Competitors would be "a little scared" to embrace Sony's software portfolio, PlayStation software product development head Scott Rohde told GameSpot in an interview during E3 2012 in Los Angeles last week. The comments came the day after Sony held its media briefing, during which the company highlighted several brand-new projects, including Quantic Dream's narrative-focused thriller Beyond: Two Souls (which will feature the voice and likeness of Juno actress Ellen Page) and Naughty Dog's postapocalyptic action game The Last of Us.
On top of picking Rohde's brain about the importance of innovating rather than iterating, GameSpot questioned the executive about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and its similarities to Nintendo's flagship Smash Bros. fighting franchise. Rohde called comparisons people are drawing between the two properties "inevitable," and noted Battle Royale's dynamic battle arenas will set the game apart from Nintendo's.
Elsewhere in the interview, Rohde explained that the numerous scenes of ultraviolence at E3 2012 were the result of increased technical power for current consoles. He said the elephant-man lobotomy scene from God of War: Ascension and the shotgun-based head-removal encounter in The Last of Us are not "violence for the sake of violence." And in the case of Naughty Dog's game, such scenes will be used to build tension and tell a stronger story overall, he said.
Check out GameSpot's full interview with Rohde below.
GameSpot: Now that the "Big Three" conferences are over, what grabbed your interest, and what trends did you notice?
Scott Rohde: Of course I'm going to talk about Sony stuff first, because that is very exciting to me to see how everyone is going to react to what we show. Very excited about response to God of War: Ascension, Beyond: Two Souls, and The Last of Us. We kind of knew there would be a strong response to those. In general, just proud of the fact that we set out to show and prove that we have the best lineup of first-party exclusives and I think we succeeded in that area.
In terms of the other stuff at the show, I don't think there were any surprising trends. I think that the industry is evolving and there's going to be a lot of reaching out from all, whether they're third-party software publishers or hardware manufacturers. Lots of reaching out into the mobile space. It's just natural evolution. Everyone's got a smartphone in their pocket. So there's definitely going to be a connection there. I think over time there will be many ways that it will enhance the gaming experience when you're away from your living room.
GS: The Sony briefing started off with Quantic Dream's new game, Beyond: Two Souls, which had been leaked earlier that morning…
SR: Everything gets leaked.
GS: And it stars Ellen Page, which I'm not sure anyone saw coming. How do you think Page's involvement in the game will affect the experience?
On Ellen Page's involvement in Beyond: Two Souls: "When you get professional, seasoned actors, they're going to make a difference in how that story is told."
SR: You heard David Cage just raving and drooling over the interaction with Ellen. He didn't just say, "Oh, that would be the right look." He wanted the personality, and I think she's going to have a profound effect. When you get professional, seasoned actors, they're going to make a difference in how that story is told. And that game, more than any game we do, is all about the story and the emotion behind those characters. Those guys are special in what they do, in finding new ways to tell stories. And new ways to create, really, an interactive film. And to start to bring that Hollywood talent in to pull that off I think is going to make a huge difference.
GS: Cage touted Ellen as a wonderful actress, but in the scene, she's just sitting there. She was barely talking, barely moving at all. I thought that was interesting.
SR: It is interesting. It's just kind of an ironic scene. I think for David, who is so into the emotion, to actually get an actor to do what she did in that scene is easier said than done. And it transformed into the scene you saw afterwards, where she was essentially a badass, right? So you saw both sides.
GS: The briefing also touched on PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. You must be aware of the ties gamers are making to Nintendo's Smash Bros. series.
SR: Mm hmmm.
GS: Do you have a reaction to that?
SR: It's a natural connection. The bottom line is we just wanted a way to celebrate all of Sony's great IPs and have a fun way for them to duke it out together. It's so easy to compare any game to any other game. And as for that particular comparison: totally inevitable. But I'm really excited about where that game is going.
GS: So what differentiates Battle Royale from other games in the same vein?
SR: You've only seen probably two or three different environments, but the way they mash up all the different IPs in a very creative way. So not just talking about what actually happens in the battles between the characters, but everything that's going on in backgrounds, and affects what's going on with the battles themselves…I'd say that's a pretty big differentiator.
GS: Nintendo didn't talk about it at its press conference today, but there's gonna be another Smash Bros.
SR: They can both exist happily side by side. They're both ways to celebrate the wonderful IPs that the companies have created.
GS I was also surprised by Wonderbook. I didn't see it coming.
On Wonderbook: "The one thing that didn't leak!"
