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Puppeteer interview: Delving deeper into Japan Studio’s incredible platformer

Fred Dutton's Avatar + Posted by Fred Dutton on Jul 15, 2013 // SCEE Blog Manager

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Shameless favoritism 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 September 11th 10th, 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.

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Puppeteer is being localized 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.

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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.

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Platforming aficionados love to scrutinize 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.

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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.

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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.

//Add Your Own

26 Comments

1

+ remanutd5 on July 15th, 2013 at 6:14 am said:

I’d love to play this game on my psvita.


2

+ Zionine on July 15th, 2013 at 6:30 am said:

Sadly, due to it not being on Vita, and the massive list of games coming out in its time frame.. this’ll have to wait til.. maybe past the holiday.
Killzone, FFX HD, Tearaway, Ys, Pokemon X and Y.. man.. My wallet can’t handle all of this.


3

+ Dustinwp on July 15th, 2013 at 6:56 am said:

Puppeteer is a breath of fresh air in a market of recycled ideas. I plan on picking it up on launch. Thanks for thinking outside the box and bringing a truly new experience to the PS3. Look forward to playing me some Puppeteer!


4

+ Ryumoau on July 15th, 2013 at 7:04 am said:

none of the videos for this game excite me at all.


5

+ Despair-Amit on July 15th, 2013 at 7:36 am said:

Probably won’t play this until late this year or early next year (my backlog is daunting) but I will be buying it day one just to support the devs, it looks amazing and I am sure I will thoroughly enjoy it (eventually).


6

+ DarkOne_PR on July 15th, 2013 at 7:52 am said:

Guess whos picking Puppeteer, KZ: Mercenaries and KH: 1.5 the same day…. :)

gonna need vacations for that week thou.

O yea i almost forgot…. Puppeteer >>> GTA there i said it. bring the hate noobs.


7

+ MakoSOLIDER on July 15th, 2013 at 8:17 am said:

@6 I’m torn between Puppeteer and KH 1.5. Leaning toward Puppeteer though because KH 1.5 isnt a new game (Favorite game, played it way to many times on PS2) and I feel like it should have had all the KH games in it instrad of splitting them. I’m not supporting SQUARE for that until it goes cheaper. Puppeteer is worth more to me.


8

+ i-HyperSonic-i on July 15th, 2013 at 8:40 am said:

I wish this game came to PSVita. Better for platformer causal game.


9

+ TomHoang on July 15th, 2013 at 9:42 am said:

I’ll definitely be picking this up day 1. I like to support Sony first-party titles as well as creative games as much as I can. I love my Vita as well, so Killzone Mercenary will be picked up along side this game. Kingdom Hearts can wait.


10

+ G-Force08 on July 15th, 2013 at 9:45 am said:

The unfortunate reality is that this game will go unnoticed by the masses. I played a demo of the game and loved every second of it. It was really a refreshing and unique take on the platformer. My only complaint is that the demo was extremely short.

I’ll be getting this game for sure and will most likely promote it to as many people as I can. So many of Sony’s good, unique titles go unnoticed and that has to change.


11

+ Earthling_8 on July 15th, 2013 at 10:14 am said:

Man this game looks fantastic! Would be nice if Kutaro made an appearance in PlayStation All-Stars.


12

+ Wozman23 on July 15th, 2013 at 10:35 am said:

Really psyched for this one! Every time I see it I’m just more and more impressed. I thought Rayman Origins was one of the best platformers ever created, and really look forward to its sequel, but Puppeteer has even overshadowed it in my eyes. September’s gonna be a great month for us old-school, 2D platformer guys.

If there’s one thing I’m cautious about it is the change in voice acting. I fell in love with the early voices. I really hope everything retains the one-man show feel. I liked having the narrator do or mimic each characters voice. It adds another level to the theatrical theme. Regardless, I trust everyone’s judgement.

Also, I’d love to see the original concept or any concept art.


13

+ ArchAngelMai on July 15th, 2013 at 11:08 am said:

The Japanese Demo was really fun, though really short.


14

+ plaztiksyke on July 15th, 2013 at 11:22 am said:

First question, where can we pre-order on PSN? I want the pre-order bonuses, but it’s not on the Puppeteer game page in the PS3 Store!

Some other questions:
1. with the focus on voice acting, will the audio assets be better than 128kbit MP3? TellTale’s Back to the Future game had great voice acting, but the audio quality — especially non-English tracks — were Wii-quality.

2. many games aimed at children seem to avoid any hard drive install (EyePet & Friends, etc), which makes the load times in-game insane. will this game allow for a hard drive install?

3. will the director’s original voiceover be available as an unlockable or DLC?

I’m glad to see a “dark” game for kids, not dumbed down and white-washed. Coraline, Where The Wild Things Are, ParaNorman, Pinocchio, etc are all fantastically dark films that kids love.

Overall, a local co-op Move game in 3D make this a pre-order for me… assuming I can pre-order on PSN!


15

+ dennusa on July 15th, 2013 at 12:02 pm said:

i’ll be really honest, i will buy this game if it’s on the vita.


16

+ Stargazr64 on July 15th, 2013 at 1:06 pm said:

Would buy it if it were on Vita.


17

+ EggySong85 on July 15th, 2013 at 2:44 pm said:

I keep forgetting that I want this game. I want a PS4, but before I even go there I still want to buy/play Last of us, Bioshock infinite, Borerlands 2 GotY (whenever that comes out), Skyrim complete edition, Beyond Two Souls, The Puppeteer, and I’m already working on the Mass Effect Trilogy… It’s like Sony wants to ensure I don’t need to buy a PS4 any time soon!


18

+ Elvick_ on July 15th, 2013 at 3:21 pm said:

I wish the voice acting was left the same. I mean, it’s fine now, but I loved the original voice acting. I’d buy DLC for it… in a heartbeat.


19

+ TUNA-EGG on July 15th, 2013 at 5:01 pm said:

Looking forward to this game… So many great releases my wallet can’t handle it anymore!!!


20

+ tusunami on July 15th, 2013 at 5:49 pm said:

Oh yes this will be a grand adventure indeed, look forward to playing this!!!!!!!!


21

+ PrimeroIncognito on July 15th, 2013 at 6:24 pm said:

@ Ryumoau

Nobody cares, loser.

When are you going to off yourself? It’s obvious you’re miserable.


22

+ PrinceofXIII on July 15th, 2013 at 8:07 pm said:

definitely one of my most anticipated under-rated games this year!

could definitely beat Little Big Planet for sure!!!

if i may ask, does the game have dual audio? i really enjoyed the JPN voices from the official JPN PS channel.

can you confirm if that’s the case?


23

+ naiyo on July 15th, 2013 at 8:40 pm said:

Can you play with the PS Move and if so, how?


24

+ Welmosca on July 16th, 2013 at 11:59 pm said:

Day 1 buy….one of the best games of 2013 and of this gen no doubt about it.You guys have ma money day 1.Dunno how long I’ve been saying this on the blog…but the creativity on this game blows me away.


25

+ paulogy on July 17th, 2013 at 10:18 am said:

Excited to see it shaping up so well. I echo the sentiments here about the voice acting. Didn’t we at one point vote on whether to keep the original voices or have it re-recorded, and we voted to keep it! Oh well :-)


26

+ grandabx on July 18th, 2013 at 1:47 am said:

PLEASE….for the love of gaming, bring back the ORIGINAL villain’s groggy voice. The new voice doesn’t sound threatening at all.


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