Puppeteer — a platformer set in a puppet theater — is a creative fusion of Eastern and Western culture, ideas and game design, according to creative director Gavin Moore.
The game was conceived with the intention of it being something that Moore could play with his son — something that could capture his son's imagination in a way that most games failed to do. From this early seed of wanting to reawaken a child's imagination, the development team at Sony Computer Entertainment's Japan Studio crafted a game that Moore describes as "so imaginative and so crazy" that it would be hard for someone to get bored while playing it.
"I've been working in games for 20 years and I'd done a lot of realistic stuff, and I said the problem we have as gamers and game creators, is we kind of got dragged down that uncanny valley where we thought we had to be more realistic," Moore tells Polygon. "But what we actually started to do was stop ourselves being imaginative.
"So to create this game, I said, 'OK, no more realism — we're doing complete fantasy. Let's go down the path of complete fantasy where we can do anything, so if I want to have a 200-foot tall tiger in my game, I'm going to have a 200 foot tiger."
"What we actually started to do was stop ourselves being imaginative."
According to Moore, one of the ways the studio tried to do away with player boredom was by constantly changing the setting, so players wouldn't be stuck in the same environment performing the same tasks. He says he drew inspiration from Japanese theaters, where the puppets continue performing while the backgrounds behind them change seamlessly. In Puppeteer, the setting changes every five minutes. The player remains on the stage and the curtains stay open, but backgrounds and platforms drop in and out as a narrator tells the story and the player bounces their way through each act.
From a game design point of view, Moore says the controls "feel very Japanese" while the ideas and art style are inspired by Western culture.
"It's a platform game in essence, so it has to jump perfectly and you have to be able to run and walk at correct speeds, and the Japanese are incredibly good at that," Moore says. "We have a guy sitting there tweaking the system, and that's the difference — where a Western house might go, 'Yeah, that feels about OK,' at Japan Studio, I would say I want this and I want that, and they were like, 'OK, we're going to make sure it's pinpoint perfect in that respect so it feels good."
When it came to content, Moore says there was some confusion between the developers as to why certain things were included in the game.
"For instance, I'd say I want a taiyaki in my game," Moore says. "A taiyaki is a Japanese pastry in the shape of a fish filled with red bean paste. And they would be like, 'Why?' And I'd say because it's crazy enough to be in there, and it will be great because we have this kitchen scene and this giant taiyaki and you have to get past it."
He says the Japanese developers didn't quite understand what he found so fascinating about a fish-shaped dessert. Similarly, his team of Japanese developers often found amusement in Western objects that he thought were boring.
"We were kind of picking out each other's cultures and throwing stuff into the game," he says. "It was a really good matching and melding of both cultures."
The game is told through seven acts, with each act containing three curtains. The PlayStation 3-exclusive will release in North America on September 10 ($39.99), but Moore's son has already had a chance to play the game. The verdict?
"He just kept playing it over and over again until I had to take it away," Moore says. "But hopefully this is something that everybody can enjoy. Maybe I set out selfishly to do it for myself and my son, but at the end of the day, I think gamers and non-gamers can play together. It's designed that way.
"So people who are really into games are going to get something out of it, and people who have never played games will get something out of it. They'll get different things out of it, but they'll both enjoy it, and they can enjoy it together."