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Monday, 28 May 2012 11:50

Interview: Frank Simon – Resistance: Burning Skies

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Can a first person shooter game work on a hand-held gaming platform?  Senior Managing Producer Frank Simon has been working with the team at Nihilistic Software to bring the excellent atmosphere of the Resistance franchise to the PlayStation Vita.  iTWire sat down with Simon to discuss the ins and outs of Resistance: Burning Skies as the first real hand held FPS.

Frank Simon is a Senior Managing Producer at Sony, in his twenty year video game career he has worked on some iconic video game franchises including PlayStation favourites such as Sly Cooper, Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, Uncharted and Infamous.  Now Simon has turned his Managing Producer skills to the release of Resistance: Burning Skies on the PlayStation Vita.  But what exactly does a Senior Managing Producer do?

“[laughs]It’s different within each team, within each development project, but primarily my role is to make sure that both Sony and the Developer are coordinated and releasing their product together.  So it’s on the publishing side of things, but as you see from my background I started out on the development side of things, starting out on sports games such as the original NHL Hockey, and then moved into action-adventure games,” says Simon “I don’t know if you remember a series of games from a company called Oddworld Inhabitants, that did Abe’s Odyssey and Abe’s Exodus?”

“Fantastic series of games”

“And then at some point I switched over to Sony, and started working on the publishing side of things when they were looking for developers interested in doing first party exclusive games, and interested in developing a long term relationship with.  So companies such as Naughty Dog [Uncharted] and Sucker Punch [inFamous] and most recently with Resistance: Burning Skies, working with Nihilistic Software.”

“With Nihilistic because they are a relatively well established team, having been around for ten or eleven years, my role was not so much managing the people because they certainly had internal processes for that, but they are really gracious allowing us to work as close partners.  So I was involved with the creative from day one, and a lot of the suggestions integrated into the version for the PlayStation Vita, and indeed the idea of doing a PlayStation Vita version came from our side of the fence.”

“That being said, the reality is, we really try to establish close partnerships with our development teams so we can have the best possible product in the end.”

CONTINUED on PAGE 2


Frank Simon has spent a significant proportion of his career working on iconic Sony franchises, what experience has this enabled him to bring to this new project?

“Having exposure to multiple development teams gives you great insight into design process,  or engineering process.  Good production methodology such as clean build trees and robust backup services,,, [laughs] this is getting way to geeky, but seeing good production methodology is one of the things that you see across different development teams and being able to coordinate, seeing multiple projects allows you to suggest best practices for different teams.” Says Simon.

“There are also different design tricks to help you flesh out your design, it is kind of cool to be across multiple teams because you can then you can help out teams that might be struggling a bit.  Taking that a step further, a lot of what we are doing with our teams are usability studies, as early as possible we like to get in a room with the consumer and say ‘ hey!, how does this feel?  How does this play out for you?’  And it was definitely very true with the PlayStation Vita with new hardware that it was a new consumer experience, you want to get these into hands as soon as possible, so that you can see, ok, is this the optimal play test?  And with Resistance: Burning Skies, having that first person shooter on the PlayStation Vita you really need to get this right and benchmarked.  We really wanted to get people excited about the PlayStation Vita on the Sony side, and also Resistance from the software side”.

The PSP game Resistance: Retribution showed Sony could bring a shooter to the hand held.   The recent Unit 13 is also a quality shooter on the PS Vita, but you are going ‘first person ‘on the Vita, what challenges do that present to the team?

“It’s funny because it is so nice to finally have dual analogue sticks on a portable device.  I can almost stop there because that makes all the difference in an FPS.  With that level of control you are not thinking about the controls anymore, you are playing the game, it draws you in, you are not thinking “where are my controls?”, because you know how to use the dual analogue sticks already.  There is a whole suite of toys that the PlayStation Vita offers that were a nice way to tie in a first person shooter and in turn the Resistance franchise itself.  Because Resistance is known for its weapons, and trying to make sure users have an easy way to get to those weapons and encourage them to use them, because, if you are using secondary fire you are having a much, more fun experience.”


