Interview: James Mielke of TigerTron

Interview: James Mielke of TigerTron

I’ve lived near the ocean for most of my life, so I’ve always felt a connection to it. Interestingly enough,  I’m not big on any ocean related activities though, so this is where my enjoyment of  ocean based video games comes in. My favorite Legend of Zelda game, Windwaker, involves sailing around the ocean and searching for treasure, while one of my favorite indie games of the past few years, Abzu, actually revolves around exploring the ocean and encountering many of the creatures which reside in it.

My enjoyment of the latter is what led me to find upcoming indie title Jupiter & Mars, which will be coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR on April 22.  I recently interviewed Creative Director James Mielke to learn more about the development of Jupiter & Mars, his design choices, challenges the team faced, exclusivity, and what players can do to contribute to helping our oceans.

IndieHangover: For those who haven’t heard of it, how would you describe Jupiter & Mars?

James Mielke: Jupiter & Mars is an underwater adventure game, playable regularly and also in VR, where two dolphins (controlled by a single player) are tasked by a global network of ‘Elder whales’ to restore parts of the ocean where mankind once lived and have left behind their destructive machines. It’s up to Jupiter & Mars to get into the places the Elders can’t reach and revive the realm. Along the way, Jupiter and Mars will unlock various power-ups that allow them to submerge deeper than ever, and meet some of the ocean’s most mysterious creatures.

Jupiter & Mars takes place over the course of five distinct biomes, which take place in sunken coastal cities, like New York, London, and Mykonos, along with various tropical island settings. The difference is these cities are now underwater, so you’ll see them in ways you’ve never seen before.

IH: Why did you choose to feature dolphins and whales specifically?

JM: When I worked at Q Entertainment in Tokyo, working on Child Of Eden, I heard about and then watched this movie The Cove. It’s about an annual dolphin slaughter in the town of Taiji, Japan. It’s really disturbing to watch, because the slaughter is senseless. But it’s a thrilling movie to watch because of all the espionage involved with filming this documentary. Their follow-up film Racing Extinction is equally absorbing and even more inspiring. So, it’s actually a little foggy to me why I designed a game with two dolphins, especially as we were brainstorming ideas for games using Kinect and Move controllers at the time, but it was always about two dolphins exploring underwater cities.

The whales came later, based on a need for someone or something to basically give Jupiter and Mars their missions. Since whales are known to communicate around the world, it makes sense that they’re the overseers that inform each other where the trouble spots are in the oceans. They’re also a nice contrivance, as they open powerful portals by tapping into the ocean currents, allowing the dolphins to basically warp from place to place. It wouldn’t make sense to have to fade to black and then display the words “1 month later” because everyone would wonder what happened to them in the interim.

IH: Why did you name characters Jupiter and Mars and what is the significance behind them?

JM: I’m always inspired by music and film, and I was probably listening to Frank Sinatra at the time, because the lyric “let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars” stuck with me, and I wondered what a game with two characters with those names would be like. I imagine that most people wouldn’t expect a game with two dolphins going by that name, though.

IH: What inspired the visual style?

JM: The games I’ve worked on in the past—Child Of Eden and Lumines Electronic Symphony at Q Entertainment—both offer beautiful, highly evocative neon stylings and futuristic graphics. I want to keep elements of that in my work now, in Jupiter & Mars and anything I work on in the future. So it stands to reason that with all the chemicals and junk that gets dumped into the oceans, like it’s the world’s toilet or something, that the creatures of the sea might evolve or become mutated in a way. In the case of the dolphins and whales, they’ve acquired glowing markings that reflect a bit of their personalities. It also gives us license to create an underwater world that’s quite different than anything similar that’s come before, like Aquanaut’s Holiday.

IH: What other games would you say Jupiter & Mars has been inspired by?

JM: Ico and The Last Guardian, for the companionship theme. Super Metroid for how we gate certain areas behind power-ups that make sense in the context of the game (Aqualung allows Jupiter and Mars to swim deeper, for example). Sub Rebellion for the sonar/echolocation effect, and Panzer Dragoon (Japanese cover art pictured above) again for the two-character dynamic, and also the approach to storytelling.

IH: What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face during development?

JM: Creating a VR game when there wasn’t that much science behind the dos and don’ts at the time we started. Now, in 2019, it’s a whole different ballgame, but back in early 2016 we didn’t have as many examples to learn best practices from. Also, our development team was based in Melbourne, Australia, and I’d be lying if I said that the time difference wasn’t a bit of a handicap. That and not being in the same room to give instant feedback made it harder than it would have been if the development had been more local.

IH: Will Jupiter & Mars stay exclusive to PlayStation or could we see it on other platforms in the future?

JM: It’s possible we may bring it to other platforms in the future. It’s a six-month timed exclusive with Sony, which I think is pretty cool since I’ve always enjoyed the idea of console exclusives. But, that said, it would be nice to share what we’ve done with gamers on other platforms as well. There’s interest coming from other publishers, so it’s definitely possible.

IH: What do you hope players gain from the experience?

JM: I hope that people enjoy themselves first and foremost. If they enjoy themselves, then my secondary objective—which is to inspire them to think about the state of the world in Jupiter & Mars, and wonder whether these things could come to pass. If they Wikipedia some facts, and walk away from our game a little bit more aware, then we all benefit.

IH: What or where would you say are the best places players can learn more about helping our oceans?

JM: Definitely by checking out the websites of SeaLegacy, The Ocean Foundation, and The Oceanic Preservation Society. We collaborated with the first two on Jupiter & Mars, and the last group inspired Jupiter & Mars. I’d say you can’t go wrong checking out the very different and yet very connected missions of those three organizations.

Jupiter & Mars is now available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR  through the PlayStation Store.

Make sure check out our review of the game to see our thoughts on it.

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