Minority Media’s Papo & Yo is out now on PlayStation Network, and to mark the occasion Cult Montreal interviewed a few members of the 13-person team to get a sense of what it’s like to bring a game from tech demo to your console. (You can read our interviews with creative director Vander Caballero here and lead programmer Julien Barnoin here.)
When favelas are featured in video games, chances are it’s not in a positive light. Minority environment artist Stéphanie Landry was given the difficult task of capturing the wonderment and playfulness of a part of the world that’s usually portrayed as violent and dangerous. We spoke to her about bringing colour to the favelas, visualizing dream worlds and using real-life South American street art in the game.
Cult: Have you ever visited the favelas before?
Landry: I would love to, but I’ve never been there. Vander talked a lot about his experiences when he was a child, and talked about what he wanted for the atmosphere for the game. We spent a lot of time looking at pictures on the internet, and we fused that with the imaginary world we wanted to create. It’s not as though the game was based on nothing, but we also didn’t want it to be too specific either.
The game takes place in [main character] Quico’s mind, so we could do whatever we wanted and have it be molded to fit the gameplay. Using favelas was really good for us, though, because it was very modular: we could stack houses to block paths and experiment with that. It didn’t have to be constructed logically, it was just about the feeling.
Cult: What was the atmosphere Vander wanted?
Landry: Vander wanted the environment to evolve with Quico’s emotions. At the beginning when you start the game it’s very beautiful; there’s even a sunrise, and you feel comfortable in this environment. Then you meet the monster, and when he gets angry, the sky gets darker, it starts raining and the houses aren’t as colourful. Parts of the environment are also completely white, like chunks of houses and floating stuff, it’s just that with Quico’s emotions he can’t control the environment and keep it together in his mind.
Cult: Was the team trying to strike a balance between realism and fantasy in the look of the favelas?
Landry: We didn’t want to do something too realistic — at first because we didn’t have a big enough team to do it — but also we didn’t want to do something cartoonish. We didn’t want the game to feel too soft, because it’s a deep story. Also, favelas in video games are often portrayed as being very dark, especially in shooters where it’s always about drugs and violence, but there’s a playfulness we wanted to capture and mix it all together.
Cult: Where did the idea come in for Quico to be able to move houses and manipulate the environments with these glowing white gears?
Landry: We wanted something that was easy to spot so the player could easily identify it, both when Quico can’t use them at the beginning and they’re black lines, and when they become white. Also, it worked because in the story Alejandra, the girl you follow, carries around with her a piece of chalk and she’s drawing the elements for you. When children want to tell a story or be creative, they’ll draw on the walls or the floor, and we wanted to make it possible in this world that if she draws a door, then it will come to life and Quico can use it.
For the other white elements, like when houses are completely white, we wanted it to be like a dream, where you have different layers of reality. Sometimes in your dreams you have parts that aren’t really important, and when you wake up they’re blurry and you can’t focus on them.
Landry: We put some street art for an E3 demo a few years ago, but they were ones that we did ourselves just because we wanted to add more colour. But we decided we didn’t want to use something that existed without asking permission, we didn’t have the time to do our own art and we wanted to use art that’s specific to South America. We got in touch with a few artists we thought were interesting and asked them if we could use their art in the game.
It turned out to be a great experience because they gave us permission and were actually really excited about it. They liked that the game was actually about South America. It was a good way for us to add a bit of authenticity to the game, and we were happy because if they felt the visuals of the game were good enough for them and their art, then we were doing something right. ■