CONTINUED on PAGE 3


The PlayStation Vita is an impressive piece of hardware, what other Vita functionality can be employed to bring a first person shooter to the handheld?

Simon begins to answer this question by pointing out the joys of the first person shooter experience:   “The big explosions, the easy ways of taking out more difficult enemies makes you feel intelligent, “ Simon explains, “you feel like you have a great strategy in combat, but you need to be able to do that quickly and easily and there is always that resistance to change (pun intended), FPS players have always wanted dual analogue sticks, and that is all they ever wanted, people say ‘I don’t want to take my fingers off the controller’, you know what?  Try it.  Because having that pixel accuracy on the touch screen and being able to say for the first time ‘I want that a grenade to show up right here!’ you know, you watch Riley [the games protagonist] throw and it ends up exactly where you expect it to go, that’s kind of nice, wait a second this is kind of a really nice feature to have.”

“We do a lot of things with our secondary fire, for example loading, you can swipe across the screen to load the MULE and literally you can say ok, this may be a short range shotgun, but once you have loaded the device, you can shoot a napalm explosion at a specific area of the screen once you tap on the screen to say I want it to go right here.”

“It’s been kind of a cool exploration for us and I think it has resulted in very easy experience for players to pick up and play.  I am hoping, and I know this is big dreams, that we actually encourage people that maybe are a little shy on playing FPS’s on a controller that has a lot of physical buttons to it, to actually try it on the PlayStation Vita, it is easy to play.”

It sounds like the Resistance: Burning Skies is actually extending the first person experience, with the aid of the Vita hardware.

“We are trying to encourage people to try different things, we do a lot of redundancy in our controls. “explains Simon “it is a cover based shooter, it is a first person shooter but it has a cover system, you can literally walk into and out of cover.  But everything is designed around the idea that you can play it your way, and make it the easiest way for players to be able to play the game.  It’s so nice to have so many different ways to develop with the Vita, and I’m hoping players will actually try them, step out there, move out of their traditional control methodologies and say hey! I want to try something new and see how it feels.”

CONCLUDED on PAGE 4


The tale behind a Resistance game has always revolved around a story grounded in reality but within the whacky premise of an alien invasion involving whacky weaponry.  With Resistance: Burning Skies the story seems to be taking a similar personal civilian bent to that presented in Resistance 3 last year?

“Absolutely,” says Simon “it’s funny because the stories were developed around the same time, Resistance 3 just a little bit earlier.  We have been very fortunate with Insomniac Games [Developer of Resistance 3] and Bent Studios [Retribution] and now Nihilistic that all of the writers, the chief story architects and so forth are willing to sit down with us and talk about how the universe fits together.  And I think Insomniac did a great job building this kind of compelling universe that is one step removed from reality. “

“Don’t give the player too many things that they need to take on, this is an alternate universe, there is no gravity, if you give the player too many things that they have to suspend their disbelief then there never really going to believe in the game that you are pitching to them.  So with the Chimera Invasion, that is really the biggest thing that changed in the world, I know it’s a little far fetched [laughs], but you have this alien race show up in the world, and is slowly taking it over.  You have seen it across Resistance: Fall Of Man, and Resistance 2, 3 and Retribution, and there was always this kind of spot, where fans were asking ‘what happened during that time?’ during Resistance 2.  So we thought, it’s a new platform this PS Vita, we have this opportunity to add new material into the franchise, how about we tell them a new story from a civilian perspective, not necessarily a military perspective, and at the same time we can explain what happened during this timeframe, and give them a little bit of insight into what it might mean for the guy-on-the-street experience of the Chimera Horde hitting the Eastern seaboard for the first time.

How tempted was the development team, given the hardware and franchise involved, to do some cross platform features between PS3 and PS Vita?

“I would love to, I think all of our titles should have cross play at the moment, however, I am also bound by the limitations of space and time and we can only get so much developer time and so much money to build all of our games.  As you can imagine last year was a pretty darn busy year for us and, I would tell you that I would love to and tell you it is absolutely our intent, but, like I said, the reality of not having all the time to do everything we want to is holding us back.”

Resistance: Burning Skies releases for the PlayStation Vita on May 29th in North America and 1st of June every where else.


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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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