PlayStation May Have Previously Worked on Remakes of Uncharted and God of War – Comicbook

PlayStation May Have Previously Worked on Remakes of Uncharted and God of War by Logan Moore for Comicbook

Speaking to David Jaffe, the previous director of titles like God of War and Twisted Metal, Michael Mumbauer, a former head at Sony San Diego Studio, talked a bit about what his role was at the developer while he was there. Mumbauer’s main position at first was to lead a visual arts group that would provide support to other Sony studios, but over time, this began to change.

This article was published nearly four months ago.

Michael Mumbauer was a main focus of this morning’s Bloomberg article. Turns out that remakes have been an idea floated around and worked on at Sony for some time now, inspired by remakes like the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. These were seemingly pursued by former President of Worldwide Studios, Shawn Layden. When Hermen Hulst came into the postion, it is even easier to imagine why he’d want to shift Mumbauer’s team off remaking The Last of Us. The cost of having a new team make a new engine just doesn’t make financial sense compared to them being a support group for the original development team to pursue a remake.

“Remakes and remasters were the things I was chasing after. So that’s why the dev team was built,” Mumbauer said in the conversation. “What I can tell you is that’s what I was chasing because I believed that there was value in doing something like a remake of God of War at the visual fidelity of today. Or, a remake of Uncharted 1 at the visual fidelity of today.”

These plans have been in the works for many months, more likely years, as Sony observes, plans, and reacts to the market. Like I said this morning, the fruits of this work is going to take time to see. Obviously, finding out about this was not what Sony wanted. This would have been a surprise reveal at some event. Now the story is out and we just have to wait and see how and if Sony reacts.

I also feel bad for the team working on this supposed remake. Hopefully, they have excited about their work and remaking one of gaming’s best titles for an incredibly powerful system. It has immense potential to be a wonderful product. Heck, imagine if they remade Factions multiplayer with it. Now their project can’t officially be talked about and its name is being dragged through the mud. It’s rather unfortunate all the way around.

PlayStation’s Blockbuster Garden

Sony’s Obsession With Blockbusters Is Stirring Unrest Within PlayStation Empire – Bloomberg: by Jason Schreier for Bloomberg

Interesting article to kick start the day. Never a dull moment with Schreier’s reporting.

Sony’s focus on exclusive blockbusters has come at the expense of niche teams and studios within the PlayStation organization, leading to high turnover and less choice for players. Last week, Sony reorganized a development office in Japan, resulting in mass departures of people who worked on less well-known but acclaimed games such as Gravity Rush and Everybody’s Golf. The company has informed developers that it no longer wants to produce smaller games that are only successful in Japan, Bloomberg has reported.

The practical shutdown of Japan Studio was surprising initially. Then Sony confirmed that Team Asobi, those responsible for the highly impactful and successful Astro Bot games was remaining intact. Sony is looking at the numbers, cutting costs by trimming the fat, and leaning into teams and products that generate huge returns on their investment.

That comes off cold and calculated, especially when games can be artistic, quirky, and so on. Sony has contributed to the indie and smaller game scene for decades. It feels strange to see them making bigger swings like this.

But maybe this should not be strange or surprising. Back in 2019, Hermen Hulst was officially promoted to the head of Worldwide Studios and Shuhei Yoshida was put in charge on an indie developer initiative. Yoshida is in charge of courting indie developers and bringing great games to the PlayStation 4 & 5. It seems clear now (hindsight is 20/20) that Sony would break-up their smaller studios from making smaller games to being support studios for their larger teams. Sony is moving their indie and smaller games to external partners and focusing their internal studio budget on their global money makers: the games and studios that bring and keep folks in the PlayStation ecosystem. Even the line between studios is blurred with the branding of PlayStation Studios now.

… [Bend] tried unsuccessfully to pitch a [Days Gone] sequel that year, according to people familiar with the proposal. Although the first game had been profitable, its development had been lengthy and critical reception was mixed, so a Days Gone 2 wasn’t seen as a viable option.

Instead, one team at the studio was assigned to help Naughty Dog with a multiplayer game while a second group was assigned to work on a new Uncharted game with supervision from Naughty Dog.

