they’re falling at is not correct.”
I think it feels great. The character animations were redefined over a year to make it tighter and tighter and tighter as we went. That was a really fulfilling process.
How much does the finished game differ from the original concept?
Gavin Moore: The original vision was very interesting, and that’s something I hope we can release on the Blog at some point in the future. I’d like to show people that original concept movie. I think people will be shocked because it’s so Japanese. It looks amazing but it’s so Japanese – there are Hokusai waves and a very different Kutaro riding an origami boat as this giant sea gull chases him.
But the gameplay isn’t that different. The original core concept was the scissors and the puppet theatre. We added the heads concept, which took a long time to complete, but the core concept is still very much the same.
Although there’s plenty in Puppeteer for older players to enjoy, the original idea was to make a game for youngsters. There’s some really ghoulish, dark moments in the game – do you ever worry you’ve gone too far and made it too scary?
Gavin Moore: Everyone goes “You’ve made this for your son, but it’s so dark!” Well, most fairy tales are very dark! The difference with Puppeteer is that the humour and the characters and the stupid things they get up to really balance out the underlying dark tone to the story. We have some incredibly ridiculous situations in our game which I hope people will see.
I just want gamers to enjoy it, get out there and see how wonderful it is. We’re going to take you on a rollercoaster ride of total Terry Gilliam, Monty Python craziness. I think people are going to be shocked and surprised, but at the end go “Woah, that was a great game”. I don’t know if it’s going to be a genre-defining game – I just want people to see how much love we’ve put into it.
Puppeteer has been a long time in the making. How do you feel about coming to the end of that journey?
Gavin Moore: I’ve been developing games for 21 years. I have a huge box of games that I’ve made during that time that lives in my loft in Tokyo. When I make a game I get a copy free from the studio. I take that copy home and I put it in the box, and I never want to see it ever again. The funny thing about Puppeteer is, I had such a good time making it – even though there was a lot of stress – that I still want to play it.
Which is surprising, because I must have played it God knows how many times – in French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Polish, German, you name it. But I want to take it home, play in English and Japanese, and just enjoy it. I don’t think it is actually going to go in my box. I think it’s actually going to go in my game collection.