When you first see Puppeteer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it has a lot in common with LittleBigPlanet and in quite a few ways it does.
There are many sources of inspiration for this title: the art style and animation drawing come from Bunraku, a form of Japanese puppet theatre; the live audience exists to add an extra layer of interaction with what you do on screen, because we so often play alone; and the fixed camera with everything on screen being animated around it stemming from so many titles having crummy camera systems.
The primary motivation, though, was Creative Director (and current voice actor) Gavin Moore’s son. He found that after half an hour his son would often be bored, put down the controller and walk away from the game. Compared to Moore’s own gaming memories of sitting down with text adventures where everything unfolded in his imagination, it’s almost like the fidelity and power of modern consoles to render a world so precisely has sapped this imaginative aspect away.
This is the point where the game differs from LBP, which focusses more on the realisation of your imagination, Puppeteer is more about grabbing hold of it and not letting go. Sharing the collective creativity of the development team with you. I think some of this quite obviously comes through in the main plot, so if you’ll bear with me a second:
The main character is Kutaro, a boy who is kidnapped on a moonlit night by the Moon Bear King, who has a habit of doing this kind of thing. He turns Kutaro into a puppet and demands that he be his friend. It must be tough not having friends, through being so mean, but when he senses that Kutaro lies when saying that he will be his friend the Bear King rips off Kutaro’s puppet head, eats it, and throws his body away.[drop2]It’s at this point that the wonderful animation system really kicks in, as stages and sets slam into place, shift back into the screen and new sets are dropped. Everything on screen is animated and able to move around however the designers want. Equally, there’s a recreation of a 140 light theatre rig, all being handled in real time. It all creates a kind of mystical theatre, filled with the endless possibilities of whatever can be dreamt up.
Having been thrown away, you gain control of Kutaro’s body, scrabbling around looking for his head. Luckily, a flying cat creature called Ying-Yang (who you control with the right analogue stick, with Kutaro on the left) introduces you to the controls and helps you find a head.
Not your own head, but a temporary solution.
First a skull, then a spider and a little later… a hamburger?
Yes, a hamburger head. One that turns giant sandwiches into giant burgers, which are obviously bouncy. Could it have been any other way? All of the heads have a special power which, when used in the right place, allow you to change the world around you or cause things to happen. The only other example I saw was the spider head which, next to a spiders web, summoned a spider to take you to a different area.
There’s going to be a lot of heads hidden away in the game, some necessary to progress, others more as collectables. Just be careful with them, though. A single swipe from an enemy and your head will pop off, leaving you to scrabble after it with just a few seconds to re-attach before you lose a life. It’s almost binary in its simplicity but those brief moments are bound to be fraught with panic in the heat of battle.[drop]As the first act unfolds you meet the Witch, who sends you on a mission to steal back a pair of magical scissors called Calibrus from the Moon Bear King. They’re mainly used in-game to cut cloth but the special power they have is being able to cut cloth in any direction regardless of gravity. Need to head upwards? Just press up whilst cutting and you effectively fly in that direction.
It looks to be most useful as a means to get places, as demonstrated in some sections of the reveal trailer but many enemies will also be made of cloth and this is your main weapon against them.
The brief segment in the trailer where Kutaro cuts a way through squares of cloth, for example, propelling himself further into the air, or the few seconds glimpsed where he cuts upwards through a stream of cloth bats. It’s quite an intriguing gameplay element and I’m sure there are plenty more uses that can be found for it.
The development team is very keen to keep the game constantly shifting, too. So while the first act features standard platforming over fixed screens, gradually introducing you to certain game mechanics, it soon gives way to a lengthy but simple helix gently circling upwards, adding tougher platforming and enemy dodging gradually.
Moore said that they hope to change the gameplay every 10 to 15 minutes across the length of the game, offering up new challenges such as more vertical platforming, top down sections and more besides. The scenery and plot will shift rapidly too, with vivid concept art that I saw showing fish riding, running on the roof of a train, two towers launching rockets or fireworks at one another… The list goes on and on.
When there are such varied imaginations behind the game, combining ideas inspired by both Eastern and Western fairy tales, imagery and upbringings, the possibilities for what can be delivered in the final game seem as limitless as that first time you sat in front of LBP’s level creation tool. The only difference being that Japan Studio have built their engine and game from the ground up to realise their creations fully.
I hope this is another early example of studio heads and developers coming on stage at major press conferences to announce that they’re developing a game so that they can share what they do with their children. Which brings us back to Gavin Moore’s son. Does he enjoy the game? Well, he’s played what I saw, the first act, and he can’t wait to get home in order to play it again and again.
From Moore’s point of view, that’s surely all he really wanted to accomplish and hopefully when Puppeteer is released he can say that he truly has.