‘Tearaway’: Folklore and paper create a modern Vita experience

May 20, 2013 | 8:00 a.m.
An early look at the Vita's "Tearaway." (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

An early look at the Vita’s “Tearaway.” (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

As a showcase for modern technology, “Tearaway” for Sony’s hand-held gaming machine the Vita may not at first seem to be the most obvious contender. It is, after all, a game that aims to create a world that looks to be entirely constructed out of paper.

Yet “Tearaway,” due in October from “Little Big Planet” developer Media Molecule, impressed in a limited setting last week for its ability to strip away the boundaries between game and virtual worlds. It does so by making use of all of the Vita’s key features — the system’s front-and-back touchscreens, its microphone and its camera.

The game puts players in a God-like role overseeing a universe of exquisitely designed paper crafts. A tap of the Vita’s rear touchscreen will jolt a player’s finger straight into the game world. Suddenly, platforms and logs can just be swiped away from behind. Similarly, rip down one of the back walls — some of which appear to be constructed out of digital tissue paper — and unexpectedly it’s the face of the player peering down into the world like an overlord.

“Tearaway” will be showcased by Sony at next month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, and its arrival can’t seem to come soon enough. The Vita, like Nintendo’s Wii U, is in need of software that showcases the unique abilities of the device.

"Tearaway" takes full advantage of the Vita. (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

“Tearaway” takes full advantage of the Vita. (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

Sampled briefly at a pre-E3 press event, “Tearaway” appears to do just that. In development since before the Vita was released in the U.S. in early 2012, “Tearaway” looks to be an enchanting little game that can only be tied to the Vita.

“It is, but it’s one we can have a lot of fun with,” said Rex Crowle, the game’s creative lead. “The hardest bit is trying to glue this all together into something that makes sense for the player. The initial idea I had was that I wanted to get your fingers to come up through the world. It built out from the fingertips idea to making it feel as if the whole world is in your hands.”

Players at the start can pick from one of two characters, either a male messenger named Iota or a female messenger named Atoi. The heads of Iota and Atoi are essentially envelopes, and failed attempts to communicate between the paper world of the game and the real world have created a rift between universes. Now Iota or Atoi need the help of the player to get their messages delivered.

The digital paper universe looks hand-drawn (it isn’t), and the ability to blow into it or poke through it creates the overall effect that the world here is a fragile one. Tiny presents are smashed to create confetti (the currency of this world), monsters look constructed out of the remnants of a paper shredder, and when Iota or Atoi get in trouble, all players need to do is just poke through the screen to send their enemies scurrying.

One of the creatgure obstacles in "Tearaway." (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

One of the creature obstacles in “Tearaway.” (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

Like the “Mario Bros.” games and “Little Big Planet” before it, “Tearaway” doesn’t always make sense if one attempts to break down the world and explain it, yet everything seems completely logical when running around the universe. Instead of jumping, for instance, players tap the back of the Vita to hit little drum-like launching pads to send Atoi or Iota floating upward.

There are record players that can be scratched, and storms that can be created by blowing into the Vita. A swipe of the Vita screen can help fold over a bridge as your fingers act like magical tape. Not shown, said Crowle, was a part of the world that’s “kind of like a fishing island” scored by numerous sea shanties that Crowle and his team are currently writing and recording.

Crowle, who said he’s from a small town “at the bottom of the U.K.,” was inspired largely by English folklore when creating “Tearaway.”

“There’s a whole load of strange English traditions,” Crowle said as he directed me to use my hands as imaginary scissors to cut out shapes on a piece of digital construction paper for Atoi to use. My character then came across something that looked to be half-plant, half-piano.

There's vibrant plant life in "Tearaway." (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

There’s vibrant plant life in “Tearaway.” (Media Molecule / Sony Computer Entertainment)

“I’m from a strange little bit of the country,” he said. “It’s quite a rural area. It had a lot of strange traditions and things. Quite a lot of them have been turned into this game. This particular one right here is of Wassailing, the act of playing music and singing to the trees to the bring on the apple harvest.”

And then we watched as a paper flower blossomed before us. Likewise, “Tearaway” should be a fun one to see grow.

— Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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