One look at Tamarin instantly gives off a vibe that will be dear to many of us, with the game evoking classic 3D platformers of the N64 era. And sure enough, developers Chameleon Games boast of talent from classic Rare teams. Tamarin is promising something that harkens back to games you would associate that, but is also promising something new and original, with an engrossing narrative premise that looks to be at the heart of the experience. It’s certainly looking like a game to keep an eye on.
As such, curious to learn more about it, we recently sent across some of our questions to Chameleon Games. The questions below were answered by studio director Omar Sawi.
"We definitely looked at a lot at Nintendo games, which very often inspired Rare games afterwards, with their own charm and quirks, which we also looked at."
Tamarin seems to have plenty of both, action-shooting and platforming elements, but in terms of what players will be doing for the majority of the game, is it more of a platformer or more of an action game?
What is most exciting is to try to break up expectation, and to not stay conceptually and creatively inside a box. So we had this idea of an alternating gameplay mechanic. And the vision of having variability and surprise. So you don’t entirely know what to expect next. To change from contemplation to excitement. Even the gameplay style has an element of surprise due to this new game structure that we created. So hopefully everyone can experience both those elements of gameplay, and if they wish, maybe they can focus a bit more on the part they like the most.
Tamarin immediately gives off a very classic Banjo and Conker vibe, not just in terms of visuals and art design, but also from the gameplay that we’ve see of it so far. Obviously, your team boasts a lot of classic Rare talent, but how much did those games, or similar games from different eras, inform Tamarin and its development?
We definitely looked at a lot at Nintendo games, which very often inspired Rare games afterwards, with their own charm and quirks, which we also looked at. There’s a lot of great and classic gameplay there, and some of these games were the first pioneers in terms of how to do 3D action gameplay that’s immediate and fun. Rare made not just amazing games, but an amazing variety of games during the N64 era, and we tried to pay homage to that. There are beloved adventure games Banjo Kazooie, there are the more serious shooters like Goldeneye, and games in between that mix things up like Conker or Jet Force Gemini. The atmosphere of Donkey Kong Country is great. Other kinds of Nintendo games like Metroid and Zelda also had an influence on the gameplay.
What I find most interesting about Tamarin is that in spite of its charming visuals that are sure to appeal to young and mature audiences alike, its narrative premise relies on things like pollution, or species dying out because of it- is that something that you’re using solely as the impetus for the gameplay, or are those themes you plan to examine more closely in the game?
It’s more than an impetus. It’s something that’s very much the heart of why the game has come to life. Nature is amazingly beautiful and is more than anything the inspiration for the game. The amazing colors, animals, plants and natural phenomena that we’re all a part of. At the same time, humans keep multiplying and consuming more, and it creates a lot of problems, and we want to try to examine that from the point of view of other species that we might care about and wish to preserve. While the game focuses on being fun first of all, we tried to give the tamarin his personal thoughts throughout the game that you can read as poems in his memoirs if you wish. And to tell the main story about the tamarins fight for survival through animation that’s exciting and eventful and very visual.
"David Wise is to me the greatest video composer there is. When I was younger I sold my Super Nintendo at one point to buy other games."
David Wise in an industry legend- how’s it been, having him compose your game’s soundtrack?
David Wise is to me the greatest video composer there is. When I was younger I sold my Super Nintendo at one point to buy other games. His beautiful music lingered so much in my head and I couldn’t take it, I had to buy it all back and get the Donkey Kong Country games again mainly so I could hear the music again. There is something magical about it. The way it’s so atmospheric and so melodious, and it’s very unique. So of course, having him agree to do the game’s music back in 2013, it was directly tied in to and matching the atmospheric direction I wanted for the game. In particular, for the parts where you explore, I always wished that the Donkey Kong County games would leap into full 3D exploration while keeping the atmosphere of the SNES games.
The game’s description of its level design as “interconnected” is quite interesting- are we looking at full-on metroidvania levels here, or is it more of a game with metroidvania elements?
Some of the design philosophies of the Metroidvania are interesting. And those are mainly an emphasis on discovery. Exploration. Some sense of non-linearity. Coming back to somewhere you’ve been before, finding out that your new abilities, weapons or tools will allow you to do more in the same place. All these things we tried to think about as we made the game.
How large are Tamarin’s levels? Do they have a lot of room for exploration?
The levels follow the concept of ‘large playground’. There is a middle ground between open-world and linear. And perhaps that is the sweet spot? Sometimes, if a level is too large, it can easily become uneventful or aimless and you would need a map. You don’t develop a relationship to the place you’re exploring. On the other hand, it needs to be large enough that you feel free and there are new secrets or things to find, and you still need time to figure out the place. So that was the ideal that we were pursuing – a space where you’re reasonably free that takes advantage of full 3D exploration and you keep returning to see things from a new vantage point.