The time between Bend’s previous game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Days Gone was seven years. Even with Days Gone being profitable, it makes sense to have them help produce two games that will, arguably, be more profitable in a shorter window of time. Naughty Dog cranks out hit after hit, even in the face of intense crunch, and has for years. Exploring crunch and its impact is definitely more Schreier’s wheelhouse and I’ve written about Naughty Dog’s own practices during the PS4 generation. It sounds like having dedicated support teams could help alleviate crunch on some level, helping keep the output and quality consistent, leading to more revenue.

Bend’s developers feared they might be absorbed into Naughty Dog, and the studio’s leadership asked to be taken off the Uncharted project. They got their wish last month and are now working on a new game of their own.

The folks at Bend didn’t sign up for this work though either. I am curious how long this next game will take to be developed, especially if parts of the studio are still assisting with two Naughty Dog projects.

Emphasizing big hits can also be counterproductive because sometimes games that start small can turn into massive successes. In 2020, Sony didn’t put much marketing muscle behind the quirky video game creation system Dreams, by the PlayStation-owned Media Molecule in the U.K. As a result, PlayStation may have missed out on its own version of Roblox, a similar video game tool. Parent company Roblox Corp. went public earlier this year and is now valued at $45 billion.

I feel like this is business-talk for the Bloomberg investment reader. This is not an apt comparison; really, it is complete conjecture. Roblox has been around since 2006. They have built an audience and a product for 15 years before going public. I don’t see Dreams as a one and done style game and tool for development. I’ve been talking about PlayStation getting into the game engine business and Dreams is an essential part to that plan, I believe. Shuhei Yoshida has even talked about a “decade of Dreams.” Sure, talk and action are to different elements to game development and promotion. Dreams did/does have plans to be brought over to PS5 and PC with features to export creations from Dreams. Roblox wasn’t built in a day.

In theory, this [remaking The Last of Us] would be a less expensive proposition than remaking Uncharted, since The Last of Us was more modern and wouldn’t require too many gameplay overhauls. Then, once Mumbauer’s group had established itself, it could go on to remake the first Uncharted game and other titles down the road.

It sounds like they wanted to be Sony’s first party remake studio, at least at first. I predicted this year that Sony would buy Bluepoint Games. I still think that is a possibility and should happen. In the long run, it could be cheaper to buy the best remake studio in the business than develop one from the ground up internally. Microsoft certainly thinks it is cheaper to buy prominent studios in the long run.

“The people funding the work are often risk-averse, and if they have to pick between a team that’s done it before, and someone trying to do it on their own for the first time, I can see why some people pick the prior developer over the latter,” [Dave Lang] said.

Makes sense to me.

Mumbauer’s project, code-named T1X, was approved on a probationary basis, but Sony kept the team’s existence a secret, and refused to give them a budget to hire more people, leading many to wonder if the company was really committed to letting the team build a new studio.

I imagine that “T1X” stood for Thing 1 X. “Thing” was the codename for The Last of Us, so T1 makes sense. “X” is a cool letter to use and could stand for “remake” or anything really.

He thought the remake project was too expensive, according to people familiar with the matter, and asked why the planned budget for T1X was so much higher than remakes Sony had made in the past. The reason was that this one was on a brand new graphical engine for the PlayStation 5.

New game engines are expensive. Hideo Kojima had to shop around for an engine after leaving Konami. He settled on Guerrilla Game’s Decima engine, which took years and money to build. It’s also a widely adaptable engine. As for Naughty Dog, their engine is proprietary. If Sony wanted to remake The Last of Us, it would make sense to use an established engine, rather than build one from scratch, especially when comparing costs to previous projects. Sony’s own remakes were sometimes upscales of PSP games.

Release of The Last of Us Part II had been pushed to 2020 from 2019 and Naughty Dog needed the Visual Arts Service Group to polish it off. Most of Mumbauer’s team, along with some of the 200 or so other staff at the Visual Arts Service Group, was assigned to support Naughty Dog, slowing down progress on its own game.

The Visual Arts Service Group’s main job sounds like it is to be support and wrap-up on projects across Sony’s disciplines. Mumbauer seemed to want to change that, but their first priority would have been to provide support. It makes building your own team, engine, and game all that much more difficult. Really playing against a stacked deck.

