The PSP Minis service could just be Sony’s biggest ever commitment to the rapidly emerging era of digital gaming. And it begins today, along with the launch of the PSPgo.
In the first of a series of online discussion forums, Develop talks to an expert panel – together holding over six decades of combined experience in the games industry – to discuss what the PSP Minis service really means for developers.
Our panel of experts come from all around the world – from London to Madrid to California to Brisbane – and specialise in different areas. Some are iPhone studios, others prefer WiiWare, some will see their Minis titles launched today, and others are renowned for their expertise in UMD titles.
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Fabian Akker, co-Founder, Ronimo Games (Swords and Soldiers, WiiWare)
Graeme Williams, Head of Operations, Virtual Toys (Hoopworld, XBLA; Rafael Nadal Tennis, DS)
Jason Kingsley, creative director, Rebellion (Aliens Versus Predator, PC/PS3/360; Star Wars Battlefront, PSP)
Mark Inman, COO, Honeyslug (Kahoots, PSP Minis; Ric Rococo, iPhone)
Phil Larsen, marketing manager, Halfbrick Studios (Avatar, DS; Raskulls, XBLA)
Roberto Alvarezde Lara Sieder , CEO, Over the Top Games (NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits; WiiWare)
Tyrone Rodriguez, Producer, Nicalis (Cave Story, WiiWare; Night, TBA)
First and foremost, what’s the main attraction in developing PSP Minis?
Inman: Well, Minis puts the power back in the hands of the developer. Our studio is the suddenly the publisher for a PlayStation title, which sounds great just hearing it, and of course there’s no-one else trying to control what we’re doing.
de Lara Sieder: For us, I think the main attraction is the ease which we can release titles and the reduced risk of a digital project.
Kingsley: It’s also a great opportunity for new teams to get into the game industry. As a new studio with limited resources, creating games for this kind of distribution systems is the way to go. Without this option, it would be practically impossible to compete with the budgets of bigger games.
Williams: I think the main thing is the more open nature of this media platform. But also, we can certainly squeeze a lot out of the PSP’s enhanced hardware configuration.
Rodriguez: Portable download services like those for the DSi and PSP are great for all developers, regardless of their team size. With Minis it’s really about the freedom to make whatever we want – within reason, of course – and present it to the world.
Larsen: The PlayStation Network already has 50 million users, so Minis should definitely give us some room to show the simple and fun nature of our games.
Obviously some of you are already working on PSP Minis. Who else among you is interested in using the system?
Kingsley: I can say that, at present, we’re working flat out on Aliens vs Predator for Sega and our other AAA titles. But, we’re planning to find some time to look to our game IP heritage and smaller titles for PSPgo.
Akker: Our focus is a little bit bigger than Minis games, so I wouldn’t say we’re interested.
Williams: We most definitely are and are already doing so. Our experience with on-demand digital entertainment already had us well-aligned to the arrival of Minis, and so we factored some key PSPgo developments into our game catalogue for 2009.
Rodriguez: We’re absolutely interested in both PSP games and Minis right now. Download services like these give the rest of us the opportunity to make something great, regardless of the scope. It’s ultimately up to Sony to approve what goes on its store, but we’d love to make games not unlike those you’d play in arcades during the early ’80s
Larsen: One reason why PSP Minis are a great idea is because the PSP is a handheld platform that doesn’t rely entirely on touch controls like the iPhone. With iPhone you need to consider so many logistical control issues, but with PSP you can make a great unique game with traditional controls on a handheld platform.
Inman: The prospect of getting your games on PSP, a dedicated console, is far more attractive than getting a game up on the iPhone. When HoneySlug was starting up we looked at the iPhone and did consider that as something we wanted to get into. But really, before we even made any meaningful attempt to focus our direction onto the iPhone, we heard from Sony about Minis and we went straight with it.
Developers reading this could very well be embarking on Minis projects of their own. What’s the best advice you could give them?
Kingsley: Quality and gameplay. I believe Sony will help avoid the utter release chaos that is on the Apple formats by being a bit careful about quality and technical standards. Hopefully the signal to noise ratio on the PSP will be much higher.
Akker: If you want to make money of it then keep your game small.
Rodriguez: Think small. Focus on gameplay. Go back to the basics, dust off the NES, your Amiga or ZX Spectrum. They were doing amazing things with a few Megabits, not Megabytes.
I think some developers have become too far removed from basic, solid gameplay and too focused on all the stuff that doesn’t actually make a game any better; we’re not Hollywood so let’s stop making movies. That mentality won’t work when you have file size limitations.
While we’re not making movies (it certainly shows in games that try and fail), we can still certainly make an artistic impression with a bit of ingenuity and creativity. This is where a whole new audience will be lured in and then hopefully rewarded with a play experience that is just as satisfying as its initial appeal. There’s a balance in there somewhere.
Inman: Don’t be afraid of asking Sony for help. Given all the effort Sony’s gone through to get the whole Minis thing off the ground, it’s clear they want the service to be a success as much as you want your game to be a success, so of course they’re going to help you.
Sony’s support has been great, I get the impression that Sony helped us as much as it could, in all honesty. We’ve received a constant stream of info, code and help. scedev.net has been a useful resource; there’s always tech support staff fairly close by to come back with info and advice, and they do it quickly.
We went from making games with mouse interfaces to, for the first time, making games with a D-pad interface. The sample code that Sony provided for this was really helpful, it allowed us to get stuck into the project straight away.
Williams: I would advise developers to take some time in the planning stages and really think ‘outside the box’ for game features that make the most of the extended hardware benefits and to also focus on creating a smart and intuitive UI that will be cool to use and get people talking.
Larsen: Well, even before you settle on PSP as a platform you just need to nail down the scope of the project. If it’s a simple, instant-action game with easy controls then PSP is probably the way to go. If you’ve got a whole bunch of crazy ideas then it’s definitely time to select the key concepts and expand on them and see where they fit the best, or if touch control is something you want to explore. So long as you have the right idea and the tech behind it, PSP Minis is definitely a viable option especially given the 100MB maximum size.
Interview: Sony on Minis (Part 1, 2)
The Go Team: Sony’s PSPgo plans in-depth
Four Play: Meet the studios reshaping PSP game creation