Though born in France, Nicolas Doucet is currently a producer and creative art director at Sony Computer Entertainment's London Studio, which is one of the Japanese publisher's core development teams. After passing through the QA and localisation teams of various studios and working on Lego Star Wars at Traveller's Tales, he started at Sony, where he was responsible for EyeToy: Play until 2006.
He is currently completing EyePet, which is the London Studio's first entry into a new franchise for the PlayStation 3. Though delayed until 2010 in the US, the PlayStation Eye camera-enabled domesticated animal sim is still set ship in the EU on October 23, according to SCEE.
To learn more about the project, reporters at GameSpot's French sister site GameKult.com recently spoke with their countryman about his work on EyePet and two London Studio projects thought to be canceled: Eight Days and The Getaway 3.
GameKult: Where did the idea for EyePet--of combining EyeToy with a kind of Nintendogs--come from?
Nicolas Doucet: With EyeToy Play on PS2, we had a great opportunity. For the first time, we had a camera in the player's living room, which was effectively an invitation to a virtual world. However, today we can't just rely on this surprise to differentiate the product. So we reversed the concept; this time, we have brought a virtual object in the real world. Of all the technologies, augmented reality was the only one large enough to lay the foundations for an entire game. We then grafted a lot of technologies on top, like drawing or fur, but it's augmented reality that's at EyePet's core.
GK: Why have you created "your" animal, rather than using existing creatures, such as cats or dogs?
ND: There were several concepts, not only involving animals. We wanted to pull players in, and it was also natural enough--when your see yourself with the camera--to have a companion next to you. The design of the creature itself has changed enormously. At the start, we wanted the creature to have the face of his master, to inject it with the player's DNA somehow. But we soon realised that it ended up being a little scary. We failed to design a creature that looks like his master and is cute. We preferred the cute side.
GK: What animal is EyePet based on? A cat, a monkey…?
ND: Exactly. First, there is a believable side, with animals such as cats, dogs, monkeys, which we can play with. Then the EyePet can sing, play, and draw, so it needs an element of fantasy. The creature you see is an amalgamation of all those traits. And there is a certain ambivalence with EyePet, which has no sex: It may appear male or female, depending on how it's dressed. We're very happy with the end product, which was the result of a lot of testing.
GK: What will you do with your EyePet? Will it need attention every day? Or will one be able to play with it more casually?
ND: Well, it is a casual game first. I would say that you'll need to spend 15 minutes a day to ensure everything's OK with your pet. But there are also things, such as drawing, where you can lose hours at a time. What happens if I put square wheels on my car? If I put three, five, six wheels? What if I add a spoiler? You can also take and use pictures with personal touches: your home, your family, your EyePet, your games. Once you put it all online, it becomes a bit like Little Big Planet. Those who love it will get lost.
GK: It's easy to imagine postlaunch downloadable content. What can we expect?
ND: There's a store directly integrated into the game, which will be regularly updated with objects and costumes. [The game] will also work using the new motion controller for the PS3. That's part of our plan to support the EyePet brand…and welcome this new way of playing. Subsequently, one can think of new breeds, and other things like that. Everything is possible. But we're still going to ask people what they want before we launch.
GK: Isn't it a shame that you're releasing a game like this just before the arrival of Sony's new motion controller that's being sold as a casual gaming accessory? You're using cards, as in Eye of Judgment to create objects in-game. With the new device, you wouldn't need cards…
ND: The accessory has been in development for a very long time, which is why there's a gap. The cards aren't necessarily obsolete since we developed our toys and objects in line with the fact we knew they would based on cards. For example, the trampoline, which is a flat object, would work less well with the motion controller than the cards would, as they are themselves flat. So while not everything can be replaced, the new controller will allow us to think about new solutions once it's on the market.
GK: So what new breeds could there be?
ND: There's nothing on the way at the moment, but one thing we're thinking about adding fairly quickly is the ability to have multiple EyePets onscreen at the same time. It would be an important point.
GK: Is EyePet a gateway for female players to the PS3?
ND: More than that, it's a family game. According to the tests we did with children, girls may well be interested for a little longer. I would especially like to say that there is a secondary audience, with you, or young parents using the PS3 as a way to socialise with friends and family. It is really the realisation of a vision.
GK: For the future of EyePet, can you imagine the development of follow-ups or expansion packs?
ND: Obviously, this is a franchise that has a future and is here to stay.
GK: Could you see it spreading to other platforms or other media, such as toys or cartoons?
ND: The same technology is used for a PSP game, InVizimals. It is interesting to see how they have managed everything, and we've exchanged a few tips. We're also talking a lot to manufacturers of toys and other things. And we're looking at the mobile phone side of things with Sony Ericsson. We're looking at a little of everything.
EIGHT DAYS AND THE GETAWAY 3
GK: Before EyePet, the teams at Sony London were working on two projects that have since fallen by the wayside: Eight Days and The Getaway 3. Can you confirm that both of these have indeed been abandoned?
ND: I would not say they have been abandoned, just put to one side. Much work had been done. The studio just wanted to focus on its strengths, EyeToy and SingStar. Given the potential of EyePet, priorities have been changed, but the other projects aren't dead yet. Ultimately, the decision [to put those games to one side] has benefited everyone.
GK: How far through production were they?
ND: It depends. I think they were just over halfway through. They had a plan, everything was ready…
GK: How have you dealt internally with these strategic decisions from Sony?
ND: Many recruits to the EyePet team came from these projects, and contrary to popular belief, they are rather popular. First, because it was a much smaller team, they were able to integrate differently, but also with a different challenge.
Most importantly, The Getaway and Eight Days are still there. So, no, there haven't really been any regrets. This decision was welcome. And then everyone likes change, as is the culture of this community. There were no bad feelings.
GK: I guess you have another game currently under development…
ND: (Smiling) Yes.
GK: Is it linked to EyePet or is it unrelated to this franchise?
ND: No, it's a different concept, in addition to EyePet.
GK: So will you continue to be Sony's brand ambassador for social and casual gaming?
ND: While the whole studio won't, our group will, I think. There is a lot of interest around augmented reality. It surprised me to come to the Festival du Jeu Video (a gaming show held Paris in September) and see the number of magazines that want to do an article on this subject, as I thought it was too geeky. It is now very much part of the casual gaming space.
GK: Microsoft is also readying its own technology: Project Natal. From what you've been able to see, how similar is it to your work?
ND: In spirit, it's pretty close. But it made me very happy to see them announce something like that. Previously, we were the only ones--the pioneers--working on this technology. Inspiring lots of others will benefit everyone. It is the responsibility of platform holders to move the industry as a whole forward.
GK: You have already made a game that works without controllers--or almost. I guess that you subscribe to the idea that one day consoles will move on from needing traditional controllers…
ND: It's a big debate. Technology will play a big role there. What effect does the camera have on the debate? Will it be just a camera or something else? It's weird, because for EyeToy Play, we got rid of the controller and then brought it back in EyePet to drive vehicles. The controllers have a role to play, but perhaps it's going to be simplified. I just hope the cameras will develop to the point where people stop saying that games of this type lack depth.