SR: The one thing that didn't leak!
GS: Can you talk more about Wonderbook and what it means for Sony and how it's going to work?
SR: Obviously, it's a way to broaden our audience. When you can hook up with a storyteller as brilliant as [J.K. Rowling] is, and find a way to tell stories in a different way, that's gonna broaden your audience. The way the technology works itself--we didn't go into this because there's just not enough time at a press conference. There's no tech in the book itself. It is cardboard and paper. The easiest way to describe it, is essentially there are AR codes. Everything is powered by the PlayStation 3. You will have one book; it's not an expensive piece of technology--it is not technology [laughs]. And everything is fueled by the PlayStation Eye and the PlayStation 3. You can download new pieces of content and open up your book and experience dinosaurs or solar system, or more J.K. Rowling content; whatever the case might be. When you really see kids' eyes light up is when they realize that it's a storybook and you can turn the pages and what you're doing is showing up on the screen, but when you can do this it's just fascinating because they've never had that kind of experience before. You're holding a book and it's coming alive on the screen and I'm totally in control of it.
GS: So you're definitely targeting the younger audience with Wonderbook?
SR: Absolutely. And families in general. We knew going in, if it wasn't obvious from the reception for God of War and The Last of Us, that's a bloodthirsty audience. So typically, they're not going to respond as enthusiastically to things like this in a press conference like that. I love the fact that Sony is willing to innovate in really different ways and that's a really good example of it. And I'm glad it didn't leak.
GS: Beyond J.K. Rowling, are there any other partnerships with authors lined up?
SR: We don't have any that we're talking about.
GS: Moving to the PS Vita, Sony said last month it sold 1.8M units since launch, and that software would be the key to success for the platform. You announced just yesterday Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed are hitting the Vita this year. What are your expectations for these games?
SR: We're thrilled to have those partnerships with those great franchises. And it's going to do nothing but enhance the PlayStation Vita and the overall experience. It's been out for about three months; there's 40 titles out there and another 60 coming in the next year, and we're glad that those two are a part of it. We're also glad that PlayStation All-Stars and Sly 4 will have Vita counterparts, and there's going to be very interesting ways that those games can interact with each other from PS3 to PS Vita.
GS: So do you think the PS Vita needs more big titles like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed if it really wants to have success as a platform?
SR: It certainly doesn't hurt when you have those major franchises. I think what's going to be neat about the PlayStation Vita, and what didn't quite come through with the PlayStation Mobile announcement, is some of that content that is in development in the PlayStation Mobile world will end up on the Vita as well. There's going to be a very interesting mix of small, downloadable content, and bigger Call of Duty, Uncharted, Assassin's Creed-style games on the machine.
GS: We heard about it last year, but nothing this year. What's the status of the BioShock game for the Vita? Ken Levine seemed awfully excited about it last year.
SR: Unfortunately, I don't have news on that, because I'm a first-party guy. I don't have any update on that.
GS: Sony CEO Kaz Hirai laid out the company's restructuring plan last month, saying Sony will look to its games division to return to profitability. Was that a daunting message to receive?
"Essentially, we just say, 'Bring it on.' It makes us happy," explaining Sony leaning on its games division to return to profit.
SR: No. It's a flattering message to receive. Sony is a massive company with its arms everywhere. There are divisions of business that Sony runs that still baffle me because they have their arms everywhere. But for Kaz, with his roots in PlayStation, to have that new post and say, "We know that this is one of Sony's strongest pillars and we're going to lean on you guys." Essentially, we just say, "Bring it on." It makes us happy.
GS: So you don't feel any pressure?
SR: No. I think it's great now that Kaz is in that post from PlayStation, he recognizes the power of that brand and how it can extend across Sony's entire family of products. I think that's a really great thing, and we're thrilled to back that up.
GS: Ultraviolence has been a major theme of this year's E3, at least as I see it.
SR: You guys cheer louder when we do it! [laughs].
GS: Sony seems to be very welcoming to scenes of ultraviolence. We saw Kratos lobotomize an elephant guy and Joel from The Last of Us blow an enemy's head off to end the trailer. What's your take on the new level of violence in Sony's games?
"Let's face it: violent acts are what build the most tension; whether it's film or whether it's television or video games."
