PS Vita Game Devs: Capcom, Ubisoft, Codemasters On Sony’s New Console
PS Vita is out today, so we speak to some of the major developers to gauge their thoughts on the console.
Published on Feb 22, 2012
We speak to some of the PS Vita's main developers about Sony's PSP successor, their games and the future of the PS Vita. Here's what Capcom, Ubisoft and Codemasters developers have to say about the console:
What’s your favourite thing about the PS Vita?
F1 2011 PS Vita producer Dean Scott: It’s so exciting to be in at the start of a device that blurs the boundaries between a home console and a portable.
It’s a brave move from Sony, since the landscape for handheld gaming is nigh on unrecognisable from when the original PSP launched. You can buy videogames to play on the train for 69p now, so Vita has to come with some premium content to remind people that portable gaming isn’t just firing birds at pigs.
Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 producer Ryota Niitsuma: Many aspects of the PlayStation Vita are interesting, but by far, the high specs and potential of the hardware is what makes it exciting for me.
Lumines producer James Mielke: My favourite thing about the PS Vita isn’t any individual hardware feature, but rather the fact that it basically contains everything I want in a handheld gaming system: two analog sticks, a high-definition screen, powerful processing power, broadband connectivity, and all the bells and whistles (touchscreens, shoulder buttons, etc.).
In every handheld system released up until this point, they’ve all come with compromises. The Vita is the first handheld, I feel, that finally has it all.
Rayman Origins producer Boujemaa El Hibait: The amazing screen! I think we are all really impressed with its capabilities. In fact, PS Vita players will have a very similar visual experience as the home console versions (60 FPS, impressive graphic quality) thanks to the quality of the screen.
How did you find developing for Vita? How different is it to PSP?
DS: For us, it was a very positive experience. The sheer power of the machine meant that we threw the stuff at it from day one and it just... worked. The usual compromises you have to make in creating a handheld title just aren’t necessary.
It’s more akin to creating a PS3 game than a PSP title, with the fidelity of the assets you’re working with. We’re able to have an entire F1 season in the palm of your hand in HD.
RN: Overall there wasn’t too much difference, the biggest being the features, such as the touch screen. We had to think of how we could use them in an original and effective manner. I think it was really tough given the really tight schedule, but it was fun trying to get the most out of the new features.
JM: Obviously this device has a lot more power than the PSP, so figuring out how to maximize and optimize a game’s graphics and audio for the Vita is a fresh challenge. You’re usually used to thinking you can do a lot less with a handheld system, but with Vita it’s really on par with what you can do with consoles now.
One of the things we’ve had to learn how to deal with is all of the new technologies in the Vita that weren’t available before, like the 3G, and the dual touchscreens, and believe it or not, the new social mechanics, like the Live Area and Near. The PSP primarily had wi-fi and ad-hoc, and access to the PSN store. Now there’s so much more to consider.
BEH: Developing on a new hardware is always challenging, especially during a Launch period. Fortunately, PS Vita’s performance and architecture made it pretty straight forward. Of course, we have been confronted with technical issues when bringing Rayman Origins from home consoles to PS Vita, but we always found a solution where we could preserve the high quality level of the main version.
Rayman Origins looks gorgeous on the PS Vita's OLED screen.
How did you decide which features of the Vita to incorporate and which to leave out for your game?
DS: Rather than chuck everything at it and hope for the best, we wanted to cherry pick the functionality that worked best for us. We wanted to make use of the connectivity of the Vita and have multiplayer, because the fans demand it.
Features like Near might make perfect sense for certain games, but we didn’t want to force them into F1 2011. Same for the gyros: while having tilt to steer might seem like a no brainer, in practice it’s annoyingly imprecise and you’d need to ‘cheat’ to make it work. That goes against what F1 is all about.
RN: We prioritized the features that fit the fighting game genre well. Also, we took the ideas that we could incorporate and then discussed what would fit with the schedule, etc.
JM: Our publisher, Ubisoft, was very clear early on in the design process that we should pick the things that made the most sense for our game, and to focus on that. They didn’t want us attempting to utilize everything the Vita could do if it didn’t make sense for the game. For example: In theory we could have had the gamer tilt the Vita to slide the blocks left and right, but who on earth would want to do that?
