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At this year's Sony press conference at Gamescom, Media Molecule unveiled the game that is one of PlayStation Vita's best hopes for the future -- Tearaway. It's a charming adventure set in a world of paper that you can interact with in every way the Vita will let you: sticks, buttons, rear touch, front touch, gyro, camera, and microphone.
It's also the studio's first new IP since LittleBigPlanet became a big hit and it was acquired by Sony. Gamasutra got a chance to sit down with lead designers Rex Crowle and David Smith, the company's creative director Mark Healey, and tech director Alex Evans, and discuss what makes the game, and the studio, tick.
You mentioned that this game came out of a game jam you held internally. You said you kind of lost your inspiration.
Alex Evans: Focus, I call it.
Focus -- is that the way to put it? So, can you talk a little bit about that, and also how that got the studio back into focus.
AE: I'll hand it back to Rex in a second, but if you want to go back to the pre-history of the project, it was really a case of we have some talented people, and we want to combine Rex, who's obviously capable of being a creative director, give him the reins of "Okay, we're a first party studio. Here's a PS Vita. What would you do?" And then combine that with experienced designers like Dave as well. They're both experienced, but they come from these different worlds.
So, we're doing this, and it was a Vita game from day one. And then we started building the tech, and the big world, and all this stuff. At some point, the emails started going round. "Should we do it on PS3 as well? Should we do a dual-platform title?"
The red flag for me was, "Should we do it on PS3?" It was a legitimate question. It was like, "Maybe this should be a PS3 game." It was like, "Hang on a second, if it can be done on the PS3 successfully, then it's no longer a Vita game."
So, the game jam was a week of down in tools, and the only remit was, "Rediscover the original concept that was in Rex's head," of Vita back touch, tactile, "How can we use this thing?" Since then, it's been a case of subtractive design, taking all those game jam ideas...
David Smith: I think one of the earlier, strong images that Rex really had for the game was this image of your finger tearing into a paper world, and just how that would look and feel, and what that might mean. That's sort of this thread we had from a very early point.
And really, at the point that Alex is describing, when we were going back to that root, and seeing what was important, we kind of expanded that out and thought, "Well, it's not just..."
AE: A finger, right? It's a whole...
DS: It's you.
Rex Crowle: It's a whole human.
DS: It's a whole human. It's not one finger, it's your fingers, and it's on the back, it's on the front, it's on the buttons, it's shaking the thing, it's shouting at it. Any way that you can interact with this world, and really thinking, "This is a world in your hands."
AE: So, yeah, it reignited around that original idea, and then remixed it. And game jams, we've done two now at Media Molecule. One was unconstrained, and it was actually the less successful game jam, in a sense. It was like everyone just play around for a week. The most successful game jam was the one that took place in the context of Tearaway, so it was like a game jam with constraints. And that was the one that just... I'd never seen so much cool shit appear in two weeks. It was one and a half weeks, wasn't it?
RC: Yeah. But then the really important stuff with the game jam was we have the context of, "It's a paper world."
AE: Right. The constraints were there. That was what was cool.
RC: Yeah, exactly. And the world, the material of paper, was chosen because that would be the most tactile material to build a world out of that you are holding, and feeling like you're not just kind of touching it, but you're really feeling it, and it's responding not only from the outside, but from Iota, the main character walking around and exploring. So, moving away from it just being an art style, and it's a totally realistic treatment of paper.
AE: It's a design commitment.
RC: Yeah, exactly. And it moves like paper, and it reacts like paper. And it can give you a really surprising kind of unfolding universe, or world, that you never really explored before. And then obviously, there's this character outside of the game holding this whole world, and you can have some pretty dramatic effects upon it.
AE: It leapt forward [from] the visual style of the game. Looking at the development of the game, it went from being this kind of, "Okay, it's a low poly look" sort of thing, and then realizing, actually, no, it's surprisingly high-poly, because to really capture the papery-ness of paper, a lot of it is in the movement. A lot of it is the way it bends and the way it flexes. A screenshot doesn't capture it. And so Mark has been coding up the paper-folding stuff. Like most of the assets...
Mark Healey: Not me Mark.
AE: The guys can actually model inside the game -- that is, now... they actually fold up the bits of paper, and create different shapes with it.