Puppeteer is one of the most interesting new titles to come out of Sony's Japan Studio in some time. The PlayStation 3 platformer aims to be enjoyed by wide audiences, and its macabre fairy tale-style story -- a young boy is turned into a puppet and his head is torn off -- is a return to the children's tales of the old days while being a departure from the thematic safety of most kiddie fare available on consoles.
Gavin Moore, the game's director and 10-year Japan Studio veteran, spoke to Gamasutra at Gamescom about making a game that appeals to kids and adults, why the Japanese development industry deserves respect, and why he thinks the game industry needs to get more creative fast -- or lose both its audience and its development talent.
Last year you spoke very eloquently about the fact that Japanese game developers aren't getting as much respect as they deserve, possibly. What do you think is going on there?
Gavin Moore: I think what happened was that, basically, Japanese development teams tend to be quite small. Picking up that new technology was pretty difficult for them, because you need big teams to produce big games.
What they should have been doing instead of chasing Western-style gaming -- which is what they ended up trying to do -- was stick to their guns. What they're really good at is being imaginative. And they're really good at making games that feel good. You ended up with all of these Western game clones that the Western gamers didn't really want, but they thought that Western gamers wanted. And they didn't do well.
And I think that Japanese game developers need to be respected, because they have a long legacy of making games, and some of the best games ever have been made by the Japanese, and still will be made by the Japanese.
And I think that certain people out there in the gaming community -- not the users, but more the actual creators -- panned the Japanese recently, and I think it is completely unfair. Because the bosses are dictating what they're making, when really it should be the creators who are saying, "No, no, no -- I want to make this, and it will be okay." And I think it will be if they're allowed to do that.
How do you figure into that? Because you've lived in Japan for some time and worked at Sony for some time. And you've ended up leading this team.
GM: Yeah. I've been at Sony for 16 years, and in Japan for 10, at Japan Studio. It's really interesting as a Westerner, moving from Western development. I've been in games 21 years, so moving from Western development to Japanese development... in Western development we tend to take an overall view of a game and build it in its entirety, whereas the Japanese tend to take a core feature of a game and make sure it's great, and then build the game around it.
And it feels much more crafted and much more professional to me, actually, as a Western developer, to actually make a game the Japanese way. Because what we do, is you get Western games where something -- "That feels great! But that doesn't feel too good. And that feels good, but that's not...." And as you're playing the game, you kind of step through it. Whereas Japanese games tend to be more, "That just feels good all the way through."
I've learned a lot, actually, working in Japan, as an actual game developer, in how to make games in that way. But also there's a lot that the Japanese can learn through trying to actually understand that some things just will not go in the West. And they do need to know that there are cultural differences, as well. But they shouldn't be chasing Western ideals.
Puppeteer was your concept, right?
GM: Yeah. Right.
You said that it came out of some ideas relating to your own son, and I was wondering how the team reacted to the concept, and how you ended up leading the team.
GM: Basically, I came up with the idea, and explained it, and the head of internal development said, "You should make a concept video of this." And we had a very small team of guys and in about six weeks we put together a concept video -- which was completely different, actually, to the way the game looks. It was actually much more Japanese looking, as I love Japanese culture and I was trying to put lots and lots of Japanese stuff in it.
And then we showed it, and Japan said, "It's great, but this is going to take a sizable chunk of money to make, so you're going to have to get America and Europe to look at it as well, to see if they would want it. And we can then put the money behind it to develop it." And so we showed it to Europe and America, and they were great about it, but they just said, "It's too Japanese looking, so we need to tone down the look, slightly." But at the end of the day, that's how it went.
And what we did, actually, which was completely different to most of the way teams work, is that we basically split the team into individual teams. And they'd all work on an individual part of the game. So there'd be a game designer, two animators, and two background artists, working on one particular level. And then I would say what I want that level to be, and we'd have the image boards for the look and everything, but then they had the right, as well, to put anything they wanted into the game, into that level.
And then we'd play it. We'd review every two weeks. And if it was fun, and if it made us laugh, and if we had fun playing it, then it stayed in. So instead of being top-down -- which is most of the time what you have with game development -- it was a much more, "Here's my vision, but go away and have fun." And what it meant is that the whole team felt like the game is theirs, rather than, "It's Gavin's game."
Is that why you organized it that way?
To get that sort of democratic feeling?
GM: It's not democratic, because at the end of the day, I say yes or no. It has to be that way. But building games that way is a much nicer way to build a game. You can't build a game on your own. Not at the size and scope of Puppeteer. It's virtually impossible. You have to rely on other people, and you have to trust them. If you show confidence and trust in them, and let them be creative, you'll get the best out of them. That ethic that I had, and the team had together, was that we were going to do it that way.