By Quentin H. / October 3rd, 2019
When you think of video game protagonists, the tamarin does not immediately come to mind. A tamarin is a New World monkey from Central and South America that Omar Sawi and his development studio, Chameleon Games, has placed as the central character in the upcoming Rare-inspired title Tamarin. In Part One of our two-part interview, Omar Sawi and I discuss the origins of Chameleon Games, why he picked the tamarin as his protagonist and insects as his antagonists, what he sees of himself in Tamarin, and how the game has evolved for the five-year development cycle so far.
Tamarin is available now for discounted pre-order on the official website here in a digital regular to digital deluxe edition.
Tamarin is scheduled to be released later this year for PlayStation 4 and PC.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H., with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Omar Sawi: I am Omar, director of Chameleon Games.
OR: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Chameleon Games?
OS: Chameleon Games is a company that I started many years ago. It’s been a passion project for me- I’ve saved up for a very long time, about ten years, before I started it. I think it came off the ground in 2013. And the vision was that we would create games that were based on nature. So the ‘chameleon’ symbolizes fun, creativity, colorfulness, and nature as well. So I set out to make games that really [were] very colorful and [games] which there weren’t a lot of at the time, such as 3-D platformers and more fun games.
OR: What is Tamarin about?
OS: When we set out to make Tamarin, I looked at all the animals in the world that nobody has made a game about before. The cutest characters in the world that we could possibly find.
So we made a list of all those characters, and there were some candidates there. And the tamarin was the cutest animal that nobody has ever done a game about before. And what’s really interesting about them is that they lend themselves very well to an action game. They are really agile, they are very fast, and they look very cute, so they are very charming. And I thought of all the different kinds of movements that you can do as a tamarin. The way they leap from spot to spot or [how they] catch something.
The whole idea of tamarins started with the movements of that character and the inspiration from nature.
“[I]n games, you can be in a certain place and you can do things in that place. You can do activities, which would be the game. But I was really very interested in how it felt to be in those places and to emphasize all the species and the beauty of nature to create that atmosphere.“
OR: So we know why you used tamarins as your protagonist. Why did you use insects as your antagonist?
OS: That ties into another aspect of the game: the gameplay and the connection to Rare games. In the beginning, I worked with Steve Mayles, the creator of Banjo-Kazooie, who designed the tamarin. I was very inspired by Rare games- the ones they had for the SNES and the Nintendo 64 era. So there’s a lot of inspiration from those games, and a lot of people who worked on Tamarin.
One game that was an inspiration was Donkey Kong Country– and I had David Wise come on early as well. I absolutely loved his music and was very glad that he would compose the [Tamarin] game soundtrack, because I really wanted to have that very beautiful atmosphere that was in those Donkey Kong Country games. And I thought it would be fantastic if there [were] more adventure games with that atmosphere set in nature. So the setting of the game, I imagined as a 3-D Donkey Kong adventure. And in Donkey Kong Country, the main villains were all based on reptiles, so it was all one species of animals. And I thought what would be an interesting species to make the villain out of, and I thought insects were the most interesting.
Another reason [for insect villains] was that insects had analogies to humans, and it ties into the environmental aspect of the game. If you look at insects, there are just so many of them. They are multiplying and they have just taken over certain aspects of nature. In a way, they are very fascinating, intelligent, and a little bit scary as if they are aliens on Earth. So I thought that that would fit the theme of villains because they are a little bit scary and the way they multiply and take over places is a bit similar to the effect that humans have when they take over an area and drive out endangered species like tamarins. So it would be a fight between the endangered species and these evil guys.
OR: So we know you picked the tamarin off your short list. What other animals were there on your short list?
OS: That’s a secret. I’d like to keep it. *laughs*
OR: What came first for Tamarin: the storyline, the aesthetics, or the gameplay? How did that one element that came first influence the other two?
OS: It started with the atmosphere and the aesthetics, I think. Because it was really the beauty of nature that was one part of it, and the thing about games is that you can be in a certain place and feel being there. I find that very fascinating. It’s different from other mediums like films, where the time just passes and you have no choice. Or in books, where you have to read about it and imagine it in your head.
But in games, you can be in a certain place and you can do things in that place. You can do activities, which would be the game. But I was really very interested in how it felt to be in those places and to emphasize all the species and the beauty of nature to create that atmosphere. So it started out with very beautiful color schemes and settings. We had sunset forests which had very deep greens and golden-oranges. So that was one place. And we had mountains up in the sky that were fresh with snow-capped mountains in the background and very beautiful flowers. And we had an autumn-based one where red would be the dominant color. It started with that, but it went parallel in a way. It’s not like I thought about that only or we thought about that only, it definitely all tied together.
