Developer James Mielke reflects on the project, from its early days as a conceptual calf to full-grown PS VR dolphin.
I’m back! James Mielke (call me “Milky”) from Tigertron here, to share some development stories about Jupiter & Mars before our game launches on Earth Day (April 22).
First is the fact that Jupiter & Mars has been a concept since I worked at Q Entertainment back in 2009 until 2013. While my friend and mentor, Tetsuya Mizuguchi (“Miz”), was toiling away on Child Of Eden, and before I took on Lumines Electronic Symphony, I spent a good chunk of my time developing new IPs. One of these ideas was, of course, Jupiter & Mars, although it was not designed as a VR game… yet. When we did finally present it to Sony, many years later, it was as a VR game, and as such it was designed from the ground up for VR, although we also made sure that it would work without PS VR so anyone with a PS4 (basic or Pro) could enjoy the game, too.
Back in 2011, Miz once said to me “Milky, this is the game you were born to create,” which sort of made it my personal mission to see it become reality. Thanks to the PlayStation team, dreams have become real, and soon you’ll be able to play it for yourself. It was pretty awesome when we stopped at Miz’s Enhance Games studio to show him Jupiter & Mars in 2017. His words were “It’s a magical marine adventure!” as he reached out to touch a passing manta ray overhead. Sweeter words were never spoken.
Wikipedia describes an environmentalist as “a person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment.” That’s me. That’s my partner Sam. That’s Tigertron. We’re not scientists. We don’t have degrees in marine biology. Nor do we live on a boat, eight months out of the year studying salinity levels. We do realize that games can be something more than just a new entry in a crowded genre, or a multi-million-selling sequel machine. So we tried to make Jupiter & Mars something unique, with a story that you would remember, with characters that a wide range of people would love.
My kids, for example, refer to Jupiter and Mars as if they were family members, and when they learned of one crucial story element, their reactions were stronger than I expected them to be. If your children, or even yourself, walk away from Jupiter & Mars feeling something equally moving, it will mean a lot to me and everyone who worked on the game. We’re environmentalists because we do care about the health of the planet, and your health and your children’s health. We depend on so much of our planet’s biodiversity that most of us won’t realize it until it’s gone, and we can’t get it back. This is why Jupiter & Mars exists.
Original concept renders of Jupiter, Mars, and….
Fortunately for us, two awesome organizations — SeaLegacy and The Ocean Foundation — joined our project early on. It’s not easy to approach organizations that have nothing to do with video games, and have them “get” video games. But these groups did; they saw the potential of being able to reach an enormous audience that may not regularly consume documentaries like Planet Earth, Blue Planet, or the recent Netflix series Our Planet.
There are hundreds of millions of gamers in the world, and if you can imagine even a fraction of us all doing something different, or taking up a cause, or making a change in our daily lives to improve our children’s future, the potential of that is just tremendous. Gamers are a tech-savvy, socially active group. I fully believe with our numbers and influence that we can actually change the world. But if even only a small handful of us are concerned enough to try and make a difference, that still counts, and if a video game could be instrumental in that change, then I will sleep better knowing I tried.
In Jupiter & Mars, you won’t find us preaching or lecturing. We’re just trying to create a unique world environment based on a possible outcome of our current habits, and as we’ve seen groups like SeaLegacy do, we can spark conversation through a powerful image alone. Scattered throughout this blog are concept images from Jupiter & Mars’ early days, as well as screenshots of the current game.
Some unlockables you’ll find in the game are videos from SeaLegacy and The Ocean Foundation speaking for a couple minutes about what they do and why. It’s there for you to watch, or save for later when you’re in the mood. I reckon, however, that if you’ve read this far, that you’re already on board with us, and I just want to say that I’m glad you’re here.
With SeaLegacy, we met with co-founder Paul Nicklen, in New York City to show him the game, too. Not only did he love it, but he gave us some great tips and insights about the world of oceanic environmentalist (he even pointed out that our whale tails were anatomically incorrect — whoops!). His partner and SeaLegacy co-founder Cristina Mittermeier graces our game as the narrator, adding a feminine, worldly voice of experience and wonderful storytelling ability to Jupiter & Mars. I get goosebumps hearing her voiceover, every time I hear it. I hope you will feel the same way.
Thanks to SeaLegacy, Jupiter & Mars made its European premiere at the Fotografiska museum in Stockholm, Sweden, as part of its Turning The Tide gallery exhibition. The opening day turnout included dignitaries like the prime minister of Sweden, and Jupiter & Mars was there, playable on PS VR. How many video games can say they’ve been a part of something like that? This is one of the prime examples of how Tigertron’s goal of doing new things with the video game medium is being accomplished.
I would also like to say thank you to The Ocean Foundation. The work they do with planting seagrass in crucial areas where erosion has wiped out so much natural seagrass is vitally important. I’ll let you check out their site or dig up info on your own time, but while it might seem like such a mundane environmental effort, seagrass is one of the most important natural lifeforms absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Reducing our carbon footprint reduces the planet’s overall temperature, which in turn has myriad beneficial effects. That’s my science lesson for the day, but rest assured, they’re doing important work. You’ll see seagrass in Jupiter & Mars, but the real stuff is much more important.
Don’t Just Share It, Wear It
If you’re interested in displaying your love for Jupiter & Mars — and a lot of folks have indicated they are — we’ve teamed up with the amazing folks at Fangamer to create a shirt that is way cooler than anything I would have come up with myself. If you like old-school vector graphics games with a digital aesthetic, you’ll probably want to snag one of these beautiful tees designed by Fangamer’s Tony Kuchar. Adding a Rez-zy flair to the shirt are reimagined wireframe versions of Jupiter and Mars, color-coded appropriately (blue for Jupiter, red for Mars). A nice perk is the free sticker sheet that comes with each shirt, and I’ll probably buy 20 of these shirts myself just so I can slap these stickers all over the place.
A Family Affair
I would like to share one Easter Egg that eagle-eyed gamers might spot. Throughout the game, Jupiter and Mars are aided by the Elder whales that enlisted them to help in their quest to restore the oceans. One subquest features an elder whale who implores Jupiter and Mars to help bring her lost baby back safely to her side. If you’re paying attention you can see the kanji “朝子” atop the head of the mother whale. This is the kanji for “Asako,” which translates to “morning child,” and was my mother’s name. She passed away during the making of Jupiter & Mars, followed by my father only eight months later. This game is dedicated to both of them, as well as Tigertron co-founder Sam Kennedy’s grandparents.
So, that’s all I have to say about Jupiter & Mars for now. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer. I appreciate you having read this far, and on behalf of everyone at Tigertron and our co-developers, Tantalus and Wicked Witch, I hope you enjoy your time in our big, beautiful blue world.