Puppeteer was one of the new franchises revealed during Sony’s pre-gamescom press conference in Cologne, Germany. The game is currently in development at SCE Japan Studio and is scheduled to be released exclusively for the PlayStation 3 in 2013. We caught up with Game Director Gavin Moore at gamescom 2012 to find out about the inspiration behind Puppeteer, see the game in action, and get a deeper understanding of this intriguing story.
Puppeteer is set in a magical puppeteer’s theatre, and because of this can feature a variety of interactive backgrounds that are continually changing. The story revolves around a young boy named Kutaro, who one night has the misfortune of being carried away by the Moon Bear King and transformed into a puppet. The tale gets even worse when Kutaro displeases the tyrant, resulting in his wooden head being devoured and his body cast away. Kutaro’s luck looks set to change, however, when he discovers a special pair of scissors to help him find his head, and his way home again. The scissors, known as Calibrus, take on the personality of whoever has them, and will be Kutaro’s primary weapon in the game. He’ll be able to use them to cut left, right, up, down and diagonally, as well as face off against enemies. According to Moore, while the key gameplay may be about finding new heads, the real story is about who is really pulling the strings and how Kutaro will get home.
There are many factors that led to the inspiration of Puppeteer. Moore has been living in Japan for the past ten years, and has a keen admiration for the Japanese Bunraku, a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre that dates back to the 1600’s. With Bunraku the setting is changed while the puppets are acting, something which we can see mirrored with Puppeteer. Moore comes from an animation background so one can again see how this influence led to the creation of Puppeteer. He was also inspired to create a videogame that his eight year old son can enjoy, something about which he is intensely passionate.
The story of Puppeteer was also inspired by director/producer Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam (most well known for his work on Monty Python), both of whom Moore admires greatly. After seeing the gameplay demo their influence is immediately apparent, and Moore admitted that there are a lot of bizarre and weird things in the story that you won’t expect that have been inspired by Tim Burton.
The inspiration also stems from his daily videogame experiences, he described how he often plays games late at night by himself and was lacking a sense of approval when he achieved an objective in the game because his family members were already asleep. The theatre setting of Puppeteer presents an audience in the game who are there for you, they clap when you clear a level, they cheer when you complete a puzzle and they boo when they’re not happy. After experiencing this kind of motivation first hand when Moore played through a few levels of the game, I can honestly say that I really liked this audience interaction!
With Puppeteer Moore is seeking to reawaken your imagination, to challenge you to put away the realistic things and care more about the situations that people get into. The point of Puppeteer is that it starts off on a curve, he stated, you think you know where you begin but it’s always changing. Moore explained how there are always two curves running in the game, a curve he described as the ‘story weirdness’ curve and the ‘things you are doing’ curve. With Puppeteer he hopes to inspire the player and make them believe they’ve gone through a fantastic story.
Controlling Kutaro looks pretty simple, you move him with the left analogue stick and you can investigate the surroundings, where almost everything is touchable, using L2. Kutaro can also jump (hit X) and roll (R2), and you’ll be able to control Yin Yang, a flying witch’s cat that appears to be Kutaro’s constant companion throughout the game, with the right analogue stick. Now as we mentioned earlier, Kutaro has to find new heads as he progresses in this 2D side platformer. These heads are basically a life system, so if his head falls off you have three seconds to pick it up or you’ll lose it. Of course you’ll be able to search for that head, and find it again. You’ll have three lives in the game, if you lose all three then you will return to the previous checkpoint. When you find a head and pick it up expect to hear loud claps and whistles from the audience, spurring you onwards in your journey! Every head has a special individual action, which can be activated by pressing down on the D-pad. For example, at one stage Kutaro jumped up on to a kitchen table, and used his new head to turn a sandwich into a hamburger.
It’s really difficult to describe the gameplay of Puppeteer, and for this reason I would recommend watching the trailer (included below) to see for yourself just how imaginatively artistic the game is. The characters are as artistically wacky as they are widely creative, and, even though they are currently all voiced by Moore himself, each have an animated and energetic personality that is so positively outrageous and over the top that it is immediately enduring. The scenes change frequently, giving a variety of stages (such as vertical, elongated and top down) for the player to explore.
Of course exploring these stages is hazardous for Kutaro, at every turn he’ll face obstacles and enemies. You’ll need to jump over rolling balls and spikes, duck behind platforms and more if you want to keep your wits (or rather your head) about you. There will also be plenty of different enemies to avoid, enemies like spiders and bats, and even bosses to face, such as the tiger. Puppeteer will even include bonus stages where you’ll be able to complete mini-games.
Puppeteer is set in the theatre of the strange and fantastical, and it seems, in essence, to be exactly that, strange and fantastical! It’s imaginatively creative, beautifully wacky and has no doubt already captured the attention of gamers from around the world who are looking for a unique experience. Its variety, both in terms of sets, enemies, skills and characters, will hold your interest, while its distinctive story and setting promises to charm even the most cynical among us.
Moore then held a brief Q and A session, confirming that Puppeteer would be a full release Blu Ray experience, not a downloadable title. The team will only be talking about PlayStation Move and 3D support later, while multiplayer will be announced at a later stage, questions answered guardedly under the watchful eye of the PR company!
Puppeteer has been in development for three years now, with a small team working on it for a long time. Moore explained how 14 people made the whole game in one go as a grey box to play, but now it’s in full production with 70 people now working on it.
Watch the debut trailer for Puppeteer below, and browse through a few more screenshots after that: