Media Molecule discusses Tearaway.
"Go ahead and try it."
We're sitting in a back room on the second floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cologne, Germany. The lights are dimmed, game developers and reporters are scattered around the room in little clusters chatting quietly. We're the loudest in the room, a boisterous group made up of Media Molecule founders Alex Evans, Mark Healey and David Smith and graphic designer Rex Crowle all sitting in a loose circle of chairs.
The group seem to enjoy chatting about their recently unveiled game Tearaway, a Playstation Vita title that has players using their "god like powers" to help along Iota, a papercraft character made up of a used envelope, through an adventure.
Players help Iota by poking their fingers into the world of paper through the Vita's backtouch panel. Pressing into the back of the device makes a life-sized animated finger burst into the world. Moving your finger along the panel causes the finger in the game to move around.
Crowle can't seem to stop himself from popping his finger in and out of the papercraft world as we talk. Finally, I ask if I can give it a go.
"Every asset in the game you can print out and make."
"Go ahead and try it," he says, handing the Vita over.
It's a weird sensation, you know you're just pressing the back of a Vita, but the timing, the detailed animation makes it feel as if you're pressing through the paper of the world.
After noting my finger waggle around in the virtual world I turn to Evans and start to ask "The finger, can you..."
"Yes," he says cutting in. "You can customize the fingers. There are skin tone sliders."
"What about customization? Can you give the phantom finger a gross nail or maybe a ring or fancy nail polish?"
The team hasn't decided, but customization is a very important part of the game.
As players work through the game, they receive papercraft trophies all of which can be customized.
"In a lot of games you have the concept of trophies, in this game you get plans and blueprints," Healey said. "Every asset in the game you can print out and make."
Once crafted, the papercraft can be decorated and customized and then put back into the world with the Vita's camera.
"You can close the loop," Evans said. "You can print it out, customize it with Sharpies and then recapture that as a skin for the game."
The team is experimenting, but there hope is that players could simply unfold their decorated creation and snap a perfect skin for the in-game version of the papercraft. That way the decorations would be exactly the same when they're imported.
The team is also planning to use Tearaway's AI to make certain decorations go viral inside a player's game. So imagine, Evans said, if you decorated a papercraft elk in a certain way, but later ran into a dolphin with the same decoration. He tells you he ran into the elk and liked what he saw so decided to use the same decorations on himself.
It's easy to get pulled into the creative aspect of building an entire world out of papercraft, and the ability to export, customize and then import those creations. In fact, early on, the team of 15 working on the game found themselves losing focus too.
While Healey said Media Molecule has always been adamant that they would choose a piece of hardware and then make a game for that platform, they started questioning their initial decision to make the game for the Vita and started talking about bringing it to the PS3 instead.
"The instigation was, let's do a Vita game," Evans said. "We knew we had diffused the focus too much when we started asking that question."
So the team refocused on their primary goal, bringing an amazing game to the Vita.
"The starting moment for this game was getting very excited about the possibility of the backtouch and pushing a finger into the world," Crowle said. "It's not just touch. It's, 'Get in there.' It's 'Get involved.'"
One team member recreated an entire level of the game, and a full-sized Vita, out of paper.
Crowle wanted to create the world in paper because it was a perfect fit for a game world that you can push your finger into.
"It's not very interesting to push your fingers into a world made of stone or metal," he said. "So we started to build a papercraft world, it was starting to take shape."
The team started experimenting with various papercraft in the offices. One web designer got so into it he recreated an entire level of the game in paper.
"It took him a couple of days," Evans said. "He even made a Vita to scale entirely out of paper."
Healey says the rest of the team is taking the papercrafting very seriously. They try to create anything going into the game out of paper first, just to ensure it can be done.
As the world of paper took shape, the team layered the idea of introducing the player's finger as a god-like power into the game. They also decided that the characters in Tearaway will be aware that the player, specifically the player's finger, exists in the world and is there to help Iota. The player, Crowle points out, is the second player. You're there to help Iota. It's his story.
Ultimately, the goal of the game is for the player to figure out what the message is inside the envelope used to craft Iota. The decisions a player makes while playing the game will impact that game-ending message, so that message is sort of unique to each player, Evans said.
The end result is traditional adventure game built on top of an interesting setting and story with an neat new mechanic, Smith explained.
The game, due out next year, is a multi-hour full-length adventure game.
"It's long," Evans said.
What it isn't is another take on LittleBigPlanet.
"We talked about whether we were going to throw in LittleBigPlanet-like stuff into the game," Evans said. "I'm so glad we didn't ape our own content and fall into that trap.
"Instead we mixed in this twist of the god factor and augmented reality features. We took an action adventure platformer and we Media-Moleculized it."