Do you love Pokémon Snap, but hate waiting 20 years for new instalments? Do you wish that Pokémon would lean way more into its darker side, like all the ghost Pokémon that steal children? Do you enjoy
Take a good look at Penko Park, an upcoming Switch game that draws its inspiration from the animal photography gameplay of Pokémon Snap and the unsettling creature design of Studio Ghibli. It’s full of weird little guys for you to take pictures of, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover a sinister secret underbelly, too. And then you can take pictures of that as well.
Penko Park has just been announced for the 27th September, which means you only have a few days to wait until your grubby little mitts are all over the game on Switch, taking pics of the 140 creepy creatures within. The game has been out for a while on PC, but it’ll be coming to Switch with the Shivering Crypts expansion, adding 40 new monsters, a new region, new features, collectibles, and secrets. Woo!
We were lucky enough to grab an interview with the developers of Penko Park, Ghostbutter, and to talk about their game, their inspirations, and their hopes for Penko Park on Switch. This is them:
Name and job title of developers answering this interview:
Konstantin Kopka [KK] – Programming, Game Design, Music/Sound, Writing
Elenor Kopka [EK] – Art
Philip Feller [PF] – Animation, Level Design, Writing
Read on to find out all about the aesthetic and mechanic inspirations for Penko Park, the developers’ love of Zelda, and why everyone loves “Jim”…
Penko Park is an expedition into a long-forgotten world full of creatures and secrets, and things are not always as they appear at first glance!
How would you describe Penko Park in your own words?
[KK] Inspired by our childhood memories of playing Pokémon Snap on the Nintendo 64, Penko Park is our reimagined take on the genre. We wanted to capture that old-school spirit but also improve on many things and give it a unique, distinct look and feel.
It’s all about environmental storytelling and exploration. Penko Park tells the story of an abandoned wildlife park and lets players find out the reason for its downfall. It can be played in different ways: players can just have fun and relax, shooting nice snapshots of weird creatures, or they can focus more on all those details and explore the park’s many (sometimes darker) secrets.
[EK] Penko Park is an expedition into a long-forgotten world full of creatures and secrets, and things are not always as they appear at first glance!
[PF] Adventure, weirdness and spooky stuff around every corner. It’s the dream of every child after getting their hands on a camera for the first time.
What are the steps to making a spooky character design?
[EK] When I’m going for a spooky character, I usually start out by making a first draft of a character that I have in mind and I then tweak the features until it feels right. For me, the spookiness lies in the balance of details, like a cold stare or an eerie smile… I never aim for outright ‘scary’, but more a feeling of unease or subtle creepiness.
How collaborative was the process of creating new creatures, and deciding what their weird quirks would be?
[PF] Every single creature was a team effort. Going back and forth with every iteration, discussing simple things like colour, the shapes of the eyes and head, or even something simple such as adding a single hair or tooth, made such a huge difference. Those adjustments turned a cute little friend into a weird creature full of regrets.
What are your personal favourite creature designs, and which name is your favourite?
[KK] Visually, I truly love all of them, but I probably love Dubbel, Citru and Jim the most. I also love that many monsters have elaborate, weird names and Jim is just… Jim.
[EK] My favourite creature has to be Fropp! This little dancing chestnut makes me happy every time I see it.
[PF] Apart from Penki (your companion throughout the journey), Fropp probably takes the cake for my favourite design. When he makes his small, purple hat appear out of nowhere and suddenly starts dancing, it’s hard not to instantly fall in love with it.
When it comes to names, ‘Berlbub’ has got to be a clear winner for me. With a hint of a German accent, it’s just too fun to say it over and over again.
Since the [2D animation] technique dictated the way I designed the characters, I ended up fully embracing the cut-out puppet aesthetic
The art style and tone very much reminds us of the children’s illustrated story I Want My Hat Back. Was this creepy-yet-childlike style something that was there from the beginning of the development process?
[EK] The animation technique for our characters (i.e. 2D skeletal animation) actually required them to be constructed like puppets, and I think that’s where this childlike feel comes from. We didn’t aim for this initially, but since the technique dictated the way I designed the characters, I ended up fully embracing the cut-out puppet aesthetic!
What were your aesthetic inspirations for Penko Park?
