With Wipeout 2048 showcasing exactly as to what Sony’s PS Vita is capable of delivering at launch, I thought it was about time someone asked Karl Jones – Lead Designer at Sony Studio Liverpool – as to what his involvement has been with the franchise, what his career has been like, and whether he can lift the lid on any next-gen announcements from Sony.

How long have you been in your role as lead designer?
I’ve been a lead designer since Wipeout HD Fury. I started working on the Wipeout series back on the Sony PSP with Wipeout Pure when I was a Junior Designer, then I was a Designer on Wipeout Pulse, then I was a Senior Designer on Wipeout HD, Lead Designer on Wipeout HD Fury, and now Lead Designer on Wipeout 2048.

Have you been associated with any other games that aren’t associated with the Wipeout series?
I left Sony for a short period of time when I worked on Blur at Bizarre Creations for a year or so.

How traumatic was the closure of Bizarre Creations for you?
Closures are always bad, when people lose their jobs. It’s understandable why it had to happen. It’s happened to Sony in the past.

I left Bizarre Creations before their closure, and I left Sony before the redundancies, so I’ve been lucky in a sense. So it didn’t really affect me but it did affect a lot of my friends and colleagues. It’s always horrible, but I know a lot of those guys have moved on to really good things. A lot of them have gone abroad and have gone to Canada.

There’s a lot of startups as well, as a lot of small companies emerged from the closure of Bizarre. So I think a lot of the guys are doing really well.

In terms of technical prowess, the PS Vita is lauded as being nearly as powerful as the PS3. How difficult do you find the PS Vita to develop for in comparison to the PS3 (which itself is considered to be a bitch to program for)?
Funnily enough, I asked our Technical Director on this a few weeks ago as I’m a Designer and therefore don’t have to worry about how difficult something is to develop for. I just ask for stuff and it happens. Our Technical Director – Stuart Lovegrove – said that the PS Vita is one of the easiest platforms he’s ever had to develop for, and he’s worked on a lot of Playstation products and other consoles that aren’t Playstation consoles.

In terms of the development process, we pretty much followed the same process as what we follow for Playstation 3. So it was easy to transition from PS3 to Vita because the processes weren’t any different. The PS Vita is so powerful, and so much like a home console, that we didn’t have to change anything.

Wipeout HD runs at 60 fps, whilst Wipeout 2048 runs at 30 fps. Can you elaborate on why there was a compromise in the frame rate for the Vita version of Wipeout?
The Vita has different hardware, and it has different strengths and weaknesses. If you look at the actual visuals of Wipeout 2048 in comparison to Wipeout HD, you’ll see that there is actually a lot more going on in Wipeout 2048 in comparison to Wipeout HD. There are a lot more polygons and effects being thrown around on screen, and all that takes its toll on frame rates.

We would absolutely not drop below 30 fps on a Wipeout game as that would compromise the experience, but we will weigh things up and consider as to what is important. You’ve only got to play Wipeout 2048 to realise that the right decision has been made in terms of how it looks and runs.

Why does Wipeout 2048 have wider tracks in comparison to other games within the series?
One of the biggest deals with Wipeout 2048 was that we wanted to make it more accessible to those who aren’t familiar with Wipeout. Wipeout is traditionally a really hardcore racer, and if you can’t play it, then Wipeout doesn’t accomodate you at all. This time round however, we wanted to open the doors a little and get more people in, and expand the fanbase a little. So we did widen the tracks, so now the players don’t have to fight the tracks as much, but can worry about fighting the ships that are on the tracks.

What was cool about widening the tracks was that we could give the player more options in terms of what was in front of them. So instead of just a traditional speed-up pad and weapon pad, we now have a speed-up pad a defensive weapon pad and an offensive weapon pad. So the player can now have three choices in front of them now instead of two.

Something else we’ve been allowed to do is have optional routes as well, which we call “skill-cuts”, so these are shortcuts which require a level of skill to navigate or access. They might only shave off fractions of a second on your lap-times, but they’re really important on leaderboards (especially at the top). So basically new players can come in and trundle round the wide sections, but as soon as they’ve built their confidence, they can start looking for skill-cuts and start nailing down their lap-times.