SR: There's a reason we have a ratings system for these games. And I think that you see this trend in Hollywood as well. You just see that as technology continues to grow, not just in our industry, but in the film industry as well, or even on television, I think you're gonna see a more realistic depiction of what's going on. And it's a way for people to escape. I don't think it turns people violent. But it's an interesting outlet for people to experience this, and let's face it: violent acts are what build the most tension; whether it's film or whether it's television or video games, and that was incredibly evident, specifically when we showed The Last of Us.
I mean, God of War kind of gets up to this level [motions his hand above his head] and just stays there. But with The Last Of Us, you don't know what's coming around the corner. I literally get goose bumps just thinking about it [motions to actual goose bumps on his left arm] because that's exactly what Naughty Dog set out to build: a title where you are terrified to walk around every single corner because there was going to be some sort of encounter. And you had to figure out how to deal with it. So that's the view I take on [violence]. It's an important part of building tension and creating a new style of entertainment for people. It's not violence for the sake of violence; there's a big difference. It's not Saw. Really, the violence is creatively used to tell a story and to build tension. And that's extremely important.
GS: What struck me about Beyond and The Last of Us is that though they are new games, new IPs, they feel very similar to Heavy Rain and Uncharted. And they also feel "safe," I would say. What's your take on this?
SR: It's an interesting take. I tend to look at it exactly the opposite way. If you can find another publisher in this industry who would build Beyond, I'd like to meet that publisher. I really think that [Beyond] is as far from "safe" as it gets. Heavy Rain, by itself was not a "safe" title. And to do it again with a totally different story, a larger investment, and to bring Hollywood in, to really enhance that genre that really isn't touched by many folks in our industry, I think is anything but "safe." And when you think about what Naughty Dog is doing, when I hear "safe" I hear Uncharted 4, Uncharted 5, Uncharted 6, Uncharted 7. And for a developer of that caliber, this late in the cycle of the platform, to introduce a totally new IP for a different audience--meaning going from T-rated to M-rated--I think is anything but "safe." I really feel like we're taking a lot of risks with both of those titles.
GS: I've heard Joel from The Last of Us referred to as Nathan Drake 2.0…
SR: [laughs] I hear you to a degree. And at the risk of sounding defensive, the guys from Naughty Dog have put so much work into crafting those characters. And it's so funny; if [Naughty co-president Christophe Balestra] were sitting here right now, he would literally give you five thousand reasons why Joel is different than Nathan Drake. Let's face it; you watch any movie in Hollywood, there's gonna be a male lead with some scruff. It's just what happens. But if you really compare them side by side, they're really different characters.
GS: How important is it to Sony to innovate rather than iterate?
SR: It's as important as anything. The fact that we can have The Unfinished Swan, and we can have Beyond, and we can have The Last of Us, and God of War. Of course with some titles you're going to iterate; a sports title is a great example. But to have that wide range and to offer something new, like Wonderbook. I say this every time like a broken record; our press conference could have been twice as long because we have that much content that we could show, we just didn't have time to show it all. Sound Shapes is another perfect example. These are all innovations that other companies would be a little scared to embrace, I believe. So innovation is top of the charts at PlayStation.
GS: [Sony president] Andrew House said yesterday that Sony is always looking to the future, but he didn't lay out any kind of specific plan. We know the PlayStation 4 is coming; how are you preparing to build games for it?
"This industry is constantly evolving. There's going to be fingers reaching out into the mobile space; it's going to be a big part of how all home consoles work, specifically ours."
SR: I'm not going to talk about future platforms, but as a software organization, I think we have an extremely talented group of studios. And we're always preparing, we're always looking five years out with what we do. And not in the sense that you might think where it's sequels to every game we have in production. It's not like that. It's absolutely to figure out new ways to innovate and new ways to bring in new talent. Because we know that this industry is constantly evolving. There's going to be fingers reaching out into the mobile space; it's going to be a big part of how all home consoles work, specifically ours. We're always planning for that. Can I really get into specifics about what we're doing? Not really. But we are absolutely preparing for that. I wouldn't have a job if we weren't doing that.
GS: I have to ask, just because…I have to ask. Is there an update on The Last Guardian? We know development is stalled, but does the game have a heartbeat?
SR: I will not give you a detailed update, but I will say one thing and it goes back to innovation and to gamers and to quality. That title is going to ship when it's absolutely ready.
GS: So it's going to ship?
SR: It's going to ship at some time, and it's going to ship when it's ready. And I think that's a really important thing to remember, is that it would be very easy to ship a game when it's not quite ready because we need to meet a business plan. Gamers are first, and the experiences we provide are first. And that's why we're gonna talk about that game when we're ready to talk about it.