"We have a lot of stuff," says the creative director of Sony Computer Entertainment's Japan Studio, Gavin Moore. "No, seriously. We have a lot of stuff."
Moore is demoing Puppeteer to Polygon at a pre-E3 event. Earlier in the year we spoke to him about the side-scrolling platformer designed by a Japanese team and led by a British creative director and, back then, we had gotten the impression that Puppeteer was a dynamic game filled with varying levels and lots of bright environments. The game was originally designed to see if Moore and his team could make something that kept a player's attention — a game where it was impossible for the player to get bored. This E3, the studio is ready to show their interactive puppet theater to the world.
"When we set out to make this game, we wanted to make something that you never knew what was coming next," he says. "It would always change on you."
For Moore, it's important to always surprise the player. In a hands-on session with the game, from the moment our character Kutaro was dropped into the puppet theater, the stage would constantly change, revealing new backdrops and environments. Every level would be littered with new objects unique to the setting, and Kutaro could interact with them to either find items, discover new character heads to give him new abilities or simply smash things for the satisfaction. The player can find up to 100 special heads, and these represent Kutaro's lives. Each head has a unique ability and, if it gets knocked off, Kutaro must pick it up within three seconds or it's gone forever. Moore explains that this is a play on the "three-second rule" with regards to dropping food on the ground.
In addition to the 100 heads are four special champion heads that always stay with Kutaro. There's the pirate head, which has a hook on the top that allows Kutaro to hook onto things, pull enemies closer or shake objects; the wrestler, which allows Kutaro to change the theater set around to solve puzzles and perform impressive body slams; the ninja head, which serves as a reusable bomb and the knight, which equips Kutaro with a sword, shield and helmet.
Players will enter levels so varied that at times they will have to consecutively switch between heads in order solve puzzles and defeat enemies, and certain levels will require specific heads. In an early set in the game, Kutaro finds himself locked in a dungeon. In order to get out, he needs to don a spider head so that he can take on the abilities of a spider to effectively explore the dungeon. In another early level, Kutaro has to run through a giant kitchen where food is bouncing in the background and giant pots and pans hang from the ceiling. In order to reach a high platform, he has to switch to his hamburger head, which gives him the ability to turn a giant sandwich into a bouncy hamburger. He then bounces on the hamburger until he reaches the platform.
Further into the game, we saw a boss battle with a dragon where the stage on which Kutaro ran was the dragon's body.
Puppeteer is incredibly fast-paced, and the stage is constantly changing into something unexpected. There is indeed a lot of stuff.
According to Moore, the development team was allowed to put absolutely anything they wanted in the game, and it would stay — as long as it made him laugh.
"The funny thing about making Puppeteer is we're one team and I'm the creative director, so I say yes or no to things, but we split our team into lots of separate teams, and there's one game designer, two animators and two artists that work together as a team.
"Every two weeks we do a review, and they all work on separate levels, and then I play it in front of everybody. If I laugh and am having fun, then that team wins for that review. So everyone's trying to compete with each other inside the team to be the best team in the team. Even though we're a family, it's kind of like a mini competition. Anyone can put anything they want in the game in that two weeks."
As for Moore's favorite thing in the game?
"When you're on your way to Halloweeville through a graveyard to find the head of the headless horseman, you come across a vampire who's been tricked into coming to the dark side of the moon," Moore says. "I just want people to stop and listen to what he says, because it's the most fundamentally profound speech about being a vampire. It's a three-minute monologue, and I just love it."
Puppeteer is coming to the PlayStation 3 in North America on Sept. 10 and in Europe on Sept. 11, 2013.