Jupiter & Mars by Tigertron is an interesting action-adventure-puzzle game coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR that has DNA from works such as Child of Eden, Super Metroid, Panzer Dragoon, Ico, and much more. Siliconera spoke with Creative Director James Mielke about how it came to be and the inspirations behind the game and its jamming tunes.
Congratulations on founding Tigertron and creating Jupiter & Mars! The game kind of looks like Rez meets Ecco the Dolphin. Could you tell us how you came up with the game’s concept?
James Mielke, Tigertron: Thank you. It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time, so it was a real relief to see both our company and game names and logos out in the wild. The Rez connection as you observe is certainly there, although I will say it’s more Child Of Eden than Rez, since I worked on Child of Eden and Lumines when I worked at Q Entertainment with Tetsuya Mizuguchi. So the influence and the DNA of my time spent there carries over, because the ‘synaesthesia’ aesthetic is actually something that appeals to me greatly, so expect to see more of this going forward. While I may not work for Mizuguchi-san anymore, he is still a great mentor to me, so I continue to carry the neon, vector-style flag with me wherever I go.
The Ecco the Dolphin thing is not actually a factor in Jupiter & Mars. I understand why people think that, but the games whose DNA you could trace in our game are Child of Eden, Super Metroid, Panzer Dragoon, Ico, and Sub Rebellion. Hopefully, though, people who are fans of Ecco will also like Jupiter & Mars, but for us the experience—especially in VR mode—is meant to be one of companionship and courage and sacrifice. Hopefully those things will all be apparent as you play.
I came up with the concept a number of years ago, when I still lived in Japan. I had seen the movie The Cove, as I had always loved and respected dolphins. A pod of dolphins about a dozen strong rose up around me when I was jet skiing in Hawaii once, and that experience left a strong impression on me. After viewing The Cove, I felt compelled to design something about dolphins, and through the years various influences from other games have impacted the concept in positive ways.
Jupiter uses echolocation to explore the world. How does this work into gameplay? What will she and Mars find underwater?
James Mielke: Echolocation is the primary game mechanic in Jupiter & Mars and it functions as the player’s sonar, scanning and lighting up the world for the player to see. As I’m sure you realize, visibility underwater varies greatly, especially if you have experience snorkeling or scuba diving. We designed the echolocation mechanic to provide vision in areas that are dark or cloudy and difficult to see in. Of course it works in areas that have greater visibility as well, but it’s especially effective when visibility is the poorest.
So people can use echolocation pretty much wherever they want, but it provide a few different benefits. For one it lights up interactive objects, such as treasure shells or barriers with a target. If you see the target, you can have Mars ram those things to either open the shells, or knock down certain barriers. Echolocation also highlights hazardous things in red, showing you what you should avoid lest you be knocked out by them. The game doesn’t feature any ruthless penalties, though. If you bump into one of these things you’ll blackout but respawn not too far from where you encountered the hazard.
What happened to Earth?
James Mielke: Our game is set on a future Earth where mankind has been missing for generations. We were inspired by books like The World Without Us and the TV series Life After People, which reveal a fascinating timeline of how long it would take the Earth to reclaim itself—sort of like the world in I Am Legend—if mankind were to simply disappear. Jupiter & Mars’ setting was inspired by this concept, although most of the world you see is underwater.
One of our goals is to inspire the player not through telling them they’re horrible people for using plastic, but to show them one of the possible future realities that would come from climate change. It’s not just about ice caps melting, although there is that, it’s more to do with methane emissions heating up the planet a few degrees. It may seem like a little but it’s actually incredibly dangerous if that were to happen. So we set our levels, which are based primarily in island areas and coastal cities, such as the tropics, London, Asia, Greece, New York City, and show familiar environments almost completely underwater. It’s meant to give the overall impression you felt seeing the end of the original Planet Of The Apes movie, with the Statue of Liberty on the beach. If we can inspire anyone to think “Could this really happen?” then we’ve accomplished our mission.
You’ve worked on music games like Lumines: Electronic Symphony and Jupiter & Mars has one of the vocalists from the Genki Rockets too. What can you tell us about the music in the game?
