Tearaway’s origins and the ambitious games that almost were

Tearaway, the whimsical PS Vita exclusive from Media Molecule, is unlike anything I’ve ever played. That’s a very good thing – the game’s paper world and open playgrounds are refreshing indeed – but it’s interesting to note how development on this charmer began. Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with Media Molecule level designer Christophe Villedieu at a preview event in Hollywood, and what he told me about Tearaway’s origins, and the game it could have been, took me by surprise.

The fully-3D adventure was first envisioned at one of the studio’s yearly "Game Jams", where every one of its 40-odd members present an idea for a game. It’s a creative, collaborative clash of some of the best minds in gaming, and the most impressive showings stand a chance at being green-lit for production or further exploration. So it was that Tearaway came about, designed to leverage the imaginative power of life’s simplest tool – paper.

Alongside Tearaway, a whole host of game ideas were presented by Media Molecule staffers. Christophe’s own idea – a 3D space shooter in the vein of Zero Wing – didn’t seem to take off, but I was astounded to hear of other (highly ambitious) ideas. One team member put forth the concept for a game where levels are randomly generated from the content of Tweets, of which a steady feed provides ever-changing content. A similar idea was constructed around Google Images, where the content of photos could impact the game in some way and supply the player with endless fun. This idea actually gained a good deal of support, but was soon abandoned when Media Molecule discovered that Google’s API is a nightmare to work with.

Still more ideas, like the projection of clay figures onto 3D shapes in-game, didn’t take off, but it’s riveting to peek inside the creative process of this storied PlayStation studio. And, who knows – maybe one of the ideas mentioned here will form the basis for Media Molecule’s secret, unannounced title.