This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.
Papetura takes players to a handcrafted world made entirely out of paper, following a character that is trying to make sure its house doesn't get burned down.
Game Developer sat down with Petums, developer of the IGF Excellence in Visual Art-nominated title, to talk about the process behind creating characters and locations entirely out of paper, the challenges of working with that material, and the work that went into capturing these real-world creations and bringing them into the game.
Game Developer Who are you, and what was your role in developing Papetura?
Tomasz Ostafin: My name is Tomasz Ostafin, and I developed and published Papetura. My role was to do everything except music, which was handled by Tomas Dovrak-Floex, and the sound effects were made by Juraj Mravec.
What's your background in making games?
Ostafin: I started out with various experiments and having fun with programming, but as a graphic artist and animator, coding scripts turned out to be too difficult for me. Therefore, it was only in the era of Flash games that I had the opportunity to create two smaller games, as they could be based mainly on animations. After them, I decided to educate myself more, so I started working on Papetura.
How did you come up with the concept for Papetura?
Ostafin: Papetura is an attempt to create a world out of paper. My plans were big, but as I was making the game, I realized that it was good if I made something small and achievable that I could finish. The story in the game is quite autobiographical and symbolic, so that’s why I was so stubborn not to throw it into trash. The very concept of the world has changed several times, because along with the production, I learned what could be done better.
What development tools were used to build your game?
Ostafin: Due to the small budget, I used mostly free tools. Blender 3D helped me create paper sculptures, Pepakura Designer was used for meshes to be printed, and Photoshop for graphics. The game engine is Unity 3D. I programmed in Monodevelop in C#. Trello turned out to be useful for organizing tasks, and Audacity for simple sound editing.
What interested you in creating a game entirely out of paper?
Ostafin: It must have been the influence of The Neverhood, a game from 1996 where clay was used, and I also had paper near me laying around so it was a very tempting choice. In addition, I had experience in creating architectural models, so I used their most-important features—showing space, form, function and the light that permeates them.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of making some of these complex characters and places out of paper? How did you make these stunning models?
Ostafin: All these models are a mix of paper, glue, and sometimes wire or polystyrene. It all starts with a sketch and a prototype in the game engine. When all interactive elements are established, then I start to play with the form and look for interesting shapes and types of paper. Sometimes I use the printed 3D grid, but it's mainly an instinctive job, I just glue individual elements of places or characters by eye.
What thoughts went into creating the world and characters of the game? Into creating your world and its inhabitants?
Ostafin: The creations in the game are simply figments of my imagination. They resemble simple worms, and the surroundings are various plant forms. Each character has some backstory which is unfortunately not shown in the game, but it did help with the design of the characters. As I only use one color of paper for everything, the form of each character is of utmost importance to make it stand out from the background. Only one character, Tura, is covered in ink, but that's because of its magical properties.
What challenges came from using paper to create your visuals? How did you overcome them?
Ostafin: What distinguishes the use of a physical medium from digital is the need to create the final product right away, because corrections to it are very time-consuming. Therefore, it is necessary to plan long and carefully, and to test the game on prototype graphics.
In terms of the paper itself, it differs from other media such as clay in that it is more structural. Only forms allowed by the laws of physics can be made with flat sheets. Sometimes, I used to hang individual levels in the game on a fishing line, but the forms themselves and interiors of the levels were made stable using only paper. It was necessary to get to know the paper and make a lot of experiments, which also gave rise to many surprising ideas.
What goes into creating visuals that use physical objects you've created? Can you tell us about the process of transferring your paper creations into your game world?
Ostafin: Transferring paper models to a computer is a typical ‘movie industry’ task, but it differs in a few ways. The model must be photographed multiple times for each lighting style so that you can turn off individual lights in the game later. The scene typically consists of continuous lighting, reflective panels, background, a camera on a tripod, and the model itself, of course, all in a darkened room. The characters are photographed in a similar setting, but they are set in different positions, depending on what character animation was needed. The final stage is cutting out individual graphics from photos, such as will be needed in the game.
Do you feel that handcrafted worlds can have a different effect on players than other visual styles? Do you feel your handmade world hits differently than other styles of game? Why or why not?
Ostafin: Paper, like any other material, gives you the opportunity to create fantastic worlds. There is a rule that says that an imaginary world can only be unreal to a certain extent. It must resemble the real world, otherwise we will perceive it as a pure, unknown abstraction. I think that creating with paper helped to push this boundary and I could allow myself more artistic freedom, because real models themselves are grounded in reality.
This game, an IGF 2022 finalist, is featured as part of the IGF Awards ceremony, taking place at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, March 23 (with a simultaneous broadcast on GDC Twitch).