As you may have seen from the photo gallery I posted, I spent last week in Tokyo, Japan covering the first launch of PS Vita and finally getting to see this stunning new hardware in gamers’ hands. While I was there, I met up with Shuhei Yoshida, Vice President of Sony Computer Entertainment and President of Worldwide Studios, to talk about what PS Vita is set to deliver in spades: great games.
PlayStation.Blog: Many view the PlayStation Vita launch line-up as the best in our company’s history. How long have you been planning it for?
Shuhei Yoshida, President, Worldwide Studios: Full development of PS Vita hardware started in Spring, 2008 when the semiconductor was complete. The great thing is that we [Worldwide Studios] were there right at the beginning to express our thoughts and reactions to the hardware that was being proposed. We were there at every stage and with every prototype, and we developed game builds to prove and, sometimes, disprove how each new feature was going to make for a great game system.
When Kaz Hirai took over management of SCEI he brought in the approach of fully integrating software and hardware development. Before that, we made brilliant hardware, no question of that, but our hardware team didn’t have such a good understanding of what game developers need or what features might be useful.
It is thanks to this way of working that you are seeing such a great line-up, using so many of the system’s unique features; it’s because our developers have been working with them from the moment each was conceived.
PSB: How far ahead are you looking now and what can we expect from the second and third phases of releases?
SY: Generally we look three years ahead when we work on games. We have a fairly firm plan right up to 2013 but, because PS Vita gives us the opportunity to work on smaller titles like Escape Plan and Sound Shapes, I’m certain we will end up working on more games than we even know about at this moment. On top of the launch line-up, we have already announced LittleBigPlanet, Resistance: Burning Skies, ModNation: Road Trip, and Killzone.
In the past we launched PSP and then shifted our attention to PS3 when that came on the horizon, which we now concede was a mistake. So with PS Vita we are working on this huge range titles and planning ahead for a constant supply of excellent games.
PSB: Augmented Reality (AR) has already been used in some great games but perhaps games aimed at a younger or more casual audience. What is going to convince hardcore gamers that it’s a compelling new way to play?
SY: One thing I know about hardcore gamers is that they hate it when we try to shove new technology down their throats. There may be a perception that Augmented Reality is a gimmick, so we have to provide something that is robust and genuinely enhances the experience. You’re right that AR leans more towards a casual or a younger audience but I don’t think that’s a bad thing; I think that it helps PS Vita to be more relevant to a wider group of people. The more we experiment, I’m sure that we will see real gameplay benefits for hardcore players.
PSB: As someone involved in unearthing new development talent, does it excite you seeing smaller teams coming up with really compelling download and mobile games?
SY: Absolutely – my personal PS Vita game is a totally immersive experience called Sound Shapes (which is especially great when you’re wearing headphones). It’s made by Jonathan Mak who created Everyday Shooter all by himself, designing the graphics and even composing the music. With this new game he has some huge ambitions: he has even hired a couple of people!
I’m a fan of these small developers – The best thing is that they have experience in every part of planning, developing and releasing. It’s not like they have left school and gone to work in a team of 100, only ever working on one particular aspect of their game. They don’t follow the traditional game conventions; some of them are very vocal about trying to break those rules. They are the next generation and they will be changing the landscape of gaming long after I have retired.
PSB: Is there one attribute that you’re always looking for in a PlayStation developer?
SY: I don’t necessarily work on recruiting any more as there are producers in our studios reaching out and looking for new talent. Each of them has his or her special thing that they look for but passion is the one common attribute. If a developer is asking you what you want them to develop, then that is not a good question; producers are looking for people with conviction in their own ideas.
PSB: PlayStation 3 has introduced predominantly new IPs from Worldwide Studios, whereas PS Vita has a mix of the new and the familiar. What can we expect to see in the long term?
SY: People like to see their favourite franchises, partly because gaming is about learning a mechanic and developing a skill, and players want to use those skills that they have honed. However, when we introduce new hardware with unique interfaces and network options, it is almost easier to work on something completely new. Take rear touch on PS Vita – we’d rather be thinking about how we can make fresh games using that feature than figuring out ways to add it to something that already exists.
PSB: Developers have stated that PS Vita is relatively easy to develop for, but how do you quantify that and put it into some perspective for our readers?
SY: If you’re keeping track of the third-party games that are being developed then you’ll be amazed at how quickly they are coming together. I’ve been working with our internal dev teams on launch games and they’ve had longer cycles because they were also, in part, helping to debug the early prototypes of the hardware and the SDK.
When I saw new developers coming in and getting straight to work on those systems when they had matured, I could not believe how quickly they were getting their games up and running. I have never seen anything like it before. If you want very straightforward evidence to support that, we are launching PS Vita here in Japan with 24 games.
PSB: Which games do you predict will be most popular at the Japanese launch?
SY: Actually, we collect data from retailers taking pre-orders and we know that Everybody’s Golf (note: known as Hot Shots Golf in North America) is the most popular and UNCHARTED: Golden Abyss is number two. I’m very proud that they are both Worldwide Studios titles.
PSB: It’s perceived that Japanese gaming tastes are quite different to those in Europe and the Americas. Do you see them growing closer?
SY: Japanese people traditionally have a strong local preference, particularly with the Manga style look of characters that they love. But as technology and presentation advances in games like UNCHARTED and Call of Duty, they are rightly seeing their quality. Also, it helps that SCEJ paid a lot of money to get Harrison Ford to appear on TV playing UNCHARTED!