[KK] There were many influences and it’s hard to name them all. A big one was probably old-school N64 games in general (which we grew up playing) and Japanese Anime movies by Studio Ghibli (My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke). The whole spirit/ghost aspect was definitely inspired by Japanese culture.
[EK] I feel like much of the character design in Penko Park is a continuation of my years of illustration and animation practice, which has always been very character driven. I have been fascinated by creatures from traditional and folkloristic tales (like Japanese Yokai or drawings of legendary creatures in European medieval books) for a very long time, and this was something I referred back to throughout the design process a lot!
Were there any other titles for the game that were scrapped during the process? Why did you settle on Penko Park?
[KK] There are literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of scrapped titles. For a long time, the game was actually very, very different from what it eventually became: it was open-world at first, but that did not work well for gameplay reasons. Then it turned into a weird hybrid photo-game where you end up hanging the photos on walls and showing them at an exhibition, so we had lots of names that reflected that for a while.
Penko Park was just a really quirky, unique-sounding name that perfectly encapsulated what the game was to be about stylistically as well as from a story perspective. As soon as we had it on paper, we were all sure that “this is it”.
Penko Park was in many ways really over-scoped for our team size, which led to us taking longer than we had anticipated to finish it
The Ghostbutter team is tiny – just three people! What are the challenges of working with so few people, and what are the best parts?
[KK] Lots and lots of challenges, that’s for sure. Penko Park was in many ways really over-scoped for our team size, which led to us taking longer than we had anticipated to finish it. It was just me doing all programming tasks and that was really stressful because coding was usually the bottleneck of the production.
A great thing about a small team is that you have instant, daily communication with everyone, not a lot of management and constant feedback. Everyone has a lot of responsibility and creative control, which I feel is very rewarding.
Has anyone done a speedrun of Penko Park? If so… what was that like for you to watch?
[KK] Yes, we actually have a small Discord community and a few folks in there started speedrunning Penko Park for fun. It became quite intense as strategies were discussed. I personally really enjoy watching speedruns of games (e.g. Awesome Games Done Quick) and would love to see Penko Park played at AGDQ one day.
[PF] Yes, there has been a small community of dedicated speedrunners beating the game in what sounds like an impossible time. Watching their attempts go from quite quick to mind-blowingly fast was a great journey and we enjoyed watching every new record the moment they were uploaded.
Spooky-cute, to me, is about something cute and adorable taking a weird turn and surprising you with a side that’s maybe a little bit darker and unexpected
If you could take any video game and make it spooky-cute, what would it be, and how would you change it?
[KK] Spooky-cute, to me, is about something cute and adorable taking a weird turn and surprising you with a side that’s maybe a little bit darker and unexpected. I always loved when that happened in some Nintendo games, for example the “Link Shell” in Majora’s Mask. I personally would like to see what a more ‘Horror’ Pokémon spin-off would look like, that would certainly be fun to explore.
[PF] Animal Crossing always had that spooky-cute feel to me without ever actually being on the spooky side. So maybe actually adding some more spooky elements to New Horizons could be great fun.
What, in your opinion, is the most perfect game ever made?
[KK] On Nintendo consoles, I’ve got to go with “most Zelda games”, especially Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. Those were my favourite games when growing up. On PC: probably Portal and Bioshock, those are just absolute masterpieces.
[EF] This is a hard one, but I think my favourite game of all times has to be The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It’s beautiful and strange in so many ways and full of mysterious scenes and places. I don’t know about perfect, but from an aesthetic point of view, this game has inspired me a lot!
[PF] The perfect game for me is Banjo-Kazooie on the N64. It has the most memorable soundtrack of all time, characters that are so charmingly wacky and creative, and the way the character’s voices sound inspired us to create the voices of a lot of characters in our own games. I replay it from time to time and it still stands the test of time.
What sources of inspiration are you absorbing ready for your next project?
[KK] Right now, we are in the midst of finishing up the Penko Park version for Nintendo Switch, which was a ton of work. After that… nothing is certain, yet. It will probably involve weird and spooky things in some way, though.
Penko Park will be out on the Nintendo Switch eShop with all its DLC on September 27th.
Tell us in the comments below what you think of this creepy-cute take on the on-rails photography genre!