A shadow puppet adventure about light manipulation, curiosity and lost art.
Projection is a game in which you control a light to cast shadows that can be used as physical platforms. To solve puzzles, explore new and wonderful worlds rooted in the historic tradition and the forgotten art of shadow puppetry with both Indonesian and Chinese roots from the team. The childlike wonder seeps into the game as your explorations are accompanied by an adventurous tone setting musical score.
Play both puppet and puppeteer, you navigate gorgeously sculpted theatre sets with multiple layers of shadow casting.
Beautifully and lovingly crafted, you could forgive one for calling Projection not just a game but an artistic puzzle masterpiece.
Smooth and easy to get into but hard to put down. I enjoyed the hands on play before PAX and would recommend Projection to anyone who enjoys puzzle and adventure style games
I caught up with Michael Chu, the designer of Projection, to talk about the process that inspired making the game. I recently asked his advice to aspiring game designers and the most embarrassing song (or two) in his music playlist.
What was the main inspiration behind making projection for you?
Michael: [Yeah] it’s almost off memory now. Basically, it was made at a game jam and the theme [of the game jam] was so close. I was thinking about some fun that I had at home with a low hanging light bulb. I would always enjoy making shadows off of that and at one stage. I was thinking about what would it be like if i could add to this.
You have to understand at the time I was making a game a week. So any opportunity I had, anything I could find at the time.
[And] so this was basically a result of one of those games that came out, doing a game a week. So I decided to try moving shadows around and was like, “What happens if you could walk on them?” Then Yosha, my artist saw this and replied, “Oh, you should do shadow puppets with that.” It was very natural once the mechanic was born. So that’s where the inspiration for the idea, the mechanics and the art style came from.
Playing with what i have played with so far, it blends really well together. The different layers you have of the background and your character, being able to play as both the puppet and puppeteer is really cool too. It’s definitely an interesting concept as you were studying at the time or you went to a game camp, you said.
It’s called Game Jam. Game Jam is where you have 48 hours to make a video game. It’s a lot of fun going to these. Basically, Game Jam is a good opportunity to find out just what you’re capable of, in a short amount of time. At the time, I was trying to do a game a week, so it was very good to build up a portfolio but also, learn what I could do with making games and at the time, I was studying. I was studying programming and then making the game. Making Projection for the last few years, I was studying accounting. I think it was important that making Projection didn’t feel like a chore but also – if I wanted to be able to pursue my dream of making the game – I would have to be able to run a business. Thats where accounting helps out a lot.
That answers a couple of my other questions about whether you studied something else or just kinda fall into doing game design straight away. I know with the game design and animation markets that it can be difficult to be focused on that and have something, say, paying your bills.
That’s right. I started off doing animation myself and then moving into game design. Basically, I didn’t have to do a whole course. I did my undergraduate back in 2008 – that’s almost ten years! I’ve studied media communications and then there was one subject of game design. It’s not a whole course as there was just one subject. It’s learning about any sort of games – not necessarily programming – and that’s the foundation for designing games, I suppose. From creating ideas and learning how mechanics flow into aesthetics etc. So I think its important to have something beforehand, like game programming or animation. But you can expand into game design after that, which is good because that’s what I did and I have fun doing that.
So obviously, you decided that was what you wanted to do.
I didn’t actually know [when I wanted to make video games]. It wasn’t when I was in primary, high school or anything like that. Because it just seemed like an impossible dream to make something like games. It was only when you actually go out and try to make a game that you realised, “Oh – this is actually possible. Oh cool! I’m going to try and make a game.”
Then there’s building a portfolio [Oh my gosh!] – making a portfolio is so important. Having done a game a week, making 60 games over a year – I wouldn’t be making Projection now if I hadn’t done all that beforehand.
At the moment, Projection is your main big title or have you released others as well?
Yes, this is is our first game. Personally, I’ve put up free games online before because I felt that the games I made weren’t really good enough to warrant asking people for money.