So we scratched that idea right out. Any idea that forced the gamer to take his eyes off the screen was discarded immediately. As for the things we did utilize, it made sense to bring the Lumines fanbase together, united in a common goal, and for that we devised the World Block, where the simple act of playing contributes to a daily tally, in which experience points are rewarded to everyone who uploads their scores to the leaderboards.
We also used the new touchscreen technology to enable players to interact with the game musically, and to let them activate Avatar abilities with a simple finger tap. These features made sense for Lumines Electronic Symphony, by enriching the social elements, so those were the ones we focused on.
BEH: For this project, we had two main objectives: make Rayman Origins part of the launch lineup for PS Vita and offer PS Vita players the same game experience that Michel Ancel brought to home consoles.
While we are excited that we are able to utilize the touch screen and the Near function, but we really had to keep the core of the controls and game intact. We will surely plan to take full advantage of the PS Vita capabilities in our future projects.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one of the Vita's most impressive launch games.
What would you say to those developers on the fence about developing for the Vita?
DS: It’s likely more down to publishers than developers. The PSP never quite took flight in Europe in the way that many people expected when that incredible hardware first arrived. I can imagine many publishers are adopting a ‘wait and see’ stance. For us, we wanted to be involved from the start because F1 is such a strong brand and seemed a great fit for what, initially at least, will be a machine for the hardcore gamer.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Vita titles fare against their cheaper App Store cousins. Flick Kick Football is cool, but as a hardcore gamer, I’m going to want to be playing a console-quality FIFA or PES instead if that’s available.
RN: I think that the capabilities for the platform are really high. New developers can do things that have been previously unachievable on a handheld, so I’d love to see what developers can come up with over its life cycle. There’s a large scope to create some innovative titles on the hardware.
JM: What another developer wants to do is completely up to him, but I think the Vita is going to be a great place to play both high budget Triple-A titles, as well as indie gems like the PSP Mini game ‘Where Is My Heart?’
So, in the spirit of experimentation and innovation, in addition to the fact that the Vita is a great conduit for downloadable games, I think this is a great place to look at developing all kinds of games for.
BEH: Get off the fence! We had a really positive experience working with the Vita development.
Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom manages to bring beat-'em-up to the handheld.
What’s the secret to getting the best out of Vita and what sort of experiences should gamers be looking forward to a year, two years from now?
DS: Look at the difference between PS3 launch titles and what’s out there now: as developers get to grips with the technology the visual quality of what’s released will just keep improving. As close as Vita is to PS3-quality visuals now, you can likely look forward to that gap getting even narrower in the next couple of years.
RN: We like to think that although we’re thrilled with UMVC3, there’s plenty more to be gained from the hardware. So maybe we should be asking you this question [laughs]. I’m confident there’ll be a great catalogue lined up on the PlayStation Vita, so I hope that everyone else is as excited as I am. Until then, I hope you guys enjoy UMVC3!
JM: This is really hard to say at this particular moment, as we’ve just gotten our first game for Vita done, and the Vita SDKs and libraries are still evolving. I’m sure the games we see in 2 or 3 years time will far overshadow what we’ve accomplished now, but I think the key to creating something stellar for Vita will lie in designing games for the system from the ground up.
Don’t just try and take an existing console game and squish it onto Vita. Thinking about how to get the most out of the connectivity features and how to weave that into the game design, or how to best use the tilt controls in an innovative, fresh kind of way is important. I look at Gravity Daze as a model of inspiration.
Seeing Kat (the main character) hovering in mid-air as you tilt the Vita is a beautiful, refreshing experience. Just as with any game console, you really need to play to the system’s strengths. As for the future, I think games like Gravity Daze will really open developer’s eyes as to what one can do with the system, and encourage even greater experimentation and cool ideas.
I think a lot of new superstars are going to emerge from the indie community and usher in a new wave of amazing games. I’m really excited about the future of portable gaming, and I think the Vita is going to play a big role in that.
BEH: I don’t know that I have any secrets, you’d probably have to ask Sony. However, I think what you will see in the coming year/years is more precision and advancement in utilizing all the features, especially Cross Play. It can be hard to do this as a launch title. Some have just focused on one or two, but I think in time, you will see games take advantage of more.