About how long is an average playthrough of Tamarin?
I think it depends a bit on how you define the playthrough. When we made it, we had the design of Mario 64 in mind, where you collect 70 stars to beat Bowser, but where you can find 120 in total. We’re an indie team and we wanted to maintain quality, so the game isn’t as long as a bigger Nintendo game that also costs much more, but we hope players will continue with the game to find all the fireflies even if they completed the main story.
"We’re a small team, so it is difficult to release on a lot of platforms at the same time. Xbox One and Switch are interesting consoles also, but we started very early on with PlayStation 4, and it’s a good console."
Why did you decide to launch as a console exclusive for the PS4?
We’re a small team, so it is difficult to release on a lot of platforms at the same time. Xbox One and Switch are interesting consoles also, but we started very early on with PlayStation 4, and it’s a good console. And another reason is we really wanted to get good performance on the game, because when a game is smooth and plays well, it means a lot to the kind of action game that Tamarin is, and many don’t achieve that. Especially any games that have full 3D exploration, full 3D forests and so on, so it’s a technical achievement to do that well.
Do you have any plans to eventually launch on the Xbox One and Switch?
We’re not ready to announce anything yet. Perhaps it’s not worth getting anyone’s hopes up before we’re ready to talk about it. As a small team, we’re not always sure how long time we need to finish something. But there are things going on, we can tell you that!
How will the PS4 Pro version turn out in terms of resolution and frame rate?
It’s HD and 60fps.
How is the game running on the original PS4, frame rate and resolution wise?
We’re working towards 900p and 60 fps.
The PS5 is confirmed to have SSD. From a development perspective, how will this help you to improve game performance in the future?
This is great. Because loading time are a pain. And it’s hard to mask them away. We had to think very hard about it on current gen, because we didn’t want loading screens. So we had to design levels around that, for example making a tunnel a bit longer than necessary or creating an intermediary cave level so the next big level would load in time without a loading screen, since a regular HD is quite slow. An SSD would make it easier to focus on what is the most fun. With action games, having everything being very immediate and responsive is part of what makes them pleasurable. That starts with the controls of the character, that it is very responsive and preferably at a high frame rate, but it also extends to how the game starts and everything happening in between.
"You’d be surprised there is still a lot of room for needing power in games, and how much of a fight it is to keep things running smoothly. Whether it is graphics or game logic, more power is always helpful in order to create the best experience."
The PS5 will have a Zen 2 CPU processor which is a major leap over the CPUs found in the PS4 and Xbox One. From a development perspective, how will this help you in developing games of the future?
You’d be surprised there is still a lot of room for needing power in games, and how much of a fight it is to keep things running smoothly. Whether it is graphics or game logic, more power is always helpful in order to create the best experience. Sometimes if something is executed on a GPU it can be rewritten and shifted to the CPU and vice versa. And some kinds of gameplay or graphics are only possible if you have enough power. Certainly getting smooth frame rates is something we like and it is very hard to do currently. Things like AI, animation, game logic and so on typically run on the CPU, complex animation like inverse kinematics, that results in characters dynamically and naturally looking at each other which we have in Tamarin. The blending together of a lot of layers of animation. Or the behaviour of the ant enemies and how they analyse the environment and make decisions. We could do more sophisticated things there with more CPU power so the world could become more alive.
Xbox Scarlett features GDDR6 memory. How will this increase in memory bandwidth help you in the future?
With Tamarin, textures was a big part of the game and how to make the natural scenery. Textures take up a lot of memory and bandwidth. We have unique textures for every single mountain. Every mountain or area of ground or cave is hand sculpted at millions of polygons. From this, normal maps are baked down into textures to simulate that detail. Mountains have highlights, ambient occlusion or lighting calculated specific to every spot in the environment and its landscaping features. The height of every spot in the terrain is stored in a height map in order to blend the ground smoothly with the objects above it.
Every spot has its own texture and color variation painted on. All this is stored in textures, it’s a lot of data. And the challenge is that in order to draw this to the screen at 60fps, we need enough bandwidth to send all the data over. You might have noticed a lot of games are only 30fps that would benefit from 60fps. Memory bandwidth is part of that. With more bandwidth, what we can do is we can increase the resolution and filtering quality of the textures so it becomes sharper and we can have more of this kind of unique texturing that makes the world unique, hand crafted and natural. People talk about 4K or 8K, but actually even at HD there is still room to improve the quality significantly.
Backwards compatibility is a big feature PS5. How will it help your past library to evolve and grow?
We hope people can play Tamarin on PS5 as well!