Video Games Interview: Media Molecule’s Rex Crowle talks Tearaway: Unfolded

Late last week, we got a chance to chat to Rex Crowle from Media Molecule about the developer’s upcoming title, Tearaway: Unfolded.  We asked him about the decisions that go into making a game as unique as Tearaway and how Media Molecule approach the task of moving the game, built for the PSVita, to a new home on the PS4.

The Iris: Media Molecule are known for making games that are all about inspiration, creativity and personality – what inspires a game like Tearaway?

Rex Crowle: There are lots of different goals, but we defiantly don’t go into a room and decide we’re going to make an RPG or a specific game genre. We tend to come at it from a top-level (making a world that’s tactile and feels personal to the player), combined with some experimental prototyped interactions that coders and designers have been working on, along with the strong metaphor that can bind them together. Tearaway was a combination of making a tactile paper world, making something that could really use the hardware in unusual and characterful ways, and was also inspired by the creativity we saw in fans of our games to make their own content, both within games and outside of it.

Rex is a handsome devil.
Rex is a handsome devil.

What would have been the biggest challenge in bringing Tearaway from the Vita handheld to the PS4?

RC: It’s obviously very different piece of hardware, and while theres the exciting boost in processing power so you can do even more then before, there are some hardware elements that we couldn’t rely on anymore. The camera is probably the biggest one for me. We knew that every player on Vita would have the camera (unless they had stuck tape over its lens!) so we were able to really integrate that into the story and make the player feel directly part of the story, seeing themselves appearing in the game as they played.

With Tearaway Unfolded on PS4 we couldn’t rely on the camera, its a fantastic addition if you do have one (and it makes streaming the game really interesting too!) but we couldn’t stop players from playing if they didn’t have it. So we boosted the game in other areas to offset that. For instance, a lot of work went into connecting the game with the Playstation App, so anyone with a tablet or phone on the same wifi network can send photos and hand-drawn customisations from the app into the game world, increasing that connection between real-world and game-world, and making a the game more of a multiplayer experience at the same time!


TI: Media Molecule’s characters are so unique and characterful – a person made of yarn, a boy or girl who is basically a sentient envelope. It’s gold. How does a character like Iota/Atoi come about?

RC: They come about through a lot of iteration and refinement – I could show you a lot of prototype Sackboys or iotas which you’d struggle to feel positive emotions toward! I don’t think there is a big secret, my biggest tip is that our characters come from practical believable origins. Everyone can tell what Sackboy is because of the construction, the zip on the belly gives a sense of scale. Similarly iota & atoi have an envelope for a head, it sets the scale and also poses the question “Whats in the envelope?” which is the story of the whole game.

Plus it probably helps that they are quite enigmatic, they aren’t wise-cracking and annoying you as you play, that are containers for the player to customise and develop themselves, so they form a bond with them, instead of having that bond broken each time they open their mouths or do something in a cut-scene that the player didn’t want to do.

If your game doesn't let us ride pigs around, we don't want to know about it.
If your game doesn’t let us ride pigs around, we don’t want to know about it.

TI: The second screen capability struck me as a really smart way to keep Tearaway’s touch-based origins intact. Having implemented it here, could you see that functionality becoming more prominent in PS4 titles going forward?

RC: I hope so! So many players told us that they had enjoyed playing Tearaway on the Vita with their children or siblings, but obviously that’s quite a hard thing to do with a handheld game! So aside from having a big-screen TV for everyone to sit around for Unfolded, the fact that most families will have 1 or more tablets or smartphones in them meant that we’d be able to make it a much more inclusive game for the rest of the family.

The app was created by Nathan Ruck, who also did all the customisation systems in the main game and its something that really revitalised our own playthoughs of the game in the studio. After a few months you are generally playing the same content again and again, but thanks to the work that Nathan did on the app, it meant they we were constantly trolling or surprising each each other with random acts of creativity.

The phrase “Companion App” has become slightly dreaded I think, which is a shame – as there’s so much potential in allowing tablets and phones to interact directly with a game, but it needs developers to treat it as importantly as the main game and not a unconnected side-project.

TI: In your experience, are some of the design challenges associated with creating such a multifaceted game like Tearaway?

RC: Mostly its tying it all together and making it cohesive. it would be so so much easier to make a bunch of mini-games and not to have to worry about how you make them part of a cohesive fantasy world. It’s hard to say how much of the development time goes into that process, but its a lot! And it really needs everyone on the team to understand the game and its internal logic and make sure their work maintains that fantasy, as that fantasy can be a fragile thing!

TI: Other games don’t let me make animated gifs in-game and post them online. Yours does, though. Whose idea was that and will you hug them for me?

RC: Ha! Well the way Tearaway moves is as important as how it looks when its static. We have the stop-frame-animation style, to make it look like the paper has partially come to life, but its not silky smooth, its fighting with its origins. And sometimes its quite hard to do the game justice when representing it in a static screenshot, so little animated gifs were always the best way to show off the Vita game when we were sharing it with the community.

So when we were working out ways to expand the creative tools for Tearaway Unfolded, an Animated-Gif lens was a big favourite with the team, to allow players to do that themselves, directly on the PS4, again this something that Nathan then worked on implementing, so I guess he gets the biggest hug!


Our sincere thanks to Rex for taking the time to talk to us. Tearaway: Unfolded is out today on PlayStation 4! Look for our full review in the coming days AND keep your eyes peeled for a chance to win some amazing Tearaway prizes!


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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.