Puppeteer Q&A: Gavin Moore discusses overcoming compromise, surprising difficulty, and an original vision

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Puppeteer from Sony Japan Studio has shone bright and clear on El33tonline’s collective radar ever since its announcement at gamescom in 2012, not only because of the game’s boundless creativity, variety and charm, but also because of the game director helming the project, Gavin Moore.

SCE Japan Studio's Gavin Moore

– Puppeteer game director Gavin Moore

Having worked in Japan as a game developer for ten years, and with twenty-one years experience creating games, Moore has been given the chance to let his imagination run wild with Puppeteer, a game that sees players take to a virtual stage and adventure through worlds with the eventual goal of defeating the Moon Bear King, a fiend who has stolen your head forcing you to collect replacements along the way.

El33tonline’s hands-on preview of Puppeteer will get you up to speed with the gameplay, while our previous preview and extensive coverage will tell you all about the terrific world that Moore and his team at Sony Japan Studios have been able to craft, but at gamescom 2013 we sat in on a very special presentation hosted by Moore himself who showed us his original vision for Puppeteer, while answering a few questions from attendees.

Puppeteer Story Trailer

Right off the bat, Moore was keen to ensure we knew the rich history of Japan Studio, a development house that has been given free reign to “make games that you don’t get on any other console. At Japan Studio, that’s what we do. That’s why you get Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Gravity Rush, Patapon, Loco Roco – all of those titles come out of Japan Studio and we try to do those little quirky games that you’re not going to see on anything else.”

“Puppeteer,” he says, “is one of those.”

“It’s a huge game,” Moore proclaimed, “it’s over twelve hours long, and the premise of the game is that it changes every five to ten minutes. So the sets will change on you, it’s all set in a magical theatre so instead of moving through the world you will move through the sets and the sets will revolve, and suddenly you’ll be climbing a tower, and next you’ll be under the sea, and next you’ll be in space, and you don’t know where you’re going to be and you never know what you’re going to see.”

Under the Influence

Based on what we’ve seen and the seeming influences, however, Puppeteer doesn’t seem to be the kind of game that would come out of Japan, which is where the British developer worked his magic:

“When I was writing Puppeteer it was always going to be a dark fairytale based on Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam – those are the sorts of things that I grew up with as a kid, y’know, Time Bandits and Baron Münchhausen and those great crazy films that he was making at that time. And then, because I’m English, I was growing up with Monty Python so Puppeteer is full of that kind of humour, so even though it looks like a kids game, it’s not a kids game in that sense.

“There’s a load of stuff in there that’s written, hidden, lots of little secrets and little things that are thrown out there that maybe kids just don’t understand. Plus, even though I wanted to make a game that I could play with my son, it’s not a kids game in that sense because I’m a gamer and the people making the games are a very talented group of guys in Japan, and we wanted to make a game that would be challenging for us at the same time.”

Who’s Pulling Which Strings?

Revealed earlier this year, Puppeteer features a two-player co-operative mode where you’re able to play the game on your own, but if someone picks up a second controller the game will acknowledge that and let another player join in. When the controller goes down, you’ll be free to continue playing in singleplayer. This avoids a situation Moore himself has encountered playing games with his nine year-old son:

“… My son walked out on me while I was playing a two-player game which meant that I couldn’t actually carry on with my game,” Moore related. “What a little bastard, right?” He said with a chuckle. “How dare he, right? But the way Puppeteer works is, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing one-player or two-player, the game always recognises how many controllers are being used.”

Surprisingly, or perhaps not given the team’s eagerness to create a challenging game, Puppeteer won’t allow players to breeze through the adventure and will use a system of retries for every main level. Puppeteer is split up into seven acts, comprising three ‘curtains’ (or levels) each. If you die while in a ‘curtain,’ you’ll be able to use up a ‘retry’ which sets you back to where you died, but if you run out of these life lines you’ll be thrown all the way out of the curtain. Considering each curtain can take roughly thirty minutes to complete, there’ll be an incentive to do well.

