Why PlayStation London Studio ditches VR to create a fantasy online combat game

Why PlayStation London Studio ditches VR to create a fantasy online combat game
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PlayStation’s London Studio has always been one of Sony’s most experimental teams

From SingStar to EyeToy, from Wonderbook to PlayStation Home and more recently VR, London Studio has a reputation for working on and often defining new technology.

Not all of those projects were successful, but the ones that did would inspire the entire industry.

Today, London Studio has announced its next game: an untitled cooperative online combat game set in a fantasy London. There is no plastic microphone or VR headset in sight. It’s certainly unique to the company, but it’s not the leap into the unknown that it’s famous for.

“We’re proud of the history and innovation we’ve done over the years, supporting all kinds of PlayStation technology, whether it’s VR, AR, microphones or whatever,” says studio co-head Stuart Whyte.

“With this project, we really wanted to explore new avenues and set ourselves new challenges. We definitely wanted to try something a little different, and I think this new project really channels our ‘brave’ courage and allows us to push ourselves…on the front lines.” ‘curious’, too. It’s an exciting future, it really is.”

Whyte references the key developer values ​​of ‘courageous’, ‘team spirit’, ’empowered’, ‘inclusiveness’, ‘curious’ and ‘balance’. They’re values ​​not a million miles away from which Team Asobi, a PlayStation developer led by London Studio alumnus Nicolas Doucet, spoke to us in august. One of Asobi’s values ​​was ‘innovation’, which is a word that might previously have been associated with London Studio. And Whyte insists that innovation remains in the team’s DNA.

“Even though we’re not working on something that uses peripherals, it’s still about taking that DNA and putting it into our new game.”

Tara Saunders, London studio

“Innovation is always going to be at the heart of what we do. If you look at our heritage and the titles we’ve made, there are a lot of firsts there. And that will continue.”

Adds studio co-head Tara Saunders, “What’s great about that heritage is the problem-solving aspect. We’ve taken different technologies and watched as we change the games industry and come up with concepts that haven’t been done before. That heritage means that the team is comfortable launching itself out of its comfort zone.

“While we’re not working on something that uses all the different bits of peripherals, it’s still about taking that DNA of innovation and putting it into any game concept.”

The game in question is this title that was unveiled today, which Saunders says is being created specifically for the PlayStation 5.

“It’s our most ambitious game to date,” says Saunders. “We’re going to take all of that DNA of innovation and apply it to this cooperative online combat game.

“[In our concept art] you’re looking at a version of a modern day fantasy London. Our overall theme is about bringing fantastical and magical elements and crossing them with familiar worlds, and it’s not much more familiar to us than London.”

Adds Whyte: “The idea for the game came from an ideation process that we embarked on with the whole team. We created a high-level briefing document, but with a lot of freedom and scope within that. And the team came up with lots and Lots of ideas. We were inspired by the process by talking to our colleagues at Guerrilla Games. We were fascinated by how they went from Killzone to Horizon: Zero Dawn, and this was the exact process they went through.

“So the team came up with a bunch of ideas over a period of months, and we refined them over and over again, until we came down to a very small list. Then we went out and talked to the leadership at PlayStation, talked to other PlayStation studios. PlayStation… We talked, very importantly, with our team about what they’re most passionate about. This concept scored very highly in all of those areas. We surveyed hundreds of gamers in the UK and US, through a survey anonymously, with some of the pre-selected ideas… This was the first”.

Co-Studio directs Stuart Whyte and Tara Saunders

It may not be a VR title, but Whyte says the game uses some of the tools from its VR days.

“Our Soho Engine, our in-house game engine, is at the heart of what we’re doing here,” he says. “This is an engine that was built from the ground up for this generation of hardware and the needs of the game we’re creating. It’s designed to get the most out of the PS5. But it’s fair to say that some of the toolset we’re using goes back to the VR Worlds and Blood & Truth technology that we had on PS4. Because at the end of the day, VR games need to have super efficient pipelines and engines.”

London Studio is one of many PlayStation teams currently working on a live service product. This has been a key strategic move for Sony, with over ten online multiplayer titles in the works. So has there been a lot of collaboration with the other teams working on similar concepts?

