The lights are on
The PlayStation Vita was definitely the star of TGS 2011. Sony’s dual analog sticks, touch capabilities, impressive graphics, remote play, and 3G functionality has the attention of portable-minded gamers everywhere. I got the chance to interview Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Computer Entertainment’s worldwide studios. We chatted about lessons learned from the PSP, Nintendo’s new second 3DS circle pad, HD remakes, and more.
The PSP received many different hardware iterations, to mixed reactions of consumers. Do you think the Vita will experience a similar life cycle?
We haven’t even released the PS Vita, so we don’t have any plans for future iterations. But as with any electronics product, things get better and cheaper or components advance, so we look at what’s going to be available for us. If it makes sense we might consider updating the product. But what we always make sure of is because we are doing the platform business we have to make sure games are compatible. Any iteration of the hardware you’ll be able to play games on. You look back at PSP, we released three iterations of the PSP. These compatible systems, later versions might have gotten some additional features, but basically these are additional nice things.
What options will there be for owners of original PSP games to play them on the Vita?
Downloadable PSP games will play on the Vita. We are going through the process of testing that, so we can’t say there will be 100 percent compatibility, but we are looking at a very high compatibility percentage for downloadable versions of PSP games on PS Vita. In addition, because PS Vita has a much larger, nicer-looking screen, and the existence of dual analog sticks, we will provide from a system level that some games benefit using the right analog stick. Like FPS or third-person action-adventure games. We will provide options to remap the control from either face buttons or the action buttons to right analog stick. So the control would be much better on PS Vita.
So is there a chance that owners of the physical UMDs will have a way to play the game on the Vita?
We just announced that we are working on something like that for the Japanese market. We are still working on the details of the program, so we will inform the details of the plan for the Japanese market. But we haven’t decided if we’re going to do something similar outside Japan.
You demonstrated the Vita’s remote play function with Killzone 3 during a TGS 2011 presentation. Will every PS3 game be playable on Vita, or is it up to the developer to incorporate that feature?
Yes, that’s correct. The PS Vita has to be customized to support remote play with the PS Vita. Yesterday, the demo that I showed using Killzone 3 was customized. It was meant as a technical demo and we haven’t even finished the utility of the remote play that’s really, really nice to support higher resolution screens on PS Vita, and the mapping of controls like R3, R2, L2 buttons using the backtouch panel. So as soon as we complete the development of those utilities, we will release the utility to PS3 developers so that they can check if their games work with the utility or they may have to do some additional work, because the remote play takes some additional memory and CPU time out of PS3 games. So some games that really utilize the PS3 capabilities may not work, so we’ll see.
What would you say is the most important thing Sony learned from the original PSP?
There are many lessons we have learned, but if you ask me to pick one lesson… Before the launch, as far as the hardware goes we didn’t put enough resources in the hardware to allow us to develop games that are unique to the PSP compared to home consoles. We had many products on PSP, but most of these games like God of War [Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta] came from the console. Basically, you can play a bigger, better version of these titles on PS3. So pre-launch of PSP we were too happy with having the basic capability of PS2-class games to play on PSP, in terms of the screen and CPU/GPU. But after the launch and a few years time, just having pretty graphics isn’t enough. Especially when you can play a bigger, better game on home consoles. That’s the one big lesson when we designed the PS Vita. Because it is portable and because it’s a new technological development, we can put a touchscreen, touchpad, cameras, GPS, or 3G capabilities. We made sure that developers will be able to make use of these features that are unique to portable systems, so that with games we can continue to produce something very exciting that you cannot find on games on home console. So that’s one lesson.
The second lesson comes post-launch of the PSP. Because we shifted development resources to the PS3 launch, we kind of stopped supporting PSP games post-launch. That was a big mistake, because we didn’t realize that third-party developers were doing the same because they were working on the new launch of software on the PS3, Nintendo Wii, and Xbox 360 as well. So going into the PS Vita, because it’s our second time, we are making sure that we won’t make the same mistakes, meaning that we’ll continue to support PS Vita with a stream of good titles through release. So I pick these two as the lessons learned from PSP. I would also say that security and piracy was a problem with the PSP as well, and that will be fortified with PS Vita.
Speaking of security, can we expect the Vita to need as many updates as the PSP and PS3? Are there plans to make these firmware updates less intrusive?
I agree, it’s very annoying when you only have one hour in your busy life to play a game, and when you have to spend 30 minutes out of that one hour to update the hardware. So it’s not necessarily the frequency of how we update, it’s like you said – intrusiveness - of the current processes that we have on PS3 and PSP. I cannot talk about specific plans, but we are very aware of the issues, and we’d like to address those issues on PS Vita going forward.
HD remakes are very popular right now. Can you lend any insight into how difficult it is to update games like God of War and Shadow of the Colossus? From an outsider’s perspective it seems like these HD remakes are relatively easy to make but have high returns for Sony.
For Sony or for third-party publishers. If they are products for the PS2 that people really, really like, and because the PS2 is an SD system, if there are enough people that want to play these games with HD graphics with some updated features like trophy support, 3D support, or network features, it’s going to be win/win for both consumers and publishers. Because as you said, developing these HD remastered versions costs way less than making brand new titles on PS3 from the publishers’ standpoint. So many of these titles, when you look at the pricing of these games, publishers are pricing these games much lower than they do new titles. So people who really like these games on PS2 and like to relive them in HD format, when you try Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in the HD collection, you feel that these games are actually made for HD systems. The vision of [Fumito] Ueda-san really is realized better on PS3, so it’s a complete version of these games. It’s great for your money, especially when you are a new gamer and have never played these games before. It’s a steal. It’s two brand new titles you can purchase for less than buying one new title. So I think as long as there is this happy win/win situation between consumers and publishers, I would expect more titles will come out in this format.
It’s suspicious that Nintendo is releasing a second circle pad attachment for the 3DS after gamers universally praised the Vita’s dual analog sticks. Can you talk about what looks like an attempt by Nintendo to keep up with Sony?
Well it’s not like they looked at PS Vita and said “we need to do that as well.” I don’t know. It’s clear that they didn’t believe a second analog was necessary when they designed the 3DS, so I can only guess it was requested by Capcom’s side. Maybe a Capcom producer told Nintendo that to play Monster Hunter we need [two] analog sticks. That I don’t know, so I can only guesstimate. It was a bit shocking to see what they came up with.
Touching on the 3DS again, it seems like Nintendo responded to the Vita’s low price tag by dropping the 3DS’ cost even lower. It appears to be a direct response from Nintendo. Is it exciting to see Nintendo, which has had a death grip on the handheld market, seemingly react to the Vita’s hype?
I don’t personally believe that they dropped the price of the 3DS to respond to our pricing. We didn’t price PS Vita to their price, either. We had that plan since the last couple years. My personal guesstimate is that they have their business plan and goals to sell a certain amount of 3DS units, and they realized post-launch was that the pricing was not helping them to achieve the goal that they set. That’s my estimate. As far as if I’m excited, I’m not sure. If the 3DS sells like crazy and no one is interested in PS Vita, that’s a problem. There are lots of analysts talking about, “well, you know there are smart phones, there’s no need for dedicated portable game machines.” I don’t believe it. But if they point to certain performance of the 3DS and say the smartphone is here, it doesn’t help us either. I like to see healthy competition between Nintendo’s system and ours because it helps innovation. It’s always a good thing to have.