A Human Story: The Surreal Papo & Yo’s First Interview

Only just announced for the PSN, the exclusive title Papo & Yo is set to release on the PS3 next year as a Sony Pub Fund game. To find out more about the game, the story behind the plot and the growth of surrealism in the games industry, we talked to Vander Cabellero, founder and Creative Director of Minority in an exclusive first interview.

Hi, could you start by introducing yourself and telling us about your work at Minority?

My name is Vander Cabellero. I am the creative director and founder of Minority. My job is to inspire a group of talented, experienced game developers and film producers (who have recently converted to games) to make the most entertaining and honest experiences possible with our products.

Can you tell us a bit about the story of Papo & Yo?

The game is about a young boy, Quico, and his best friend, Monster. Monster is a huge beast with razor-sharp teeth, but that doesn’t scare Quico away from playing with him. That said, Monster does have a very dangerous problem: an addiction to poisonous frogs. The minute he sees one hop by, he’ll scarf it down and fly into a violent, frog-induced rage where no one, including Quico, is safe. And yet, Quico loves his Monster and wants to save him.

This story, the interaction between Quico and the monster he loves, is an allegory for my relationship with my father as a child.

If the game is centered about the story of Quico, his robot and Monster, why is it called Papo & Yo?

Papo refers back to my father. It’s a mash up of papa and babo, the Spanish and Italian words for father.

Is Monster the only monster in the world, or are there others?

My father was the only monster in my childhood and he is the only monster in this game. Rather than a game in which the goal is to slay as many monsters as you can, in Papo & Yo the goal is to explore the characters’ relationship, solve puzzles and, ultimately, save Monster.

From the trailer we can see that the game includes rocket boots – will it have platforming elements as well as puzzle ones?

Yes, it will have platforming elements that you will need to solve the puzzles. For instance, when Quico has the robot on his back he’ll be able to perform a double jump and reach heights he wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

The game seems to have a cartoony and childish vibe, but drug addiction is quite an adult theme – what is the game’s target audience?

This a human story that touches everyone. The experience is not so much about the metaphor of addiction, but the moral of it. The adult world is something really scary for a kid. Adults can flip between good and bad in a second – and as children we learn to cope with the varying craziness of human beings. That is part of growing up. And in this game, you experience that. Through this process of coping with this unstable monster, the boy becomes an independent being,  detached from the monster, and then able to save him. Addiction is just a catalyst to drive us into that human story.

Is the frog addiction simply a plot and gameplay element, or are you trying to send a message about the problems of substance abuse?

Addiction is a catalyst to drive us to the human story we are telling. I don’t want to send a moral message about substance abuse in this game, but I do want us to think about our addictions, our everyday addictions –  like appearance, consumption and overworking  — and the impact these have on our families, especially our relationship with our kids.

Most developers refrain from surrealist games as publishers worry that consumers prefer realism over style – are you at all concerned?

Publishers lose so much when thinking that way. It limits the stories we can tell as designers and artists. Just think of Brazil by Terry Gillam or Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton – where would we be without those excellent, surreal movies? It is so exciting that we are starting to drive that way in games.

How has the PSN downtime affected the announcement of your new title?

It didn’t really affect us because the game is still in development. PSN is a great platform for distribution and has excellent content you can’t find anywhere else – we’re happy to be a part of it.

Why did you decide to have Sony Online Entertainment as your publisher, restricting you to one platform?

Sony really liked Papo & Yo the first time they saw it and we ended up partnering with the Sony Pub Fund – it’s a great deal. Sony gives us support while we can focus on what we do best – develop games.

Is the game scheduled for early or late 2012?

Early 2012.

Are you planning on integrating multiplayer, 3D or Move support?

Multiplayer or Move doesn’t really suit the spirit of this game. That said, we do love the Move controller… but we’re not talking about that yet!