Puppeteer: Japan Studio on Taming its ‘Unruly Teenager’

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Puppeteer: Japan Studio on Taming its ‘Unruly Teenager’

All games are the product of individual creators, and while it’s occasionally hard to see it, all are duly imbued with the personalities of the artists that first breathed life into them. As anyone who’s played it will surely know, this is no more true than it is with PS3 platformer Puppeteer. Japan Studio’s sublime adventure drips with charisma, character and, above all, passion.

Puppeteer Concept Art

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With its launch last month now disappearing into the rear view mirror, we stopped by creator Gavin Moore’s Tokyo office recently to find out how such an idiosyncratic and personal project got made, and what it’s like having to let go and hand it over to the game-buying public after three years of hard work.

Read on for some fascinating insight into the creative process, and for an exclusive glimpse at some never-before-seen artwork from the game. Oh, and if you haven’t found the time to play it yet, I urge you to do so! It’s one of the year’s finest. To see more trailers, screens, and, of course, grab a copy for yourself, visit PlayStation.com.

So, after three years of development, Puppeteer is finally on the shelves. What’s your primary emotion right now?

Gavin Moore: Pride. It’s probably one of the only games that I’ve made in 21 years that I’ m not just going to put in a box in the attic. It’s actually going to go into my game collection.

And I’m proud of this team and what they did. It was a very difficult game to get off the ground in the first place. We’re in a market of sequels, and shooters, and the GTAs of this world. It was just refreshing that Sony gave us that chance, and that we actually did it, and we did it in time, and we got it out before PS4 launched!

Is it hard waving goodbye? There must be a Kutaro-shaped void in your life, I’d imagine…

Gavin Moore: It is to an extent. When you make a game, it’s very much like being a parent. You conceive it, you bring it into the world and then, over time, it grows. Then they take on a life of their own as they progress through the development cycle.

About a year ago you could feel it becoming an unruly teenager. It was fighting us and wanted to go its own way. We had to compromise with it and make sure it was working properly. And then it comes of age and you send it out into the world. It’s pride mixed with a smidgeon of sadness.

Puppeteer Concept Art

What was the atmosphere like in the office as the first reviews started to arrive?

Gavin Moore: We were checking Metacritic for the first ones to come in, and we got some incredibly high ones, but then you watch your score go down a bit as different ones come in, and it goes up and down, and up and down, and you get really nervous about where it’s going to end up.

Overall, the reviews have been incredibly positive. What’s more interesting to me though are the user reviews. Going on Twitter and searching for Puppeteer and seeing people rave about it, or lurking on message boards.

I thought the little in-jokes and nods to other games were really fun. How did they come about?

Gavin Moore: That actually happened because I was working with PDSG (Product Development Support Group) in the US. They were helping us out doing the demo movies. I went to San Diego to meet them all, and I said “Look, this is my idea of what it should be, but we’re making games, so have some fun, and if you have ideas, put them in.”

That was a shock to them, as they work on the service side of the industry where they have directors telling them “You’re going to do exactly what I say, and nothing more.” So they had a blast.

One guy goes “Gavin, can we put an inFAMOUS reference in there?” And I went “Oh god… Well, we are trying to strive for Monty Python, so let’s do it.” And that opened the flood gates. As soon as I put that in we went back and started writing things into the game.

Puppeteer Concept ArtPuppeteer Concept Art

Now that you have a little distance from the game, is there anything specific that you wish you could change?

Gavin Moore: I might change the difficulty. Make it harder. We could have made the single player game rock hard. Like, frustratingly hard. Old school Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins hard. Or put in some kind of difficulty option in there to allow that. But then again, if you’re not going to get to the end, then there’s no point me making it. That’s a difficult choice to make.

Another thing I didn’t think about was stuff like timed runs and leaderboards. We should have put those in there. I was thinking it wasn’t that sort of game, but a lot of people are saying that it would have been fantastic if we had done that.

What would your son have thought of the game if you had made the game much tougher?

