Children are honest souls, augmented with an innocence that evaporates with the steady infiltration of adulthood. It was a sharp bite of sincerity from the son of creative director Gavin Moore that gave birth to Puppeteer, a twisted platformer with a co-operative focus from Sony’s very own Japan Studio, the home of hits such as Ape Escape, Shadow of the Colossus, and Tokyo Jungle.
“It all came about when I was playing games with my son,” the development veteran tells us in a warm conference room in London. “Suddenly, he just sat up, placed the controller down, and started playing outside with his friends. Now, that’s kind of cool as a Dad – but it’s not quite as cool when you’re the creative director of Japan Studio.”
The encounter presented Moore with an interesting challenge, which he set about tackling as soon as his son was done playing outdoors. “I asked him why he’d walked out,” the ex-London Studio animator continues. “He said, ‘Well, I’m kind of bored of the things I’m playing.’ So, I asked him what type of games he’d like to play, and he answered, ‘I’d like to play a game that changes every five to ten minutes.’” And so, the developer had a target.
It turns out that appealing to the whims of a demanding young boy is not easy, though. “I’d like an Aston Martin and a yacht, but I don’t think that that’s going to happen,” Moore jokes. “But I sat down and started thinking about it, and I basically came up with this idea of a theatre, where instead of moving through the world, the set would also change as you were playing. And every time it changed, it would take you to new and exciting places, so you’d want to keep moving.” And with a puff of stage smoke, Puppeteer was born.
“It’s kind of a dark fairy tale,” the studio lead says when asked about the game. “Our hero, Kutaro, has been stolen away by an evil monarch known as the Moon Bear King, and he’s using the souls of children to give him more power. To do this, he shoves their souls into puppets, and employs them as slaves. Now, unfortunately our protagonist upsets the ruler, who rips off his head and eats it, before tossing him away. But with the help of a sarcastic cat, he finds out that he has the power to use different objects as heads, which augment him with new abilities.
“In the meantime, he gets sent off to steal this pair of magic scissors by an evil witch,” continues a breathless Moore. “He manages to do it after the deaths of thousands of other poor kids. And that’s where his troubles really begin, because the King is then after him, and he needs to get his head back. So, he embarks on a massive adventure.”
Moore wouldn’t confirm whether recreational drugs played a part in the narrative’s inception, but he was willing to share a few influences. “It’s sort of inspired by Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and lots of Monty Python,” he explains. However, with such Western roots, it would be easy to assume that the game was the product of Europe or North America – not Tokyo. According to the British-born director, though, he had to lobby to get some of the Eastern flavours in the game.
“It’s really funny, because I’ve only been living in Japan for about ten years, but a lot of the Japanese themes, I put in,” he laughs. “And as for the Western ideas, a lot of that came from the Japanese team. They just see the other stuff as normal.”
Head on through the page for Act Two of our chat with Gavin Moore from Japan Studio.