FutureFive NZ - Interview: game producer from Sony's XDev studio

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Interview: game producer from Sony's XDev studio

With just a few months until the release of the PlayStation Vita (rhymes with heater), we speak to Sony’s John McLaughlin about what fans can expect.

Techday: Hi John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

JM: No problem.

TD: To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about XDev?

John McLaughlin: So, I work for Sony Europe, and one of our departments is XDev Studios. We’re an external development team, so we work with developers all across Europe and sometimes even Australia to find great games and create great games. Some of the games we’ve worked on are MotorStorm, MotorStorm 2, Killzone 2, Little Big Planet, the Buzz franchise, as well as small games on the Playstation store, like Super Stardust, Dead Nation, Move games, PSP games, and now we’re bringing some of our existing IP and some new IP as well to the Playstation Vita.

TD: And what’s your role?

JM: I’m a producer, so I’m currently producing Reality Fighter, I also look after the Invisibles franchise. Basically I’ve had roles over many different games, many different genres, whether it’s MotorStorm, the WRC franchise, Move games like Move Fitness, so I’ve been around the block a bit.

TD: So, tell us a little bit about the Vita that’s coming out in a couple of months, what are some of the new features we can expect to see?

JM: For a start, the device is extremely well put together, it’s fantastic in your hands, it’s really light. In terms of the new features we’ve got dual analogue sticks now, so no compromises when it comes to first person shooters, action adventure games. We’ve got multi-touch 5-inch OLED screen that’s beautiful to look at, it really helps show up the graphical performance, and as well as that we’ve got a rear multi-touch pad  that gives us new opportunities for easy and innovative gameplay styles. We’ve got sixaxis motion technology in there as well, that gives us additional control and additional ability to do different things. We’ve got front and rear cameras now, which allows us to do unique augmented reality experiences, so Reality Fighter’s our first game coming up and we’ve got a ton of augmented reality ideas that we’re working on right now for the future. 

Then we’ve got a ton of social connectivity in there, we’ve got Near, that’s a feature that enables you find out what your friends in the same area are playing or what they’ve played recently, you share your game information there and you can meet friends and find new players. We’ve got Party, which enables you to have voice or text chat with your friends, not just while you play online but when you’re playing different games or in different applications. Then we’ve got the live area, which allows you to connect to your friends, and the content that you all care about, and you can get gaming updates there. Then on top of that we’ve got social essentials, which allows you to keep up with friends on Facebook or Twitter, maybe you can call them on Skype or check in on FourSquare. Then we’ve got a trophy application as well so you can collect Trophies on Vita, and track all the trophies that you’ve won, not just on the Vita but on the PS3 too. Then, as well as wi-fi there’s going to be the option of 3G which will offer a constantly connected experience. Hope that answers your question.

TD: Absolutely. Working with the development studios, what’s their reaction been to the Vita?

JM: They’re really happy with it, just like we are. It’s exceptionally powerful, which is all good, because we can do the kinds of things you may expect on PS3. There’s all the features I’ve just run through in terms of the controls, so they’re happy with the controls and the new interface, that means we can come up with new ideas. For people who just want to do the touch games we can do that, or for people who want to do new augmented reality experiences, it makes it easier now because the cameras are built in. The power enables us to render to a much higher degree, like we’ve got Little Big Planet, unfortunately you can’t see it, but it looks as good as it does on the PS3, so our developers are really happy with the device.

TD: The Nintendo 3DS has had mixed results, a lot of people say it’s because of competition from smartphones and other portable devices, are you confident the Vita’s got enough in it to distinguish itself from those devices? 

JM: I think if you go through some of those features I’ve just mentioned it’s distinguished very well. You’re only going to be able to get certain gaming experiences on a smartphone, but the Vita’s a true portable gaming device. We can do anything we want to do, so whether you want to do a proper first person shooter with the same kind of controls you’d expect from a home console, we’ve got that. If you want an augmented reality experience we’ve got the best tools for that. If you just want a touch-screen interface for a touch-screen mini-game, we can do that as well, so we kind of cover all areas. The Vita’s pretty much the ultimate portable gaming device right now.

TD: Speaking of augmented reality, what are your plans to extend further into that area?

JM: We’re working on some exciting new technologies right now. I work with Novorama, who created all the Invisibles games on PSP. Right now they’re working on Reality Fighters which is a new beat-em-up, and rather than play as a character, although you can do that, we wanted to be able to scan you, your friends’ or your family’s faces in. It takes a matter of seconds with our new technology that we use, and gives fantastic results, so basically you can duke it out on your table or in your living room or in the garden. We’ve got different types of augmented reality technologies as well, so you’ve got your traditional single marker, that allows us to view the action from any angle. With the Vita’s processing power we’ve been able to bump the frame rate up to sixty frames per second so it’s really fast and really nice. Also if you’re gaming on the go you might not want to use a marker so if you’re on the beach you can use the gyroscopes inside the Vita and project the fighters onto the beach. It’s also scaled, so if you were on top of a building and you looked down you could project the fighters there and they’d look like two giants duking it out in the street. 

On top of those things in Reality Fighter we’re also working on some exciting new technologies. One of those is called Wide Area Augmented Reality, or WAAR for short, and that consists of up to six markers, so that enables us to create a bigger gaming environment, so we could take over a whole desktop and have a game of mini-tanks, or you could use different markers at different heights and have a character jump from maybe the sofa onto the floor. Because you’ve got multiple markers you can introduce different markers at different times in the game, so let’s say you had a virtual pet game, then you can bring different markers into the scene, and they can be different objects, different challenges for your pet, you can create your very own dog show in the living room. So augmented reality is going to be a big part of Vita in the future.

TD: Sounds really exciting. So, you obviously get to see all of the games that are coming up across all of the platforms, what are your picks? What titles do you think our readers should be looking out for?

JM: Well, I’m hard at work on Reality Fighters right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing what players’ responses are, because for a lot of people this’ll be the first time they get to see augmented reality. So I’m excited by that, but I’m excited by games like Wipeout, it looks absolutely stunning, Uncharted looks really, really good, so there’s going to be a lot of content out there, whether the big-hitting games or whether the smaller, downloadable games. There’s going to be something for everyone. 

TD: Has the New Zealand release date been announced yet?

JM: There haven’t been any release dates announced, it’s just going to be early 2012. 

TD: Alright. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today John.

JM: Cheers.

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