Papercraft gaming is officially a genre.
Every little kid played with pop-up books. You know the kind I mean: you flip open a page and a tangled mass of papers unfolds into a house or a dragon. Then, by some feat of design, it all folds flat again as soon as you move on to the next page. Originally created in the late 1800s, pop up books are getting a brand new home on the iPad with Tengami
Jennifer Schneidereit is one third of Nyamyam games. She and her partners have spent the past three years working to bring Tengami to the iPad, and with release scheduled later this week, I asked her to give us one good reason why gamers should play it. She gave me six.
Nyamyams got a Rare pedigree
Tengami is the creation of three developers on their way out from Rare--the studio that gave you all-time classics like Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, and Goldeneye 007 . After working at Rare for several years, Schneidereit and her friends got tired of being told what games to make. At the end of kinect sports, Schneidereit says, we thought it was a great learning experience, but didnt like the way that mainstream development is going. Its all about franchises, and we thought that was kind of boring.
So, the trio left Rare to form their own studio in 2010, looking to create something new. According to Schneidereit, the first questions the newly-formed Nyamyam games asked itself were, What kind of games can we create that nobody else has done before? They quickly realized that they had never seen a game make use of the intricate and beautiful art of the pop-up book. According to Schneidereit, once they thought of the idea, it seemed obvious. We thought, why hasnt anybody done this before.?
The art is mind-bogglingly gorgeous
If youve even glanced at the pictures in this gallery, you know what Im talking about. Tengami has an absolutely gorgeous art direction. The influence of Japan is obvious in the architecture and the omnipresence of cherry blossoms, but the vibrant colors ensure that the eye never gets bored. And as beautiful as Tengamis still images are, its even more incredible to watch Buddhist pagodas and Shinto gates unfold themselves with the flick of a finger.
The mixture of popup mechanics and Japanese setting was an early decision. Pop up books are focused on kids, Schneidereit admits. Theyre bright and colorful, but we wanted to do something a bit more sophisticated. So the developers asked themselves which nations have a strong history of papercrafting. Eventually, they decided on Japan because of the specialty paper used in Japans long history of papercraft. Ryo is japanese, Schneidereit said. I worked in japan, and phil has been there several times. Why dont we try making pop-ups with specialty Japanese paper.
It was made with fascinating tech...
Tengami got its start nearly three years ago, and one major reason that it took so long to create is that the developers had to design their own tools. I dont think many players will realize it, Schneidereit tells me,but Tengami is a real technical achievement--the whole game is a series of pop-ups, and all of them fold in authentic ways. You can make everything in Tengami with paper, scissors, and glue--provided you have enough skill with pop-ups. In fact, several scenes from the game have already been created using real paper. Just look at the picture above!
In order to create this kind of authenticity, Nyamyam worked with expert pop-up designers and even created their own design tools, which they call the Paper Kit. Schneidereit compared the Paper Kit to a set of Legos, except instead of lego bricks, she had to work with paper folds. Pop-up designs have discrete fold types, and you create interesting shapes by connecting those folds according to certain rules.
...that might be released to the public.
Of course, the Paper Kit could be put to work outside of Nyamyam Studios.When I mentioned the concept to some artist-friends of mine, they practically drooled in anticipation. Theyd love the chance to prototype their own papercraft creations virtually. The paper kit could even be made into a game of its own--titles like Spore, Drawn to Life, and Little Big Planet all revolve around designing and creating objects--and it would be fascinating to see what others could create with the Paper Kit.
Schneidereit admits that shes considered the idea, but thinks its a bit too early to tell. Wed love to have papercraft artists using our Paper Kit professionally, and it'd be really good for game design students to use. Weve got to sit down and think about what were going to do.
Its built for the iPad--but PCs wont be left out.
Tengami got its start at at a time when the iPad had yet to prove itself as a gaming device. I know its a bit of a struggle to remember all the way back to 2010, but when Schneidereit saw the iPad, she knew it was the right platform. The difference-maker for Schneidereit was the screen. When we saw the big screen, we thought, Hang on a minute--with the big screen theres new opportunities for touch.
In the years hence, the iPad has established a pretty strong footprint in the device market, but Nyamyam arent putting all of their eggs in Apples basket. Though the iPad version is launching first, Nyamyam is already hard at work porting Tengami to other platforms, including Wii U, Windows, and OS X. Schneidereit wouldn't say a specific date, but she did say that she expects the ports to be ready some time later this year--maybe as early as summer.
Its one of a kind
Of course, the mobile market has a few big problems, not the least of which is the epidemic of copycat games. Anybody following the fallout of Flappy Birds untimely demise could probably name three sub-par clones, but Schneidereit isnt worried. It was so difficult to create Tengami that I dont think theyd be able to copy it. If they could copy it, I think theyd actually deserve some respect.
Not only is Schneidereit unfazed by the threat of copycats, shes eager to see what other developers--especially students--will create in the same vein. Does she worry that some other studio might capitalize on Nyamyams originality? Not a bit. I dont believe in owning ideas. Were putting this out now, and it becomes part of game development history.
Just a little bit longer...
Tengami is expected to come out tonight--barring interference from Cupertino--and were expecting big things. Check back later for a review!
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