A Shattered Vision From Tokyo

The best part of the Puppeteer presentation at gamescom 2013 was when Moore showed the original concept video that he and “another guy” created in six weeks to pitch the game’s idea to Sony executives in Tokyo. As far as gameplay and pacing is concerned, along with the puppet and theatrical art style, much of what we saw is present and accounted for in the final version of Puppeteer, but the visuals have changed dramatically, going from a very Japanese influenced style to something more traditional and recognisable to Western audiences.

The reason for this, says Moore, was to assuage the concerns of Sony marketing departments in the US and Europe who said they would have a tough time selling Puppeteer to the Western market. Moore recognised the problem, and together with the Japanese development team, created an art style that mashed two aesthetics together – a meeting of Japanese and Western design.

Sneakily, however, only the first act of Puppeteer was tailored to meet the requests of marketing – act two is “all Japanese,” but act three then takes players under the sea, act four is set in South America and so forth. “It changes all the time,” Moore assured us.

Moore loves Japanese culture and wanted to throw in as much Japanese imagery as he could into Puppeteer, so he still wants to make the game that he originally pitched to Japanese executives all those years ago. He still wishes to play that game, too.

Under Pressure? Don’t Lose Your Head

While the concept of the magical scissors was included in the very original designs for Puppeteer (which act as your main weapon and tool to literally cut through puzzles to progress), the use of different heads as a life system wasn’t thought of until later. When the idea came about, it was possible to have 100 different heads in your inventory, but whenever you got hit by enemies of varying sizes, dozens of your heads (which represent your own life) would pop out of the screen and bounce about the constraints of the theatre view, all before rebounding back to you with no effort on your part.

The current system of only allowing a low number of heads to use at a given time, Moore says, works much better but this concept was the result of a lot of work despite how simple it may sound to those not stuck in the trenches of game development.

Of course, Puppeteer supports stereoscopic 3D on PlayStation 3, which Moore says “works brilliantly” not only because objects are constantly being thrown into the ‘audience’ of the game but because characters fly in from the back of the virtual stage (which stretches about 60 meters into the distance) into the foreground, making for a very believable 3D effect. According to Moore, the team even created a special version of Puppeteer for Sony’s headmounted 3D display, which “is bizarre because you’re ‘in it.”

Moore Wants More

The possibility of a PS Vita version of Puppeteer was also discussed, but the final decision is out of Moore’s hands, but if he were to create the game for the handheld he would want to make use of the front and rear touch panels, making for “a slightly different game.” Not only did Moore not know about the Vita when the project began, the original size of the development team (fifteen to twenty people) made it impossible to create a PS3 and Vita version of Puppeteer at the same time, and even as the team grew to sixty people in the last year, there hasn’t been any time to work on anything but the main project.

Puppeteer features an enormous amount of variety and Moore himself claims that you’ll never see the same thing twice – once you’ve run past an object or defeated an enemy, the next area of the game will be completely different. This variety extends to the music, too, with 70 different compositions created for Puppeteer. To close out the presentation, El33tonline asked if this variety was part of the original idea given that the concept video, too, seemed to be bursting with diversity.

Moore confirmed that variety was always the goal, but there was originally even more:

“We actually had another five or six hours of gameplay planned, and we were told ‘No, that’s enough,’” Moore said with a smile. “Basically, we were a small team so we made the whole game in greybox, so we had a playable but with no graphics. So we knew how our gimmicks would work and stuff like that. It was much bigger, and it was unwieldy, and we had a big discussion about it at the studio and basically just took out all of the bits we didn’t like

“We would never have hit the schedule before the PlayStation 4 launched anyway, so it was a good thing to do.”


Puppeteer will be available on September 10th in the US and September 11th in European territories. Check out our previous coverage of this highly anticipated platformer for screenshots, trailers, and more information.

Don’t forget to follow El33tonline’s coverage of gamescom 2013 for our continued impressions from the show this year, with photos, sights, sounds and more to come.

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