“If you compare [videogames]
to another medium, like music albums, you can have a fast album or a slow album, but I think it’s most interesting if an album has a variety of fast songs and slow songs.
And so we have that alternating structure where you play both [contemplative and action] kinds of gameplay, and the atmosphere changes between them.”
And so we have that alternating structure where you play both of these kinds of gameplay, and the atmosphere changes between them. You have the nature, which is open and colorful and outdoors, contrasting with the underground, which is claustrophobic, closed, and industrial, which the ants represent where there are factories and they take over the nature and destroy it.
OR: Donald M. Murray once wrote “All of my writing -and yours- is autobiographical.” What of yourself do you see in Tamarin?
OS: I see a bit of the philosophical aspects of it in me, which is about life really. Because Tamarin is about traveling the world and appreciating the beauty of wildlife. And in a way, we’re all living beings. And the story is about tamarin’s struggle for survival in a very competitive world. So, where there are other species that have taken over the forest and [the tamarin] have lost their house, their forest, their families, their everything, and it’s all alone with you start the game. So it’s kind of a sad story to begin with. But it’s also a fun game, a fun platformer or shooter, and you don’t feel those things when you play the game.
But there’s this underlying message behind it of how what’s happening to nature when a certain species has taken over everywhere, and that’s something that’s really happening. A lot of animals don’t have a habitat, and other species are taking over.
And this is very close to my own story. I almost lost everything many times during the production of the game, because it was very difficult to finance and it’s done with my own personal savings. So in a way, its very much a fight to save myself and my family, in a way, the same way that the tamarin is doing that.
I find that the beauty of nature is the reason that I’m doing this. Because I want to take people places that they have never been before and do things that they have never done before, like being a tamarin and just having fun. Its an action game. It sounds very serious, but its actually all about capturing the senses and having energy with them and movement. Being attractive and having iconic characters. And really seeing things you can’t see in real life and feeling it and playing it.
OR: Did you spend any time with actual tamarins in developing this game?
OS: A lot of time looking at tamarins, for sure. They were what inspired the movement of the tamarin in the game. The way they move. But tamarins are not something you see often. So a lot of it has been the BBC movement gallery or going to zoos. And that’s one way to see more tamarins. It’s not a very common animal. And, of course, you won’t be able to see a lot of these animals in the world if they get knocked out by forests being burned down, which is really the story of the game. So the story is that forest gets burned down, and you’re trying to restore that and bring back nature. So it grows again as beautiful as it [was].
OR: Tamarin has been in development for five years. How has the game changed over that time?
OS: Surprisingly, very little, because the ‘vision’ was clear from the beginning. We knew what the theme and the setting was, the colors, the places you’d go, and also what kind of gameplay it would be- that it would be based on the lack of 3-D platformers. And it would also be based on third-person shooter gameplay. And to try out a new gameplay structure where it is not just one kind of game the whole time, but we’re changing up how the gameplay structure works.
If you compare it to another medium, like music albums, you can have a fast album or a slow album, but I think it’s most interesting if an album has a variety of fast songs and slow songs. And then you have a lot of variety and contrast and surprise when you’re listening to the album and it becomes interesting. And I wanted it to be like you have areas that are contemplative about searching and looking around and appreciating the beauty, but also having the energy aspect and the action, excitement, and danger on the other side. And that ties into the action gameplay. And so we have that alternating structure where you play both of these kinds of gameplay, and the atmosphere changes between them. You have the nature, which is open and colorful and outdoors, contrasting with the underground, which is claustrophobic, closed, and industrial, which the ants represent where there are factories and they take over the nature and destroy it. And so we have this contrast element, which is very strong.
And it was there from the very beginning, and its really been about execution. How can we, with a smaller budget and limited resources, do something that’s true to that vision of really enjoying the beauty of the planet’s wildlife and nature, and having a really fun 3-D platformer/action game that’s as fun to play as Nintendo game or even introducing some of its own originality? And that’s not easy when you have a small budget and you need to experiment a lot, and you want to try out things to do something new or make the production value good enough that you feel that beauty. So a lot of it has gone to reach that goal of it looking like what its supposed to look like from the beginning.
And the way we felt that is to not have a smaller team, but to stretch it over a longer time.
Part Two will be published soon. Please look forward to it!
What do you think of Tamarin’s attempt to balance multiple types of gameplay in one cohesive package? Are you excited to play as a Tamarin?
Let us know in the comments below!
Chameleon GamesinsectsOmaw SawiPCPlayStation 4RareTamarin