February 25, 2013 2:59 AM | Staff
It's fair to say that this week's big PlayStation 4 reveal was more aimed at drumming up interest in potential developers for the system, rather than pulling in the players. The latter can come later -- Sony needs devs on its side first.
What wasn't very well publicized during the two-hour presentation was the role that indie developers will play in the PS4's launch. Some tidbits about indies being able to self-publish was thrown in at one point, but nothing hugely concrete was mentioned.
Following the show, however, a press release went out detailing the PS4 hardware and, perhaps more excitingly, a staggering list of all the third-party developers and publishers who are apparently on-board.
And notably, a good portion of this list is indie studios. There's big names like Minecraft developer Mojang, BIT.TRIP's Gaijin Games and Nintendo 3DS publisher Nicalis, while smaller yet mighty teams like Vlambeer, Spry Fox and Wayforward also feature.
But with so many studios listed, the real question is: how many are actually working on PS4 games, and which have simply expressed an interest, yet been added to bump the numbers up and make the reveal seem that little bit more impressive?
Many indie studios that we got in contact with told us that they weren't able to talk about their current PS4 development status, although we were able to squeeze details out of them here and there.
Who's in, who's out?We didn't get off to a great start in our hunt for PS4 indies, as Mojang's Daniel Kaplan told us that he wasn't even aware that the Minecraft and Scrolls studio had been included in the release.
"That is more than I knew!" he laughed. "I mean we are talking with different people with Scrolls, but we havent decided anything yet."
Could it perhaps be the case that Sony has simply included a list of indies who are working on Sony platforms? "Maybe everyone will just be bumped up to PS4... I don't have a clue to be honest," he answered.
Super Crate Box's Vlambeer isn't currently developing for PS4 either, although developer Rami Ismail says that "we've discussed the idea a bit."
We had far more luck with Rocketbirds developer Ratloop. The studio is one of only four Asian companies to be currently working on PS4 titles (according to the Sony press release, anyway), and Ratloop's Sian Yue Tan was happy to discuss what's going on at the company.
"We've been working on Rocketbirds 2: Evolution for the PS4 since we received the kits last month," he noted. "We shipped our latest iteration of Rocketbirds for PS Vita only last week."
He added, "Up until last night it had been a bit of a guessing game for us to figure out how the tech should be used, but we were pretty happy to see how the PS Vita would fit into the grand scheme of things. From a developer's perspective, the PS Vita has a lot more similarities with the PS4 than the PS3 and the connectivity between the PS4 and PS Vita could lead to some exciting new ideas."
Skulls of the Shogun studio 17-Bit, on the other hand, does not have a PS4 dev kit as of yet, although that's not for lack of trying.
"I'm surprised we were on any sort of list!" says the studio's Jake Kazdai. "We've actually been licensed Nintendo and Sony developers for years, and are working on a new project but we haven't decided anything yet about where it will land, or if it will even hit a console. I am anxious to see a PS4 dev kit and have been chatting with them about that but nothing official at all yet."
Gaijin Games' Alex Neuse says that the BIT.TRIP studio is definitely going to be jumping on the PS4 bandwagon at some point soon.
"At this point, we're still in early talks internally about what we're going to be doing on PS4, and we're just getting started," he said. "So to say that we're developing anything right at this moment would be a little bit of an overstatement, but we almost certainly will be developing something for PS4 in the fewtch."
"Suffice it to say, as I'm sure you assumed by seeing our name on that list, we are licensed PS4 developers and we're doing all the preliminary things that go along with getting rolling on a new platform."
Relatively new studio Roll7 is also on that list, and developer John Ribbins told us that he does indeed have a project in the works, although he's not allowed to talk about it yet.
Ripstone, the PS Vita publisher that has recently been causing a stir on the handheld, is also on board with the PS4, and is currently funding games headed to the system -- although the company wasn't willing to announce anything at this point.
Rudolf Kremers from Omni Systems (Eufloria) told us that he isn't commenting on his PS4 projects at the moment, while Iron Galaxy's Dave Lang confirmed PS4 development, adding that he couldn't say exactly what yet.
SpryFox's David Edery couldn't say whether the Triple Town studio was working on a PS4 game or not, and Metanet's Mare Sheppard answered, "Yes, we are developing something, but we can't say anything about it just yet -- ask us again in a few weeks!"
