Favela fantasy: Papo & Yo
Papo & Yo is a game only Vander Caballero could make.
Granted, local indie studio Minority Media had a team of 13 work on their first-ever game, but this intensely personal work tells the story of Caballero’s childhood, with his native Colombia transformed into a mystical, colourful favela filled with puzzles, and his violent, alcoholic father portrayed as an uncontrollable monster.
Although Papo & Yo, available today on PlayStation Network, is rightfully being heralded as an innovator in terms of video game storytelling, telling such a deeply emotional story wasn’t necessarily Caballero’s intention from the outset, when he built a prototype in which a young boy named Quico could climb and bounce on his oversized, fruit and frog-eating monster friend.
CultMTL spoke with Caballero, the studio’s creative director, and with other members of the Minority team about bringing the sights, sounds and most importantly emotions of his childhood to life. We’ll be running the interviews throughout the week, but we’ll start today with our Q&A with Caballero himself. The final question deals with the game’s shocking ending, so if you don’t want it spoiled don’t read it.
Cult: Were you surprised by how well people reacted to the game being about your life story?
Caballero: I was happy. It’s not that I’m happy that I was able to share my story, I’m happy that people showed that they like these types of games, and that hopefully it serves as a stepping stone for other people who want to tell those kinds of stories with games. As someone who plays games, I want to see more based on personal stories, because they’re more meaningful. But nobody’s really doing it right now.
Cult: Did you always intend for Papo & Yo to tell your story?
Caballero: What happened was, it started as a metaphor, so that was always there. So we were starting to work on it, and I wasn’t really touching on my past in much detail. We started with the basic mechanics of the monster and how he changes if he eats a frog. Then I started mapping out the story, and as I was doing that and telling it to the rest of the team, I realized if just told them the story exclusively within the game, it wouldn’t have been as meaningful. But if they understood what happened to me and why I wanted to include it in the game, they would put that intensity of my story in the game. In the end that difference really shows.
Cult: Some of the moments in the game are pretty intense…
Caballero: The stories are pretty hardcore. I’m never going to tell the exact story, though, I want people to play the game and try to interpret the meaning of those scenes.
Cult: The favela world itself also becomes more abstract as you progress in the game, was that always your intention?
Caballero: Yes, at the beginning the game is really solid and normal, and suddenly parts start to show up that are entirely white and you start to wonder what’s going on, then you start to realize it’s all in Quico’s imagination. It’s a dream, but also you see as the monster gets more evil, the more the world crumbles into pieces. Quico can’t hold that shit inside him anymore, he cannot live in a dream anymore.
Cult: Was that always how you always envisioned Papo & Yo ending?
Caballero: It’s like when you start writing a book: you know what you want to write about, but you don’t know how you’re going to end it. I started with an idea for how it was going to end but it always felt weak, it didn’t feel right. It was because I was following the rules of all the games I had done before, so all the games stayed in the metaphor, and games that come into reality do it in their way, like a Call of Duty mission where you have to kill Fidel Castro.
Then I was thinking, how am I going to finish this game and make it meaningful, and say “fuck the rules of every game I had done before”? The small technical things, like if Quico’s feet touched the stairs, didn’t matter to me. I wanted Papo & Yo to be a game about capturing emotions — that was my pitch. ■
Papo & Yo is available for download today, exclusively on the Playstation Network