If you haven't seen our best of Play NYC article yet, one of the games chosen for this was Jupiter & Mars. While fellow writer Courtney is the one who wrote about that game, I also got a chance to play it at Play NYC. Even better, I got a chance to talk with James Mielke, the creative director at Tigertron. We had a pleasant chat about the game's artstyle, the use of VR, and that crazy suit you may remember from the Rez Infinite reveal.
TechRaptor: So I just played Jupiter & Mars. Can you just tell me a little bit about the game and how this idea came about?
James Mielke: Well as you can see from my T-shirt it’s-- I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the movie The Cove, it’s a documentary, an Oscar winning documentary, from 2010 about dolphin hunts that take place in places like Taiji, Japan and… I believe it’s Norway, and there are other places that have dolphin hunts like Iceland, even though dolphin hunts have been sort of outlawed and banned, they still take place around the world. When you watch The Cove it’s hard not to be moved by what happens. So it sort of made me want to work on something that’s more pro-dolphin, you know? Kind of highlight the intelligence and the resourcefulness of dolphins, and just really how amazing they are as creatures on this planet. I think that was the catalyst for designing Jupiter & Mars.
TechRaptor: So we were just talking about how this game has an absolutely amazing visual style with all the highlighted colors and the use of color and the occasional use of not having color. How did you come around making that style?
James: Well the games I’ve worked on in the past, like Child of Eden, that in itself was a spiritual successor to Rez, so I wanted to really kind of continue to, I guess, represent that visual style. I like vector graphics, and I like that kind of really digital feel. But for an underwater game we couldn’t really do a completely vector graphic type of game. We couldn’t do, like… you know, Tempest 4000 in a dolphin world.
So we had to have textures, we had to have things that accurately kind of represent the colors you’d expect to see in the ocean, but as you saw when you played, when you use echolocation, it lights everything up in kind of a wireframe style. Especially when you go underwater in deeper caverns and stuff like that. That’s really the visual style of the game. We start you off in a tropical kind of islands setting, just because that’s the first thing people see and we want it to be more inviting. Once you start going deeper, that’s when we get into the visual DNA of games like Rez and Child of Eden. That’s where the vector style comes out more.
TechRaptor: Now, I have to ask, when you worked on Rez did you ever get to wear that crazy suit?
James: I never worked on Rez myself, we were always… when I was at Q Entertainment… well, Q released Rez HD on Xbox 360 and stuff, but that was literally just before I got there so I didn’t work on Rez, and Rez Infinite was done by Enhance, which was also Mizuguchi-san’s company, which he formed after Q Entertainment. So I actually found myself in like this canyon in-between Rez releases.
But I have actually tried on the suit at Mizuguchi-san’s studio in Tokyo, and it was pretty cool.
TechRaptor: So why VR with Jupiter & Mars?
James: Well, as you’re watching it now I think the game looks pretty cool on a standard flat screen HD TV, but as I think you can vouch for, when you put the VR headset on, it’s pretty cool because all of a sudden, instead of just looking at it on a TV you’re suddenly surrounded, just like standing in this room you’re in the area, swimming through the environments. You’re lighting up everything, like when you go down into the first deep cave and you use echolocation to light everything up. It’s completely different than just watching it on a TV, and that’s really what Sony was expecting too. They thought this was a great concept so they helped us bring it to PSVR.
TechRaptor: Awesome. Now would you say working on VR is different than, like super different rather, than working on a normal game?
James: Yeah, I mean, with VR there’s a lot of things that you have to take into consideration. Things that we take for granted when we’re designing games, like camera movement. We have to be very very cautious. Even with stuff like cutscenes, and how you transition from one camera angle to another. If you’re not very careful and deliberate in how you do it, you can make people sick, and for a lot of people their first experience, this might be their first experience in VR, but if… you know, I use the metaphor of going on a rollercoaster. If you’re not ready for it, or if it’s a bad experience, you never want to go on another rollercoaster.
We’ve encountered some people who are fascinated by looking at Jupiter & Mars, but when we ask them if they want to try, they’re like “oh no no no I had a bad experience in VR.” They’re just scared that it’s going to happen again. Fortunately for us we have a very natural control scheme, and it… I’m assuming you played with the head tilt? That seems to solve most people’s issues with VR and potential motion sickness, but it’s also playable without VR. So you can have the best of both worlds depending on how you want to play.
TechRaptor: Now I got to see a pretty short slice of the game. Is there any other crazy stuff that I’m going to be seeing that you can talk about? Or is it all still a secret?
James: No, we’re pretty open about what you’re going to see in the game. Most of the game takes place in islands and coastal cities because what this helps us illustrate-- because those are the parts of the world that are most susceptible to climate change conditions, right? So if sea levels were to rise at all, it’s going to be islands and coastal cities. The ones we have represented here are in Asia, tropical islands, New York, Greece, London, and those are the cities that are going to be hit the hardest by rising sea levels, so we show you familiar environments underwater so you get that Planet of the Apes feeling like when you get to the beach at the end of the first movie and you see the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand, and you’re like “oh my God I’ve been on Earth this whole time”, right? So by showing people familiar environments underwater, we hope to stimulate conversation where people wonder “could this really happen” and what is it that’s bringing us to this kind of change.
TechRaptor: Alright, last question. Jupiter & Mars. When can I play it?
James: We’re aiming for Q3, possibly Q4, of 2018. So definitely this year, though we’re currently coordinating with Sony and they have some interesting strategic opportunities coming up. So we want to try and maximize our exposure.
TechRaptor: Alright, I’d like to thank you a lot for bringing this game, for letting me play it, and for talking to me here man. Its been a great time.
James: Oh my pleasure, my pleasure.
Once again we'd like to thank James Mielke for taking the time to talk to us.