Ever since I saw Jupiter & Mars for the PlayStation VR announced at PSX 2017, there was something that drew me in. It is one thing to look at something and see it, but it is another to experience it in Virtual Reality. There is just something about what I saw and what would sure to be a glorious and refreshing experience. So I reached out to Tigerton to get some of their thoughts, some of their inspirations and to learn more about Jupiter & Mars and James Mielke, Creative Director and Sam Kennedy, Executive Producer from Tigertron was more than happy to help out.
Sam Kennedy; Executive Producer & James Mielke; Creative Director
Hello and welcome to The PlayStation Brahs. Please introduce yourself. What is a typical day like at Tigertron?
James Mielke, Tigertron: “We don’t get a lot of sleep around these parts. First I get up and take my kids to school, and then, wide awake, return to the studio to review progress on the game and write up feedback and multitask on everything else we need to do, which involves coordinating with colleagues in California, Canada, London, Japan, and Australia. Since the bulk of the game is being developed in Melbourne, Australia, it means we’re up late at night until the wee hours. Oftentimes this means I get on average about three hours of sleep a night.”
For those that may not be aware, what are some other games or projects that you and Tigertron have been part of?
Mielke: “Speaking for myself, I spent a number of years in Tokyo at Q Entertainment, working on games like Child of Eden and Lumines Electronic Symphony. I had a number of options when I moved into game development, after spending 12 years or so in the media at EGM and 1UP.com, but I went to Q Entertainment because the style of their games and creative officer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s past work (Rez, Space Channel 5) really appealed to me. You can see the DNA of those projects in Jupiter & Mars. I then left Q Entertainment after the conclusion of Lumines for PS Vita and went to work at the unrelated Q-Games in Kyoto, where I came up with the idea for BitSummit, an indie event held annually in Kyoto.”
So there is this game coming out that have dolphins and Virtual Reality combined coming out this year. I know when I first saw it, there was something about the art style and being underwater. Can you please give us some more detail and information about Jupiter & Mars?
Mielke: “Jupiter & Mars is a “marine adventure” game playable on both PS4 without VR and with PSVR. Of course, it offers a lot more immersion if you play in VR, which is our way of providing an aquatic experience without requiring 80 lbs of scuba gear. It’s set in a possible future Earth, where mankind has disappeared, and the animals left behind must contend with the still functioning mechanisms abandoned by humans. Jupiter and Mars are two bottlenose dolphins, traveling together, who find themselves initially helping various forms of sea life free themselves from the literal trappings of man. Later, however, they help an ancient whale known as an Elder rescue her child. It’s at this point that the Elders recognize Jupiter and Mars’ resourcefulness and ask them to free the other parts of the world where help is needed.”
What was the inspiration that made you want to bring these two dolphins to life?
Mielke: “It was the film The Cove, which documents, among other things, the annual dolphin slaughter in the Japanese town of Taiji. The official reason for this hunt is that it’s a tradition and that it feeds the town, although most Japanese people have never heard of eating dolphin meat. It’s a horrific practice and it bothered me enough to want to design a game about dolphins.”
About how long is Jupiter & Mars?
Mielke: “Hard to say as we know exactly what we’re doing, and can speedrun the game much more easily than first-time players can, as they explore everything. If you explore every last bit of the game to find all the treasures and rescue all of the sea creatures and trigger the various in-game events, I think the average player will spend a good amount of time in the game.”
The PSX 2017 announcement was amazing. How did you feel about the crowd reactions and did you get a chance to talk to any of the fans and hear their thoughts?
Mielke: “Thanks for saying so. Unfortunately I wasn’t there, so I can’t say myself, although I did hear the curious murmur on the live stream and then the cheers. I mean, it was the first time either our company Tigertron or our game Jupiter & Mars had been heard of, so I don’t blame people for being surprised. My partner Sam could speak to the live reaction more, though.”
Sam Kennedy: “I have to say, it was pretty awesome sitting in the crowd and hearing reactions first-hand. It seemed to be a puzzled excitement as the trailer ran, ranging from (paraphrasing) “is this a new Ecco the Dolphin?” to “what kind of game is this?” to “wow those graphics look trippy.” Honestly, it felt neat to show up with something that genuinely surprised people. In this day and age of constant leaks and trickles of news, it felt good to see people caught by surprise by something. Just speaking as a gamer, that made me happy.”
That song that was playing, what is the name of it and who is it by? Great selection by the way.
