Tengami, quite honestly, is one of my more anticipated titles of the year, and I don’t even own an iPad. Perhaps it’s the feudal Japan setting that really got me, or maybe the uniqueness of the pop-up world concept. Despite whatever the reason is, Tengami is gearing up to be a truly different game for both indie games and video games in general. Fresh off their stint at PAX East (where I have gathered reception was truly remarkable for Tengami) and GDC, I managed to interview both Phil Tossell and Jennifer Schneidereit, the two individuals responsible for the founding of Nyamyam and the development of Tengami hoping I could receive some information about their upcoming release for all you readers out there who’ve yet to experience this game:

First things first: Nyamyam was present at both PAX East and GDC recently. How did PAX East go for the both of you? Were there any interesting things that happened during your tenure there?

Phil: “PAX exceeded all of our expectations. Before going we’d imagined what it might be like but since it was our first time we didn’t know what it would actually be like. All the people we met were really friendly, engaging and knowledgeable about games, and the response to Tengami was overwhelmingly positive. Just having the chance to watch so many people enjoy playing the game was worth it alone. In addition to showing the game, I also took part in a panel about storytelling in indie games. This was a really enjoyable experience.”

tengami_passagewayI know Phil was not able to make it to GDC, but Jennifer was able to make the trip out there. How was your first GDC with Nyamyam? 

Jennifer- “My first GDC with Nyamyam was actually quite a bit different than previous years. For starters, I could not afford a conference pass which meant that I had to pass on all the sessions. This left me initially a bit worried whether I would be able to fill my schedule sufficiently to warrant the trip, but that turned out to be quite the opposite. I arranged to meet with a lot of press over the course of the week as well as business meetings. There were also a ton of parties and mixers each night that were great for networking and exchanging experiences.”

Now that I’ve got those out of the way, I guess I can get into some details about Tengami and Nyamyam. Before you two founded this new studio, you both worked at Rare. At what point did the two of you decide to break off to form Nyamyam and was there any specific reason?

Phil: “The number one reason that we wanted to start Nyamyam was a desire that we both had to make games that were more creative and meaningful to us. Working at Rare was an amazing experience but over the years the role had changed due to increasing team sizes and budgets. We wanted to get back to being more hands on and more directly involved in every aspect of the game. We also wanted to break out of the boundaries imposed by the traditional roles that we were in. We are both programmers originally but we wanted to expand our skills and continue to grow as game creators.

I think the thing that tipped us over the edge to finally do it was when the first iPad came out. It felt like the timing was just right and that the iPad would provide a new platform that allowed us to apply our console skills more than on the existing phone platforms.”

Tengami is quite a fascinating title mainly because of its artistic quality with the world inspired by popup books of tengami_foldthathousemany people’s childhood days. Did the both of you have the idea of a popup world from the beginning or were there some other ideas that you juggled with before settling on that?

Phil: “We were clear from very early on that we wanted to make a game based around a popup world. We felt it was something that would be really unique and that would fit with the iPad perfectly. Just the thought of being able to hold this popup world in your hand and fluidly manipulate it felt like a really exciting idea and it went from there. Of course we didn’t have any idea in the beginning what a game based around popup would actually be like. So following the initial idea there was almost a year of experimenting and trying things before we arrived at what you see now.”

Of course, for anyone who’s seen screens, trailers, or even played the demo, the game does take place in feudal Japan. To Jennifer, did your time at Acquire help inspire placing the game in that setting? I know Acquire is well known for Way of the Samurai, Shinobido, and (a personal favorite of mine) Tenchu, which are all, games centered in feudal Japan.

Jennifer: “Tengami is indeed set in a feudal Japanese setting, though it is more fairy tales rather than historically inspired. Actually, Phil and I both love traditional Japan and, of course, Ryo is Japanese. The decision to go for a feudal Japanese setting was mutual.

Specifically for me, having worked on the Shinobido and Way of the Samurai series the theme is very familiar and welcome, as I love these kind of games. Compared with my colleagues at Acquire I am not an expert on the topic though. Shinobido and especially Way of the Samurai have a lot of references to little known historic facts for example, whereas with Tengami we try to approach the topic in a much lighter and more accessible fashion.”

tengami_toriigateFrom what I’ve heard, Tengami is not out to literally tell a story to the player (correct me if I’m wrong). Not trying to make any comparisons, but is it similar to, say, what thatgamecompany attempted to do with their games illicit some form of emotion or to have the game relatable in a different way to each player? 

Jennifer: “With Tengami we are trying to tell a story through the player’s actions, experiences and emotions. What is it that you see, do and feel while playing Tengami? There is very little text and we hope that players will be able to infer Tengami’s story and message, rather than being explicitly told what it is. The message or metaphor we are trying to convey can indeed have its own meaning to each player and we do encourage that.

Some people who have played the demo linked Tengami to thatgamecompany’s Journey. Unfortunately I don’t own a PS3 and could not play any of their games yet, so I can neither confirm or deny a similar approach.”

Seeing as how it’s getting closer and closer to the game’s release (this summer if I recall), I’d assume that development is quickly entering the final stages. On a personal level, what has been your favorite part about developing this game? 

Jennifer: “I really like the level building. It is a lot of fun to use the Paper Kit (our pop-up tool) and build the folding world of Tengami.”

Phil: “On a purely development level I’ve enjoyed building the Paper Kit that we use to build all of the scenes in the game. It was very technically challenging to create an easy to use tool that would allow us to do this. The other thing I never stop smiling about is when people open their first popup when playing the game and the reaction that invariably follows.”

Tengami is coming out for tablet devices this summer and later in the year it is expected that a PC/Mac release will launch. Are there any other release plans following that or are those the big ones that you want to focus on with this title?

Jennifer: “We are hoping to bring Tengami to the Wii U as well. The GamePad seems to be a natural fit for the game.”

Final question: Will people see you at E3 this year? 

Jennifer: “There are currently no plans to show at E3, but if the opportunity came up we wouldn’t miss it.”

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Well, it’s sad that they might not be making an appearance at E3. As things would turn out, Nyamyam seem to be thinking the same thing as I did regarding placing Tengami on the Wii U. I think the Gamepad features could be utilized well with the game.

Well, for those of you interested in Nyamyam’s first title, Tengami will be available sometime this summer for iOS devices first and foremost. Eventually, we’ll see a move to PC and Mac later in the year and, maybe, the Wii U at some point. You can always check out more information about them at their official website.