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De­vel­oper shad­ow­play stu­dios • P RICE tBa www.shad­ow­playstu­

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

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