Preview: 'Tearaway' - Paper Wendigos And Running On Glue

Sony and developer Media Molecule were keen to sell the papercraft aesthetic of the Vita-exclusive "Tearaway" during and hands-on presentation in L.A. last night. The meeting room for the open-ish world platformer was papered over with images from the game accompanied by blocky text identifying some of the overall vision and plot points for "Tearaway." A pair of stations in the back of the room were littered with sheets of paper and glue for the assembled press to create their own papercraft figures. But we weren't there for arts and crafts--we were there to play with tiny little paper people in this charming, early build of the game.

At the start of the event, graphic designer and animation director Rex Crowle of Media Molecule ("LittleBigPlanet") gave us a brief overview of the game: "What we wanted to do was create a world that was really tactile... we wanted you to really feel it," he explained, saying that was joined with an abstract idea of having the game somehow linked to the real world. As they delved into concept art and prototypes, it was a pile of paper that gave "Tearaway" its greatest point of inspiration.

Crowle described the game, which has been in development for about a year and a half, as a buddy movie, with the player teaming up with iota, the game's Messenger (the female version of the character is atoi, who also has a secret message trapped inside of her paper head). This trip through a papercraft world will have a unique message for each player, being delivered by iota/atoi (the latter's name means "To you" in French). "The big twist is that it's a god-like adventure you hold in your hands," Crowle added.

True to the Media Molecule M.O., "Tearaway" will have open/emergent gameplay elements, so it’s a linear story with deviations bound by pinch points to drive the narrative forward. The story was inspired by folk tales, this point of inspiration evident in the forest-set environments, and primal, strange creatures given a handmade feel (even at pre-Alpha, the framerate has captured the stop-motion feel Media Molecule is working towards). Beyond the game, Crowle promised paper rewards for players that could be printed over the course of the game.

The newest trailer since Gamescon is set on the island of Sogport, an early level in the game which is slowly sinking into a perilous sea of glue. Not only did we see iota bounding and running from its dangerous inhabitants but AR elements like the player poking their finger through to move parts of large puzzles. Wind and glue will be integral to this section, the latter allowing iota to run along walls, while he'll receive an accordion on the island that allows him to generate wind. One of the new enemies is the Wendigo, Crowle lamenting that his team was unable to find a definitive image of the mythological beast. The story of Sogport, involving Wendigo-skin waders, is told using pop-up-style, narrated pages which the player can swipe and move on the Vita.

Demonstrating the game for us in the Sogport setting, a Media Molecule rep showed some of iota's abilities, including rolling into a little ball (or since he's paper, a wad) as he squeezed through breaks in rickety wooden fences. Finally, he made his way to a pen where a Wendigo was being held, the great beast knocking down gates and chasing after iota, bent on swatting the little guy down. The player has a couple of options in dealing with the beast, distracting one with a tasty pearl (who knew) and luring another over a bullseye from which a box will spring, trapping the monster.

Playing the Sogport level myself as iota, I had a chance to tool around the "Playground" area at the start of the map. Here, I was able to wander around, pick up creatures and pearls to toss around, and grab some of the game's collectibles (how this behavior will work into the final game remains to be seen--the developer hasn't yet locked down "Tearaway's" reward system). Darting through the level is intuitive enough, with the same kind of floaty feel of "LBP." This isn't some tight platformer that you'll be able to blast your way through, the more deliberate feel inline with the desire to force exploration around the lively environments. Plus, a "Playground" section early in the level I was shown (it's not clear if one will be included in every level), allowed me the chance to mess around with the current mechanics iota/atoi had access to, these free-play sections possibly offering up their own secrets and rewards in the future.

At this early phase, the few puzzles I encountered were tricky but not overly-challenging (it was really just a matter of finding the right thing with which to interact), nearly all based on somehow aggravating or distracting the Wendigos populating the level. The couple of instances where I was able to use the God Mode moves (both involving rubbing the front touchscreen to stretch out a platform or peel back the layers of an enclosed area holding a pearl). An in-game camera function allows you to snap pics of the level and creatures, although the reward system for doing this hasn't yet been implemented. Using the player-controlled jumping pads--"drum skins"--proved to be the only real hitch in the experience: tapping on the rear touchpad increases the bounce, but it was tough to correctly identify what the precise level of tapping which was necessary to give iota enough lift.

The world is approaching the tactile feel that Media Molecule is working towards, each of the little creatures and visual elements nicely textured in a way that makes you want to reach out and touch them. Seams in a breakable wall give the impression of an obstacle recently cut out of construction paper, while flowers bend and bob. In the original concept for the game, iota started out as atoi, who was comprised of a boxier, less flexible design. When the team's Lead Artist came in, he extended the character's limbs and evolved the design, bringing her and iota to the current envelope-faced design in the game. Players won't be able to swap characters on the fly, as Media Molecule is very keen on creating an emotional attachment with their tiny messengers.

Again, this is all very early and the world of "Tearaway" is still being prototyped out by the Media Molecule team. One thing I saw that's still in development is a level which can be controlled like the bellows of an accordion, with contracting and stretching platforms making way for iota/atoi to move through the environment, while an actual accordion allows the characters to suck in and blow away items and obstacles in their path. If Media Molecule can keep fleshing out the game with cute and interesting mechanics like this, they may have another winner on their hands.

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