Nintendo eShop developer discussion: Nyamyam talks about Tengami
Explore a whimsical papercraft world filled with secrets, and solve puzzles by flipping, folding, sliding and pulling parts of the world in a serene point-and-click adventure. When a once-mighty cherry tree begins to deteriorate, it’s up to you to seek an answer to the lone tree’s blight in Tengami, coming soon to Nintendo eShop on Wii U.
We spoke to Jennifer Schneidereit from developer Nyamyam to learn more about the development process and how Tengami came about.
Nintendo of Europe: First of all, thanks for taking the time to speak to us today. How many people are on the team over at Nyamyam working on Tengami?
Jennifer Schneidereit: There are three of us working full-time on Tengami: Phil Tossell, Ryo Agarie, and me.
NoE: Could you give us a short introduction to Tengami for those who are coming to the game completely fresh?
JS: Tengami’s an atmospheric adventure game that takes place inside of a Japanese pop-up book. You play very much at your own pace, gently exploring some really gorgeous-looking paper worlds, and you come across puzzles and obstacles that you solve by flipping, folding, sliding and pulling parts of the world. Essentially, you play Tengami in the same way that you would read a pop-up book – it’s very quiet, a calm and relaxing sort of game that you play on your sofa, or in your bed with the headphones on and a cup of tea!
NoE: You mention that you interact with the backgrounds and the paper world. How did you go about creating the game engine?
JS: Yes, that was really the most difficult part of making Tengami – coming up with the technology. In the beginning, we studied how to make physical pop-ups, and through understanding that process, we figured out the mathematics behind the folding, and then we were able to create an editor that allowed us to make authentic digital pop-ups.
NoE: Did the team learn origami in order to create the game’s assets by hand beforehand?
JS: No and yes. In the beginning we obviously liked to draw on paper and work it out sometimes. How do you actually make a folding house? How do you make a folding tree? How do you make a folding Japanese temple? Things like that. But the hand-crafting process is very slow for pop-ups, because if you make a tiny mistake, you need to start again from scratch. As our technology gradually got better and better, we switched over to doing everything in our 3D editor. But it’s true that everything that you see in the game is constructed like an authentic pop-up book, and you can replicate everything that you see in the game with paper, scissors and glue – if you know how to make pop-ups!
Actually, at a show we did, I met a lady called Rebecca Sawyer, who’s a professional pop-up artist. She really loved the game and she came to talk to me after she played it and said, "How can I be involved with the game?" So we commissioned her to replicate some of the most iconic scenes in the game as physical pop-ups. I unfortunately don’t have them with me today but we have shown them at shows before, and it really blows people’s minds when they see the physical scene, and then see exactly the same scene in the game.
NoE: What inspired you to put so much effort into this origami art style?
JS: I think it’s just our philosophy as a studio. When we founded Nyamyam, we had each been in the mainstream industry for many years, and once we’d formed a small team, we really felt like we needed to do something special, like take some risks – because otherwise, what is the benefit to being a small independent developer? So with Nyamyam, we wanted to make really different games; games that don’t exist already. But we wanted to bring mainstream quality to it, and so we call it a beautiful craft game.
NoE: How long did it take you to develop the idea?
JS: Even though pop-up books are something that we all know from childhood, it’s something that hasn’t been explored in a digital context at all. We started working on Tengami about three years ago, when we had the idea: “Let’s experiment with pop-up as a game mechanic.” What happens when you make a videogame that takes place in a pop-up book? But not just as a visual gimmick – it’s really the folding of the world that is the core game. And at first, we had a more platform, action-y type of idea, but very early on, we felt like it didn’t suit a pop-up very well, because one of the most magical things about pop-ups is that you can see how they fold and unfold, and then you can kind of try to look into the folds as you’re flipping through. And so we went from an action tone to a very calm and serene kind of game that gives you enough time to play with the pop-ups as much as you want.
NoE: Can you give us some examples of how you use the folding to progress through the game?
JS: So in one of the early puzzles that you come across, you’re walking towards the river, and it looks like you can’t cross it. But if you look closely inside, you see that there’s something that’s a little bit off. And when you try to manipulate it, then you can unfold a bridge and you can continue to cross the river. Later on it becomes more difficult, where we have a puzzle that’s almost a maze. There are three sections, and each one can individually, separately from each other, fold several times, to create other fields, and you have to match up these fields as you go through them to find your way through the maze. But it can be difficult to talk about it because it’s very much something I think you need to see.
NoE: Have you found that people who play the game quickly understand how it works and like the idea?
JS: Yes, absolutely. It’s a very accessible game; the controls are very easy to pick up, and I think because so many people know pop-up books from childhood, it very quickly becomes second nature.
NoE: Please could you give us a brief introduction to Tengami’s story?
JS: We have a very non-traditional approach to the story, and there’s almost no text in the game. It’s very much up to the player to infer what the story or the ultimate meaning of Tengami is, through the things that they do, see and feel as they progress. At the beginning of the game, your character is under a cherry tree, and the cherry tree is slowly withering away. And at the end, there’s only one cherry blossom left, and you can drop the cherry blossom onto the character and he comes to life – and you can start going on your journey. And in each level, you basically try to find more cherry blossoms. And whenever you find another cherry blossom, then you get a little bit of a peek at what the meaning is.
NoE: It’s something that develops slowly as you go through then, and it’s ultimately up to the player to decide what that meaning is.
JS: Right. But the player needs to infer what the cherry blossom and the tree means to them. It can be unique to each player. I mean, I definitely know what it means to me, and the team knows what it means to us. But if people have a different interpretation to us, then we’re totally fine with that.
NoE: What will keep players coming back to Tengami?
JS: It’s a game that really draws you into the atmosphere, and if you play with headphones on, you feel like you don’t want to put it down.
NoE: You mentioned playing while wearing headphones – can you tell us more about the soundtrack and audio?
JS: Our composer – I think Nintendo fans will know him – is called David Wise, and he’s recorded famous soundtracks for games like Donkey Kong Country. He’s composing all of our music. The soundtrack is just fantastic; I absolutely love it. It’s like traditional Japanese music but with a western twist on it. So it’s very orchestral, and it’s just beautiful.
NoE: What excited you most about working on Wii U?
JS: We were really excited about the Wii U GamePad, because in our game you use a stylus or a finger – you don’t use any buttons at all. And it just works really great with the stylus. It’s purely based on touch. You tap to navigate the character and he will just go wherever you tap. There are various kinds of glows that show you interactive areas, and then you can manipulate areas with your stylus – a lot of it is sliding and pulling.
NoE: It’s very tactile, then. Do you need both screens, or can you play on the Wii U GamePad without using the television?
JS: You can play off-TV on the GamePad. That’s one of the best things about the GamePad: you can play it with headphones on and it’s almost like a bedtime game. But you can also play it with other people – I actually see a lot of couples play it together. They are just sitting together, talking about it, like, “Okay, yeah, let’s just – let’s try that!”, and trying to solve the puzzles together.
NoE: What do you think is the most important thing that players need to know about Tengami?
JS: I think that Tengami is definitely a game that instils a sense of wonder. Everything is very magical when you play with the pop-up, and when you open your first pop-up, it feels like a real discovery.
NoE: Thanks very much for your time!
Tengami will be available from Nintendo eShop on Wii U soon.