Another way by which we’ve opened up the game is, as opposed to piling on the features and game mechanics on the player in the first race (which is what we’ve done in the past), in the first race the player doesn’t even have to worry about winning but just has to race around. There are no weapons, and the player just has to finish mid-table. And in the next race we might introduce some weapons, and in the next race we might introduce some more weapons and so forth. We’re layering things in this time, and there are a lot more tutorials within the game as well. We’ve done a lot to accomodate new players and try to open up the game so that players can get in a learn what they need to learn, and then later on it’s going to start to kick your arse like a Wipeout game should.

Now you were involved with Wipeout HD, as well as the Wipout 2048 game. Which do you prefer as your favourite?
Everytime I move on to a new game, that one becomes your new baby. I love Wipeout HD, as I think it’s one of the best racing games out there – 60fps, 1080p, tried and tested. Wipeout 2048 is a different take on the franchise but it still retains the core DNA. So right now, it’s Wipeout 2048 for me, definitely.

How do you intend to support Wipeout 2048 post-launch?
We do have some plans that we can’t announce yet. We will be doing things like the AR Musuem – we use the rear camera on the Vita to augment ships into the real world, so you can get really close to the ship models in Wipeout 2048. We want players to be able to get up close and personal with them and see them in little more detail than they probably could in the actual game itself. So we will be supporting augmented reality within the game, so that players will be able to look at the ships and other elements from the game as if they’re sitting on a coffee table. You’ll be able to move the PS Vita around and zoom in. But that’s just one example of a feature (not necessarily gameplay-related) that we’ll bolt on to the game.

We do have game-play related stuff in the pipeline, but I’m not allowed to talk about it right now. In the past however, we’ve supplied new tracks and new ships, so you can expect to see something along those lines in future.

What about a patch that will increase the frame-rate per second from 30 to 60, as well as decrease loading times?
We’ve just released a patch that speeds up the loading, so we’ve drastically reduced load times already, and if we can find a way to reduce them again then we’ll definitely do it.

In terms of upping the frame rate… I can’t see that happening. I don’t that would happen as there might be repurcussions on leaderboards, the physics model, and things like that. We’ve balanced the races to play right at 30 frames per second, and if we change the frame rate then the physics will be affected. I can’t see the frame rate changing, but I don’t think it needs to. If there was a big reason for us to change it, then maybe we’ll consider it, but there’s no reason for us to consider that.

Do you have any plans for a sequal?
There is work going on in the Wipeout franchise.

Do you know as to when this forthcoming “work” will be incoming?
No, sorry.

Do you know if it will be for the PS3 or PS Vita?
We can’t announce anything just yet.

Do you know anything about the Playstation 4?
I can’t comment on that right now.

Does it exist at all?
Sony’s always looking into new hardware. Sony aren’t ready to announce anything just yet, and if I did, I’d be strung up.

Talking about being “strung up”, the developer from Volition recently made a blog post about how he supports next generation consoles not playing used games. What is your stance on that bearing in mind that you are part of the development games community?
I’ve traded games in the past. It would be nice if I could make it go away, and I’d be happy not to trade games in just to help the industry. But I think the industry’s starting to take measures so as try and recoup some of the losses that they get – eg: the online pass, DLC. The industry has tried to take measure to “fix” that, but it’s not going to go away.

I guess when we’re fully digital, then it goes away to an extent, because you can’t trade in a digital copy of a game. I’m pretty sure it will go that way eventually. And I guess that’s when we’ll see the back of it.

Do you think we’ll be going digital sooner rather than later – maybe within the next-gen?
I’d be surprised if we went completely digital next gen. I’d guess maybe 50/50, but that’s just a guess. I’m guessing the next generation of games will require more space, which will require more download time, and more download speed, and more storage for the user as well on their hard drive. It’s really whether the internet can support that, but I don’t know.

