‘Papo & Yo’ Creative Director Wants To Create Empathy Through Interaction

Papo & Yo is not your typical game, and Vander Caballero is not your typical creative director. After having worked on franchises like FIFA and Army of Two, Caballero wanted to branch out and make his own games, crafting them in a manner different than the way a big studio would have. Papo & Yo is the product of a small, determined development team, with a man who wanted to make an accessible game with roots in a serious topic. The inspiration for Papo & Yo is clear, but there’s still a lot more to find out about this mysterious title before it hits the Playstation Network tomorrow. Read on to find out more about the ideas behind the game, the importance of developing emotional relationships between the characters and the player, and just why the game dropped the “y” from the title.

MTV Multiplayer: How did the gameplay concepts originate?
Vander Caballero: There is a beautiful song by Luis Alverto Spinneta (one of the fathers of Argentian rock) called “Barro tal vez.” The song talks about an artist that will die if he is not able to speak his heart out – that’s how I felt developing games with big corporations, that my soul was going to die if I kept making shooters. So the concepts really originated from my desire to make a game that was meaningful to me, based on my childhood and my father.

MTV Multiplayer: Is the gameplay a vehicle to establish the relationships between the characters or do those relationships stand out on their own?
Caballero: The only way you can create empathy in video games is through interaction. I want players to feel what I felt as a kid and the only way I could achieve that was by creating game mechanics that let you interact and develop relationships as you play. Having long cinematic sequence to transmit complex feelings is a cheap trick and a failure of our medium.

MTV Multiplayer: The game appears to rely heavily on Quico’s imagination, does that limit the amount of imagination contributed by the player?
Caballero: I hope not! A “white canvas” can be scary for some people, so video games have to provide the setting and guide the experience. In Papo & Yo, I actually think that we will be expanding and not limiting a player’s imagination by tapping in to the feeling we all had as we fantasized as children.

MTV Multiplayer: There aren’t many games that take place in favelas, how did you address the possibility that international audiences might have trouble connecting with the setting?
Caballero: And the games that do take place in favelas usually tell the same story: dark, ugly places filled with evil people that you have to kill. I want to help international audiences experience a different story. Real favelas are filled with real people – with life and laughter, and it’s time that gamers see this side.

MTV Multiplayer: Mixing a robot and a monster is something that you don’t see too often in games. What kinds of unique opportunities did this combination of characters open up?
Caballero: A year ago we explored multiple interactions between Monster and Lula, but discovered that the system wasn’t as fun as we thought. Players needed to go through a lot of steps to have Monster and Lula interact, and when we saw playtesters become frustrated with the process we decided to focus on Quico’s interactions with Monster and Lula.

MTV Multiplayer: Did creating a game like this with such a small team help or hinder the development process?
Caballero: The small team helped make the game more special and unique. The reality of a big team is that every feature has to be approved and planned and budgeted… in this process many amazing features get dropped. For example, our hint system of putting boxes on your head was born out of an animation bug that would have been cut if Papo & Yo was a big production.

MTV Multiplayer: Do you think the serious nature of the game’s origins will be lost on players? Was it meant to come through at all?
Caballero: I have always wanted to be honest about the inspiration behind the game, and we hint about that inspiration in the gameplay. But I don’t want the serious nature to be the only thing that everyone sees – the world of Papo & Yo is bright and colorful and the puzzles are fun. I hope that you can have a great experience whether or not you are aware of the inspiration.

MTV Multiplayer: When and why did the name of the game change from “Papo y Yo” to “Papo & Yo”?
Caballero: It was a natural transition. In today’s global market your message has to resonate with multiple cultures and languages (the name itself is a mix between “Papa,” father in Spanish, and “Babo,” father in Italian. Many people started changing the “y” for the “&” and I saw this as an opportunity to put input from gamers back in to the game.

MTV Multiplayer: The character designs, particularly Monster, have changed a bit since the game originally debuted. What was the thinking behind making these choices?
Caballero: The problem for creators with today’s real-time development culture is that people can peek in your window while you are going through the creation process. For example, the first time anyone saw Papo & Yo was at our tech demo at E3 2011 – and what they saw in that very early version (with a cute, rhino-like Monster) became what the game was in their minds. But Papo & Yo is based on my very personal story, and I wanted to be as honest as possible in expressing it. After our first E3, my friend Nilo Rodis (a very skilled art director who worked on Star Wars and Pixar movies) asked me “do you see your father in that Monster design?” I had to admit I did not. My father was distant and scary but at the same time protective… the rhino monster did not express this. I’m really happy with the final version of Monster. He has all the elements that brought me close and made me afraid of my father at the same time.

MTV Multiplayer: What are you hoping players will take away from the game?
Caballero: I hope that players will have a meaningful emotional experience, of course, but I also want to inspire the next generation of game developers toward creating personal and meaningful games. I would love to see Papo & Yo become a stepping stone in that direction.


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