The lights are on
Founded by ToeJam & Earl creator Greg Johnson,
HumaNature Studios aims to create games that appeal to a broad audience, and
give players fun and creative ways to interact with one another. The studio's
first game, tentatively titled Doki-Doki Universe, also offers up insight into your
own personality based on how you interact with the game's humorous cartoon
worlds and characters.
In Doki-Doki Universe, you play the role of a robot whose
model line is on the verge of being discontinued for its lack of humanity. In
order to avoid this grim fate, you travel to a variety of unique planets and learn
about their oddball inhabitants by speaking and interacting with them. How you
interact with them is entirely up to you – you can help solve their problems, participate
in games and competitions, or antagonize them to your heart's content. These interactions
are handled via a growing library of items you find and collect, each of which
has its own unique characteristics similar to Scribblenauts.
Along the way, an extraterrestrial named Alien Jeff evaluates
your progress towards understanding humanity and provides feedback on your personality.
When we commiserate with an undead character named Zombee who doesn't like
being dead, Alien Jeff tells us how sensitive we are. Other planets offer humorous
personality quizzes, which our extraterrestrial friend also weighs in on when
you view the results. As you explore and answer questions, you'll earn more
objects that you can customize your own homeworld with.
Doki-Doki Universe's massive library of objects is also
featured in the game's communication system, which lets you send messages to
your friends both within the game and via mobile apps and Facebook. The communication
system scans your writing and replaces certain words with appropriately related
artwork, which then play as a custom animation when your friend opens the
message. Along with Doki-Doki Universe's open-ended gameplay, the communication
system showcases HumaNature's humorous and charming art style.
Doki-Doki Universe will launch as a free-to-play game on
PlayStation 3, Vita, and PlayStation 4 later this year. To learn more about
the game, we spoke HumaNature's founder, Greg Johnson, who was refreshingly honest in describing the inspirations and goals for his unique indie project.
The website for
HumaNature Studios says your studio is interested in "building games that
appeal to non-gamer types and women." What made you want to pursue those
I don't exactly pursue those audiences. I just design games
that I personally like and want to play. As it happens, I like cheerful, feel-good games that focus on emotional connection, creativity, and
cooperation. I'm not so big on dark, violent games, or intense competition. I
hate to generalize, as there are, thankfully, all kinds out there, but in
general, female gamers and non-hardcore gamers are the group of people that
happen to like my games. I am also lucky enough to work with a great group of
people that share this sensibility.
Your website also
features the same adorable art style as Doki-Doki Universe. Are you working on
other games, or do you see Doki-Doki Universe as a platform for a variety of
Thanks, I'm glad you find that adorable. That style was
originally done by a talented artist that used to work for me, named I-wei
Huang, and more recently by the equally talented Steph Laberis. And yes, even
with this first release it's a lot more than just a single game. Sony likes to
call it an "ecosystem." I think we'll be building on it for years. It's sort of
why we call it a Universe. Well, that and the fact that there are all these
Are you launching
Doki-Doki Universe as a complete experience, or do you plan to continually
update the game with new content?
Oh it's definitely a complete experience; several, in fact. There
is the Personality Quiz aspect to it, which you can enjoy all by itself as you
fly around in the Universe in the free version of the game. You can also visit
your friends' home planets and see their personality reports. Then, there is
Doki-Doki Mail on the various PlayStation platforms and on assorted mobile
devices and tablets etc., which you also get for free. This is stand-alone for
mobile users, but will also be integrated into the game. Then of course there
is the Universe game itself, which has a ton of diverse simulation and interactive story
content in it. We do plan to offer new content down the road, and expand the
Universe. Hopefully Sony will want to make cute Doki-Doki merchandise available
as well. Everyone in our office already has Doki-Doki mugs, T-shirts, and
quizzes are a unique addition to Doki-Doki Universe. What spurred the decision
to provide players with this kind of personal feedback while they play the
This actually started when my beautiful wife, who is from
Japan, showed me a book called Kokology. Kokoro means "heart" in Japanese. Kokology
books put readers in hypothetical situations and then ask them to make a
choice, then they tell you what that choice meant. For example: "You chose to rest
under the tree. The tree represents your parents, so this means...etc." I thought
it would be fun to build something like that into our game and give players who
don't care so much about "winning" another reason to play. I've always loved
things like the Meyers Briggs test (I'm an ENFP) and Enneagram tests. Even
though our personality quizzes look very light and cute, we do a lot of
calculation under the hood to compute your personality type. Try it, and see if
you think it's accurate. I bet it will surprise you.