Gavin Moore: He would have put the controller down and walked away, because it becomes frustrating.

So you made the right call!

Gavin Moore: I think so!

Puppeteer Concept ArtPuppeteer Concept Art

Is there a stage or a sequence that you’re particularly proud of?

Gavin Moore: Act 6 Curtain 1. Or Act 7 Curtain 1. Oh, I don’t know. All of it? There are so many things I love about it. I love the fact that the boss battles are old school, with patterns you have to learn. I love the design of the characters and the way they’re all so different. I love riding on the back of the dragon on Mr Pink who’s going off on one of his diatribes – that’s a great scene for me. It’s just packed full of stuff and we had so much fun making it that it’s really difficult to pick stuff out.

It was really interesting playing with my son. We’d play a section and he would be like “This is great!” And then we’d play the next part and he’d go, “No, this is my favourite part!” And as the game progressed it was, “No, no, no, this is my favourite!”

He finished Act 6 and I said “Let’s take a break, we’ve been playing for a while – but you have to give me a score,” So he said “Oh okay – 100 out of 100 – it’s really good Dad.” Then the next day we play again and we finish it, and the credits roll. His name is in there in the ‘Special Thanks’ section and he’s jumping up and down with joy. Just imagine being a nine year old boy and having your name in the credits of a game. So I say “So, now you’ve finished the game, I need a final score.” He goes “200! My name is in the credits!”

Maybe you should put journalists’ names in there next time!

Gavin Moore: Yes! Next time!

Puppeteer Concept ArtPuppeteer Concept Art

You say your son is loving the game. Is he on track for the Platinum?

Gavin Moore: I don’t think I can clear the Platinum on it, let alone my son! It’s 58 Bronzes, two silvers and a gold. It’s ridiculous. You have to do stuff like kill 1,000 grubs and save 1,000 souls. Or find every Giant Moon Stone Shard – that’s the difficult one. We don’t tell you where any of those are.

It was interesting seeing your original concept video a few weeks ago. Are you surprised how different – or how similar – the final game turned out?

Gavin Moore: As I said before, games take on a life of their own, and that’s the way this one went. We made that concept video to get the game green-lit. Japan saw it and loved it, but went, “That’s going to take quite a bit of money, so you’re going to have to show it to America and Europe and see if they buy into it too.” So we did, and they both went, “Stunning. Gavin, that’s an incredible idea. But it’s too Japanese. It’s niche.”

So I went away and cried for a bit. We came back as a team and talked about it, and that’s when we decided to mix the Western influences I have from my side and the Japanese influences from my team’s side. But it actually switched around. I was putting in Japanese references because of my love for Japanese culture, and they were trying not to put in Japanese references as they thought it was boring, so they were trying to add Western ideas. It was a really interesting mix.

But if you look at it, the concept stayed true. It stayed in the theatre, it moved the same, you had the scissors, you were a puppet, there was a narrator. Which is interesting, because I can’t think of many games that I’ve worked on that have done that.

Puppeteer Concept Art

Really? Of all the games you’ve been involved with, this is the one that changed the least from concept to completion?

Gavin Moore: Definitely. I’ve been doing this for 21 years. I remember the original concept for The Getaway – it was totally different. It started out as a racing game around a city, and then it changed into a gangster romp with a full story, and before we knew it we were photographing the whole of London.

I always felt the Puppeteer concept was a good one, and that it was fresh. It took a little bit of time to explain the idea to the team, but once they were into it and had worked out the systems, they really got into it.

Making Puppeteer must have been a heck of a journey. Is it hard picking yourself up and getting yourself pumped for the next thing?

Gavin Moore: Completely the opposite – it’s easy for me. I already have another idea in my head, with another story that actually came to me on my European press tour recently. I already have some character sketches that I’m working on.

To stop being a creator is much harder than starting again. As you can see, we’re sitting here in Tokyo, on the 14th floor of the Sony building and all my staff are off on their holidays. But I’m not! My boss is going “Gavin, when are you going to take your holiday?” I really don’t need to. It’s nice and quiet. I can think and get on with what I need to do.