James Mielke: One of the best parts of making video games in this day and age is being able to work with an incredibly talented international cast of creators. In the case of Jupiter & Mars for the soundtrack we primarily worked with Jonathan Atkinson, who was part of the late George Martin’s production team, and tours with musicians like Howard Jones and Kim Wilde. I met him when I went to see Howard Jones perform in Tokyo, because we used one of Howard’s songs in Lumines: Electronic Symphony, and I hit it off with both Jonathan and his fellow bandmate Robbie Bronnimann.
Ultimately while I do want to work with both of them in the future, for this project Jonathan’s film work seemed to match the project a little better. The musical direction is actually maybe not what you’d expect for a game about two dolphins. In fact I’m not really sure what someone would expect in the soundtrack of a game about two dolphins, but for us the inspirations were 80s sci-fi films, like Blade Runner and Tron, so you’ll hear a lot of vintage synths like Moogs and Tempests on it.
As for Nami Miyahara, I first discovered her thanks to Mizuguchi-san and his Genki Rockets project. She’s not the one you see in the videos, but she provides much of the vocal foundation on those albums. Nami is a super talented singer, voice actor, and a super nice person that I got to know over the past few years. So when we got the greenlight for Jupiter & Mars from Sony, I asked her if she’d like to take part in the theme song.
To record the theme song ‘(We Are) Shooting Stars’ for Jupiter & Mars, Nami, myself, and my Tigertron partner Sam Kennedy all flew out to London to work on the song. As much as I wanted to pre-write everything ahead of time, I really needed to be in the same room with her, so over the course of multiple hours, in coffee shops across Camden, Nami and I hammered out the lyrics, inspired by the events of the game but written in very open-ended terms, and went into the studio, where she and Jonathan spontaneously assembled the most beautiful melody. It was really amazing to be a part of this process and I think the song is really great. My kids sing along with it every time I put it on the sound system.
What do you think about the state of VR games?
James Mielke: I think we are seeing the kind of innovation and creativity that we haven’t seen since the early days of the original PlayStation, where developers were so jazzed about the new tech (then 3D, now VR) that they just came up with the wildest stuff. Of course there are some significant barriers to mass-market adoption, but the fact that there are so many big companies with skin in the game is encouraging. I know Sony’s committed to VR, and I personally love it, because there are so many untapped ways to play that I feel it’s just getting started.
What I am looking forward to, though, is when the hardware becomes practically invisible and unobtrusive to the point where it’s barely a factor. Sure, we’re still holding controllers in our hands to play games, and there’s a limit on how discreet you can make the hardware, but once it hits the point where it’s like putting on sunglasses, that’s when we’ll know it’s here to stay.
And as a founder of BitSummit, what do you think is the toughest part for indie developers in today’s market?
James Mielke: I think it’s a little different for certain indies depending on the territory, but generally speaking it’s funding. Some people take the Kickstarter route, although we haven’t seen as many big campaigns there lately, while others work with publishers for funding, and others just find a way to self fund their game development. At the end of the day it comes down to a game’s quality. I’ve seen games with nothing but internet buzz and word of mouth propel a game to International success, but some of that is luck and timing, too. But getting the funding is the key, and it’s a really hectic business getting that project funded.
In the States we don’t have any grants or things on a government level that we can tap into, so we have to convince VC investors of our vision. In Canada, they really do a great job of supporting this industry, so there are more opportunities there. In Japan, it’s been really tough for indies, as most used to rely on finding a big 3rd party publisher to pay for a game’s development—and in recent years its been even harder with so many publishers wanting to move away from core games to mobile games with microtransactions. But because of BitSummit, a lot of avenues have opened up for indies, and that’s been really healthy.
Jupiter & Mars is the first game from Tigertron. What do you have your sights set on for the future?
James Mielke: With any luck and a lot of work we’ll start work on our next game shortly after completing Jupiter & Mars. We have a timed exclusivity deal with Sony, but after that we’ll look at bringing it to other platforms. In the meanwhile, though, we plan to continue creating games inspired by nature, and our current idea is to take to the air for game #2. We want to set it in the same future Earth as Jupiter & Mars, because we think it would be interesting and fun to show people how it all ties together, but from a different perspective. We have lots of ideas for sequels, spin-offs and others, but we’re taking things one day at a time.
Check out the latest trailer of Jupiter & Mars from E3 2018 below:
Jupiter & Mars is set to release for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR in Q3 2018.