SPECTACLE AND ENVIRONMENTALISM COMBINE IN JUPIITER & MAARS
James mielke tells us about his first project and new studio
format: ps4 | publisher: tigertron, inc. | Developer: in-house | release: TBC 2018 | players: 1
“YOU NEED TO USE ECHO EVERYWHERE IN ORDER TO BEAT THE GAME. IT’S JUST AS INTEGRAL TO JUPITER & MARS AS JUMPING IS IN MARIO” JAMES Mielke, Creative director
There’s a burgeoning style of game that we’re increasingly being drawn to, one that promotes immersion and atmosphere over mechanics and wants to open minds more than challenge fingers. We’ve been referring to them as Sunday afternoon games and Jupiter & Mars is looking like a wonderful example of the form.
“One of the things I set out to do when we started designing this game is that we wanted to accommodate a variety of players,” creative director James Mielke tells us. “I would say that it’s easy to swim around and sort of explore and look around, but it’s also designed so that if you want to be the speed-run guy or you’re just interested in the story and seeing what happens, you can also power through it and stay on the critical path. We do recognise that there are going to be a lot of players who probably just dive in for that relaxing, zen element to it.”
You may remember Mielke from previous appearances in games™ from back in his Q Entertainment days working on Child Of Eden, Lumines: Electronic Symphony and the Pixeljunk series or perhaps even as a former columnist in these very pages with his Kongetsu pieces. Either way, Mielke’s latest combines a lot of his game-producing experience as well as is personal passions. You play as Jupiter, a dolphin in the expanded oceans of a future Earth where humanity has been lost in the course of a catastrophic global warming event. You are accompanied by Mars, your companion dolphin and AI controlled counterpart through the game. Playable in both VR and as a straightforward first-person explorer, Jupiter & Mars brings the ocean to life with iridescent light and wildlife.
“As Jupiter you use echo location, you’re basically the inquisitive, intelligent, thinking dolphin,” explains Mielke. “You’re using echo location to light up the area to see what’s interactive in the environment based on the way things outline. When you see something that’s interactive you press the appropriate button and then Mars will ram a barrier to open a path for you to swim through or he might ram a treasure shell that will contain some kind of artefact from mankind’s past to add to your collection.”
A key point for Mielke, however, was that the dolphins shouldn’t be behaving in a way too far removed from things dolphins can really do (otherwise you might as well be playing as a human being). Echo location is similar to pinging a detective mode in other games, except this brings the world around you to life in an amazing way. “We certainly want people to enjoy that because that’s the number one, most important mechanic of the game,” he tells us. “You need to use echo everywhere in order to beat the game. It basically lights up all of the clues, all the interactive things in the environment. It’s just as integral to Jupiter & Mars as jumping is in Mario.”
Mielke’s own interest in dolphins and the environment have also been a driving force behind not only this new game, but this new chapter in his career. “I’ve been a scuba diver since I was 15-years old and that’s about 33 years ago. I wouldn’t say that my interest in dolphins has been academic this entire time. I’ve certainly educated myself a lot more since beginning work on the concept of this game.” That started a little after watching the award-winning documentary The Cove and its heartbreaking depiction of the threats dolphins face from hunting.
“Watching that documentary, I was in tears because I was terrified,” Mielke reveals. “This is not the world I want to leave behind for my kids. So, that’s why we formed Tigertron in the first place because it was either that or leave gaming entirely and we felt we had a better opportunity to show or to raise awareness by sharing this kind of world with gamers.”
But the game won’t be hitting you around the head with its ecological messages, Mielke insists. “We try to make an entertaining game first and foremost, but we also partnered with organisations like Sea Legacy or the Ocean Foundation to imbed their message into our game so that people have at least a little bit of a gateway of, ‘Hey, I just played by this game. I’m deeply affected by it. I would like to know a little bit more’, and it’s already in the game.” The concept is looking very exciting and the promise in VR is immense.
Above: In this world, chemicals and heavy metals have lead to the development of goliath species, larger than life versions of creatures you might typically find in the ocean that can often be called upon for assistance if you do the right things, like herding krill to attract a whale. Below: since Jupiter & Mars is a first-person experience and has been optimised for vr, most of the images you see are actually showing mars from Jupiter's point of view. this is really what you’ll be seeing when you play the game for yourself later this year.