TGL recently caught up with Sony Computer Entertainment XDev Producer John McLaughlin to get the lowdown on what it is the XDev actually does, why PlayStation Vita is one of the more accessible platforms to develop for and why Vita will bring Augmented Reality experiences to gamers in all new interactive and creative ways.
Here we go…
John McLaughlin: I’m a producer for XDev Studios over in Liverpool. X-Dev is a part of Sony Worldwide Studios and we’re an external development team. We work with all the development teams around Europe to create games for all PlayStation platforms. So we’re the guys who have contributed to games like BUZZ! and LittleBigPlanet, and have worked with the likes of Evolution Studios on MotorStorm and Guerrilla Games on Killzone 2. We’re also involved in a load of games that you might not have even heard of. We try to drive platform initiatives too and have worked on PSN games like Dead Nation, Super Stardust and PlayStation Move games like The Fight and Start The Party!. We support all Sony platforms. We’re always looking out for new developers, be they small scale dev teams or more established ones. We always look forward to working with the extended PlayStation development community.
TGL: So you have a lot of projects on the go…..
JM: Yes, we have tons of projects on the go at the one time. We have about 28 odd producers now with multiple projects under our belts with development teams around Europe.
TGL: So in terms of what you guys actually do, what does PlayStation Vita represent when it comes to development accessibility and new creative development possibilities?
JM: Personally, I love getting my hands on a new console. You always learn new things and that’s great. In terms of Vita and development for the handheld, I think it’s much easier to get your games up and running on vita than it has with previous Sony platforms. Developing games is never easy, but Vita is certainly more accessible. What the means for us is that it’s easy to get your game up and running and we can quickly prototype things and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s very easy to make development calls with Vita, there’s no delving into CPU’s and things like that. From a developer’s point of view, the Vita is super powerful. We’re always hungry for more, but because this is so small and so portable, it has all the power it needs. It has all the right inputs too like the touch screen, the rear pad and the twin sticks. That means we can create any kind of game now and make games that we couldn’t make before. We can also re-create experiences that we couldn’t perfect before because the controller is more accessible and lends itself to better creative gameplay.
TGL: Given the power and potential of the handheld, is development akin to home console development now more than ever before?
JM: Vita creates a home console experience in the palm of your hand. Vita can allow you take it that one step forward with cross platform play. Just look at Hustle Kings or WipEout 2048. They connect the Vita and the PS3 and they look just as awesome on either platform. Everything is seamless. We can create different experiences with Vita that you just can’t get with the PS3. That’s the real benefit of development on Vita, you have more choice in the types of games you can make.
TGL: Is there anything to be said for Vita having too much unique functionality? Can developers feel under pressure to have to conform to integrating some kind of Vita only control into their game, even when it’s not entirely necessary?
JM: We like to use the functionality without it becoming a gimmick. Take augmented reality for example. We’ve been doing it for years. Look at EyeToy on PS2 or Invizimals on PSP. Then look at Start The Party! and EyePet on PS3. We’ve been doing augmented reality for a long time but after Invizimals shipped for PSP, there was this emergence of smart phones and these Apps that made people perceive augmented reality as a kind of gimmick App. But it’s not a gimmick, there are real things you can do with it. In the past you could be a virtual creature in a virtual forest looking for other virtual creatures. But with invizimals, we took away the forest and made the forest your home, your garden and your kitchen table. With the PSP camera, the real world became your gaming world and you didn’t play as a hero because you were the hero. You’d place your marker down and these creatures would appear in your space like your kitchen table. You could interact with them too. With augmented reality it’s not just about creating an image in the real world, it’s about interacting with it too. Invizimals was a really good start for what we can and will go on to do with augmented reality. Now we have the Vita, and all of the points of interaction like the cameras and the microphone are all built in to the technology from day one. With the power that’s there too, we’re really going to advance what augmented reality can actually for gaming.
TGL: So will be being seeing more developers embrace A.R?
JM: Obviously were going to support augmented reality from day one. We have a new technology called W.A.A.R (Wide Area Augmented Reality) and every Vita is going to be bundled with six A.R cards bundled in with it. What that means is that every consumer and every developer is going to have access to these cards from the beginning. Developers can now make full A.R games or A.R sections in their games because every Vita consumer has these cards at home. This makes it easier to integrate A.R into your game.
TGL: In terms of software line ups, just how impressive is Vita’s by comparison to previous Sony platform launches?
JM: I think for launch, Vita has one of the most impressive launch line ups I’ve ever seen. Look at FIFA, Uncharted and WipEout. These games are testament to the power of the machine.
TGL: So in relation to XDev, what are you guys actively looking for from the development community and the teams you work with and will work with in the future?
JM: We don’t shoehorn ourselves into any particular genre. We look at our catalogue and think about the gaps that exist in it and see if anyone out there is producing something that might work for us. We provide excellent support. We work with PSN, PS3 and Move games, anything and everything. When it came to BUZZ!, we actually created the BUZZ! peripherals. BUZZ! was a huge success. LittleBigPlanet was unique and the community has exploded thanks to the Play, Create and Share philosophy. Same goes for a game like ModNation Racers. There’s an unlimited amount of gameplay in these games. As a gamer, you’ve never been so spoilt for choice as you are now. I remember when I was younger I’d look forward to maybe two or three big releases a year. Now, there are almost too many big games. This is the golden age.
TGL: Is there a downside to having so much choice though?
JM: Yes. There are not enough hours in the day…