Creators of the successful Invizimals franchise, and developers of the PlayStation Vita game Reality Fighters, augmented reality developer Novarama recently signed an exclusivity deal with Sony. To learn more about the deal, their thoughts on the fantastic PlayStation Vita, and where the new handheld leaves the Invizimals franchise, PlayStation LifeStyle chatted to Dani Sánchez-Crespo, CEO and Lead Designer at Novarama.
Hi Dani, could you start by introducing yourself and telling us about your work at Novarama?
I’m Dani Sánchez-Crespo, CEO and Lead Designer at Novarama. So I’m in charge of running the studio and also the high level game design of all Novarama products.
Novarama recently signed an exclusivity deal with Sony – how long does the deal last?
We don’t comment on deal details, but suffice to say it’s a strategic deal for us, designed for the long run. With Invizimals now in its third sequel (Invizimals: The Lost Tribes comes out this Christmas) and VITA Exclusive Reality Fighters also in production, we felt it was the right time to expand our partnership with Sony.
Can you say if it includes PlayStation Certified products – the PlayStation Suite on mobiles and tablets? They are not always Sony devices after all.
We only will work on PSP and VITA games for the foreseeable future. As much as we like the other sides of the Sony product line, there’s just so much area we can cover. So we prefer to focus and deliver than to become too distracted by all the other things going on within a large company like Sony.
So you’re not planning on making a game for the PlayStation Eye then?
Hmmm good question, we think PlayStation Eye and Move have a ton of potential and would love to exploit it in the future. I think there’s a killer app for Move somewhere waiting for some studio to find it. And I hope it’s us!
With Sony’s new deal, how much freedom do you have over the development of your games? Are they very hands on or hands off?
We have total freedom, the same one we had before the deal. And with regards to hands on/hands off, I think it’s the wrong approach to look at it that way. I mean, it’s not a top-down relationship, it’s more a team relationship: we respect each other, tell each other our respective ideas, fight with enthusiasm. And in the end, the best ideas are put on the games, be them Sony’s or Novarama’s. We have no ego in that respect.
So do you share your development ideas and techniques with Sony developers? As the most experienced augmented reality developer working with Sony, I’m sure you could teach other developers a few tricks.
Well, we cooperate a lot within Sony studios, yes. We talk with the guys doing Eyepet, as well as with other studios. That’s one of the benefits of being in a large first-party group: the mutual benefits you get from other companies who may have solved the same problems you’re facing already.
Sony said that during the development of the PS Vita they reached out to developers to help design the product. Was Novarama involved in that process – especially in choosing the cameras and location tech?
Well, again, it’s all part of the same philosophy: if you have a new console coming out, and it has let’s say a gyroscope, which is very useful for Augmented Reality, it makes perfect sense to ask the professionals (that’s us) what do they think about it. So that’s kind of an ongoing effort: you see every iteration of the device, give feedback, etc.
That’s how VITA became what it is today.
And are you happy with what it turned out to be like? Sony seems to have really gone out of their way to make this device suited for Augmented Reality.
I am really happy with VITA, but I’ll be even happier when we can put our games in the hands of consumers and let them share our excitement. So really I can’t wait.
In comparison, have you you had a chance to look at the 3DS’ augmented games?
Yes, I have.
How well do you think they stack up?
Well, the 3DS is doing now what we did with Invizimals about three years ago, so in that respect, they do a good job, but the inspiration they took from Invizimals is, let’s say… noticeable. It’ll be fun to see what they come up with when they begin designing new games, I have a lot of respect for Nintendo and I’m pretty sure they can do better…
But of course so do we. Invizimals was developed 3 years ago, and now we’re more advanced than we were.
The handheld also seems to rely on cards to identify reality, does that hold them back in regards to what they can do?
No, cards is a good way to do AR. It’s more that I haven’t seen on the 3DS anything new with regards to AR, just repeating the same formula we invented 3 years ago. AR requires a lot of designer time, and I don’t think Nintendo has devoted that time to it yet.
The other competitor in the AR industry is mobile phones. As the Vita gets older, phones with better cameras and more powerful processors will likely be released. How will you ensure you stay competitive?
