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Develop: How Sony Turned Science Into Games With  Echochrome

Develop: How Sony Turned Science Into Games With Echochrome

July 31, 2008 | By Simon Parkin, Staff

July 31, 2008 | By Simon Parkin, Staff
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At his Develop conference session, original Echochrome designer Jun Fujiki and SCEJ partner Tatsuya Suzuki explained just how a science-minded PC prototype became a cult-hit PlayStation title, that, the developers revealed, would be making a new 2D appearance in PlayStation Home.

The Beginning

To start, the 30 year old Fujiki explained that his actual title -- apart from the game's designer -- is as a member of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Suzuki's roots began at developer Genki, where he worked as a game designer on N64 and Genesis titles before moving on to form own studio making GameBoy titles.

After a break from the games industry at Fujitsu working on software for in-car navigation systems, Suziki rejoined the industry at SCE when the PSP was announced.

Now a producer, he manages the Game Yarouze! Project and is tasked with finding new talent in game development, adding that Echochrome is one of the successes of this project, and that he is currently hunting for new titles as innovative and unusual as Echochrome.

The Discovery

Recalled Suzuki, "March 4th, 2007 was how it all started – a day I will never forget. That day I was at the Japan Media Art Plaza, at an event organized by the Japanese government so, of course, just like any other media art festivals the room was filled with interesting and dramatic works."

"However," he continued, "there was one instillation that I couldn’t take my eyes off. It was called OLE Coordinate system. It had an ultimately simplistic look to it and I couldn’t take my eyes away."

"The basic idea of the application is a space editor," he explained. "You position a character in the environment and the character starts to walk through the corridors. In that demo I saw lots of incredible behaviors and unusual things happening. I was so amazed it was like the earth shaking under my feet. I started to think about how to incorporate the space editor as a mechanism in a game."

"Sony has a heritage of creating smaller scale, idea-driven titles, put together by teams: [PlayStation dice puzzler] XI, [PlayStation controllable memory card peripheral] PocketStation pet games, and so on," said Suzuki.

"Some of these titles, created with small and young teams sold in excess of a million units in Japan. Behind the success is the way we’ve structured the Yarouze teams working on these titles, mashing up talent from around the company," he explained.

Explaining that as a result of Japan's still-segregated society and lifetime employment, new ideas are hard to come by, "when I first say Fujiki-san’s work I was excited to get in touch with him with a view to putting together a diverse team to work his idea into a game."

"Judging by the look of Fujiki’s game - black, white and simplistic - I thought maybe he might be a difficult person to work with!" Suzuki joked. "Before the meeting I was wondering how to approach him, what tactics to use to persuade him to let us work together In the end I just went to him honestly, expressed my passion and vision for what this could be and let that speak loudest. This approach worked!"

Making A Game... Quickly

"The most important thing to work out before making the game was what the players were going to play the concept," said Suzuki. "I decided that the most important thing I wanted users to feel was a sense of wonder and excitement through playing. The first step was to create the space and then to allow the player to twist the perspective and thus create a sense of wonder in the player in how the space changed."

"It was a process of elimination to create the framework of the game," he explained. "The core concept is abstract and complex so we wanted to use a simplistic, minimalistic approach both in terms of the visuals and the game systems. That is how we discovered the original format of the game."

"After we got the go ahead to create a game based on Fujiki’s application it took only 3 weeks to get everything together for the pre-production and prototype," he said. "We worked so fast because we wanted to show the prototype at SIGGRAPH 2007 and TGS that year."

Inspirations

"As we started writing the original game design plan I had to keep reminding myself that the aim was always to make the players feel wonder and inspiration," Suzuki continued. "These are two things I think people find in Sudoku and Rubik’s Cube. I wanted to take some of the elements from these games and apply them to ours: the idea that you play the game and the game doesn’t play you, that you can walk away at any time."

"We specifically decided to not lock the start menu, and to not add gimmicks to stages to make them ‘gamey,'" he said. "We also decided not to introduce multiple characters and also to get the music to play at random so as not to fix the feelings and impressions of stages. It was a brave decision for myself as a developer to choose not to make a very traditional 'gamey’ structured game. Our motto was: “rules, challenges and nothing else.”

The Power Of The People

The pair revealed that to date, Echochrome has seen some 2500 stages created and uploaded by users: 1414 in the U.S., 314 in Japan, 258 for UK, Canada 216, and 51 in Germany. 1151 users have contributed to the product so far, 2.1 stages per user as an average, and 85 users have uploaded 5 or more stages.

The user generated content for the title, interestingly, isn't provided as rote content packs, but rather is randomly mixed in with the Sony-created puzzles as the user plays.

A New Home For Echochrome

Finally, Fujiki and Suzuki announced that development of Echochrome would be continuing, though in an atypical way. As Sony's Home project nears release, the two revealed that the 3D space would contain arcade cabinets that would let users play a new 2D version of Echrochrome (pictured).


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