Funom­ena rolls out the latest idea from Kata­mari Da­macy’s cre­ator



We’re as sur­prised as you to hear that Kata­mari Da­macy and Noby Noby Boy cre­ator Keita Taka­hashi has de­cided to curb the ec­cen­tric­ity of his latest game a lit­tle. “I un­der­stand that Noby Noby Boy was too much for some peo­ple,” he says with a grin, “so I just tried to find the mid­dle ground. And that’s Wat­tam.”

Don’t worry, Wat­tam is still de­light­fully odd. It fol­lows a lit­tle cuboid mayor and his ef­forts to re­pop­u­late a town in the af­ter­math of a sur­real cat­a­clysm. You’ll frolic and clam­ber about, ex­per­i­ment­ing with each new res­i­dent’s abil­i­ties to cre­ate ever-larger peo­ple ex­plo­sions (not a metaphor: char­ac­ters soar into the air and go bang), which bring joy to po­ten­tial res­i­dents and Funom­ena’s cu­ri­ous sand­box to life. It sounds, and looks, bizarre, but it’s an in­stantly ar­rest­ing and en­tirely charm­ing propo­si­tion once you get your hands on the con­troller. And Taka­hashi’s right: it re­ally does feel like a happy mix of the best el­e­ments of his best-known games.

“You have that re­ally struc­tured time­based game­play with Kata­mari, which I think Keita felt was a bit too [con­strained]; then there’s the open-ended playspace of Noby Noby Boy, which is kind of Keita’s dream, but for me felt a lit­tle un­struc­tured,” Funom­ena CEO Robin Hu­nicke ex­plains. “You can play Wat­tam in the way you would play Noby Noby Boy, or if you want to play it as you would play some­thing more di­rected, you can. Then in the mid­dle of those two styles is a game where you some­times play the story, and then some­times take a break and experiment with the char­ac­ters… It’s a con­scious de­ci­sion.”

Iron­i­cally, that con­scious de­ci­sion has re­sulted in some­thing that feels dream­like,

though sur­real, dis­parate el­e­ments some­how fuse into a whole that makes sense within the con­text of play. For ex­am­ple, ex­plo­sions are trig­gered by a bomb stored un­der the mayor’s bowler hat, but first you must stack a cer­tain num­ber of char­ac­ters on top of each other, switch­ing con­trol be­tween those you’d like in the det­o­na­tion un­til the sway­ing tower reaches the req­ui­site num­ber of bod­ies. Hold down the bomb but­ton at this point and the group will take off in a swirling for­ma­tion, leav­ing trails be­hind them as the skies light up, which en­cour­ages yet more res­i­dents to move into your town. It’s a man­i­fes­ta­tion of un­re­strained joy – the sat­is­fy­ing cul­mi­na­tion of each de­light­ful experiment that pre­ceded it. It feels apt for a game with only a pass­ing in­ter­est in tra­di­tional de­sign prin­ci­ples.

“I think at the very be­gin­ning, we bit off more than we could chew,” Hu­nicke says. “We tried to write a phys­i­cal solver that would al­low us to have stretchy, bendy at­tach­ments be­tween char­ac­ters, so all the stacks could be re­ally wob­bly, be­cause we wanted to get that sen­sa­tion of Jenga-es­que teeter-tot­ting. Then as we it­er­ated on it, and we re­alised we didn’t need all that power. We just needed to make the char­ac­ters ap­peal­ing and child­like. So in­stead of spend­ing a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod of time de­vel­op­ing that physics sys­tem, we in­vested more time in AI be­hav­iour and an­i­ma­tion that al­lows us to put a lot of char­ac­ter into each per­son that’s in Wat­tam.”

They’re a mem­o­rable lot. Take the cof­fee bean: he can run re­ally fast, but also wake up doz­ing char­ac­ters who suc­cumb to the Mi­das-like curse of a lonely pil­low who puts to sleep those he touches. The cloud can float around and rain on grass to grow flow­ers, a bunch of which can be plucked and added to your char­ac­ter list. Then there’s the piece of sushi with the jet­pack and the turntable who can start a party any­where. Muck­ing about and see­ing how each per­son’s abil­i­ties af­fect those around them is an amus­ing, ope­nended dis­trac­tion, and some add a puz­zle el­e­ment to cre­at­ing stacks once you choose to press on with the game’s loose ob­jec­tives.

There’s still plenty to firm up, but while Funom­ena is al­low­ing the game the space it needs to evolve nat­u­rally, the ideas at the cen­tre of it have re­mained core to Taka­hashi’s vi­sion, inspired by watch­ing his chil­dren play. “[It’s been] two years, and it’s not fin­ished yet,” he says, “but my con­cept, my idea, hasn’t changed. It’s very clear, I guess. Maybe [it’s be­cause] it’s so crazy…”

“The lock screen on my phone right now is Keita and his son play­ing the game!” says Hu­nicke. “When he was two years old, they were stack­ing stuff and play­ing with wooden blocks, and Keita started do­ing stuff that was pretty crazy with them, and the kid was laugh­ing and re­spond­ing re­ally pos­i­tively. Now he’s four, and he can play this game! So when we fin­ish, he’ll be five, and Keita can say, ‘Hey, I made this for you!’ I think that’s the best thing a par­ent can give to a child – some­thing that’s re­ally inspired by them.”

See­ing how each char­ac­ter’s abil­i­ties af­fect oth­ers is an open-ended dis­trac­tion

The move­ments and con­nec­tion of the char­ac­ters’ limbs and tiny hands are cap­tured won­der­fully, and there’s a real sense of climb­ing the var­i­ously shaped stacks of peo­ple

Funom­ena CEO Robin Hu­nicke and Wat­tam lead Keita Taka­hashi

LEFT Poor Pil­low – he just wants to hold hands. Sadly, any­one who touches him will in­stantly fall asleep.

Start­ing a party is easy, and ev­ery­one in range will break out their best dance moves when nee­dle touches vinyl. De­spite their sim­plis­tic de­signs, char­ac­ters are un­fail­ingly charis­matic

BE­LOW The de­vel­op­ment build cur­rently sup­ports four play­ers lo­cally, but things get chaotic. “I’d love for there to be a four­player sumo mode,” Hu­nicke says

“The first year was a lot of con­cept­ing and strug­gle,” Hu­nicke says. “But in the past six months, a se­ries of pos­i­tive events has pushed de­vel­op­ment for­ward with tons of mo­men­tum”

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