The full list of indie studios working on PlayStation 4 titles according to Sony -- or at least licensed PS4 studios, as it would appear -- is as follows:
Ratloop Asia (Rocketbirds)
Red Hare Studios (Page Chronica)
17-Bit (Skulls of the Shogun)
JETPACK Interactive Entertainment
Metanet Software (N+)
DrinkBox Studios (Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack)
Klei Entertainment (Mark of the Ninja)
Slant Six Games (The Bowling Dead)
Nicalis (VVVVVV, NightSky publisher)
Spry Fox (Triple Town)
Gaijin Games (Runner 2)
WayForward Technologies (Mighty Switch Force)
Iron Galaxy Studios (Divekick)
Ludosity (Garden Gnome Carnage)
Roll7 (Focus Pocus)
Omni Systems (Eufloria)
Tribute Games (Wizorb)
Dakko Dakko Games (Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails)
Ripstone (Big Sky Infinity publisher)
Four Door Lemon (The Lighthouse HD)
Vlambeer (Super Crate Box)
Beatshapers (Jetpack Joyride publisher)
Bloober Team S.A. (A-men)
Boss Alien (CSR Racing)
Curve Studios (Stealth Bastard)
Double Eleven (Frozen Synapse: Tactics)
Flying Wildhog (Hard Reset)
vBlank Entertainment (Retro City Rampage)
Laughing Jackal (Hungry Giraffe)
Shortround (Extraction: Project Outbreak)
Team 17 (The Worms series)
Why PS4?So it sounds like the PS4 has a nice spread of indie studios backing it. What, then, are these developers excited about when it comes to the tech, and the various features shown at Sony's big reveal?
"As a developer I was happy to see the x86 architecture," noted Borut Pfeifer of 17-Bit.
He continued, "The main thing I'm excited about is that Mark Cerny is the system architect - realistically we still don't have a lot of details, but with Cerny in charge I'm a lot more confident they won't go off the rails."
Vlambeer's Ismail found himself excited about lots of the new features. "We are pumped - it seems the sharing stuff will be great and we're happy with all the background up - and downloading," he said.
"But for us those are secondary," he noted. "It's the promise of a more flexible, more open platform that sounds like something we can get behind. We think this generation, the flexibility of the platform to adapt to new games, new ideas and new ways to make games will dictate its ultimate success."
Ronimo's Joost van Dongen was pretty taken with the games shown as part of the presentation. "Personally, I was pretty excited about what Media Molecule was showing," he noted. "The visual style of those characters near the end is something that is only possible with a lot of polygons, and thus very next-gen, even though many gamers might not be aware of this."
"I hope more devs will jump on the possibilities of PS4 to make unique styles like that," he added. "And the Killzone showing was of course extremely spectacular!"
Gaijin's Neuse is more interested in the new capabilities, rather than the hardware's graphical power. "Honestly, we're most excited about the new downloadable features," he said. "The way they're promising to make the store more easy to use and friendly for gamers."
Roll7's Ribbins agrees, and in fact, he came away from the reveal with some new ideas of the direction in which to take his PS4 projects. "Graphics are graphics these days, but it's the social and more indie friendly side that I think is going to be cool," he noted. "As a developer, Sony have been really supportive and nice to work with thus far. It was great to see that they're trying to establish a place for the Vita alongside the console with the game streaming stuff, and it was nice to come away from the keynote with like, 50 ideas about how some of the new stuff could be implemented into cool little features in games."
Brad Hendricks at Blind Squirrel Games, which is currently working on developing both its own PS4 IP and existing IPs for other companies, says, "What we find most interesting are the possibilities of integrating Second Screen gameplay into the IPs we are developing."
"The gameplay features that can be introduced with the combination of high quality graphics and asymmetric input methods using a tablet/phone/PSVita are quite interesting to us. We are currently experimenting with various prototypes to expand players involvement in the game from the standard living room experience to something that can be constantly interacted with."
Omni Systems' Kremers is interested in the PS Vita integration in particular, as well as the overall focus on the end user experience. "It sounds like it will be easy architecture to work with, with plenty of ram and horsepower," he added. "As an indie this seems ideal as we have limited resources and generally we just want to focus on the games themselves."
Meanwhile, SpryFox's Edery looked at the new hardware from both sides of the coin, stating, "as a developer, I'm personally most interested in the social/sharing features. As a consumer, the streaming features and the ability to instant-resume are very exciting to me."
It was the demo streaming that really did it for Ratloop's Yue Tan. "I'm pumped about Gaikai streaming," he told us. "To start playing while stuff's downloading in the background makes it so much easier for people to try new games - it's what we tried to do with Rocketbirds: Revolution! back in 2009, so I'm glad to see something like this being adopted in a big way."
Iron Galaxy's Lang told Gamasutra that the hardware is looking great, "but I'm hopeful all the social stuff they are doing with the platform will expose people to games they might be willing to buy, as opposed to having them dig around in an online store."
And Ripstone's Michelle Senior said that she believes the reveal was perfect for whetting gamer appetites.
"It is a big step change for Sony and one that will be appreciated by the fans as they've made it more gamer-centric than console-centric which is what is needed; everyone's experience will be personalised and unique," she noted.
Senior added, "As a publisher, the Gaikai streaming feature is noteworthy for us as it should extend the life of our games past their initially expected life-span. It's all pretty exciting, even the build-up to it was great. I love a good bit of buzz in the industry, especially when it's something positive."
[Mike Rose wrote this article originally for sister site Gamasutra.]