Japanese-flavored puzzle adventure, Tengami, has just been released on Steam. Made by Nyamyam, a team of three videogame industry veterans turned indie developers, this game is rather unconventional, and maybe even stands out a bit from the Steam catalogue. Eschewing fail states, tough puzzles, and even a proper story for something that feels more contemplative and relaxed, Tengami can be compared to taking a long walk on a beautiful day. Last year, I got the chance to talk with Jennifer Schneidereit about this unconventional game.
What kind of game is Tengami?
It’s an atmospheric adventure game. The special thing about it is that it takes place in a Japanese pop up book. You control a little paper figure, walk through a beautifully designed paper world and there are puzzles you can solve by moving and manipulating parts of that world. However, it’s not a hardcore puzzle game, but rather something to relax with. Something to play on your couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, wearing headphones, for instance. There’s no platforming, lots of wandering around, taking in the sights. and the music is beautiful.
So how Japanese is the game, exactly? if someone from Japan were to play it, would they consider it authentic, or does it represent more of a romanticized western view of Japan?
I don’t think the latter part is true. It actually might be one of the reasons many anime fans don’t get along with the game. Tengami is very Japanese, and it was very well received in Japan. There is this one side to the country, something you could call the quiet Japan. If you’re on the subway in Tokyo, there are always a lot of people sleeping.
There is a need for some kind of loneliness and for some space to think – I felt that as well when I was living there. And I think that makes Tengami very Japanese, because it gives you those open spaces and this loneliness. But it’s not a sad kind of loneliness, it feels more hopeful and comfortable. Our artist, Ryo Agarie, lives in Okinawa, so the art design is very authentic, and the Japanese players recognize that. It’s a different kind of Japan than what most people know, but it’s authentic. Of course you cannot put a whole culture in one little videogame, but the things I experienced in Japan and love about it found their way into the game.
How long does it take to complete Tengami?
We designed it similar to a movie experience – it should take about 90 minutes.
That’s great to hear. Seriously, I don’t have that much time for longer games anymore, so this kind of deliberate brevity is appreciated.
A lot of people don’t have that time. I did approach it from an angle that sometimes you’ve got some time to kill on a Friday evening or a weekend, and you browse the app stores, and you can either rent a movie, or you start a game that’s tailored to be about that long.
And it does make sense, considering you developed the game for iOS devices first. Is the PC port identical to the mobile versions? There are some rather negative preconceptions about mobile ports on the PC…
The PC version will essentially be the exact same game that mobile gamers can buy. We’ll also look at Steam-specific features such as trading cards and achievements. If such a feature can be implemented on a particular platform, people will expect it, and they’re right to do so.
The iPad version has been very successful…
Yes, that went really well. We got the editor’s choice pick from Apple, worldwide, on both iPad and iPhone. It sold well, and continues to do so. We will see if we have the same luck with Valve.
Well, apparently it’s harder now to succeed on Steam, ever since Valve opened the Greenlight flood gates and there’s so much more competition. What’s your take on that? Do you think that being on Steam can still be the one big thing that will make you rich and famous?
No, I don’t think so. There isn’t a recipe for instant success on any platform, ever since all of those became relatively open. Well, both the Apple app store and Google play are pretty extreme, with literally millions of games. But it’s the same with Steam and Greenlight. I saw a statistic somewhere which claimed that there have been as many games released in the last four months as were during all of 2013. I think there is only one recipe, regardless of distributor: you need a game that sticks out, that does something special. And you need to make sure that people know about it. Media exposure, gaming conventions… that’s the only chance you have. You won’t get very far with a run-of-the-mill game. Granted, Tengami is not for everyone. But it is one of a kind, and the pop-up mechanic seems to be quite intriguing for some people.
Classic games journalism – that’s print magazines and websites, basically – does it still work? Or do you shift your marketing focus more towards stuff like Youtube coverage ? And how important are user reviews?
I’d say that this depends on the game. Youtubers in particular can really help you get some exposure, but you need a fitting game for that. As for Tengami… well, there have been a few Let’s Plays of it, but I don’t see the appeal. It’s more of a game you want to experience for yourself, without having anyone constantly talking over the gameplay.
To be perfectly honest, though: I have no idea. You still need to do the classical press legwork, and if Youtubers want to pick it up, that’s also fine. But it’s also very important to be in touch with the players, to have a discussion with them. The iOS version has a Metacritic score of 70, so a lot of reviewers were not that impressed. The average app store user rating, on the other hand, is 4.5 out of 5. And in the end, the players’ opinions matter most.
Tengami is now available via Steam for $9.99 with a 25% discount during launch week.