Having now become fixed on the idea of creating a ‘folding world’ we began to investigate what a game built around pop-up might look like and play like. First we learnt how to build real pop-ups and we must have built hundreds of prototypes to understand the mechanics and artistry involved. We also spent considerable time learning about the history of pop-ups which is fascinating in itself.
We got to the point where we had an intuitive understanding of how pop-ups worked but still had no idea how to translate these into a methodical construction process suitable for a computer. We also had no idea what this pop-up world would look like. Most pop-up books are typically aimed at children and consequently the art style employed is very much in the vein of traditionally illustrated children’s books. We knew from the beginning that this was not what we wanted for our game. After much discussion we realized that the heart of a pop-up book is paper (or strictly speaking card). This realization had a profound knock-on effect that would bring us to our second major influence: Japanese paper.
Jennifer, Ryo and I all love Japan. We all have our own unique connection with Japan that became a unifying strength for us in making Tengami. For me personally, that connection originated in Japanese video games, anime and manga, all of which I enjoyed as a teenager. That fascination led me years later to the first of many visits to Japan, during which I discovered the traditional side of Japan. In particular I developed a great appreciation for the subtle charms of Japanese paper (known as washi).
Washi is handmade paper and has a long history in Japan. It comes in many different styles, both simple and patterned that lends it a remarkable versatility. In Japan, far from being used just for writing, it is used in making almost anything you can imagine. Few people realize but hand-making paper is an incredibly arduous task involving a huge amount of physical labor as well as care and attention to detail. The result is a remarkably strong paper that has a natural beauty that comes from the processes used to make it. In many ways the whole paper-making process became a metaphor for what we wanted to do with Tengami: effortless, understated beauty to the observer but underpinned by a huge amount of hard work, care and attention spent on every detail. Working with Ryo, we looked at many different kinds of washi to narrow down what would suit a pop-up world. In the end we found that the simpler styles gave exactly what we were looking for.
In many ways Japanese pop-up is an anachronism. Pop-up as we currently know it originated in Germany and has no history natively in Japan. Yet somehow the organic melding of East-meets-West felt like an entirely natural self-expression for a game that is being made by a Brit, a German and a Japanese. It reflects very clearly the personality and background of each of us. It reflects our passions and our inspirations in life. This, to me, is what it means to be indie.
When I read all those books as a child I longed to give form to the worlds and thoughts I created in my imagination. I longed to share them with other people. Making Tengami gives me the chance to do just that. It gives me the chance to give form to ideas and moments in my life that have profoundly affected me and to share them with other people. Succeed or not, this is what inspires me every day.