The messaging system
is also another important and unique aspect of Doki-Doki Universe. Whose idea
was it, and what is the goal of the messaging system?
Well, I have to give credit to my wife again, or maybe it's
to Japan. She came back from a trip to Japan talking about the dynamic mobile
messaging on Japanese cell phones, and I thought it sounded totally great. Then
I realized we could create our own contextual version of that and put that into
our game, and it would give players a fun, expressive way to connect with each
other. As a free, useful mobile app, it
would also offer lots of great exposure, and hopefully bring curious people to
the full PlayStation game.
We were surprised to
learn that Doki-Doki Universe is going to be free. What is HumaNature's
monetization plan for the game? Will there be microtransactions?
Isn't that interesting? This was Sony's idea, and I think
it's great. It's a bit of a departure from the usual console mindset, and you gotta
hand it to Sony for trying something new. We give away the cute galaxy that you
can fly around in as a free digital download. This includes the personality
test on all the asteroids, and the messaging system, and some other neat stuff.
You just can't land on the planets. On mobile it's just the animated messaging.
These are complete, standalone experiences, not really a demo of the game, but
built within the same Universe. Then,
later, if people love it, they can buy the digital download of the entire game,
for a pretty low price as I understand it. Sony really wants to get this out to
a lot of people. Down the road we'll have new planets and new content
available. It's genius! Well, okay. At least it's kinda clever.
will be releasing on all of Sony's platforms. Why did you choose to work with
Sony? And how did you get in contact with them?
A really good, old friend of mine named Evan Wells runs a
studio you've probably heard of, called Naughty Dog. Evan worked for me
straight out of college, level designing on an old game of mine called ToeJam
and Earl 2 [You can read Wells' recollection of working with Johnson in our
First Game: Evan Wells Ed.]. Evan
introduced me to the folks at Sony and we immediately hit it off. I've been
building games as an independent developer for a bit over 30 years now, and I
can quite honestly say that this group at Sony is the nicest bunch of
publishers I've had the pleasure of working with. They have been very
supportive and they give us tons of freedom to make the product that we want to
What has it been like
working with Foster City Studio? What feedback/support have they provided you?
Ah, well I sort of just answered that, but I can also say
that Sony has a strong interest in indie-style innovation. The Foster City
Group, run by Connie Booth, has a particular interest in story and emotional expression.
They also have a genuine interest in creating products that appeal to a broader
audience. Both of those things make us a really good fit for them, and vice
versa. It's pretty darn rare these days to be given the chance to make a major
original title. I am nothing if not appreciative. I just hope we can get this
thing delivered on time. Doing genuine innovation on a schedule is no easy
Is there anything
else our readers should know about Doki-Doki Universe?
Hmmm. Don't expect a serious or traditional action game. If
you like sweet and quirky, slightly Japanese-y things, or perhaps if you're
into interactive story or self-discovery, you may find our game interesting. That
and well....maybe keep an open mind. We're trying something new and there are
always risks. I'm sure we'll get some things right and other parts will
probably be a bit rough. In any event, we hope it will be charming and
intriguing enough to make you smile and want to return to the little Universe
we've created, and maybe even share it with others.
For more on Sony's involvement with indie game
developers, check out our previews of Hohokum and Counterspy.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.