One of PlayStation Plus' games for PS5 this month is Maquette, an intriguing and unique first-person puzzler. In addition to a reality-bending core mechanic, it tells a relatable, somewhat subdued love story. Co-starring in the game are Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel, who bring characters Kenzie and Michael to life as you solve various tricky conundrums. We got the chance to throw a few questions at Creative Director Hanford Lemoore, who talks about the genesis of the idea, working with Hollywood talent, and blending gameplay and story together.
Push Square: Firstly, for anyone who may not know, could you give us the rundown on Maquette?
Hanford Lemoore: Maquette is a first-person puzzle game set in a recursive world where players simultaneously experience the life cycle of a loving relationship. You enter a fantastical world-within-worlds to navigate memories of couple Michael and Kenzie, explore awe-inspiring architecture that coincides with their past, and learn more about who they are on a journey of love, loss, and acceptance. The world of Maquette is a playable, interactive metaphor of the emotional underpinnings between two lovers, played out through a series of puzzles, representing the many challenges and triumphs a relationship can go through.
The recursive puzzle mechanic works a bit like this — you need to get over a gap between two buildings, so you must make some kind of a bridge. You find a small key, place it within a small world and find that, because the worlds nest within each other, a large key appears within the large world. You can place the small key between the dollhouse sized buildings in the small world, and a giant key will also be placed between the life-sized buildings, allowing you to cross.
The central mechanic behind the game's puzzles — worlds within worlds — is really unique. Where did this idea come from?
I don't remember the first time I thought about the idea. It had been rattling around in my head for a while. But I started tinkering with physics around 2010, and I was really enamoured with how a physics engine could create complex, unpredictable behaviours. Yes, when we see a bowling ball about it hit a pin, we know the pin is going to fly, but we can't predict how it's going to tumble or exactly where it will land. I was studying this, and I had the idea to copy the complex physics movement from one object onto another. When I ran the simulation and saw two objects bouncing and tumbling exactly the same way, I knew I had something. I changed the scale of one of them, and the core idea for Maquette was born. The realisation that we could have the player seamlessly carry objects between different scales was a major a-ha moment for me, both in the elegance of the implementation, but also from a puzzle-making standpoint.
Alongside the puzzle gameplay is the story of Kenzie and Michael. Without spoiling anything, it's unusual in that it focuses solely on such a regular, relatable human tale. What was the thinking behind this style of narrative?
Having a strong gameplay mechanic like the recursive world in Maquette, there was a temptation to write the story around it. That is, have the heart of the story explain how the world-within-a-world came to be, or set up some plot where the player is actively trying to escape it, or turn it off, or whatever. And I initially picked a story just like that. But after a year or two of working on the game in my spare time, I realised the story didn't resonate with me at all. And the problem was, it was a story that was just there for the mechanic. So I went back to the drawing board to think about what kinds of stories I wanted to tell, regardless of gameplay. And when I hit on the story of Kenzie and Michael, I knew I had something. It was that twist the game needed, and it's what gave it its soul.
Could you talk about how the puzzles and the story relate to each other? What do the larger and smaller instances of the world represent?
In general, one of the overarching themes is how in life the overall importance of things can change over time. Some seemingly insignificant issue can cause a huge rift. And in relationships, what's a big deal to one person may be completely glossed over by the other — and it exists in both states at the same time. But there are a lot of layers in the game, and we leave it up to the player to make those connections themselves and draw their own interpretations. And I've read some really insightful interpretations from players already.
Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel co-star in your game. What was it like working with them? Did you purposely seek out a couple for the roles of Kenzie and Michael?
Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel were really amazing to work with. They're both pros as what they do, and just a joy to work with. My story plan, from years and years ago, was to cast two actors and dedicate a few weeks to having them really build the dialog from the ground up with me, and in the process they'd grow into the characters. We knew a long time ago we wouldn't be able to do that — the production pipeline had long since moved away from that, but that was my initial hope. When we were looking to cast our final actors, I was talking about that original idea, and someone on the team suggested finding actors who were in a relationship, and one thing led to another and we found out Bryce and Seth were available. And honestly, relationship or not, they are both perfect for the part. Seth is just as nice and sweet as you'd think, and he really nailed the sensitive dreamer character of Michael. And Bryce, despite her fame, just blends into the role of Kenzie, and when you hear her in the game, it doesn't take you out of the story.
We were working remotely and it was just Bryce and Seth at home, the game's audio director working remotely from Oakland, and I was directing from home in Nevada. So it was very intimate — there weren't a lot of people around or distractions, and they'd rehearse and help workshop the dialogue right on the spot. There were plenty of times Bryce or Seth would read lines and make suggestions, and we'd talk through the implications and work it back into the script. They were both incredibly thoughtful and professional.
Your music choices set the tone for each chapter of the game nicely. Could you go into finding the right songs for Maquette?
The soundtrack grew out of rethinking previous decisions I had about the game. When I was first bringing Maquette to life, I made a bunch of decisions about the story, format, etc. without really thinking about them too much. Because at that point, it was all about the world-within-itself mechanic. And so, those decisions were basically foregone conclusions. One of those was, "I'll get a composer to write a soundtrack", and I never really thought beyond that.
But with the basics of the love story nailed down, and once it was set in San Francisco, I revisited a lot of old decisions. Early on I had the idea to curate songs that matched the tone of the various ups and downs of their relationship, while also having the songs serve as a playlist they listened to together. And most people won't ever know this, but all the music is connected to the San Francisco bay area in some way. This was something I did to help ground the story in realism, as if these two characters discovered these artists while seeing them perform throughout the bay area. I spent years listening to bands and following leads from people who suggested music. It literally took years to pull together.
What were some of your influences when building this game? Obviously other first person puzzle games spring to mind, but what were your biggest inspirations?
Maquette's early influences were a lot of the experimental mechanics I saw at the Game Developer's Conferences of the late 2000s. Games like Shadow Physics, Cursor X10, The Unfinished Swan, Closure. These weren't direct influences, but they opened my eyes when it came to what kinds of clever things games can do that we've never seen before. It changed my way of thinking. As far as the story goes, I'd say Gone Home was a big one — it gave me the confidence to tackle a serious story, knowing there was an audience for that.
How was it producing Maquette for PS5 and PS4? You make use of PS5's extra features — how do you feel these benefit the game?
Producing the game for the consoles was great. It was exciting to get it up and running on a console for the first time, as I had been working on this game for years with it being PC only. And seeing it run on the PS5, before the console itself was out, felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. No one had a PS5, and there wasn't a lot of video of games running on it yet, and here we are, playing Maquette on one. With the PS5, developing for the triggers and new vibration was really fun. It's a brand new technology and there's no precedent for what games do with it. I was really happy to get adaptive triggers into the game; it makes it much easier to move objects in and out at the speed you want when the triggers have just a bit of heft to them. And the new vibration is so responsive, we were able to do pulses for things like rotation that simply wasn't possible on last-gen vibration tech. I'm really excited to play with it more.
What are some general words of wisdom or advice you have for players?
If you're stuck on the game, before you look for a solution online, ask a friend! Maquette is a great game to play with another person watching. Other people have different ways of thinking about the puzzles and talking through it and brainstorming together really helps. Also, as much as Maquette is a puzzle game at heart, it's also a story about love and loss, and if you've gone through anything similar to what Kenzie and Michael have, we hope it resonates with you, and just maybe helps you see your past relationships in a new light. Thanks for playing.
A big thank you to Hanford for taking the time to answer our questions. Maquette is available on PS5 and PS4, and is currently free for PS Plus members on PS5. Have you played this one yet? Discuss in the comments section below.