Now that’s already happening to an extent, as the PS Vita has more of a focus towards downloadable content than previous handheld consoles before it. But why do you think the PS Vita has been so successful in comparison to the PSP Go in terms of digital uptake and prices?
The PSP Go was an iteration on existing hardware. I think when that happens, the implementation of new features doesn’t have the same kick as say the launch of a brand new hardware. Whereas with the PS Vita, straight up out of the box Day 1, you can do all this as it’s all integrated. It’s a fully connected device, in fact one of the biggest things about the Vita is how connected it is to other Vitas and to the rest of the world. I think that’s clearly the reason why as to why it has been more successful, and why it’s going to be more successful than the PSP Go which was an iteration on existing hardware.

When can we start seeing PS1 and PS2 games on the PS Vita?
I don’t know. In terms of PS3 stuff, it’s not just a case of simply porting it over – like I said earlier, it’s different hardware. It’s not a PS3. You can develp on it in a similar fashion to a PS3, but it’s not a PS3, so you can’t just port a game over like you can with some other consoles. There is work involved, but as to whether that’s the case with PS2 and PS1, I don’t know. I’m guessing we’ll start to see PS1 stuff early, although I’m only assuming that because we see them on PSN. Although I don’t know, and am not the best person to ask about that really.

How much more powerful is the PS3 in comparison to the PS Vita?
Again, they’re different. It’s not like you can say that one’s there, and that one’s there. They both have different strengths and weaknesses. You look at Wipeout 2048, and if you take a screenshot of the game, you’ll realise that there’s so much more stuff going on in there in comparison to Wipeout HD. But if you see Wipeout HD running next to Wipeout 2048, you’ll see the frame rate.

They’re different consoles really, so it’s hard to say as to which one’s more powerful. Both have strengths and weakness in different areas.

The PS Vita has floundered quite badly in Japan, to the extent that it’s selling less units than the PSP. How do you think this is going to impact upon the PS Vita’s longterm future?
Well, you’ve just go to hope that it picks up. We make the games, and we can make the games as good as we can, but you have to rely on the hardware selling. So fingers crossed that things pick up in that area. We’ll see how Europe and USA does. We can make the best games in the world, but if the hardware doesn’t sell, then we’re not going to sell any copies of the game. So I hope it picks up, and I’m sure it will.

You were at the midnight launch for the PS Vita at GAME’s Oxford Street branch, which was attended by about 100-200 people. I know that it’s essentially a phone, but the iPhone 4S (which is almost the third contender in the handheld gaming space) had a far bigger turnout for its own launch. Do you think Apple’s handheld device has had any impact upon the perceptions and attitudes of any potential PS Vita owners?
I think Apple have definitely done a lot to change peoples perception of games. They’re games are really low in price, but their games don’t have the budget or productions values as Uncharted or Wipeout 2048 on PS Vita. I hope people are able to see the difference between say, Uncharted and Angry Birds. Two completely different experiences, and that’s where the price difference is.

I’m pretty sure that the PS Vita is going to support similar sort of things to the iPhone – the cheap, disposable experiences. The 69p games, done by the lone developer. The thing about the PS Vita is that it can do pretty much everything that the iPhone can do, only this time we’ve got buttons and sticks. And there’s a reason why we have buttons and sticks is because a lot of the experiences gamers want to play, you can’t really play on a touch screen alone. You can’t play Uncharted on a touch screen. You won’t be able to play Killzone on a touch screen. It’s a totally different experience. And that’s the thing which makes the PS Vita different to all other competitors – it retains all the things that gamers need for home console style gaming experiences, which other platforms just don’t have. Which other mobile platforms just don’t have.

Now Sony tried to get into the mobile gaming space with the Xperia mobile systems. Do you think Sony still has any plans for supporting the Xperia platform, or is it all going to be Vita now?
No, I think Sony are going to support it (as far as I know). I know Wipeout Pure is (being) ported to Xperia. But have you heard about ‘Playstations Suite’? There’s a piece of software coming out called Playstation Suite, and that will exist on Vita and all Sony phones (like the Xperia Play) and tablets which they might bring out.

From what I can tell, if you develop a game for Playstation Suite, and if the device supports Playstation Suite, then the game will work on those devices. I think Playstation Suite is going to be a really big deal. The Sony Xperia is totally supported by Playstation Suite. It’s not a Vita but a phone, in the same way that the iPhone isn’t a Vita, but a phone that has some gaming capabilities. If you want home console gaming experiences, you will definitely need to buy a Vita.

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