The era of gaming we’re enjoying right now at the time of writing is often described as one of the most gleefully experimental periods in gaming history, with a wide variety of independent developers from all sorts of backgrounds doing their best to push the boundaries of gaming conventions in both mechanical and narrative terms.
There’s no denying that the rise in phenomena such as digital distribution and crowdfunding has enabled developers to work on games that many would have thought commercially unviable in years gone by. But this period is far from the only time in gaming when developers have had the freedom to experiment in this way.
D3 Publisher’s Simple Series, which originated on the PlayStation platform in the 1990s and continues even today in digital-only format, provided a variety of developers the opportunity to spread their wings and get creative. The only caveat was that the games would almost certainly have miniscule budgets, and they would be released at a low-cost price point. Beyond that, anything would fly.
Here’s Paparazzi, a game from this series originally known as The Camera Kozou (The Camera Apprentice) — it’s a PlayStation 2 game about taking photographs.
Incorporating photography aspects into games is nothing particularly new, especially as today’s big-budget releases often incorporate a dedicated “photo mode” to take endless screenshots and bore your friends with them on social media. But games where photography is the central focus of the experience are relatively few and far between.
Two examples that come most readily to mind are Nintendo’s Pokémon Snap on Nintendo 64 (and its recent reboot on Switch), and Ubisoft’s Beyond Good and Evil for various platforms from the PS2 era onwards. But neither of these games go the whole hog with simulating the use of an actual camera; rather, they incorporate the photography element into a broader kind of game. Pokémon Snap is basically a rail shooter, for example, while Beyond Good and Evil is essentially a western take on the Zelda formula.
Paparazzi (as we shall refer to it hereafter) is a little different. This is a game that is about nothing but photography. Specifically, the photography of a single female character that you pick at the beginning of a playthrough.
Before you start clutching your pearls and complaining about the potential for “creepiness” here, though, know that the westernised title of Paparazzi is actually rather misleading. You’re not hiding in bushes and attempting to take candid and/or lewd shots here; rather, the entire game centres around you participating in various formal photo sessions with your chosen model, and indeed the game even punishes you if, in its rather charming words, “you have not been polite”. In other words, if you rather obviously pointed your camera at the model’s breasts or up her skirt.
The setup for Paparazzi runs that you are a big fan of one of three different models — one of whom is recurring Simple Series mascot Riho Futaba, also seen in games such as Demolition Girl and Party Girls — and wish there was a way to get close to them while trying not to drool too much. Thankfully, your rotund friend Akira presents you with a great opportunity: he knows of an upcoming public photo session with the girl of your dreams, and is also just about to upgrade his camera, so is willing to part with his old one. From here, it’s up to you to impress the object of your affection with your mad photography skills and ultimately snap your way into her heart.
Each stage in Paparazzi provides you with some objectives to accomplish. These are quite varied over the course of the game; in some you’ll simply have to score a set number of points by taking sufficient photos of good enough quality; in others, you’re required to use your camera’s manual mode, or photograph the model in a particular location, or performing a particular action. Meeting the stage’s requirements advances the story; failing allows you to try again, since the game saves between every stage.
When you arrive at a stage in Paparazzi, you’re given a small choice of vantage points to stand near the model, and can then move a small amount forwards, backwards, left, right and even up and down. You can pull out your camera with the touch of a button and start snapping pictures, but this is a pre-digital camera age, so you’re limited in how many pictures you can take by how much film you have. You’re also very limited in time; you only have five minutes to accomplish the stage’s tasks and rack up as many points as you can.
You can get by in the early stages of Paparazzi simply by pointing and shooting in the camera’s automatic mode, since the model automatically moves around, adopts various poses and faces various directions throughout the session. But as you progress, you’ll need to start making use of more options — firstly, the ability to make a request of the model.
In order to make a request, you first have to get noticed by her. You do this in one of four ways: dancing, jumping up and down, calling out to her or waving at her. Each one of these corresponds to a simple minigame — to dance, for example, you have to memorise a short sequence of button presses, while to call out to her you have to use the analogue buttons of the DualShock 2 to keep a meter within a specific zone.
Once you’ve built up enough “appeal”, represented by a heart icon in the corner of the screen, you can make a request. A simple request like “look at me” only costs a small amount of appeal, while something more presumptious like “dance for me”, “blow me a kiss” or “move to a different location” costs more. You also have to time making these requests carefully; if you request her to adopt a “charming” or “sexy” pose while she’s already in the middle of doing one, for example, you’ve wasted those appeal points. Here, learning the models’ various animations and what type of pose they count as becomes important.
Using the camera in Paparazzi initially requires you to hold the left analogue stick on the DualShock 2 steady to point it in different directions; wobble it around too much and you’ll get blurry images. Once you’ve scored some points and completed a stage or two you can invest in a tripod; this limits your range of movement a little more, but allows you much more stable control over where you’re shooting.
At any point, you have the option to switch the camera into fully manual mode, which allows you to adjust everything from whether or not you use the flash to shutter speed, aperture and focal length as well as zoom. Telephoto and wide-angle lenses can be purchased for greater flexibility, and if you want to make sure you capture every moment of a movement like a dance, you’ll also want to invest in a motor drive to take photographs in rapid succession.
Playing with the manual functions without understanding what they do causes your final photographs to come out authentically “wrong” when the level is over — though similarly authentically, you have no way of knowing if your settings are right or wrong during the level, since an analogue camera doesn’t have a digital preview function. About all you can judge “in the moment” is focus and depth of field; determining the best settings for various lighting conditions is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.
There is a bit of a lifeline, however; as you progress through the game and earn points, you can purchase various retouching tools to correct for things like camera shake, unfocused images and over or underexposure. Once you can afford these items, the manual mode becomes a lot less risky — though it takes a couple of playthroughs before you’ll have enough points (and skill) to be able to unlock these.
Paparazzi is oddly compelling. While each of the three girls proceed through a series of identical stages, they’re distinguished nicely through the short visual novel-style sequences between each level, and through the costumes they wear. Performing well enough to unlock the final “Bonus Studio” stage also allows you to spend some time talking to the girl using a series of dialogue options — though again, you still only have five minutes to spend with her, and you’re expected to take at least a few photographs during your session.
Like many other Simple Series games, there isn’t a ton of content here — a single playthrough doesn’t take long, and there’s little overall metagame beyond attempting to “collect” (i.e. photograph) all the three girls’ various animations — but what the game does provide is enjoyable, oddly addictive and is certainly a very distinctive experience. The character models have a lot of personality about them, the game runs smoothly and is presented fairly well considering its low budget. Also, there are exaggerated boob physics if you’re into that sort of thing. And who isn’t?
Plus, hey, you might learn a little something about photography in the process, since the manual mode mechanics in particular are based on how a real camera actually works — and are surprisingly true to life in how they behave.
It’s a fine example of the Simple Series doing what it does best, in other words; anyone interested in curiosities from the PlayStation 2 era — or anyone who has, say, found themselves with a desire to collect every game featuring Riho Futaba (ahem) — will get a kick out of this one.
Screenshots from the PlayStation 2 version.