“There’s always been a good community at the studio director level, where we all get together a couple of times a year,” says Whyte. “But with the advent of video conferencing, we’re finding that there’s connectivity between a lot of people at all levels. It’s been really great to see how that has come on in leaps and bounds because of hybrid working.”

“Guerrilla Games”. [inspired us]. We were amazed at how they went from Killzone to Horizon.”

Stuart Whyte, London studio

Adds Saunders: “There’s a huge development community in the PlayStation studios on many levels. Stu talked about how Guerrilla made that transition as a studio and how we look to learn from them. That happens all the time now.”

London Studio turns 20 this year. Saunders has been in the studio all that time. In fact, he joined the company 22 years ago as part of Team Soho, before he combined with Psygnosis to become the developer we know today.

By comparison, Whyte is a relative rookie. But since the two took control of the studio, they’ve led the team through quite a transformation, and not just in terms of the game they’re creating.

“We’ve been on a bit of a journey, both from a product perspective and culturally,” says Saunders. “It’s been a positive journey of change. We’ve worked hard to establish who we are and what studio we want to be in the future.”

The employees seem to have responded well. London Studio was one of the big winners in the Best Places to Work Awardsand received an enthusiastic report from his team.

London Studio is a winner of the 2022 Best Places To Work Awards

“When Tara and I took over as co-heads of the studio, we both fundamentally agreed that for the future of the studio, we needed to get the people and cultural side right,” adds Whyte. “It’s truer than ever that great games are made by great teams, made up of great people. It’s about caring about people. And the Best Places To Work awards really help shine a light on the progress we’ve made. general.”

The company scored highly for its management team (Saunders was even shortlisted for the Best Boss award). But one of the biggest improvements was in its diversity and inclusion rating.

“We are pushing the diversity front in many ways,” continues Whyte. “And that goes through our recruiting lines – we make sure we have gender-neutral job postings, to make sure we’re inclusive with the game we make. And we also have connections and partnerships with organizations like Coding Black Females and Urban Synergy. We also have a new internship program.

“One thing we’re really proud of is that we put in place a requirement that everyone on the team had to have a diversity goal. It meant that as a group, we’re all addressing it. That could be going to a girls’ school to talk about working on games or attending an accessibility conference… There are so many different facets.”

Saunders adds: “The key with setting diversity goals is to hold everyone accountable for it. And I think that has been achieved. It takes a long time to make a key change in this area, but the seeds that have been sown years and we’re starting to see results. It was really great to see in the Best Places To Work Awards survey that those were our biggest growth areas.”

“The key with setting diversity goals is to hold everyone accountable for it.”

Tara Saunders, London studio

Whyte says that, at first, there was some rejection of certain roles that the studio was playing.

“They told us that it didn’t make sense to spend time looking for diverse candidates, because there are very few who would fulfill that role,” he explains. “But we put in that time and found we’ve secured some great candidates that we otherwise wouldn’t have found. It really was worth the effort and time.”

Saunders continues: “It leads to finding better creative content with more considered ideas when you have a team that is diverse enough to challenge itself in thinking.”

Of course, one of the biggest changes has been driven by COVID. London Studio is now a fully hybrid team and employees can decide for themselves where they want to work. It’s a move that seems to contradict the developer’s “team spirit” value, and Whyte and Saunders acknowledge this was a concern.

“We were pretty proud of our culture going into COVID, and we were definitely worried about how we can maintain that with the hybrid model,” says Whyte. “We do things like monthly luncheons where we invite people to come in. We’re not enforcing any rules. We’re not forcing people to come for a certain number of days.”

Instead, it’s about ‘the moments that matter’. This includes the last creative days of the studio, in which the team discarded tools to work on whatever creative project they chose. It has turned out in everything from cake decorating to soldering. And it’s through things like this that London Studio hopes to maintain and develop that team spirit.

“As a nation, not just as game developers, we’ve been focused on how they want to work,” Saunders concludes. “And it’s up to us as a leadership team to define the cultural heartbeats that bring the team together. To make sure we keep a healthy pulse and that the team doesn’t just work with each other on a transactional basis. They have to come back for these moments that matter.” “.

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