It was surprising to me because you don't see that much original IP for kids these days. Obviously Skylanders is the big counter-example, but that was a big surprise. In video games, you don't see so much original kids' IP.
GM: But Puppeteer is not only for kids, because we were all gamers making it, so we were making something that we wanted to enjoy as adults at the same time. Puppeteer, you can get a lot of fun out of it as an adult -- especially if you're playing it with a friend or a partner, or somebody. It's a lot of fun to muck around with, and the story is funny, and there's loads of Monty Python and Terry Gilliam in it to keep you hooked on it.
But it's true. And the funny thing is, we should, though. Because I'm 43 and I have a son, and I'm sure there are a lot of game designers out there who are of that age, who have children as well. Why aren't we making games that we can all enjoy? We're putting our kids onto iPads and iPhones and Androids and letting them play five-minute experiences, but they'd have a much better time if they were playing on a TV. As long as they're being supervised by somebody, then that's fine.
Sometimes I wonder if kids who play a lot of these throwaway iOS games are going to grow up to like video games, or if they're going to put them down when they get older.
GM: I don't know. That's one of the frightening things for me, that I'm kind of a little bit afraid of. Because they're five-minute experiences. And they're being bombarded with information from everywhere, on every side. And are we making stuff where we're actually turning off our next generation of gamers? Because they're not used to what we think is gaming? They think it's something completely different.
You talked about how the game can work on multiple levels, for adults and kids. That's interesting. The prototypical example is Pixar. I don't think that's your exact approach, but it sounds like you're thinking consciously about both gamers and novices, kids and adults. How do you approach that?
GM: It's really interesting, actually. Because the first time we made the game, before we did any focus tests... [laughs] We're all gamers, so we're playing the game, and it's like, "Yeah, yeah, this feels a bit easy." And then you focus test and it's like, "Oh my God. Oh my God. They can't even get past the first level." And that wasn't bad game design; it was just because it was too difficult.
There's one side where you can do that focus testing -- you can balance levels, you can balance difficulties -- you can focus test with different groups, too, and make sure that they're satisfied. You can get different feedback, and you can see the focus test going on, and you can see whether they're having fun or not.
And then there's the writing side of it. The writing side is much more difficult. Writing it and keeping that humor in there that keeps an adult entertained and surprised and want to keep playing, and then also making sure there's enough humor and entertainment in there for children as well.
It's kinda funny, though. Because adults and kids generally like the same things. We're all kids at heart, anyway. So if something weird happens, we're in there and we're looking at it, and we want to see what's going to happen.
I get the sense that you're trying to surprise people when they play this game. It seems like you want to catch people off guard with the game, and the theme, and what happens in it.
GM: Yeah, definitely. After you've cleared the first act, which is kind of a simple way into the game, which sets up the situation, and you get the scissors and you eventually escape the castle... then the real fun starts. Because you're going to get thrown into a series of situations and scenarios that I don't think people are even going to believe. You're just going to be surprised by it.
I don't want to spoil anything, but we were just having so much fun putting these situations in there. And they would get wackier and wackier, and it would be like, "Is that crazy enough? And can we push it a little bit more? Can we say that? Can we make that point, and play around with it?" and "Let's introduce these weird characters here," and all these sorts of things.
How do you design for surprise, in the end? How do you know when you've gone far enough?
GM: I think you can't go far enough until somebody on your team turns around and says "stop." I think that's the way we did it. I would be pushing it and pushing it and pushing it, and then somebody would just go, "No. That's enough."
Is this both content and concepts, or level design? Is this on the design or writing side?
GM: It's on the writing side, it's on the design side -- it's everywhere, really. The core gameplay doesn't change, but the situations you're in and what you're doing... the level we showed at E3, where you're riding on a pink flamingo across the back of a dragon that's harvesting the souls of children, and he can't stop talking... Just mucking around, really, with the script and the characters, and those sorts of situations.
We have to get some playfulness back into games.
GM: We have to. As I said, if we don't, we're going to stagnate. And we're going to lose creators. I know a lot of people already who've been in the industry for a very long time are starting to walk away from it and do other things. Because they're just saying, "Well, I can't work on X Number 4 or X Number 7 anymore. I want to do something a little bit different."
When we launched this at Gamescom  nobody much in Sony knew about it. My producers in America and Europe knew about it, plus marketing and PR obviously knew about the product. But none of the other studios, the actual developers, knew about it.
And I used to work in London Studio. I did The Getaway and stuff. So I have friends there. And then Gamescom comes up, and I go on stage. And then afterwards, everybody goes to the bar and they're going, "Gavin, your game is amazing! I would love to work on that." And I say, "Sorry. You're living in London and this is being done in Tokyo." It was interesting that creators themselves were going, "Oh, God. That's the sort of thing I want to make."
|George Menhal III|