We interviewed Nicolas Doucet, the creative director and producer of Astro’s Playroom, the video game that is installed on all PS5s and that serves as a demo for the new Sony console
When you turn on your PS5 for the first time, you will receive a few configuration menus. That if the WiFi, that if your PlayStation Network account, that if the HDR configuration … but once you are in the main menu, you will see a game already installed on the console: Astro’s Playroom.
Our recommendation is that it be the first thing you play on PS5 because it is a fantastic game, short and full of charm. “The first experience with PS5 is crucial,” said Nicolas Doucet, creative director and producer of Japan Studio, one of the main video game development studios for PlayStation.
This is not easy for a still somewhat unfamiliar pet. Astro, the robot that stars in the game, barely has three games behind him, but he has won some affection from fans because his previous games, also developed by Doucet’s team, had a lot of charm.
Being the first PS5 game for almost everyone is not an easy task, as Doucet points out. “Astro is going to be the first stop on PS5, so we had to take into account its accessibility, that everyone could play it regardless of their video game skills.” But seasoned gamers will quickly realize that Astro’s Playroom is also a tribute to PlayStation history.
During its four levels, players walk through four crucial parts of the PS5’s components: its processor, its memory, its hard drive, and its fans. And as they jump and fight enemies, they’ll receive rewards that are nothing less than PSX, PS2, PS3, and PS4 accessories, as well as PSP laptops, PS Vita, and even the PS VR virtual reality headset. The whole PlayStation family, basically even the most absurd accessories. “The original PlayStation was the first console we modeled, and when we saw it already implemented, it was exciting.”
A REVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF PLAYSTATION
Part of the charm of Astro’s Playroom lies in the many secrets around every corner, including the cameos of characters from the PlayStation video game sagas, who have been converted into Astro-style robots.
Each phase is set in a climate that matches the theme of the components, but also with four ways of playing. “At the beginning, we had a lot of ‘demos’ on the loose that didn’t match each other,” says Doucet. “But we realized that we had four main activities: climbing, spring jumping, rolling like a ball and propelling ourselves with a rocket backpack. When we had this clear, there we began to match each part with the settings of each level.”
The pampering that has been put into the game is obvious from the first minute, but this first sensation gives way to two other questions that could well define the PS5 as a console: how fast each world loads and how unique the controller is. , the DualSense.
The PS5 loads the screens so fast that, during the development of Astro’s Playroom, they realized that it was too fast, to the point of exhausting the player. “When you die, there is a black screen and a respawn moment. At first this was so fast, you couldn’t even know what had killed you. In these types of games, you need some time, you need a choreography when something happens. When you lose a life, you need a second to think and move on. We had to do this a little slower because the loading rate after each death of the protagonist was too fast. “
THE MAGIC OF DUALSENSE
The second big thing about Astro’s Playroom is the extensive use it makes of the new vibration capabilities of the PS5 DualSense controller. It is difficult to get used to the idea of how the controller works without touching it, but this game makes you feel rain or hail on your fingers, that each step feels different depending on the terrain you are moving through and that the propulsion and hardness of A rocket backpack sits by the rigidity and vibration of the knob triggers. It is something very novel.
“There is a lot of complexity around how it works, but in large part it is because this is the first time we have done something like this,” says Doucet. “The haptic vibration system of the DualSense is based on sound waves, so we had to develop a program to process them depending on the terrain underfoot or the sensation we want to transmit. We realized that it was a job that we had to reconcile. with sound engineering. “
Doucet explains that this ‘magic’ of the DualSense is due to the balance between vibration and the sound that comes out of the controller’s speaker. “It changed the way we worked with programmers, game managers, and sound engineers,” explains Doucet. “One of the most difficult things was to establish priorities. The rain is a great sensation, the grass too, when an enemy tramples the ground, the same. But when all this happens at the same time, you have to know how to prioritize which one you feel more. Perhaps the stomp is the most important at the moment. “
The development of the haptic technology of the DualSense was complex and in Japan Studio it took more than a year to square everything right. “But as soon as everything started to fall into place, it went smoothly. Now it’s a much faster process, much easier to implement.”
The ease of implementation seems to be a factor for this new PlayStation technology to prevail not only among its own studios, but also in those of third parties. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War already implements an advanced vibration system in the style of Astro’s PlayRoom, for example. Will more studies be encouraged to do the same?
“In two years, I think this will be basic,” says Doucet. “I have the feeling that there will be an exponential growth in its use, I am sure of it. At first it will be complicated, but in the future it will be implemented much better. It can create the feeling of being flying or driving or shooting or drawing a bow” .
PS5, NOW ON SALE
PlayStation 5 is launched on the market today, at a recommended price of 500 euros in its version with a disc reader and 400 euros in the digital version. Although its competition, Xbox Seris X and Series S, has been on the market for a week, it is too early to know which of the two is going to conquer the players.
The video game market is driven by affiliations that go beyond the raw power of the devices or even the games that they can play, so the beginning of a new generation of video game consoles is a crucial moment for the industry, especially at a critical moment like the one lived in 2020.
Sony bets more on exclusive video games, such as this Astro’s Playroom or Spider-Man: Miles Morales or Demon’s Souls, all three on sale for PS5 from today. Will this strategy continue to be effective in Spain, where its market share is much greater than its competition? We will see.