Think you know echochrome? Get a fresh perspective on the thoughts and ideas that went into creating the PlayStation 3 and PSP title through Game Yarouze! Producer, Tatsuya Suzuki.
What inspired you to create a game like echochrome?
It was the OLE (Object Locative Environment) system we based it on. On the gameplay side of things it was Rubik's Cube and disentanglement puzzles.
What were the main challenges in making it?
Preserving the atmosphere of a monochrome world, and creating a game system in keeping with that atmosphere. It demanded that I completely go against the ten plus years of experience I have in this industry.
This title is made up of rules and problems, and that's it. Just as with the simplicity of the visuals, its purity as a game is meant to be a challenge to all the game titles nowadays that tend towards the serious and overblown.
How did you end up working with Sony Computer Entertainment on echochrome?
It all started when I saw the OLE exhibit at the Japan Media Arts Festival. That PC application had such a strong impact on us, we immediately took the liberty of contacting its creator, Mr Fujiki, and reached an agreement to start the project.
We got off to a smooth start - the game format we showed to Mr Fujiki two weeks later was almost the same as the one we used in the final product - but, since the project was a huge hit inside the SCE group, it was decided that we'd present the title at E3 in July , even though we'd just started in April! So, straight after the project started the team was already incredibly busy.
Was the Walker always a mannequin or did he take the shape of something else before his form was made final? Was there a particular reason why you chose a mannequin?
The OLE was already using a stick-figure-like character, so we used that as a base. While we wanted to respect the original creator's intentions by not assigning a gender to his character, we also wanted to add a comical side. That trade-off led to the birth of the Walker, which is reminiscent of an artist's mannequin.
The influences of Dutch artist MC Escher are clear - is the creation tool flexible enough to create replicas of Escher drawings?
Not all of them, but it's possible. His drawings, too, appear mysterious because you're viewing them from a certain angle as a flat surface, but essentially they can be recreated in 3D.
How do you go about building an echochrome level?
At first we just come up with the shape without getting too involved in the rules. You could say it's like sculpture, or making pottery. Once the stage starts to take shape, we drop the character in there and then we just need to add some rules.
How important is the music to the game?
Extremely important. Naturally, we tried playing without sound, and found that silence diluted the sense of immersion in the puzzle solving experience. Listen to the ear pleasing music of a string quartet, though, and before you know it, it's just you and the problem you're facing. And then, somewhere along the line, you're so focused you stop hearing the music altogether. That's the kind of experience we want you to have.
What was the decision making process in creating it for both PSP and PlayStation 3?
With the PS3 version, we saw the potential to extend into the user-created side of things thanks to how network friendly the system is, and we wanted to make the most of the atmosphere you get from a big monitor. But with the PSP version, we knew we could recreate the pleasure that comes from solving puzzle games like Sudoku in the palm of your hand. We wanted to bring both aspects to users, so we decided to develop it on both platforms.
Also, because of the game's characteristic visuals, we saw we could develop on both types of hardware without wrecking the title's atmosphere, which definitely pushed us towards our decision.
What sort of challenges did you encounter through working in a smaller development team than typical in the games industry?
The overall game we started out with in our heads was modest in volume, so right from the beginning we decided to keep the number of the people on the project down (six core members on the team).
Keeping the team small also allowed us to make decisions about the game's world and structure with all members present at the meetings. That way, everyone was on the same page throughout development, and we were able to stay highly motivated - the advantages of a small team, I think.
But on the flip side of that, we struggled to come up with enough variety in the stages. In the end, we brought in the help of designers from other projects: we told them to forget what the puzzles' tricks would be and just come up with a lot of different shapes - then the planner on the core team would come in and put them together, giving us a much wider variety.
In the beginning, our thought process was limited to working out the trick to the puzzle first, then moulding the stage around that. But if we hadn't arrived at the completely opposite approach - told ourselves, model the stage first, then find the game in it - the project might have drawn out even longer.
I would like to keep working with small teams like this and make more games that shake up ideas, where we reason: let's just strip away all the embellishments that get in the way and surprise users on a very primitive level. Let's just give it to them like it is.
Do you have any plans to release the best user-generated levels?
Of course! In Japan we started doing this in April. Just in Japan alone, a whole slew of intricate stages have already turned up on the server, so we can hardly wait to see what kind of stages roll in from North America and Europe.
What do you want people to get from the echochrome experience?
We want people to feel that the basic ideas they've taken for granted have always been in their head. There are no rules that say this has to be one way and that has to be another. Once you hit upon your own rules, the world you see today will seem very different from the one you saw up until yesterday.