In late 2010 I founded indie studio Nyamyam together with Jennifer Schneidereit and Ryo Agarie. Our hope was to make beautifully crafted games free from the constraints imposed by working in mainstream development.
Our first game is called Tengami. We’ve been working on Tengami since founding the company and it’s due for release later this year. Tengami is a contemplative adventure game that takes place in a pop-up world of ancient Japan. It’s an unusual game and I’d like to talk a little bit about how this unlikely combination came about. In so doing I hope to inspire you in whatever you are currently working on.
When I was a child I read a lot. And when I say a lot I mean a huge amount. So much so that my parents used to worry that I spent too much time stuck in my room on my own, lost in the imaginary worlds I created from the books I was reading. Something about being lost in one’s own imagination is incredibly powerful and is something that I’ve longed to try to recreate in the games I make.
I was especially fascinated by one particular type of book, which wasn’t so much about purely reading as it was about interacting: the pop-up book. I first remember coming across a pop-up book when I was about 5 years old. I had probably played with one before that but my early memories are very indistinct. I remember at once being fascinated by the physicality of a pop-up book as compared with conventional books; the way that a world could emerge from a flat page, transforming into a fully three dimensional diorama, complete with parts that could be pushed and pulled, opened and closed. At the time, this seemed to me to be pure magic. A child’s sense of wonder combined with a lack of knowledge often lends a magical appeal to things that we later come to realize is simply the application of mathematics.
As is so often the case, our inspirations come from experiences that at the time seem to lack importance. Then months, or even years later, these experiences take on a significance that we never realized they would. So it was to be with pop-up books. When I left Rare to start Nyamyam, we were thinking about what we wanted our first game to be. As I alluded to before, we had a sense of the kind of games we wanted to make, but we didn’t have any clear idea of what it should be. We knew we wanted to make something for the new iPad and touch as it seemed to be an exciting new platform and we were inspired by the possibilities. We also knew that we wanted to make something that inspired a sense of wonder in the player.
By pure chance we came across a short animation video on YouTube that beautifully showed a pop-up book flipping between a sequence of pages. Almost immediately this sparked the earlier memories and experiences I had had with pop-up books, and we talked excitedly about what a game built around pop-up could look like. As with all ideas, there is a spark which can come from anywhere. The spark on its own is of limited use. It needs time, space and energy to grow in to a fully fledged idea, and then even more time to turn the idea into a reality. Of the two and a half years we’ve spent making Tengami, the spark took about an hour. Developing the ideas took months. Executing the ideas took years.