Sony sent word that after the completion of The Last of Us Part II, some people from Naughty Dog would help out with T1X. Mumbauer’s team saw this as their short-lived autonomy being stripped. Dozens of Naughty Dog staff were joining the project, and some had actually worked on the original The Last of Us, giving them more weight in discussions about T1X’s direction. The game was moved under Naughty Dog’s budget, which Sony gave more leeway than the Visual Arts Service Group.

Not to sound like a broken record, but this, again, makes sense. It strikes me as more efficient. Naughty Dog made both games, just coming off the sequel. Naughty Dog transitioned their game engine to the new platform early from the  PS3 to the PS4. They did it with The Last of Us last time! This could likely be cheaper for Sony, giving them even more of a return on their investment.

But those who had wanted independence were disappointed. By the end of 2020, most of the T1X team’s top staff had left, including Mumbauer and the game’s director, David Hall. Today, the T1X project remains in development at Naughty Dog with assistance from Sony’s Visual Arts Support Group. The future of the remainder of Mumbauer’s team, which has come to be jokingly referred to as Naughty Dog South, remains unclear.

Their disappointment is understandable and human. I am empathetic toward it. I’ve had my share of projects and visions get pulled out from under me. This group of people had an idea they were passionate about with a new direction to move forward in. Their owner, unfortunately, did not agree with the cost of that vision. It did become a “stay here and keep supporting” or leave situation. Some folks left, hopefully finding the independence they wanted.

This mixture of passion and finances makes decisions like this feel cold. Sony has a whacky legacy with some truly great, small games. As the cost of development skyrockets and broader appeal becomes more necessary to make returns, I can’t blame them for cutting costs by shutting down studios. Hopefully, it is a strategy that pays off. If making more blockbuster games brings in more customers which equals more money, then Sony could create more indie partnerships through Yoshida’s initiative: A rising tide lifts all ships scenario.

Microsoft is raising their tide by buying up elite studios and creating recurring revenue with Game Pass on a monthly basis. It’s consistent and dependable. Heck, I converted to Game Pass Ultimate before the Xbox Series X launched with 2 1/2 years. In the rough year I’ve had the service, I have played one game off Game Pass. When my subscription is up, they hope I stay on board and continue the trend of paying them, whether or not I actually play the games. This plan for revenue allows Microsoft to make more deals, take smaller risks more often, likely giving their teams more opportunities for creative freedom. Microsoft is also not afraid to shut a project down.

Sony is bringing their games to PC and even Xbox! Bringing their huge, extremely popular titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, MLB The Show, and Days Gone to other platforms helps diversify and increase their income while focusing on making more of those huge titles.

Sony is also leveraging their film making department and relationships to expand their video game IP to wider audiences. HBO is taking a crack at The Last of Us. Ghost of Tsushima just had a movie announced with some of the people from John Wick. The Uncharted movie is still slated for release this year. These partnerships bring more folks into these blockbuster game properties, hopefully bringing in more people to play these games on PlayStation.

Deals like Game Pass or Sony’s Indie Initiative take time to see the fruits of their labor. Game Pass is easier to see now that those fruits are becoming ripe and ready for folks to eat. Sony’s may take similar amounts of time. I genuinely hope these plans and moves pay out. Not only for my own selfish fan desires, but because I can see it lending great opportunity to foster external, new talent. Or Sony is batting down the hatches, closing off their garden, and the fruits will begin to wither away. Either way, it’s going to take time to find out.

Preserving the Vita – Upgrading My Vita TV

A little follow-up on backing up and preserving my game collection in light of the PS3, PSP, and Vita stores shutting down in a couple months:

Hack your Vita and/or PS TV.

Back in January, I made the move to finally buy a PS TV. I always said not being able to play Persona 4 Golden on my TV is why I never finished the game. Then my Persona-obsessed friend mentioned there was some sort of HD patch for P4G if you hacked your PS TV. I was interested in the process beforehand so I could whitelist games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and utilize homebrew software like Sharpscale, thanks to a video from My Life in Gaming. The downside to this move was that I needed to use my one and only proprietary Vita memory card of 16GB for my PS TV, leaving my poor Vita without any storage, making it essentially unplayable.

