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Games Growing Up -- Papo & Yo Creative Director Takes On Personal Monsters

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Posted September 21, 2012 - By Rob Manuel


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Papo y Yo Announced For PSN; Puzzle Platformer Coming Early 2012

Some people play games in order to find escape; this may be the first where you’re playing as someone actually trying to escape. Papo & Yo puts you into the worn-out shoes of a kid, Quico, trying to hide out in a world that blurs the line of imagination and real life with his abusive father. As you journey through the Brazilian backstreets filled with the raw chalk outlines made by a child, you get a sense of the boy’s life and how he views his father.

He calls him “monster.” The giant pink beast lumbers around, sleeping and eating most of the time until he touches that moment of temptation. Frogs take the place of alcohol in the boys mind but the results are just the same, violent and nasty. There’s a point where one of the characters in the game actually asks if the boy is alright after one of these episodes. The kid seems to dust himself off while nodding the affirmative. The character asks again, not about the physical scars but the emotional ones instead.

As much of a downer as the subject matter is, Papo & Yo practically fills every corner of the world with colorful sights and sounds of the Brazilian streets. Puzzles take on the guise of the child’s imagination as buildings walk on their own and chalk drawings come to life with a little bit of work. Haunting, beautiful, and with just a hint of the child-like element that permeates every inch of this game, the music alone with worth the trip as you explore this somewhat familiar world with pan pipes and guitars leading the way.

While not perfect, this is a story you need to experience for yourself. When developers talk about games maturing and touching on deeper topics, Papo & Yo certainly leads the way for many others to follow. We were lucky enough to talk the creative director of the game, Vander Caballero, about the story and what it takes to tackle such a personal subject.

Papo & Yo

When did you know that you wanted to make a game that touched one such a personal issue?

Movies, music, books are really personal; we use other people's experiences to learn how to live.

I love video games, and I want to make this medium as personal and enriching as possible.

When I was a kid I loved playing Mario, but after a few hours of play my fingers hurt and I hadn’t really learned anything from it. I was back in real life without any moral or lesson learned that could help me decipher the complex world of adults. I want to change that, gamers deserve more than a few hours of escapism.

How did you approach dealing with such a heavy topic while designing a game that draws in the player?

Heavy stories are the most fun to design for because you have plenty of material to work from. For example, in the first act of Papo my goal was to create this surreal world that I used to escape to when I was kid. Back then, I was all-powerful and could transform my surroundings to fit my desires, so we designed plenty of levels that could only exist in the imagination of a kid.

As an example: you have to get to the other side of a cliff, and the only tools you have are cardboard boxes. In a child’s imagination, those boxes could be linked to real houses, so you end up making it across by moving buildings to create a bridge. People love this puzzle, and I think remembering that power is part of the reason.

Was there ever a concern that the Monster character would become too unlikeable or hard for the player to feel compassion for?

I have received many messages from people telling me how they felt sorry for the monster, and many others telling me that they hated monster; what I love about this game is that people initially get to play with monster and solve puzzles with him, but when monster eats a frog the game changes. People end up developing this compassion/hate relationship that is not experienced in any other game.

Papo y Yo Announced For PSN; Puzzle Platformer Coming Early 2012

There are the chalk drawings from the kids and then you see these sprawling pieces of graffiti. Can you talk about how some of these bigger pieces came into the game?

One of the most popular tools a kid has to change the world around them is chalk; I have great memories of transforming a simple sidewalk into a fantasyland with it. For that reason, chalk was a core mechanic in Papo from early in development. We had so many crazy features we wanted to implement using it, but with our small team and budget we had to pick and choose a few of them, looking for ones that would have more impact for players in terms of fun, experimentation, and discovery.

Why graffiti? Favelas are filled with them, and in Latin America graffiti is one of the main mediums people use to protest and express their views. Our friend Pablo was making a documentary about the best graffiti artist in Chile, and when he showed me their work I was blown away. We started working on a way to get the rights to put some of these artists’ actual beautiful and amazing work in the game.

One of the most remarkable things about the game is its music. Can you talk about how the music works with both the game and the story?

Brian D’Olivera is the composer behind Papo’s music, and now a close friend of mine. We both saw this as the first opportunity to show all the beauty of the places where we grew up, and when we started talking about our past and our relationships with our fathers we found out we had similar pains. As a result, the creative process was really easy; I just had to tell Brian the feeling I was looking for, and he used his collection of instruments to compose a piece for that feeling. Brian played every instrument in the game, and many of them are instruments gamers have never heard coming out of their console.

Brian surprised the team with his compositions every time. I remember working late one night, creating the final scene of the game, and suddenly he called to say he’d updated our files and had a surprise for me. It turned out he had recorded the final scene of the game with a chorus of kids singing, and the result brought tears to my eyes. I think it was actually the first time I cried playing my own game.

Papo y Yo Announced For PSN; Puzzle Platformer Coming Early 2012

Papo & Yo takes place in a very different setting than we're used to in games. How did you approach creating a world that takes elements of reality and fantasy?

Fantasy is a lot more powerful when you know it comes from the real world, and there are plenty of masterpieces in cinema from directors like Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, and David Lynch which prove that point. We have a lot to learn from cinema in gaming, not in terms of narrative structure, but more the ways to take reality and transform it to fantasy without losing valuable links. I like the idea of video games that have a direct connection with real life because it forces me as a creator to look for meaning in the lives we live.

Many developers have talked about video games growing up. Why do you think it's so hard to gaming today to tackle such adult topics?

When games grow up, it requires people to change, and we humans should like change. At the same time, we fear becoming obsolete because of changes. I’d say we all have room to grow as developers, critics, publishers, and financiers alongside the industry as it changes over the years.

Games Growing Up -- Papo & Yo Creative Director Takes On Personal Monsters
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