I really want to start on the next thing. Because the reaction has been really positive and a lot of people have enjoyed it, I want to get the next one out so that they can have fun again. That’s what I love doing – making sure people have fun.

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  • Platforming masterpiece.

  • Puppeteer is a great title that everyone should definitely pick up, especially it being only $40! Looks gorgeous, is great in 3D, and is awesome playing Co-op! Dont miss this title everyone! Thanks PS for another great, unique game!

  • This game was magical, everyone should play it!

  • Psvita version.

  • Puppeteer is a fantastic game and I’m very I made the last minute decision to purchase it while it was still $35.99 with PS+. The SCEA ebdee up sending me a code for the preorder bonus pack even though it wasn’t a part of the PSN offer! I’ve only had time to play through the first act so far, but I’m looking forward to digging in deeper this weekend.

  • When will the demo be available in the Store? I never buy a new IP without trying the demo first.

  • It is a terrible mistake to not make a PS VITA version…!

    Please, bring it to PS VITA!

  • Amazing game

  • Puppeteer is the PS3 sleeper hit of 2013. I feel that it is being passed by many people due to the excitement of next gen consoles and unfortunately was released so close to AAA games like GTAV and Beyond: Two Souls.

    Puppeteer is a brilliant game. It is very unique with how the gamer is an audience member of a puppet show. All the characters feel alive and are one of a kind. The gameplay adds a few new mechanics that change how a usual platformer is played.

    The story is good enough to become a classic fairy tale to rival Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderella and any you can think of. It is captivating for kids of all ages with plenty of adventure, comedy and charm. There are plenty of jokes and references to keep adults entertained as well as the numerous collectables and challenges provided by the trophy list.

    If the tale of Kutaro was written/created generations ago it would be a worldwide recognizable bedtime story and fairy tale that everyone would know by heart.

    Buy this game.

  • Yes this game is simply amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen anything with this level of creativity in quite some time. I do agree with Gavin that a hard mode would’ve been nice though.

    For those asking for a Vita version, it’s not going to happen. Not every game has to be on Vita. If you’ve played this game then you already know that it must be pushing the PS3 pretty hard. It’s not just the fantastic graphics but the amount of things that are going on at any one time. Some games just aren’t meant for Vita. It’s not a mistake, it’s just not possible for whatever reason.

  • I absolutely adore this game, and anyone who hasn’t played it is truly missing out. Such a unique design for an age-old genre, and it works so well that I’m surprised nobody else thought of it first. Seriously, this game oozes a charm that people have come to expect from Nintendo, so it’s incredibly exciting to see this great game come out of a SONY studio.

    Please keep making fun, unique games like these and charging the same fair prices for them–only good things can come of it. Thank you to everyone involved, and–perhaps more appropriately–Bravo!

    Games like these are why the PlayStation brand has always been where I spend most of my gaming $’s.

  • One of my favorite games I’ve played this year. I flew thru it before GTAV, but I’ve even gone back to replay some levels. It’s beyond fun. So creative, it’s funny, it looks amazing and it’s very different than anything I’ve played in the past. Everyone should check it out.

  • Puppeteer is by far one of the best games of this gen and of all time…the artwork is god-like phenomenal….so much fun a true masterpiece…sadly its underrated…like most PS exclusive games.As always we have the best games but media ignores all of Sony games.I would really love to see Puppeteer getting more attention…games like this make me so happy that I wouldn’t be able to describe in words.People not giving attention to Puppeteer but to stupid recycled FPSs and overrated s****…just shows how gaming world is rotten nowadays.I already said this but I’ll just keep on saying…if it wasn’t for TLoU…Puppeteer would be GOTY…or Sly Thieves in Time(another one underrated).

