It's been more than three years since former Naughty Dog employee Didier Malenfant co-founded Ready At Dawn. Since then the studio has released its first title, PSP-exclusive Daxter, which was met with critical acclaim and sold well around the globe.
In other words, Daxter has been one of the PSP's success stories - and those, some would argue, have been too few and far between. Last March, speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Malenfant conceded that there were less titles available for the handheld than gamers might want. Now, nearly a year later, the situation doesn't seem to have greatly improved.
That hasn't deterred RAD from sticking with the platform, however. The studio is currently working on its second game, and although it won't be a sequel to Daxter it will be another PSP exclusive.
In this interview Malenfant reveals more about the new project, RAD's plans to develop for next-gen consoles and his thoughts on where the PSP is now.
Q: GamesIndustry.biz: How have you found the experience of being a PSP-exclusive developer? Has the platform lived up to your expectations?
Didier Malenfant: Yes. Daxter's absolutely incredible, it's what we wanted to do. It's a great platform and we've had a lot of fun with it. We're developing another PSP title now so obviously we're happy with the way Daxter's done and we're still investing in the platform. We're a single game company and for now that game is on PSP.
The PSP's software line-up is often criticised for being too limited. Do you think Sony could push more for a wider range of titles?
I don't know. Is it their responsibility to take people by the hand? I think it's priorities, you know? There's so much going on out there on so many platforms, so many new formats. Things like that get planned years in advance, so obviously a year or two ago a lot of teams were already making choices about what platforms they wanted to work on, what their priorities would be, and I guess that's a personal choice for everybody.
Here at Ready At Dawn, we decided to work on PSP because we love the platform and we wanted to play cool games for that platform. Everyone makes their choice and I don't know if Sony can really do much more. They've got their hands full with two platforms already - the PS2 is still going really strong.
What about other publishers? Should they be doing more?
On the software side, maybe publishers don't put their best teams on PSP. Everyone is focusing so heavily on next-gen and trying to be there for 360 and PS3 - they just don't have time to work on a handheld.
Do you think part of the problem is that PSP is more difficult to develop for than Nintendo DS?
Not really. I don't think it's any more difficult. It's different from the DS because the DS isn't really a 3D platform. A lot of the stuff we do on DS is more like the stuff we used to do on Mega Drive and things like that.
The PSP is really no more complex than the PSone, and there are a lot of people out there who have lots of experience with that - so I don't think that's really the problem.
How much confidence do you have in the platform? There's less software available than a lot of people would like, the UMD format doesn't seem to be doing so well...
I think it's an opportunity for people who make good games - Daxter, Syphon Filter, the GTA titles - which do really well and show that there's a market out there. There are a lot of things in the pipeline for 2007 that are really interesting.
Tell us about your new game... Will it be a sequel to Daxter?
Actually, no it isn't. I think people are going to be really excited when they find out what we're working on. When we found out we had the opportunity to do this game, everyone was really psyched and we haven't really stopped.
Is it an original IP or a licensed title?
I really can't say either way.
Are you working with Naughty Dog again for the new game?
No, we're not. It's not based on a Naughty Dog property; it's completely different. But we are working with Sony again.
Will there ever be a Daxter sequel?
We'd love to do another Daxter game. I think we've got enough ideas - we've got a lot of things we still want to do, so if the opportunity presents itself, everybody here would love to do it.
Are you interested in developing for PlayStation 3?
Definitely. Look at what we're able to do on PSP - I'd love to see what we're able to do on next-gen platforms. It's just a matter of finding the right project that makes us excited. We couldn't just find any game and work on it - we need to find projects that make everyone here happy and really psyched about working on them.
Seeing as you've already got experience of developing for PSP and working with Sony, would the PS3 definitely be your next-gen console of choice?
Not necessarily; again, it all depends on the project. It could be PS3 or 360 or both. If we find a game we're excited about and it happens to be on 360, we'll go for it. We just work with what the platform's capable of and get the most out of it rather than focusing on limitations.
Sony seems to have a bit of an image problem at the moment - they're taking a fair few knocks...
I think that's the price you pay for being the number one player in the industry. You can see that with Microsoft with operating systems - after a while, you become the favourite target.
All the buzz about Sony nicely hid the fact that Microsoft weren't selling many 360s and didn't really have any good games until Gears of War came out. I think everybody is in a similar position if you look at how PR gets handled and how things are interpreted.
Next-gen involves a lot of money, it's a big investment, and it's going to be a difficult time of transition whether you're Microsoft or Sony.
How optimistic are you that Sony will be the market leader this time around?
It's their market to lose. That's the reality. It doesn't depend on Nintendo or Microsoft - it depends on them. They've got a great platform in the PS3, they've got great teams working with them, but every hardware transition is difficult.
Sony so far has been the only company to retain its position between one generation and the next - between PSone and PS2 - and people forget that. It used to be that every generation someone else would take over in the US and Europe.
Ready At Dawn has been around for about three years now. What lessons have you learned during that time?
Some of the things we decided to do as a company, our company culture if you will, have worked out really well. Things we've learned from Naughty Dog and Blizzard, like making sure we hire the best people and that they're happy. The only thing I do now really is work on business development and try to keep our people happy, and it's exciting.
As far as lessons learned in a negative way go - it's not easy. Even though we tried to keep things simple by picking a PSP project, because the teams would smaller, and using licensed IP so we wouldn't have to create everything from scratch, it's been a challenge. Probably ten times harder than we ever imagined.
You have to know what you don't know, and surround yourself with people who can take care of those things. That's the trick.
How are you finding surviving as an independent developer when there are much bigger studios out there with much bigger budgets?
We're lucky Daxter has done so well. We came out with quite a high profile because of our backgrounds, but that doesn't really mean anything until you've shipped a project.
Now Daxter is a kind of business card - we've proved that we can make a great game with very high production values. So in that respect, it's not too hard. We're lucky that we can pick the projects we work on and we don't have to take the first thing we're offered.
Didier Malenfant is president of Ready At Dawn Studios. Interview by Ellie Gibson.