PAX Aus 2017: Projection (Switch) Impressions and Developer Interview
When I first sat down to play Projection, I was blown away by two things. The first was how gorgeous everything was. The game is absolutely stunning, from character design to environment dressing and everything in between. The second was how easy it was to get lost in this magnificent experience. Despite being surrounded by hundreds of very loud people in the PAX Rising part of the show floor, Projection singled me out and sucked me in; nobody could have pulled me away from that screen.
So what is Projection? Well, on the surface, it looks a bit like games like Limbo or Inside. Shadowy characters, a dark world, some light (no pun intended) puzzle platforming. But once you actually play it, you begin to realise just how different it is. Unlike Limbo, your character is not afraid, and it bleeds through in the level design.
Instead of running from the darkness, you embrace it, using the shadows to your advantage. With the left analogue stick, you control Greta, an adorable little shadow puppet girl. With the right, you control an orb of light; when that orb gets close to an object in the world, it projects a shadow, and that shadow becomes a physical object. You can walk on it, get trapped inside it, and move it to a more favourable angle as you please.
Projection is very much a game about exploring your possibilities. Some of the puzzles require precise angles and intricate movement to solve, but others give you free reign, encouraging you to think about how you can use the world to your advantage. It’s this balance between linearity and exploration that makes Projection so intriguing, and most importantly, so unique.
By the time I’d finished the short demo on display, I was left wanting more. I wanted to know what happened next, what was just around the next corner. I wanted to know what more there was to this unique and fascinating world. Mostly, I just wanted to keep playing.
We also got to chat with Yosha Noesjirwan from Shadowplay Studios, giving us some insight to the inspiration of the game.
Where did the inspiration come from?
Chu (lead designer) was bored and he had this really bright light in his living room. He was just playing around with the shadows, and went “wow, that would be a really cool game”. So he made a really quick prototype, and when he showed it to me, it made me think of shadow puppets straight away. So it just melded together.
So the artstyle and the gameplay came in at the same time?
Yeah. I was really interested in putting in the wayang kulit, which is a traditional shadow puppet style in Indonesia, into a game to make something my parents would care about too.
That’s awesome! So a lot of that Indonesian culture is in the game as a strong influence?
Yeah, because the game actually will go to places like China, Turkey, Victorian era England. So the game will go around the world, with different visual styles. This works with all the different types of stories we’re telling as well, weaving that in with Greta (the main character), and her story, trying to get back.
So the artstyle is based on silhouettes, is that a challenge to work with?
Yeah, one of the things with a whole bunch of platformers, you can have a lot of layers of detail- it get’s really hard with shadow puppets. It’s just black, on black, on black- it becomes the same thing.
Yeah, I did notice there was some type of depth of field in the shadows, though, as if the shadows were further away from the light.
We had to employ tricks to give some depth. There’s a lot of reference to Lotte Reiniger, a really famous German shadow puppeteer, who’s also well known for making animations with shadow puppets. Those were some points of reference for us to define the artstyle.
Did you build proper shadow puppets in real life to see how they worked?
I built one, but I was like “I’m not going to do this again”. We consulted with an actual shadow puppeteer who gave us some examples of his shadow puppets, and showed us the limitations, restrictions and techniques.
So it looks like you had some influence both culturally and practically
So you mentioned the Indonesian influence from your side, were there other people on the team that had their own cultural influence?
Yeah, so Chu is Chinese, and he’s got some of that that he’s referring to in the Chinese area. And we got some friends who gave up help with the Turkish areas. We’re telling stories that people of older generations have a strong nostalgia towards. So it’s about getting that right as well.
So there’s a level of wanting to respect that
Yeah, because it’s a very long standing, existing thing. But some other weird challenges, like some of the character designs in their original style- you look at it, and you think “that looks like a scary monster” but it’s meant to be a good character. So we had to bend it a little, to make players go “okay, so that’s actually a friend”. But I also don’t want to completely disregard the original art style, as well.
So a lot of iterations to get that correct?
Yeah, and lots of research. There was one point, with that example, we actually made the good guy and a bad guy in the game, and we were like “oh, wow… okay”. So a lot research goes in, to not make those mistakes. A lot of people might not notice, but the people who do notice this stuff, they’re gonna bring it up, because it’s really obvious.
So, Australian team, how many people?
So we’re a Sydney based team, and there’s about four of us.
Yeah. [laughs] It means management is a lot easier! To a degree…
Were there any challenges being an Australian dev, that’s this small?
Yeah, there’s no support from our government whatsoever. So we all just have to make it work in our own means, so everything’s done out of pocket.
So it’s like a second full time job?
Essentially, because we’re all working full time, and then when we get home in our afternoons we’re working on the game. And, you know, we’re lucky we picked up a publisher in Sydney. That additional support from government would have been really helpful, though.
So you got a publisher to help you?
Yeah, just to help with marketing, PR and release.
Who’s the publisher?
More on the Nintendo side, what made you decide to dev for Switch?
Mainly because it’s a lighter game, so we can easily get it on Switch. It’s a combination of getting more platformers, and the Switch promotes co-op, because it’s so portable. One thing we really enjoyed, is couples playing- one person controls the character, one controls the light. And it’s fun watching that, but it would be more fun if they had their own joy-con instead.
So you feel it’s a really good fit for the Switch?
Yeah! And also to mention, with the Switch touch controls, moving the light around with touch is great.
Not many games do that, so much appreciated!
Yeah, you can use the touchpad on the PS4 controller, but it’s not as accurate. The Switch’s touch support is much better! [laughs]
And getting your dev kit, was that through Nintendo or Blowfish?
Through Blowfish, because they’ve already done one with Nintendo [Morphite].
Any interaction with Nintendo at all?
It’s all been through Blowfish. We’re really lucky that they helped us out. We do sort of do [have contact with Nintendo] but it’s a long process.
There have been quite a few Aussie devs making games for Switch, has that been an inspiration as well?
Yeah. Also the fact that it can happen in the first place. Generally with Nintendo, it’s immensly hard to get onto their platforms, they didn’t let it happen for ages. The fact that we can is fantastic.