Interview: Cellius - Namco & Sony's Secret Weapon?
[Gamasutra speaks to Cellius VP Hideo Teramoto about the unusual Japanese research-focused joint venture that recently began development of Ridge Racer for Sony's upcoming PlayStation Vita. ]
Game development companies generally do one thing -- develop games. All development and research done is to further that goal. Tools and engine companies, of course, create products that help that process along -- but few companies are set up simply to investigate ways in which to use technology innovatively for the sake of seeing what can be done.
That's why Cellius is unusual. Formed in March 2007 by Sony Computer Entertainment and Namco Bandai Games, "It's not a standard sort of game development company; the theme is more generally 'entertainment,' and more emphasis is placed on research than most outfits," its vice president Hideo Teramoto told Gamasutra.
"Ken Kutaragi -- who was running SCE at the time -- was in talks with Shukuo Ishikawa, the head of development at NBGI. They got to talking about how it'd be neat to create a company, and it sort of went from there," he says of its foundation.
"Cellius got its start with the Cell processor architecture; the concept was to be an outfit that researched ways to use this technology to create neat things. So it's not exactly pure research; it's more about finding ways to expand the things that can be done with the PlayStation family."
Teramoto stated the company's philosophy succinctly. "Cellius runs on three keywords: 'surprise' -- keeping players excited and interested -- 'entertainment' -- content that is fun to watch and interact with -- and 'realization' -- implementing things and making them a reality, which is important. Just having the ideas isn't good enough; you need the talent to put them into action."
The team is currently working on its first game project, however -- a Ridge Racer title for the PlayStation Vita, which was unveiled at E3 last month. Teramoto, before joining Cellius as a founding member, worked on the series at Namco Bandai.
"We definitely don't" have plans to become a full-time game developer, he says. "This Ridge project is in itself a sort of experiment to see what sort of Ridge game Cellius can come up with; it's a very different development atmosphere from when I was working on Ridge Racer in 2006. So if we do continue making games, I think we'll still remain different from normal game companies."
So how did it come about? It was "Sony that enlisted us for it," he says, "and we also have a lot of people who have connections with NBGI. You had those two sides involved, and ultimately, you had me, who proceeded with it because I thought it'd be interesting to pursue. So it wasn't a one-sided 'do this' sort of request, but a natural collaboration."
In other ways, says Teramoto, he thought he would use his own personal skills, interests, and experiences at Cellius -- and the result was a new Ridge Racer title. He also "developed an interest in ways to use online for gaming, which I brought to Cellius."
In fact, when it comes to the PlayStation Vita, he talks up its online features first. "Personally speaking, though, I'm interested in the Vita's online capabilities, such as the Near [social networking] feature. The Vita has a lot of functionality to help players interact with each other as a regular thing, and that really piques my interest."
Of course, Ridge is a series that dates back to the 1990s, and recent entries have been retreads of the past. "Certainly, I'm aware that a lot of players would like to see something new and fresh happen with the series. I think we're in a position to do something about that, because as a company, we're always trying to do new things."
Beyond a new Ridge Racer, it seems that a research-focused developer such as Cellius could help even the technology gap that Japanese companies have suffered during this generation. "That's definitely true, yes," says Teramoto.
Is that one of the company's goals, then? "We're working in a lot of different directions. I mentioned that we're trying to catch up technology-wise and that's one of our goals, but really it boils down to just working on things that we think are interesting, things that we think players will want to pick up and interact with."
The company's projects have been varied: "One thing we did was voice synthesis technology that allowed the characters from the Evangelion animation to say whatever you wanted. Also, for last year's CEDEC -- the main technical game show in Japan -- we had a demo where we connected several PS3s together to produce a really large, more-hi-res-than-HDTV 3D landscape. There were also some community service projects that let people interact while watching each other onscreen. There are other projects in progress right now, as well, which we can't quite talk about yet."
So, in other words, Cellius pursues a lot of projects that surround the world of games -- or thread through the world of games and computer technology. "Certainly," says Teramoto. "I would like to get more directly involved with more games as well, even though everything we do is related to entertainment in one way or another. Even if it's not directly connected to games, we want to work on things that use computer tech to create neat entertainment that surprises people."
So, has the Cellius experiment born any meaningful fruit for its parent companies just yet? "The technology that we've created? I wouldn't say it's stuff that's directly meant for our parent companies yet, but that's something I want to see in the future as a way to provide better entertainment. It's more things that we make for ourselves. We've made projects that have come into the market, though, like the voice synthesis stuff I talked about earlier. That wound up being used in an NBGI title, so in that respect, it has been used."
[Image credit: GameSpy]