Tamarin, which debuted last September on Pc and PS4, was undoubtedly a surprise. A totally self-financed project carried out by an independent studio, Chameleon Games, born and developed on the initiative of several former RARE developers. A group of veterans led by Omar Sawi, whom we wanted to intercept following what emerged in the review (of the Steam version edition) of Tamarin.
A comparison that allowed us to deepen the background of the development of the game, both in terms of realization and authoring. Our precise intention deriving from the fact of wanting to better understand the genesis of a project that certainly wanted and could give more. A project that according to the authors wanted to distance itself from the pieces of history such as the RARE video games, of which structurally it is nevertheless an heir.
Now we leave you to the complete interview (here the Italian version) with the leader and founder of the development studio of Tamarin, Chameleon Games. We wish you a pleasant reading.
Introduce yourself to the italian public.
Chameleon Games was created to bring people fun and enjoyment. We wish for people to enjoy the miracles of nature more through video games. That’s why we have a chameleon; they can change and be fun and shows that we have nature and animals in our games.
How Chameleon Games was born? And Tamarin?
Chameleon Games was started by me, after saving up money for 15 years to make an original game about nature. I was inspired by nature documentaries and also by Nintendo’s and Rare’s games. So I started working with some of the people who made my favourite games, such as the Donkey Kong games, and also some other people.
We know that your team includes several former RARE veteran developers. For example Richard Vaucher, David Wise, and a few others too. How did they split from RARE? And who else is part of Chameleon games?
To make a great game you need great talent. And I wanted to find some of the people who had experience making similar kinds of games to Tamarin. Rare has existed for over 30 years and has made some great games during that period. Since I am a big fan of Rare, especially the 90s games which are similar in style to Nintendo games, it made sense to work with people with expertise on this who were available and were excited about similar projects.
But there were also many others; we have people from other companies such as Sony. We have had very good developers from Norway and from Taiwan. As long as someone loves the vision for Tamarin, about nature and animals, show passion and real skills, it’s fine wherever they come from.
Tamarin is the result of a development process that has continued for 6-7 years. Have you tried crowdfunding with Kickstarter or other platforms? If not, why didn’t give it a try?
Kickstarter works best for nostalgia projects. Despite what some people seem to think, I really did not want to brand Tamarin as a nostalgia project. As the creator of the concept, I always wanted Tamarin to be original and about nature and tamarins first of all.
Tell us more about the message that Tamarin contains, about the invitation to protect the nature that surrounds us. How do you think about it? What would you do?
People need to know that more than 50% of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in just 50 years. The story in tamarin is about a tamarin that has lost everything. The beautiful forest is burning, He lost his house and his family.
The reason is another species out of balance, which has become very advanced and builds industrial factories and exploits nature without mercy because the areas they originally had are no longer enough for their needs. So while the game is just entertainment and pure fun, I wished for people to become aware of some really cool and wonderful animals like tamarins and the need to care for the living around us.
Tamarin appears as a hybrid between plaformer and third-person-shooter. A combination already seen, albeit in a limited way, in Conker. How much Conker did inspire the making process of Tamarin?
Conker inspired Tamarin in that the character is really cute. A squirrel made as a stylistic animal can’t be much cuter than that. And I wanted the same for tamarin. Also, Conker wasn’t a kiddie game. It had an edge. It had an element of surprising you and breaking your expectations of what a cute game should be. It had mixed inspirations, including action films.
So those were all things that inspired Tamarin. However, the inspiration did not go beyond that, because Tamarin took inspiration from quite a lot of places, including films and music. In terms of the game’s atmosphere, the Donkey Kong Country games on Super Nintendo were a greater inspiration since they took you to exotic journeys into beautiful natural landscapes with nice atmosphere and music, and we also had a few people who had worked on the previous Donkey Kong teams work on Tamarin, so some people may recognize certain styles such as the music.
The game (at least on PC), has several technical problems. Around the world even the PS4 version doesn’t seem to have luck with Critic (44 metascore on Metacritic at the moment). How do you explain this result?
Tamarin is very technical competent and advanced 3D game for such a small indie studio to make. The game had some technical issues on release day, but these should now be patched. What we know is that regular consumers, especially on PlayStation, report great enjoyment from Tamarin. Many have learnt a long time ago not to find movies based on critic sites like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes.
This just leads to disappointment if your taste doesn’t match, because cultural products are really a matter of taste, and mainstream critics can be influenced by factors outside the game itself. If other people’s opinion is important to your enjoyment of a product, it might actually be better to find some kind of audience score, such as Cinemascore or Google likes, which better represents the average of a random ‘normal’ person. Of course, the best is not to think like a sheep at all, but to think for yourself based on what you feel when you see it first-hand. Then try to experience a game, film or music purely and innocently.
From your point of view, what is the best quality of the game?
Tamarin is fun, surprising, very cute, and says something meaningful. From the moment you pick up the controller, the controls are responsive and fun. A lot of the game Is unconventional. You will be surprised all the time: The gameplay changes from 3rd person shooter to platformer.
The environments change from open colourful forests, to claustrophobic and industrial factories.The intensity goes from tranquil exploration to energizing action. Your mind goes from urgent to thoughtful. If you really engage with the story, the dialogue and the poems, you will be left with something to think about even after the game ends.
Was Tamarin developed with a specific target audience in mind?
The term ‘target audience’ is sort of a business concept. It means you try to make the game for a very specific group of people and their needs. In our case, we tried to break this concept. This is something a bigger publisher will never do, because it’s too risky. If you are teen pop band, you shouldn’t put a rock song on your album because it might not fit your target audience.
But in Tamarin, we tried to say, it can have both fast songs and slow songs. The fun and the entertainment comes from taking that journey. Maybe someone wants an album full of slow songs, or they want just a full 3d-platformer for example. But we tried to say, this variability and this surprise – we call it ‘alternating gameplay’ – is a fresh thing that we want to try to create a new experience.
How will you support the game? Will you also make expansions?
We have been fixing any issues that have been reported and we’re working on an Xbox version.
Is planned a next-gen version of Tamarin?
There might be some next-gen enhancements when it’s run on that hardware, we’re looking into it, but we’re not planning to charge more money for a different version. So we intend for the current version to be playable both on current and next gen.
Does Chameleon Games have a Tamarin sequel in mind, or do you have other plans for the future?
We wish for Tamarin to more strongly focus on the beauty of nature and wildlife which was the original vision for Tamarin when it was conceived. People don’t realize how beautiful and wonderful living things are. All the colors, all the phenomena, all the strange and wonderful things that can happen. And what games can do, is they can take you to such fantastic places, bend reality a bit, and create very unique atmospheres. So that is something that really interests us for the future. Tamarin just released now, so we have to work out the exact details on where that will take us!