Interview: Shuhei Yoshida
After Phil Harrison’s departure as head of SCE Worldwide Studios, veteran replacement Shuhei Yoshida faced an uphill struggle. The paucity of exciting new PSP content, delays to PlayStation Home, the doggedness of Microsoft in Japan, the dominance of Wii, the price of manufacture, underperforming thirdparty games: there were many chinks in the armour. A year later and, with strong games on the horizon, promising hardware, and the price of PSP development crashing, things are looking up. Defying the flu scare to visit this year’s E3, he gives Edge comrade in arms, Official PlayStation Magazine UK, the complete picture.
Was the motion controller evangelised to your developers prior to its announcement?
In the past, Sony Computer Entertainment was a little bit hardware-oriented. Technology was invented in Japan and given to developers like us when that was done. But with this controller, the R&D for the camera technology has continued since EyeToy on PS2. When we decided to continue it with a motion controller on PS3, we involved representatives from the game and software research teams. So it was really a collaborative effort. It’s not like we’re given some secret new technology from Tokyo and have to figure out what to do.
Which studios are using it now, and what kinds of experiences can we expect?
The first thing we thought about was how to make the interface seamless and easy for consumers. That’s what EyeToy achieved when we debuted on PS2, but it was a bit limited next to what you can do with this controller. We’re trying to make it so precise that what you do is exactly what you get in the game. You don’t have to learn any specific moves; how you move already is how you move in the game. But as we learn to use this tech, more and more ideas are coming from studios that would be great to use in an adventure-type experience, or a firstperson shooter. So we’re not limiting ourselves to certain types of audience or experience.
Might the controller be used alongside the DualShock in some games?
Technically, it’s totally doable. We’re working with the group in Tokyo to make such things simple and understandable.
How does this compare to what Microsoft is proposing with Natal?
I saw the [Natal] demonstration and it’s a very sweet video; it’s more futuristic and I felt like I was watching some Consumer Electronics Show event. What I think they’re trying to do is continue on the path we began with EyeToy and PlayStation Eye, removing the barrier between consumers and games. That’s very natural when it comes to what you have to learn. However, we know from working with camera technology for a long time that just using the camera without precisely detecting what the consumer wants to do, with buttons and triggers, is quite difficult, especially when bringing it into the game context. So while it’s very interesting, what we’re providing with our technology is very different.
Are you confident you’ll be first to market?
Well, they didn’t talk about the timing, did they? We’re looking to launch this technology in spring next year.
How much time do you spend comparing the PlayStation line-up with those of the competition?
There are so many things we can do on PS3 and PSP, and we have so many resources. So it’s wise for us to talk with our business side – our partners and marketing groups – about what we have in our line-up, and address any lacks of support in a particular area. This conversation is constant. We’ve got our portfolio of products and evaluate each opportunity.
Jack Tretton spoke of games that are “only possible on PlayStation”. How would you characterise these?
We always talked about great technology since launch, but this is the year where consumers are talking about that. Developers are more comfortable with the hardware, and they’re finding that the more they develop for PS3 in particular, the more they’re finding untapped power. I think this year you’ll see more and more on PS3 where you’ll have to think hard about whether it’s possible on other platforms.
Is there enough extra power for a ten-year lifecycle?
The platform is evolving. The firmware and software are evolving. So the teams in Tokyo and the US are adding features and making more memory available. It’s allowing the developer to incorporate more interesting network features, for example. And the more code they move from the PPU to the SPUs, the more they find the computing-intensive tasks like AI and particle effects to be very easy on PS3. You’ll see more and more interesting character behaviours and unique graphics. That’s only possible using the power of Cell.
So do you foresee a gap emerging between the firstparty titles and the multiplatform ones?
The way I understand it from talking to friends in the industry, the multiplatform providers still have specific engineering teams for each platform. And engineers working specifically on PS3 are finding the same thing as our internal teams. It’s more a business decision whether the publisher allows the versions of a game to be different.
Why was The Last Guardian not shown earlier, and were you disappointed at the leak?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Maybe there’s a reason the person who leaked it waited until just before E3. But the reason we didn’t show early footage was because the team wanted to feel comfortable that the vision they created could be delivered. So everything we showed here was from the game engine, and they’ve got to the point where they know they can make this game and can see how it’ll be completed.
Do they have a release date in mind?
When I teased them about being the Olympic Team [a reference to four-year gaps between Team Ico’s games], I thought that would suggest a limit of Christmas this year. But we’ll be able to show more now because the game is running and the team is creating more and more content, and you’ll be able to play it sooner rather than later.