If you think about it, in the end it’s not about the hardware only, is about how focused is a company to develop great games. That’s my main criticism to cell phone games: it lacks de product development muscle seen on consoles. So yes Angry Birds is a cool little games, but I don’t see anything on the cell phone space that can compete with the kind of immersion and enjoyment produced by a game console.
Prior to your partnership, were you interested in trying out the mobile space?
No, for the reason outlined above.
Where do you see augmented technology and games going over the life of the Vita and beyond?
Hmmm, you’ll have to wait for the next Novarama games to see that. But suffice to say we believe AR generates a sense of believability and immersion that just can’t be matched by other game genres, and we expect to exploit that in the future.
So are you planning your next game then?
Of course, we always are. Long R&D is the key to good games.
Will it be for the Vita?
Invizimals is quite a big game, so is Reality Fighters. Have you thought about creating smaller, shorter games over the PSN? Something like Augmented PlayStation Minis?
My problem is: we usually think big. And then, we have no time left to do smaller stuff, which we would love to do.
You’d be amazed at how many cute little ideas we have for small AR games.
Maybe a big compilation of little ideas?
Hehehe we will see, we will see.
The Vita supports backwards compatibility with PSP games over PSN – does that include Invizimals titles? I’m guessing with the camera it might be more difficult to port.
Can’t comment on that!
So you’ve thought about it?
Novarama doesn’t comment on rumours/speculation 😉
Invizimals: Shadow Zone came out in November over here in Europe, but has yet to come out in the US. Invizimals: The Lost Tribes will come out next November in Europe, but as of now, hasn’t got a US release date. What is the reason for the differences between the two regions release dates?
Long story. But being a title developed in Europe, Sony decided to do a staggered launch.
There was also the issue with the logistics of manufacturing and shipping the cameras, which makes our game even more complex than other Sony titles.
Will Reality Fighters be staggered?
I don’t know! we focus on making the games as good as they can be, but we leave all the logistics side to Sony…
So have you been given a US release date for The Lost Tribes?
Not yet, but it will come!
While the old Invizimals may or may not be coming to the PS Vita, are there any plans for a new game in the franchise to come to the handheld?
We will continue doing Invizimals games as long as there’s Invizimals fans. And, as far as I know, it seems there’s a lot of fans out there.
Invizimals on PSP was held back by the fact it had to have the camera add-on, which was costly and not really supported by other developers. If Invizimals were to come to the next generation, do you think it’s opportunity for growth would be sizeable?
Of course! knowing everyone has a camera makes our life so much easier, and also Sony’s!
It was a pretty risky move supporting a peripheral as an independent developer. Why did you take that risk?
Well, I think creating powerful illusions requires taking big risks. Think about Guitar Hero, think about us… we are all games that generated a powerful illusion by using some special hardware.
So you feel it paid off then?
Will Reality Fighters release on a 2GB or 4GB NVG card, and will it be available to download off the PSN?
Don’t know and don’t know. I hope we can bring the game to the maximum number of people, so I’d love to be Digital and Physical, but that’s a bit early to know.
Will Reality Fighters include complex chain moves and in-depth fighting styles, or is this aiming to be a casual combat experience?
Oh it’s pretty complex… about the complexity of other fighting games. It’s not so much about how deep is it, but what changes do you do to the base combat mechanic to make it accessible to everyone.
I mean, we want to do a fighting game designed in the XXI century, not in 1985, the industry has changed, and so must we. But hardcores can rest assured, the game is as deep as other games they’ve played in the same genre.
Will it include location based gaming and unlockables?
Yes and yes.
If you know Invizimals, you know we do deep games with lots of secrets and unlockables, and with VITA we can do just a massive amount of these
But how do you ensure Wi-fi only Vita owners don’t feel left out?
Whatever we do, it will work on all VITAs.
Does using the augmented tech use up more battery power than when playing games without it?
I’m pretty surprised (in a positive way) about the battery life of the PS Vita, and I think so will consumers, both on AR or non-AR titles