The PixelJunk division of Q-Games in Kyoto is releasing an updated version of the hit 2008 title PixelJunk Eden. The remaster itself is newsworthy, but it will also be the first PixelJunk title to come to mobile.
To stand out in the highly competitive mobile market, the company is differentiating Eden with unique camera tricks; the game uses the phone’s front and back cameras to enhance play.
Polygon got the chance to sit down with musical composer/producer Tomohisa Kuramitsu — better known as Baiyon — at the Q-Games headquarters in Kyoto to discuss the new mobile-only Eden Obscura, to get a better idea of what makes this title so special and how it all came together.
So would you like to introduce yourself, perhaps give a little bit about your background?
Baiyon: I used to work as a freelancer in Osaka for 15 years, spending much of my time as a freelance artist selling handmade accessories and items as a high school student. Back then, I also started experimenting with music, weird music, as well as painting abstract art. I had a few exhibitions during high school, though I never did it for money. It was just a form of expression.
About seven years ago I got the chance to work in video games freelance, providing art and musical direction for a few titles. As of last year, I got hired on with Q-Games as a creative producer. This was like, my first real job!
I started working on a lot of R&D within the company that would eventually lead to the PixelJunk Eden title.
So what would you say was the inspiration for the first Eden game? Where do you think that came from?
Baiyon: So, back then, we had a meeting where I met Dylan Cuthbert, one of the artist guys that worked here. He was having a gathering with a lot of the local artists and designers at that time. During the party I felt that I needed to propose an idea to Dylan, telling him that, “I wanna make a video game, but I don't know how. How can I do that?” It turns out that timing was right, because he was looking to start the PixelJunk division of the company. The structure was already there; he just need a reason to start.
PixelJunk is a digital-only platform, and kind of like a music label. With my music and art, we just needed to figure out how to collaborate based on that.
So one day I bring in my portfolio to a meeting and one of the art directors took a look at one of my paintings that I did for a CD cover a long time ago. It had a lot of plants growing and dying, and he was like, “Can we try and make this into a game, but also maybe with your beats and melodies?” And I said, “Okay, sounds good!”
We tried that and it took about three months to prototype. From there we eventually made Eden and a lot of people liked it, so that was great.
From what you showed at the event, Eden Obscura used both the front and back cameras of a smartphone to blend modified, real-time visuals into the levels themselves. Where did that come from?
Baiyon: We didn't want to go with 3D, like with 3D plants growing, anything like that. It just looked too weird. When I was young, I really liked doing crafts with things like sequins, disco balls, transparent plastics, see-through paper, stuff like that. I was never into stuff like robots or cars, you know?
When it came to Eden Obscura, I was thinking about the smartphone cameras, based off of an idea I had a long time ago actually. I tried pitching this idea to publishers in the past, but it was really difficult to explain, right? But then I took the same idea to Dylan Cuthbert later on and he was like “Well then let's try!”, so it worked out. That was the start.
How long do you think it took to get that feature right, or was it something that just happened organically?
Baiyon: Well actually, you know, the first time I asked the programmer, how to get the color gradation for the water feature, it was already there, but I think I just needed to make a few tweaks a little bit during the first build. I think I just needed to make a few more color variations, but for the most part it all worked pretty well.
Yeah, I noticed when you showed me a little earlier the kind of water effect on the screen that had the right kind of light curvature, like they were real water drops.
Baiyon: Yeah, yeah! I was talking with some other members of the team a little earlier on and we were talking about those kind of “Kira Kira” things, you know sparkles, disco balls. Like when you go to a club and it's all dark, but then you see the strobe lights and the disco balls, they’re all connected to the musical structure.
So it's almost like a visual synesthesia…
Baiyon: Yeah, yeah, exactly right. Like an eye-gasm, you know?
So right now as we’re doing this interview, we're listening to some pretty chilled out piano music. You're also composing the music for Eden Obscura of course, what kind of music styles can we expect for the next game?
Baiyon: Actually for the playable Bit Summit build, we were using the older tracks from the Eden original, so I haven't started composing the tracks for the next game yet. The original came out seven years ago, so back then it was a really fruitful time for minimal techno. Now however, I find myself thinking about how to incorporate those sounds you'd never hear in typical video-games. Really weird sounds like field recording sounds or strange synthesizer sounds. But really, because the art style for the game comes from me, I just want it to reflect what's going on with the visuals to.
When people pick up the game for the first time, is there anything you think might stand out for them when they play?
Baiyon: Well I don't think there's going to be too much difference in the end between the music styles, but I think I'm going to just tweak just a little of the sound. I don't want to nitpick my sounds and clean it up too much. For example, when I DJ, if the needle has so much dust on it, it might skip loudly like “bum bum tshhh!” and the crowd sometimes cheers that. People really love the idea that “this is a real live show.” I don't want to leave mistakes in my work, but those human elements that can't be synthesized. Since then I've been collecting older instruments such as an organette, you know that you wind up and the hole punched cards feed into it. You can compose the music just by punching holes. Even with the graphics of the game, I'd like to try and leave smears in the paint, like a mark, something organic and natural. It may sound the same to a lot of people, but to me it's a big important change.
Talking about the camera feature of the game, you're going to be using both the front and back cameras picking something up while you play, the player will now find themselves a little more involved, immersed in the game…
Yeah, that will be working in real time. If you take a photo and use that as an element in the game, it's going to look kinda boring, right? It's too normal. I want to make Eden Obscura all in real time and make the player think that their phone is no longer a phone, but a device, a weird device that you can peer into. There are some levels that are going to use the cameras in some particularly interesting ways, and if we just used the camera as is, I don't think people would be too happy with it.
You want people to really appreciate the depth of the visuals.
Baiyon: Yeah, do you know the expression “Doyagao”? It's a Kansai expression, like when a comedian says “Doya?” It's like him saying, “Hey, look at me, I just said something funny!” but the audience aren't going to think that it is at all.
Like that, I don't think the game should be so obvious to understand. From there I think the player can connect with Eden Obscura over time, discovering its secrets as they play.
So you want players to explore?
Baiyon: Yeah! Explore, discover and enjoy the world.
Eden Obscura has no release date yet, but Kuramitsu is hopeful that it will come out this year to both iOS and Android.