Baby Don’t Cry

Murasaki Baby by Ovosonico

Published: November 7. 2014

PlayStation Vita

Italian development studio Ovosonico’s one-of-a-kind vision, Murasaki Baby, is born onto PlayStation Vita

PlayStation Vita title Murasaki Baby is the debut of Ovosonico, a development studio headed by Massimo Guarini, of Killer7 and Shadows of the Damned fame. It’s a game built on the imagination and fears of youngsters, and one of the first titles to truly make the most of the Vita’s touch capabilities. Your goal, simply put, is to guide a frightened little girl with an upside-down face through a world of bizarre obstacle puzzles, by taking her hand and guiding her through it: prod her to move by tugging her hand and pulling with your finger, or swipe to get her to jump.

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“The initial inspiration behind Murasaki Baby was a drawing of a little stylized girl holding a balloon that I sketched while traveling on a train for a business trip,” says Guarini, founder and CEO of Ovosonico. “Having that sketch in front of my eyes inspired the idea of how emotional it would have been to be able to hold her hand through a touchscreen.”

The team at Ovosonico numbers 14, with the Murasaki Baby team consisting of about 10 members at its peak, seven of whom were directly involved in production. The team featured a mix of junior and senior developers, including some members who had never worked on a video game before, but had plenty of talent and a fresh approach. Several of the senior team members had already worked together in the past, including Guarini and the game’s music composer Gianni Ricciardi, as they both come from many years spent in the AAA games industry.

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Guarini says that even a team of this relatively small size has presented its own share of challenges. “Balancing this unpredictable mix of different personalities has been incredibly challenging and rewarding,” he says. “Coming myself from the mainstream game industry and having directed teams of 50+ people, I consider the Murasaki team a little miracle, per se—a group of highly motivated individuals able to grasp and marry the game’s vision from the very beginning.”

The team chose Unity very early in the development stage, essentially when they started prototyping Murasaki Baby. “Prototyping for us is absolutely vital,” says Guarini. “If we have to fail, we need to be able to fail early. Unity was the only ready-to-go environment that allowed us to start our iterative process right away, while focusing exclusively on the content and not on the technology.”

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Guarini says it was fairly easy for the team to set up its first hand-holding prototype on a touch device. “We focused entirely on the core mechanics behind it, and on the emotional aspect of that gesture,” he says. “In less than two weeks we were already able to hold hands with a digital character on a touch screen; that was an incredibly emotional moment for the whole team.”

“I think the whole of Unity, as a complete environment, has been particularly effective in helping us with our game development process,” Guarini continues. “The Unity Editor proved to be powerful and immediate, allowing us to quickly deploy levels while easily setting up any specific layer needed for the game. We were able to set up our custom orthographic camera in a single day, while normally it would have taken more time and effort. Immediacy and being able to test things right away is absolutely a key factor for small teams.”

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Indeed, the process of bringing the game to PlayStation Vita benefitted from Unity as well. “One of the most appreciated aspects for us is how Unity manages to differentiate things from the target platform’s specific layers, while allowing at the same time to take full advantage of all the specific features of the platform itself,” says Guarini. “Whether your target platform is a PS Vita or an iPad, your development environment doesn’t change; this level of abstraction allows teams to be entirely focused on the game content, while programmers can still access lower level details. I think Murasaki Baby is clearly one of those games that uses all the specific features of the PS Vita, and ironically we’ve been able to do that through abstraction from the target platform. We think this is pretty powerful.”

In order to make the titular Baby more reactive and responsive to player’s interactions (such as swiping and pulling), the team implemented some real physics to blend with her animations in order to make her big head react accordingly. “I remember we were trying to tweak the physics values to get something good and, just to have fun,” recalls Guarini. “We slapped in some random numbers, causing Baby’s head to bounce back and forth in a very dramatic and unpredictable way.” And, well, that’s exactly the animation that ended up in the final game: “It turned out to be so characteristic and personal, that we kept it like that for months, and eventually in the final build.”

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In creating Murasaki Baby with a much small team than he was used to, Guarini made sure to make the most of the team’s limited resources. He invokes the words of legendary filmmaker Orson Welles, who once said, “The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.” “I strongly believe that a small team and limited resources are your most powerful weapon and biggest motivation if you want to achieve high quality in a game,” says Guarini. “I haven’t learned anything new really, but just confirmed to myself that creativity is born from troubles, unexpected problems, and ambitious goals—and not by the money you throw at it. And the most effective way to surpass them is having clear deadlines and limited time.”

“What I’m most proud of in the game is the moment when people hold Baby’s hand with their finger for the first time, through the touch screen,” says Guarini. “You can literally see their eyes widening and a sincere smile on their face. They’re not acting; they are establishing an emotional bond with a game character through actual, physical interaction. And that’s just beautiful.”

Murasaki Baby Trailer

Unity Asset Store

“We used the Unity Asset Store as a very effective tool to quickly prototype and test things without wasting precious development time,” says Italian developer Ovosonico’s Massimo Guarini. “We’ve been able to prototype chains and ropes physics very quickly, and when we were happy with the prototype, we turned it into final code by polishing up things and throwing away some of the placeholder assets and/or code we used.” The philosophy the team shared was that content is the king: there was simply no need to re-invent the wheel every single time they needed a feature. “The Asset Store and its ‘sharing’ approach embody that philosophy in the most satisfying way in our opinion.”

Read more about Murasaki Baby and Ovosonico

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