One of the most unusual gaming experiences to emerge from Gamescom 2012 was Puppeteer, a title that uses PlayStation’s Move technology to manipulate marionettes through platform levels. It turns the genre inside out by having the world, which takes place within a magical puppet theater, revolve around the game’s central character, the boy-turned-puppet Kutaro. Gavin Moore, the game director on Puppeteer, talks about what Japan Studio has in store for PS3 gamers in this exclusive interview.
Where did the idea for Puppeteer come from?
Puppeteer was created to try to re-awaken the imagination of my son, because I found he was playing games and getting very bored with them. When I was a kid, I would play on a game for hours and there would be nothing in it. It would be a text adventure and you’d be typing “north, north, north, east, there’s a dragon, you’re dead.” But you still were hooked because your imagination was working. Graphically, now games are so good and so overpowering and there’s so much information that my son was getting bored doing the same thing, like shooting guys again and again. So I sat down and thought about it and decided to make a game that was so magical that every time you went forward through the game, it changed on you all the time. So you never know what’s coming next. Puppeteer is set in a magical theater, and as you progress through the game, all the scenery moves around you, instead of you moving through the environment.
How have advances in technology allowed your team to bring Puppeteer to life?
The PS3 is a very powerful machine, and it’s been out there for a long time, so our code is very, very good now. We’re really getting in there at the core elements of those chips and making it all talk together. That’s helped us create a really good cloth technology, which we developed in-house. Normally, cloth technology is the cape on Batman and it looks great and everything, but it has no real gameplay essence apart from looking great. Our character carries a pair of magical scissors and we actually decided to create these new bosses in the game that are completely made out of cloth. You can actually cut through them and the more cloth you cut the more damage you do. It’s all very dynamic real-time cloth physics and it looks awesome.
What were some of the influences stylistically that impacted Puppeteer?
On Puppeteer, we decided we were going away from the photorealistic side and instead focused on a more stylized world with the look of a Tim Burton or Terry Gillian style inside this theater, with a handmade feel. That really gave us a lot of freedom. We didn’t have to worry about wrinkles on faces, reflections in eyes, hair shades and all that stuff. We could really concentrate on recreating that theater. What we did was actually recreated the theater physically inside the PlayStation 3.
We have a full theater lighting rig which has 140 real-time lights that are volumetric, and we project texture through those lights as well. If we want to create rain instead of creating a particle system, we actually project it through a light and then it all falls down and it’s all 3D across the whole of the set and the characters and everything.
Will this game be stereo 3D?
It won’t be stereo 3D because we’ve written a new type of 3D, which obviously uses a lot less processor power. I think it’s roughly six or seven percent of the CPU, which is very handy for us. It will be 3D, and it looks great in 3D. We have a fixed camera, so everything is moving around the character. Instead of in a normal game, where you’re following a character and you get that sickness feeling in 3D because you feel like you’re in a boat. Because the camera is fixed and everything is moving in and out of the stage all the time, it’s really dynamic in 3D.
Can you talk a little bit about the character Kutaro and the game’s story?
The character is a boy named Kutaro. The theater is run and owned by this slightly eccentric, but charming, character called Gregorious T. Oswald and his latest play is called the Perilous Journey of a Boy Named Kutaro. In his story Kutaro is stolen away to the moon by the maleficent Moon Bear King and turned into a puppet. He displeases the king, who eats his head and throws him away. But Kutaro finds that he’s not dead and he can run around without any head on his shoulders. He starts picking up things and puts them on his head and starts to use these different abilities. In order to get his true head back, he steals the Moon Bear King’s magic scissors, and that’s when his troubles really begin.
What audience do you feel this game will appeal to?
It’s really interesting, because as a single-player game it’s a pretty tough, hardcore action game. But as a two-player game, where the secondary player can fly around and touch and control objects, you can actually help the first player. You can get in the way of enemy attacks, knock things out of the way, move things, and help find things. But you can also be naughty and pull Kutaro’s head off and throw it away if you want to. Heads are your life in this game, so if you get hit, if you take damage, your head falls off and it rolls around the ground for three seconds, which is the rule for food, right? You have three seconds to pick it up and you’re safe. We put stuff in there for the second player to play around with. If you’re a gamer like I am, it’s great fun to play on the run. It’s a little bit challenging, but then if you want to sit down with your wife, girlfriend, or kid, it becomes a great family game to sit around and watch as well. It’s a spectacular sort of theatrical piece.
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