GDC 2013: Media Molecule on the origins of Tearaway’s papercraft world

Tearaway creative lead Rex Crowle explained how Media Molecule reached the decision to create a tactile, papercraft world on Vita during his GDC 2013 talk.

Following on from Siobhan Reddy’s earlier session on her producer’s role at Media Molecule, Crowle opened his talk by saying: “I don’t like digital things – at least I don’t like things that react in a digital way,” joking that his upbringing him saw him playing with ‘MUDs’ that were not multi-user dungeons but, well, different kinds of wet dirt.

“I think we all enjoy returning to a childlike state, playing around with materials. Identifying how they react to you, how they react to being mixed… a lot of that came through on LittleBig Planet, the cut and paste, the doodling and the sculpting,” he said. “When we were handed a Vita, on the surface it seemed like the complete opposite of that. Clean, shiny, not exactly a bucket of mud. But we thought, perhaps we could use it to create a kind of tactile messy world that you hold?”

“I’ve played a lot of games, pressed all these buttons a load of times,” he continued. “and the game has never really commented on that. Do my fingers have a place in these worlds? Are the bosses scared of the idea of these thumbs, controlling their destiny?”

The team experimented with the idea of finger puppet characters and making the fingers the main characters in the game, but they realized that if they were going to make a world that you were going to push your fingers into, they “wanted to make a world that you want to push your fingers into.”

As a result, they decided to create an entire “paper engine” a system where the world is built by simulated paper. This allows Crowle to design the world as he would a papercraft, being able to tear paper, peel parts, and fold it to create three dimensional shapes.

“You can actually print these out if you want to,” he beamed. ”I am predicting that 2D printers are going to the next big thing.”

“Our technical artist Stephan has written loads of custom stuff [for paper animation] to make sure that our characters, their personalities and emotions are fully brought to life. So we don’t just end up with bits of paper … that we don’t just have the folding properties of it, but really say something with it.”

He concluded that the decision was a piece of “creative fun” that had reminded the team why they play games in the first place. “It’s to splash in the puddles and make some mess, and by having paper run through the entire design process, we can really concentrate on doing that one thing really well. There’s freedom in the limitation.”