Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi is nothing if not one of gaming’s most endearingly (and deliberately mischievously) unorthodox figures, and today’s first look at his next near-finished PS3 downloadable creation Noby Noby Boy is proof positive.
At last year’s GameCity event, he took to the stage (sans shoes, and accompanied by an ambient soundtrack of rustling trees and crickets), and laid out succinctly where his mind is at on games as a whole: “About Katamari Damacy: I’m sick of it,” his hand-typed FAQ read. “What is the future of video games: I haven’t got a clue. What do video games bring us: It depends on what you’re after. What are video games: Who knows.”
With the opening of o–o, the game’s comically and annoyingly oversized website (and the url cutely modeled on the snakelike Noby Boy himself), we get similarly dismissive (and somewhat ‘King’ like) disclaimers: “This content cannot be classified as a so-called ‘game.’ It’s hard to explain in detail so we’ll skip it here. We don’t answer any question[s] about this content. No complaint will be accepted after you purchase this content.”
Just what Noby is is hard to explain, but the fundamentals are simple: you control a Noby “BOY” with both analog sticks: one for the head, one for the tail, flexing, stretching, and eventually tying yourself in knots, in a playground world that’s otherwise devoid of goals. And, as 1UP’s preview points out, a Noby “GIRL”, suspended in the heavens, is similarly stretchy, but only as a progress-bar reflection of the combined total of collective Noby Noby Boy player progress. As everyone plays, in other words, she grows, reaching new interstellar objects, which will in turn unlock new stages for all players (a brilliantly viral mechanic).
It’s at this point that Takahashi’s seemingly rambling GameCity speech suddenly starts to snap into focus. His divergence into photos on playground design (a long-stated personal goal, and one that, at the time, he had just officially landed a Nottingham contract for) seemed not so much like vacation snaps but a reflection of the game’s “make your own fun” essence. He builds, you play. No time limits, no fetch quests, just experiencing the naive joy of slithering and stretching around a world.
His even wilder photo essay on his Namco team’s recent hobby of collecting stickers from local food products to trade in for cups and bowls featuring Miffy (which he likened to “a multiplayer quest ‘just like Final Fantasy‘”) becomes that collective quest where all Noby players are working to unlock new bits of the game together.
And his point following that: another long anecdote about how he hoped to make his noisy downstairs neighbors aware of his presence above not by direct confrontation, but by growing houseplants on his porch so long and ivy-like that they hung into the patio below, again maps to that passively multiplayer aspect. Not playing together (though Noby will likely have local multiplayer aspects), but playing together, as a whole, everyone aware that there are others out there focused on the same goal.
This then, could partially be what the website means when it says, “There is some profound meaning behind this content, but details have to be kept secret,” though by no means would I discount any further surprises and game-changing addenda, even in the coming few days.
If you want to see more of the game in motion, I (clumsily) filmed one of the funniest parts of the hour-plus long GameCity tech demonstration last year. You’ll see a frustrated Keita trying in vain to get two audience members to follow seemingly simple instructions (“Don’t you all speak English?”), happily taking in some of that mischief he’s seemingly eager to dole out, and it’s clear that even this bout of ‘doing nothing’ gaming comes close to proving its entertainment factor.
It’s fair to say that these puzzle-like parts snapping together in my head has made Noby Noby Boy one of my most anticipated games of 2009, and that’s even apart from the more obviously cute throwbacks (the remixed classic Namco Moto Cross music in its pause menu mini-game, 1UP’s mention that Namco’s Mappy makes an appearance). That sense of connectedness and togetherness, even if passive, is one of gaming’s most vital and promising evolutions as a medium, and one that Takahashi seems to have stumbled into greatly. But no complaining after you’ve made your purchase.