Since the announcement of the Vita store’s closure, I’ve been researching how to expand my PS TV storage since Vita memory cards are still outrageously expensive. I came across two options; something called the SD2Vita and a USB mass storage route. The SD2Vita is an adapter that goes into the game card slot and uses an SD card. Hack the system and voilà, you have extra storage. I’m not a fan of this though since it takes up the game slot, not the memory card slot, thus taking my physical games out of play.

This left me with the USB mass storage route, which was both easier and more frustrating than I expected. It was more simple because I already had the tools in place and more frustrating because I did not understand the file structure of the PS TV and its games. Searching online will lead you toward plugins, but if you hack your PS TV, you ought to have VitaShell installed. VitaShell has the ability to mount USB storage as the Vita system’s main memory source (“ux0”)  built right in. Launch VitaShell, plug in the USB drive (formatted exFat with a Master Boot Record [MBR] partition), and press Triangle to open a menu to mount. This did leave me with the need to redownload all my Vita games, which took all day over a wireless connection. Maybe there was some workaround I could have down via FTP or copying files over from the memory card, but I could not find the answer.

Where I ran into trouble was reinstalling all my homebrew plugins—Sharpscale, PSVShell, a DualShock motion sensor, and Whitelist. Turns out installing these while the USB drive was mounted was causing the issue. So, I installed all my homebrew directly on the PS TV itself and then mounted the USB drive and everything worked out perfectly.

I share all this to call attention to the time and effort it will take to back these games up and get your console ready for the store’s final days. This is not something you want to wait until the last minute for. Enabling USB storage on my PS TV has given my Vita its memory card back, while allowing me to download more games on a Vita platform than I’ve ever had. It also let me back that USB drive up to my laptop and my backup service so I can keep redundant copies of my Vita data, should anything dire happen to the drive itself (or I upgrade it).

The Vita is a wonderful system with an incredible legacy. If you own one or a PS TV, I implore you to download your games and buy the ones you want in these next two months. And if you are comfortable with it, hack the console to unlock more features and capabilities. These next few months will be a crucial time to prepare the way for and preserve your Vita collection.

Thoughts on the PSVR 2 Announcement

Sony’s next generation VR headset was officially announced/acknowledged at the end of February 2021. I’ve been meaning to write about the announcement since then, especially since it was a 2020 prediction of mine. Procrastination paid off in March when Sony revealed the new controller design for what most are just calling PSVR 2. If I wait any longer, the whole thing will be revealed and I don’t want to necessarily wait that long.

The initial announcement did more than confirm the new hardware was coming out some time after 2021: It actually gave insight to where the hardware is headed, especially for such an early tease.

…enhances everything from resolution and field of view to tracking and input. It will connect to PS5 with a single cord to simplify setup and improve ease-of-use, while enabling a high-fidelity visual experience.

The original PSVR had all right specs back in 2016, with some that are still leaders in the VR space. The headset supports a 90Hz-120Hz refresh rate, which matches the Valve Index and out-specs Oculus Rift S and Quest 2. PSVR 1 has a 100° field-of-view with a 1080p OLED display, while the Index has 130° field-of-view with 1440 x 1600 LCD screens.

The single cord reminds of the Rift S when I tried it at PAX East 2019. This tells me that the PS5 is going to be handling all of the processing, unlike the first iteration of PS VR where an additional processor box was required for powering the TV output and audio processing, something the PS5 should have no issue handling at all. I know plenty of people who were wishing for a wireless headset, but if Sony did go wireless, I doubt they could use the PS5’s power to its max potential. It would limit the new headset’s capabilities right out of the gate.

…which will incorporate some of the key features found in the DualSense wireless controller, along with a focus on great ergonomics. That’s just one of the examples of future-proof technology we’re developing to match our vision for a whole new generation of VR games and experiences.

Back in February, this was easy to imagine after using the DualSense with my own PS5. The technology inside that controller is just begging for VR implementations. Thankfully, it didn’t take long at all to see how Sony was going to morph the DualSense tech into a VR controller—a real, designed-for from the ground up VR controller.