Mielke: “You’re probably referring to ‘Shooting Stars’ and it’s the theme song we wrote for the game with Jonathan Atkinson and Nami Miyahara. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
Was Jupiter & Mars been built with Virtual Reality in mind from the beginning?
Mielke: “It wasn’t actually, but it was a pretty obvious choice for VR when we pitched it to Sony because the ability to swim around in VR, underwater, is a pretty universally appealing idea. I first came up with the idea closer to 2010, when motion controls were all the rage. I didn’t design it with the Kinect or Move in mind either, but that’s what was trending at the time. VR wasn’t even a consideration then. But once Tigertron started bouncing ideas around about what we would make, this idea came back to the fold. We ran a bunch of ideas past Sony, and this was the one that stuck.”
When you first approached Sony with the idea, did they give you any suggestions or feedback? Were they very receptive to the idea?
Mielke: “Throughout the entire development process Sony has been there to offer feedback, whether it was camera or VR specific, or to give suggestions regarding all-around playability.”
What were some of the discoveries that you found when working with PlayStation VR? Were there any hurdles that maybe you were not expecting?
Mielke: “When creating a game in VR, things that you normally take for granted, like camera control, require a lot more consideration. Things like slowing down, or speeding up, where there’s a gradual increase or decrease, can create a lot of motion sickness in people. Sony’s got an entire team dedicated to usability and things that first-time VR developers may not even know to look out for. Fortunately, Jupiter & Mars has been a pretty smooth ride for most people. We debuted the game in Japan and no one seemed to have any ill effects from swimming through the oceans with our characters.”
What controllers are supported? Just Dualshock 4 or both Move controllers? Do you have a control scheme so that way we can know what to expect when controlling Jupiter & Mars? And we really get to control both of them?
Mielke: “We wanted to keep it as simple as possible and utilize the Dualshock 4, as that’s a controller that every PS4 owner has. We haven’t made any special motion controls for things like Move controllers. We also wanted to keep things as simple as possible. While we offer a few control schemes, to me the ‘Head Tilt’ is the most natural for VR, allowing you to look around freely using the PSVR headset, but also turning with your head.
You do get to control both dolphins, but you primarily play as Jupiter, to scan the environments using Echo powers. But Mars functions as something like your action button. He’ll swim alongside you and examine the area if you leave him alone, but when you need to open a treasure shell or interact with something, he’s your go-to dolphin.”
Do you feel that Virtual Reality is here to stay and really is the future of gaming? If so, why?
Mielke: “We certainly have a ways to go before it’s as mainstream as the consoles themselves, but that has to do with streamlining the hardware, reducing the price point, and minimizing motion sickness, all of which will simply take time. But I’m confident it’s here for the long haul and not yet another peripheral gimmick of the industry.”
Do we have a release date or at least a release month or window of when to expect Jupiter & Mars?
Mielke: “We’re targeting late summer as our release date.”
Do we know a price point to expect? And will there be a PlayStation Plus discount for the first week?
Mielke: “We’re not ready to announce just yet, but we’re making sure that the game is reasonably priced and comparable to similar content on the market.”
For the physical collectors out there, where there be one for Jupiter & Mars?
Mielke: “As a fan of physical games, box art, disc art, etc., ourselves, this is something we’re hoping to achieve for Jupiter & Mars.”
If all goes well, could we expect maybe more in the future as either a separate game or maybe some DLC?
Mielke: “That’s always the hope. A lot of it comes down to budget and development time. But we’d love to see more of Jupiter & Mars in the future.”
With the catalog of PlayStation VR games and experiences growing greatly, what would you say to someone on why they should pick up Jupiter & Mars?
Mielke: “It’s one thing to strap on a virtual scuba suit and dive into the ocean, but it’s another to dive deeply as a dolphin and explore our neon-lit, musical, marine underworld. If you play video games to experience things you can’t do in real life, then you should play Jupiter & Mars.”
And is there any other games or projects that Tigertron is working on for the future for PlayStation VR that you would like to mention or that can be discussed at this time?
Mielke: “We’re just trying to get Jupiter & Mars polished and ready, but hopefully we’ll be able to talk about our next game shortly after we’re finished!”
I really want to thank both Sam and James for taking the time out of their day for answering the questions as we all wait for Jupiter & Mars to come to the PlayStation VR. To learn more about Tigertron and Jupiter & Mars, please visit the site and make sure you like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.
In case you missed the PSX 2017 announcement trailer, please enjoy.
Please enjoy the new 2018 Bitsummit trailer.
Please enjoy the new E3 2018 trailer.