Nearly two years ago, Sony Worldwide Studios acquired long-time development partner Sucker Punch Productions. This was not a huge change for the studio as both of its key franchises, Sly Cooper and Infamous, have been PlayStation-exclusive from the beginning. With the impending release of the PlayStation 4, Sucker Punch has been working on a new title for the console's launch window, Infamous: Second Son. During a demo of Second Son at E3 2013 last week, GamesIndustry International spoke to Sucker Punch Productions co-founder and producer Brian Fleming about how the acquisition has affected the studio.
"On some level, it's mostly been 'steady as she goes.' It's not been disruptively negative or overwhelmingly positive. To be clear, its has been positive. We've had such a good relationship with them, for so long, that it has improved," said Fleming.
Being an internal Sony studio meant that Sucker Punch had an inside line to PlayStation 4 lead architect Mark Cerny, providing feedback on what was needed for its next game.
"When they were working on the new controller for [the PlayStation 4], we were able to be a part of that process because we were an internal studio. I believe that wouldn't have been possible if we were an external studio. It was nice to be able to contribute at that level," said Fleming. "To give [Mark Cerny] our feedback as they worked on the hardware specs; what an open-environment game would need, because we're different than the needs of a level-based games or a linear game. We put different demands on the hard drive and the bandwidth of the disc system. So we've been able to contribute in nice ways."
Heading into a new generation, many developers are moving to larger teams to meet graphical and gameplay expectations. Players want more if they're going to spend $500 to $600 on a new PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Fleming explained that the studio is scaling, but said it's important to scale in an intelligent manner.
"I think it's a little bit inevitable that you need to continue to scale, but it also demands that you think hard about what you're making and you figure out how to scale your pipeline and your processes, so that you can produce that new level and meet those expectations without changing your team," said Fleming.
"For example, all of the facial animation [in Infamous: Second Son] on the principal actors, [Troy Baker] and [Travis Willingham] is all mo-capped and facially-solved, so that we're not spending a huge amount of our budget doing hand animation on their faces, and yet the results are really spectacular," he added. "You have to ask, 'Hey, where are we going to change how we're doing what we're doing in order to reach those new expectations and exceed those expectations without totally melting the economics of the business?'"
"We're trying, even in these days of increasing budgets and increasing demands on us, we're really trying to make sure that we stay focused"
Now that Sucker Punch is an internal Sony studio, Sony could utilize the team's expertise to produce a title on the company's lagging PlayStation Vita portable. We asked Fleming about the possibility of Sucker Punch on Vita, but he said that the studio prefers to stick to one project at a time.
"We're super-excited about all the opportunities that we have. One of the big guidelines for us though is that we want to do one thing at a time. We're trying, even in these days of increasing budgets and increasing demands on us, we're really trying to make sure that we have really good quality and we stay focused. We've always told Sony, 'Hey, the one thing we don't want to change is that we do one thing at a time. We really think we can make a better quality product by not splitting our focus.' That's been a formative goal of the studio throughout its sixteen-year history," Fleming told us.
"We've discussed all kinds of different options when we finished Infamous 2. We had a five-year plan about five years ago, which involved, 'we want to make this transition to the new hardware.' It didn't exist at that point, but we felt like, 'There's a chance here that we can do something in the launch window for the new hardware' and that was a terrific reason to do a third Infamous game. We didn't want to just do it to do it. We wanted to really push ourselves. That's how we made that decision. It wasn't pro- or anti-Vita, rather 'Where would be the best place for us to go next?' Sony is a part of that decision, but we're really grateful that they listen a lot to what we want to do and where we want to grow."