Gone are glowing golf balls, replaced with a tracking ring monitored by the headset itself. This implies there will be no need for the official PS5 camera accessory to use PSVR 2. The marvelous haptics and the adaptive triggers are in place along with finger touch detection. This doesn’t sound quite like finger-tracking. The touch detection will be in place where your thumb, index, and middle fingers rest. Maybe finger-tracking can be added via a patch, if the headset does have outward tracking cameras. When you combine these elements with the PS5’s Tempest audio engine, PSVR 2 has incredible potential to really put users in a place. Hopefully the headset keeps a high refresh-rate OLED panel to further immerse users in color and reduce sickness. The real test will actually be to use the controllers and the headset, but I can’t see that happening until Fall 2022 at the earliest, especially with the controllers only going out to developers in the near future.

I have been a day-one adopter of PSVR and a firm believer in VR as a whole since I demoed an HTC Vive one day at UCF on a whim. VR truly offers new ways to engage with games, media, and each other. PSVR has reminded me a lot of Oculus’ cheaper initiatives with the goal of getting quality VR in the hands of everyday consumers.

There are plenty of ways Sony balanced cost with quality for the PSVR. The two key points would be the use of the PS4 itself as the power behind the headset and the use of the PS3 Move Controllers from 2010. PSVR itself launched in 2016. Repurposing older technology allowed them to not bet the proverbial farm on VR though. By using a console that was in tens of millions of homes (now over 125 million) with older accessories, Sony offered customers a competent, fully featured VR headset that helped prove VR was and is more than a fade. Combined with exclusive games deals and continuous development for new games, both internally and externally, Sony was able to offer enticing titles for the platform despite its limited specs. Some games even pushed the medium forward like Tetris Effect and Astro Bot Rescue Mission.

Now, with PSVR 2, they seem to be going all in on the right types of technology to create a powerful, comparable, and competitive headset. Combined with the relationships curated with developers and rock solid exclusives, PS VR 2 can push forward in the space well. It will (most likely) be cheaper than top-of-the-line PC headsets and likely have more power than mobile headsets like the Oculus Quest 2. It could find that sweet spot once again between cost and quality.

Also, Half-Life Alyx on PSVR 2 please?

Sony is Shutting Down the PS3, PSP, and Vita Stores

Me, nearly two months ago:

This all started when one day last month I had a concern: I became very worried that the PSN for PlayStation 3 and Vita would shut be shut down with very little notice. I had recently started rebuilding my PS3 collection. I have an 80GB “Phat” model and realized I couldn’t download all the games I had digitally acquired over the years.

Thankfully, Sony seems to have always made hard drive swapping in their consoles user friendly. I swapped in my original PS4 500GB hard drive and went download crazy. I also took out an old orange USB stick with all my old PS3 save data.

And here is Sony announcing the closure of the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita stores for later this summer:

We are closing PlayStation™Store on PlayStation®3 consoles on 2nd July 2021 and on PlayStation®Vita devices on 27th August 2021. Additionally, the remaining purchase functionality for PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable) will also retire on 2nd July 2021.

Thankfully, this is more notice than I had feared. Regardless, the end of these consoles official support is upon us. I am glad I decided to upgrade and download all I wanted back in February. All my physical games are patched and my digital collection installed. Now I just need to pick and choose which games I’d like to snag before the final day. I was looking on my PS3 this weekend and filled up cart to the max limit of 10 items and was just breaking $100. No time like the present to talk with my wife and come up with a budget.

I was looking at games I haven’t repurchased physically yet, like collections of PS2 games and the Ratchet and Clank PS3 games. Some are becoming more expensive, even before this announcement, but I am expecting prices for physical games to continue to climb. I had a few PS1 games in there as well, since this is the only way to play those games officially in 2021. I even bought Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier a few weeks ago, a PSP game I never played.

Thankfully, Sony has promised the ability to still download previous purchases, but some day that support will go away too. I may buy an external drive and back up all my games locally too. It is a shame to see the end of these store fronts and all the beloved games, both AAA and indie, that were released on those platforms. Sony needs to step up their access to older titles. There is a rich legacy under the PlayStation umbrella: One Sony loves to celebrate in its games, like Astro’s Playroom, but ignores in the real world when it comes to playing those beloved titles.