This one is where I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work and dedication. Hopefully, people will want to be able to buy it. Because we can’t to be able to make another game and keep everyone alive and you know, eating. Even now, we have our day jobs and work on Projection in the evening. I earn from my day job and it goes to paying the other people who are working on the game and to make sure that the game is still running on track.
We’re really making do with what we’ve got from our own pockets to be able to fund the game.
There was a pivotal point when you decided you wanted to make video games. Was there a defining moment or did you just try, worked out and you just stuck with it?
[Yeah] The defining moment I guess is when I decided to start making a game a week because that happened overnight. It happened after Global Game Jam and I decided I could do so much better and this will only happen if I start putting my mind to it. For me, making a goal was really important. Just in that one night, I decided that I’m going to try and start making a game a week. Later that year, I formed the company. Also, forming the company is a defining moment as well because that means you’re out realising your dream. On those two occasions, I guess it was for personal reasons. It wasn’t someone telling me what I have to do, it was just, “What can I do to prove to myself – and that’s what I wanna do.”
That’s very important. It’s not just about other people sometimes, you have to convince yourself as well.
Being that you are a gamer, what is your favourite game series or game of all time? Do you have a particular game that you absolutely love? For example if anyone talked trash about that game you would fight them.
(laughs) I do flip between favourites all the time. Probably Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo. I really enjoy any sort of games that comes out and I try to play all of them – for different reasons. You can feel very emotional while playing Journey or The Walking Dead telltale series. The one I like to keep coming back to is Smash Brothers.
I know now what you have done recently, like you’ve accounting and what you’ve studied. What was your first job?
Before accounting and studying at university, I was a lifeguard. Watching people swim up and down swimming lanes and making sure they don’t drown. It was very boring and tiring but in hindsight, it was very good because it gave me a lot of time to think about what games I would make and I did that for eight years. Eight years of watching people swim.
That was my first job and I’m not going to forget it. Now, I’m doing programming at MYOB, so there’s that.
Unfortunately, with doing games full time, it goes through a long period of expenses. When you sell a game, you’ll get some revenue but even that’s questionable on how much you’ll get in return. It’s not really stable as a job which is why I opted for this. So that I can fund people now and keep myself going while working on this (Projection) on weekends and evenings.
You’ve said what you’ve studied but where did you study?
When I did my undergraduate in media communications, that was at UNSW. I learned to start doing animation and that’s where I did one semester of game design. I did accounting at Macquarie University and programming at the Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE which has a course for programming.
Would you have any other advice for people who are thinking about getting into the gaming industry? Anything specifically that you found has helped you.
Besides having a goal and a portfolio, I guess something that’s important is being prepared to fail a lot. Because even Projection came out after 60 other games that I really wanted to do, I think it’s important to find a game that you really believe in and for the people who are part of the project have faith in it.
That’s really important to find a really good one that you want and getting everyone to support you on that.
A bit of a fun one to tie it all up, what is the most embarrassing song or artist in your music library?
Embarrassing……. I don’t know if I feel embarrassed by any.
What do you feel yourself drawn to listen to when you’re working on games?
I guess one song that’s embarrassing I guess. Tiny Tim…… I think it’s, “Singing in the sunlight”, “Loving in the Moonlight” – he has a very high voice. Tiny Tim is the artist for that one.
I haven’t met anybody who has listened to tiny Tim in a while so that’s good.
I’m hoping that I can start a trend. Getting people to listen to old, unusual songs.
The other games that you have made in the past were free to play. Have you put them up on a website where people can download and play?
I made a Facebook page called “A game a week challenge”. I would put them up there but I also put them up on the Microsoft store. I visited the Microsoft offices in Sydney and previewed a very early prototype of Projection and found out that I was making a game a week. As a request, they asked me to put my games up on their store page and I just put them up there for free. I haven’t really maintained them much.
Official website – www.shadowplaystudios.com
Michael’s official Facebook page: A Game a Week – www.facebook.com/agameaweekchallenge