PS Vita’s AR magic: developer interview

PS Vita AR

In case you missed it you can do some pretty neat tricks with the PS Vita’s augmented reality cards. Curious to find out more we spoke to Mitsuo Hirakawa, a producer at Sony’s XDev Studios Europe about what else it can do. He covers plenty of info about the current technology, where it could go in the future and how AR and how Hirakawa believes AR will give it the edge over iOS games. 

Official PlayStation Magazine UK What does the Vita’s augmented reality capability mean to you as a developer?

Mitsuo Hirakawa As a developer, I feel Augmented Reality opens up new opportunities to create unique gameplay experience that will change the way gamers interact with the game, as well as alter the way gamers perceive their surroundings. In Reality Fighters, we use the real world as your fighting arena so the backdrop is always unique and different. Unlike being limited by pre-fabricated backdrops you find in traditional fighting games, you can use the rear camera to send video feed of wherever you are and fight anywhere you like. Whether you’re on a holiday, on a business trip, or on your way to school on a bus…there’s always somewhere interesting to fight so this allows the gamers to be creative to experience something new.

We also have a lot of weapons and special moves that uses the real world for gameplay. For example, we have a surfboard as a weapon and when you use this, the real world you see turns into a wave and you ride the wave and attack your opponent. This type of gameplay helps to blur the line between the real world and the game world, so in addition to delivering new experiences, it offers endless possibilities for developers!

OPM Can PS Vita’s AR give it an edge over iOS gaming platforms?

MH Yes, definitely.  PS Vita has multiple AR technologies that are truly unique and groundbreaking. Sony has been working on AR technology since the days of Eye Pet and Invizimals so we live and breathe AR! We have key AR tech that offers different types of gameplay possibilities. Firstly, we have the single marker technology as seen in games such as Invizimals. Secondly, we have WAAR (Wide Area Augmented Reality) which is capable of using multiple markers and works on different heights. Thirdly, we have a Marker-less AR tech where we simply do away with any markers so there is no constraint on where you play. So if you combine the new AR technologies with the arsenal of innovative Vita features such as Rear Touch, near, 5” OLED screen, and Dual Analogue sticks, this means gamers can enjoy a deeper, immersive game experience.

OPM How far can AR be taken in implementation in full games? So far we’ve only seen technical demos.

MH Although we have been pioneering AR tech in gaming since 2003, I don’t think you can limit its future potential. Competition is one thing, but our internal R&D teams are always generating amazing tech that, as a developer it’s like being a kid in a candy store! For launch, AR will be showcased in full games on titles such as Reality Fighters and Little Deviants, and there will be smaller games which will fly the flag for AR including Cliff Diving, Table Football, and Fireworks. Now the AR Cards will be bundled in the Vita box I think you can expect to see more people utilizing them to create AR sections in games that you would normally not expect.   AR is definitely here to stay and we will continue to create great AR games.

OPM Can Vita’s AR be used well in any genre? Is it a robust enough tech to spawn new genres?

PS VIta reality fighters AR cardMH I see no reason why AR can’t be used in any genre, although I think it would be fair to say that the success will depend on the game design. Instead of thinking in terms of genre, I like to think of suitability in terms of gameplay and player creativity. Reality Fighters is a good example of this. Before the project started, there were doubts whether you can enjoy fighting in the real world as this completely breaks the norm within the fighting genre. Taking into account, the features of Vita like the six-axis motion sensor, front/rear camera, analogue sticks, we felt there was enough potential to create a credible fighting experience, but also to add never-seen-before gameplay ideas. AR tech and Vita features compliments each other that enabled Reality Fighters to deliver key components of a fighting game, such as smooth animation blending, solid 60 FPS and punchy GPU capability for the eye candy VFX.

We are blessed with having some of the world’s most talented R&D engineers and we’ve often asked for the impossible stemming from typical “blue sky” ideas. Instead of engineers just creating libraries to prove something works (when there is no game design demand for it), they have engaged the developers in advance to seek new gameplay ideas that we want to put in the game. So Vita provides developers a great opportunity to realise the ideas that were once impossible.

OPM Does Vita’s AR reignite ideas for you that weren’t possible on previous platforms?

MH Yes definitely. The Vita cherry-picked cool features from PSP, PS2 and PS3, plus added a whole host of brilliant features such as Rear Touch, near, and Cross-Play, so we can now go wild and create games that we couldn’t before! When I was watching the film Inception, I saw a part of the city buildings peel towards you. With Reality Fighters, we were able to create a similar effect resulting in manipulating the real world, in real time, that added much coolness to gameplay.