LOS ANGELES - It's one of those video game ideas that sounded good on paper. And on paper is exactly where it stayed.
Tearaway is an action-adventure game in the works at Media Molecule, the U.K.-based studio behind the much-loved LittleBigPlanet series. Due out later this year for Sony's PlayStation Vita handheld games machine, Tearaway's novel conceit is the game world looks as though it's made entirely out of paper, from roads that unfurl in front of the player's character to papercraft beasties that try to rip him apart.
And players don't just go hands-on with the game. They'll go hands-in.
"You, as the player, exist as a character," says Tearaway lead designer Rex Crowle during a PlayStation showcase event in Los Angeles, where Tearaway was featured. "We're not just breaking the fourth wall, but tearing it up and throwing it away."
The idea for the game came about when Media Molecule staffers noticed that all the reams of piled, crinkled, crumpled paper on their desks - most of it printouts of artwork concepts for games - looked sort of like a miniature landscape of paper peaks and valleys, ripe for exploring.
The game's protagonists are little envelope-headed people named Iota and Atoi (the latter meaning "to you" in French, Crowle points out, although it's also simply Iota spelled backwards.) They have messages for you, the player, stored in their little paper minds. But the only way they can relay these messages is by successfully undertaking several rites of passage in the hostile paper world. And for that they need help.
In addition to using the standard control sticks and buttons, players can touch the Vita's screen to flip, move and tear sheets of paper in the game world. At certain spots in the story, players can push their fingers into the Vita's touch-sensitive back panel, and an on-screen representation of their fingertips will appear to poke directly into the game world. (To enhance this illusion, the game asks players to pick a preferred gender and skin tone, so that the fingers poking around inside the game world more closely resemble their own.)
It's novel and whimsical and, from our hands-on time with the game, adorably fun. But more importantly, it's an original idea that has the potential to become a hit, something Sony desperately needs for Vita. Demand for the high-tech $250 gaming device has not been especially strong since it launched a year ago, with Sony's own CEO admitting in a recent interview that sales are at the low end of the company's expectations.
If Tearaway can convince people that it's fun to push, prod, swipe, tilt, rip and blow their way around storybook-style game worlds filled with adorable papercraft characters, it might give Vita sales a much-needed boost. And help Sony make that other kind of magic paper: the green stuff with numbers on it.