Sony's president of Worldwide Studios, Phil Harrison made some rather interesting announcements at GDC last week. We grilled him about PS3 Home, the PlayStation 3 trophy system, new development tools and the elusive Killzone 2. We also managed to get some info on Sony's secretive PS3 game, Afrika.
Pro-G: You made some pretty big announcements during your GDC keynote speech, with PS3 Home being the biggest of them all. Is this massive virtual community something that's been in the pipeline for a while?
Harrison: Yes, it's been in development for quite a long time. It actually started life on the PS2; it was a 3D lobby for a single multiplayer game and then we thought actually that it might be worth extending out to support more than one game on the PS2. And then we started to come up against some technical limitations of the platform. It couldn't quite do all of the things that we wanted it to do and the user created content was really the key factor that we wanted to include. Obviously, PS3 allows us to do that with a hard drive in every machine and cell processing, so the PS3 was the right platform to do it on. We've been working on it for two and a half years now.
Pro-G: You mentioned a beta...
Harrison: We're already in a private, closed beta for our own organization. We'll be opening up a beta program to users around the world, in the US and Europe, in April, and then we'll have a number of staged progressions through the summer, and if all goes well, we'll be launching in the fall.
Pro-G: What do you think Home's key advantages are over rival online services?
Harrison: What we've always wanted to do on Home, and I think we've delivered on this vision, is to create a rich layer that sits on top of the network platform. We're not changing the functionality of the system; we're just displaying it in a really compelling way. And I think having it as a rich three dimensional world where you can build community, you can communicate and customize, are very powerful trends that I think will resonate very strongly with PS3 users. I think people will want to come and join the PS3 community because of a product and service like this. We're also going to have a strong entertainment focus with Home, as you can see. There are lots of touch points for other forms of entertainment not just games, but music, photos...
Pro-G: And movies like in Home's theatre...
Harrison: Exactly. And I think it plays to all of the strengths to the PS3 and points to the direction we're going in as a company, as a brand, and as an organization, empowering audiences with user content.
Pro-G: Let's talk about the trophy system for a moment. How does that work?
Harrison: Developers define the milestone point in the game and then the associate graphic file that is the trophy associated with that milestone; then it will be downloaded to the Playstation3 user's hard drive. And the trophy can animate. We didn't show that yesterday...
Pro-G: Similar to the animated bit map graphics in the PS2 saves?
Harrison: Yes, exactly. It's taking that concept of 2D bit map graphics and moving it into 3D space. So it's no more challenging for developers to create the trophies and in many ways, it's easier, because they can re-use 3D assets they're already putting in their game, be it a weapon, object, or character.
Pro-G: Killzone PS3 was teased behind closed doors. Can you tell our readers how the game is shaping up?
Harrison: It's great. I wanted to give [developers] some sense with what we were doing with Playstation Edge - core technology that we've been investing in. We wanted to share those tools as widely as we can across the entire network of PS3 developers, and I just wanted to put that into context for the people who were at the event on Tuesday night, so they could see what kind of performance, what kind of power, developers were going to get at their disposal. It was not intended to be a deep-dive into Killzone PS3; we'll do that at E3 in July.
Pro-G: Speaking of which, how will Sony's new PlayStation Edge suite of development tools help future PS3 development?
Harrison: They [the tools] focus on two areas. One is a tool called GCM Replay, which is a very powerful tool, allowing developers to get the most performance out of the graphics chip as well as the most control over the power of the graphics chip. It's not something that the users will be able to point out and go, 'oh that game uses GCM Replay'. The benefit to users will be much more objects on screen, more animation, more variety, more pixels, more shaders, things like that. The other technologies are all about harnessing the power of the cell processor and delivering technology that allows developers to get the best animation, geometry processing and compression. By allowing developers to gain access to this technology, very easily, very quickly, they can opt(imize) the sophistication and intensity of their game on PS3.
Pro-G: I have a feeling your PR rep is about to burst through the door (laughs), so I'll ask this last question. Afrika...
Harrison: Yes - good continent, sort of south of the equator (laughs).
Pro-G: Well yes, that too. But what about the game 'Mr trying to dance around the question'? (laughs). Perhaps it's being integrated into PS3 Home as a Safari Holiday package?
Harrison: (laughs) That's actually a good idea. The game designers on Afrika are being deliberately coy about the game experience. I know what it is; I've seen it and I know it's going to be a very interesting gaming experience. It's not about killing and it's not about running around the environment shooting elephants and hippopotami - that would be awful. That's not what we're all about. What we're about is taking people to places in a virtual world. So Afrika, I think, is a great example of that. But hold on just a little bit more!
Pro-G: Thanks for your time Phil.
Harrison: My pleasure.