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GDC: Q&A - Sony Studios' Yoshida On Move Development

GDC: Q&A - Sony Studios' Yoshida On Move Development

March 10, 2010 | By Christian Nutt

March 10, 2010 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, GDC

Today in San Francisco, Sony unveiled the final form of its motion controller, the PlayStation Move. It's a solution that seems to look more like Nintendo's Wii Remote than Microsoft's Project Natal -- though it includes both camera and accelerometer technology.

On stage during the event, SCEA marketing head Peter Dille talked about the product in terms of a platform launch. After the presentation, Gamasutra was able to speak to Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony's Worldwide Studios organization, about what this technology means to Sony -- and others' -- games.

The Changing Face of Sony Development

Sony has traditionally been an engineering-driven company, an approach personified by Ken Kutaragi, the original creator of the PlayStation. However, Kutaragi has been succeeded by Kaz Hirai, and Sony has been promising that the approach will be more balanced with the needs of software developers in the future. But have things really changed?

"That's a perfect question," replied Yoshida. "PlayStation Move is our very first platform [where] SCE has completely changed the approach. There's been a key management change in Japan... [Hirai] made sure that, going forward, new platforms should be developed from the collaboration of the game software development teams and hardware development teams."

In fact, that need prompted Yoshida to relocate to Japan from the U.S., he said. "Because of Kaz's new vision, I felt like this is the perfect opportunity for me to be in Japan and become an intermediary to help the hardware guys to talk to the appropriate software teams."

In fact, said Yoshida, "The head of the hardware department [in Japan] agrees and I feel now that we have done this on PlayStation Move, we cannot think of any other way of developing a new platform. It is so crucial, the input of the teams from our various studios."

The Gene of PlayStation: The Development of Move

PlayStation has always been home to a variety of software -- something Yoshida described as the "gene of PlayStation." He said that shaped their approach to Move. "We wanted to make sure that the new hardware systems can work for many different type of games. We have many different teams creating prototypes and the software systems."

"We always wanted to provide something for everyone. That's why it's a very key target for the system development for PlayStation Move; we wanted to capture both core gamers and casual gamers," said Yoshida.

Teams were asked to "critique and give feedback, long lists of things that were wrong with the early prototypes and give them back to Japan... And they were able to iterate the new hardware prototype and software system and improve it."

The development environment and software libraries that drive the Move system -- which are available to all PlayStation third party developers -- was developed in the U.S. under Richard Marks, Sony's R&D manager of special projects. "What we did from first party was help Rick Marks to improve the software system and tools," said Yoshida.

Core developers, like Zipper Interactive, whose hardcore shooter SOCOM 4 will optionally use the Move peripheral, are "super demanding", said Yoshida, as "they are competing with many excellent shooters out there. So the precision of the system, unless it's there, they wouldn't even be interested in incorporating PlayStation Move."

Yoshida said that "we dragged many teams into this hardware development because we wanted to make sure that ... [Move] satisfies the needs of development teams that usually make traditional games, like SOCOM."

When it comes to the design of the system, said Yoshida, the system's broad base of players made also prompted the choice of a wand and camera solution. "We looked at many different technologies before we settled with the vision-based combination with inertial sensors... We looked at pros and cons, we created prototype games using some other technical systems. Through these activities we are very confident that the choice of technology we made is the right one for PlayStation."

Developing Move Games

Though many of the Move games on display at the event are obviously competent and may be fun, there's nothing that will blow the minds of gamers who've already played the Wii. Yoshida said that these are the first steps.

"Take Wii -- compare their first party titles at the launch, second year, third year. Developers take time to experiment with many things and get heir arms around [the platform]. We're excited and happy with early results of development teams."

The long projected lifespan of the PS3 means Move has hit at the right time, Yoshida said. "Like we've been notoriously saying, the PS3 has a 10 year life cycle. We're still on the early half of development. We're excited to have this system [Move] this year. Last Christmas, we felt like we were able to shift to the right price point for PS3, and we feel we're ready to target a broader audience, and this is perfect timing."

Is this, in fact, a new beginning for the PlayStation 3? "The learning curve from PS2 to PS3 was such that, that two years ago when we launched LittleBigPlanet [felt like it] was our proper system launch, and last year Uncharted 2 was the second year... Many teams are just releasing the first games on PS3, since last year."

Yoshida pointed to titles like InFamous, MAG, and Killzone 2 as evidence of this, and also of the system hitting its stride. "When I talk to all of the developers that we work with, they feel totally comfortable working with PS3 now, and it took a long time."

When it comes to Move, Sony is targeting about 20 first-party games within the next fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2011. This includes both dedicated titles like Move Party and games that optionally use the controller, like SOCOM 4.

Will all of Sony's first party games, then, become Move titles? Said Yoshida, "Technically it's very straightforward to put PlayStation Move into the game, that's one of the strong points for Move that we feel, because PS3 is very robust, it takes a fraction of SPU."

However, not all games will use Move, said Yoshida. "The key is if the developer has a good idea to use Move in the game. So for SOCOM 4 we feel strongly that gamers who are not good at shooting games will find it much easier to get into a shooting game. That's a strong, good reason to do so, but each game is different."

In fact, the move to put these controls in SOCOM is less about convincing hardcore gamers to use Move and more about convincing slightly more casual players to try the game. "We are not necessarily trying to convince people... who are good at using DualShock controller, to play shooting games [with Move]. We are trying to target a little bit broader playing audience who feel intimidated playing shooter games online. We'd like to invite these gamers into more hardcore games, like SOCOM."

And the causal games for Move will offer a lot of depth, said Yoshida. The table tennis game has similar assist options as you might see in a driving game, but these can be turned off, and "if you are a good ping pong player, you can disable some of these assists and really show what you can do with the paddle."

Should developers who deliver dual-control games like SOCOM, in fact, go easy on Move players? Said Yoshida, "This is exactly what we need to do. The control scheme that Zipper came up with for SOCOM 4 is very intuitive to move..." However, camera control can be a problem -- so, said Yoshida, "the game developer has to adjust the game difficulty and make sure that you don't get too much from your side when you are using Move... That will be necessary." Sony sees the potential of inviting more people into hardcore gaming as part of Move's success.

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