Developer shadowplay studios • P RICE tBa www.shadowplaystudios.com
There’s something about a puppet’s relationship to, and reliance on, her puppeteer that lends itself to a videogame comparison; the player determining progression through story, I guess. We also think of a puppet show being held in one location, perhaps with a variety of sets, but in a platformer the protagonist embarks on a journey, so the setting must be fluid. Projection, with beautiful set pieces dropping hastily in as you run by, invites you to stage a rare story that flows in a forwards direction. As puppeteer, you’re also given a lightbulb, which plays a very important role of its own.
In the PAX demo, designer Michael Chu tells us, “Players will experience Greta’s initial foray into adventure, by traveling to the iconic Wayang Kulit shadow puppet culture of Indonesia.” I played this with my son and we were delighted to follow a cat down to the forbidding Shadow Theatre, where we learned that manipulation of light, and resultant shadow, could create the solid platforms we needed to find our way ahead. At least, in shadow puppetry, if things look real to the audience, they’re substantial enough for the puppet to jump on, right?
As the journey progresses, some surfaces don’t yield shadows that are dark enough to hold the puppet. This lends the setting even more artistic depth although, as Chu says, “People were finding all sorts of ways to complete the puzzles, which is ultimately a failure. I ended up having to create limitations with other mechanics in order to force players to interact with the shadows in a specific way.” And, if I have one criticism of the game so far, it’s that it can sometimes be cumbersome to align the light effectively, and this tends to make what should be a beautiful performance look occasionally clumsy.
Of course, this is only important because my son and I strived to be master puppeteers, of a calibre who could do justice to the game’s breathtaking aesthetic presentation. As well as the art, the music is engaging and complex. Chu tells us, “We told the composer some of our inspirations included Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and thatgamecompany’s Journey.” Certainly, sweeping cello melodies combine with cultural references, like the use of percussion instruments from an Indonesian gamelan, in a way that both supports the setting and creates a reflective, puzzling mood.
There are actually a number of cultures and ideas that influenced this magical creation. Chu says, “The idea of shadow puppets came naturally after developing
the shadow mechanic. However, using other world heritage based art, with a cultural focus, happened when we visited shadow puppeteer, Richard Bradshaw. He suggested that we explore four cultures, starting with Indonesia, followed by China, Turkey/Greece and nineteenth century European cultures. We also made two prototypes, one to do with size and placement, the other with casting and physics. We ended up with the latter.”
Having seen Projection before, I’m excited to see how this has grown into an experience that is thoroughly deserving of a position in this year’s PAX Indie Showcase. As Chu says, “We’re grateful to know others believe in us.” So, find your dark clothes and puppeteer’s gloves. It’s nearly show time. You’ll need to guide this puppet’s path through interesting places, beyond her stage, in as elegant a manner as you can. Chu adds, “With a bit of luck some players will even get to face a Javanese demon.” As long as it has its own puppeteer, I’m good. With a hero and a lightbulb, my hands are full.
Michael chu DeSiGNeR