  • played the game…separated gaming sessions to beat it in a week. agree w difficulty and leaderboards would have been nice especially in bonus stages. the ending made me cry, so heart warming lol. bought lil bro a copy for his bday 2 days ago since he enjoys platformers. this is a game people shouldnt pass over. safe to say sont has found another mascot in kutaro

  • This is honestly one of the best titles I’ve played. So much fun. The gameplay, characters, story, music, are all amazing. Only one thing… I didn’t get the pre-order so I missed out on getting the soundtrack. Any idea if it will be available for purchase?

  • I just started it last night and I think I smile every time the “set” changes.

  • This game is amazing so much creativity and fun gameplay jam packed :)

  • I simply loved this game, one of the best games this year for the PS3.. please make some story DLC for it

  • I still play this even though I have beaten it twice. My kids are like glued to the tv screen. I have been waiting to see some concept art materialize. Thanks Gavin, Japan Sony, for a wonderful game. All these exclusives are kicking butt this year!

  • I will say this, my fellow commentors. Take a break from GTA V. Buy it! Play it! It’s WORTH it!

  • Great game, a lot of fun with 2 players. I would buy it definetly for my Vita if you decide to release it. I had so much fun getting the Platinum trophy! Thanks for this great game!

  • This game is amazing. Best plataform I have played in about 10 years. Really. And I play a lot (really a lot) of games even hundreds of indie plataform games in pc. It made me feel like I was playing the first three Sonic games or Super Mario World from the snes. Old gamers like me will get crazy with it. And kids too.
    Give it to the kids, not GTA!

  • Puppeteer was unlike any game I’ve ever played. It was insanely creative, and the commitment to the theatrical theme was delightfully vaudevillian. I loved the colorful cast of characters and the Calibrus mechanic is one of my favorite mechanics in recent memory. I’d have called it perfect had it been a little more difficult and a little more briskly paced, but understand why that decision was made.

    After beating it, I decided to give it a break. But I’m really excited to dig back in and go for platinum. I really don’t even want to open my copy of GTA.

    Hopefully it preforms well enough at retail. The platforming genre is a tough sell these day, but I’d love a sequel, spiritual successor, or more creative work from the studio. I cannot even fathom the possibilities of something similar on the PS4.

  • Damn, all of these comments are making me regret cancelling my Amazon pre-order. They took forever to ship it, so I just said screw it, and figured I’d buy the disc at a store instead. Then I remembered the pre-order bonuses I lost by cancelling. That was a bummer. Didn’t care for the avatars, but I was looking forward to checking out the theme and the soundtrack. Then, my local Target didn’t even have it in stock for the first two weeks after release and my interest kinda waned. Now I’m just too caught up in other games, but this blog post re-kindled my interest in what was my most anticipated “big budget” game this year other than GTA 5, so I’ll try to get this now during Black Friday if I’ve got enough disposable income left after buying other things.

    Hope it’s selling well, and continues to do so.

  • amazing game :D

    been waiting this since it was announced last year at TGS 2012!!

    definitely worth the wait!

    though i would like bigger levels and custom maps like Little Big Planet.

    also why no ask for a potential sequel?

    would love to play another one on PS4!!!!

  • Great interview and made me develop so much respect for Gavin and his team. I am currently playing through Puppeteer (only game I am playing when taking breaks from GTA V) and it’s excellent. Just by playing the game I could easily see that years of hard work and passion was done to make it. When Gavin mentioned how passion was put into the game, I absolutely believe it as I never have seen or played a game like it. It wasn’t even a game I was anticipating as I was expecting another side-scrolling platformer, but I was easily blown away when I started up the game. Love it!!

  • Puppeteer is my favorite game on the PS3, so much character is in this game!

    me and my daughter cant have enough of it <3 thanks Gavin and your talented team!

    I would love to go to japan and have you and your team sign me a copy!

  • I love this game. It actually makes me want a 3D tv, cause I bet it looks great in 3D.

  • @ Tomato and Primero, if you guys are still looking for the soundtrack, I’ll be glad to help point you in the right direction. Message me on the PSN if interested.

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