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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 19, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Video: Sony PS3 Move demo, plus Q&A Zipper’s SOCOM 4

Here’s a video from Sony’s event in Seattle showcasing the PlayStation 3 Move system and SOCOM 4, followed by today’s column – a Q&A with Brian Soderberg, president of SOCOM developer Zipper Interactive.

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For its noisy shootout with Microsoft this fall, Sony is turning to one of its big guns in Redmond.

Sony is counting on Zipper Interactive to produce a blockbuster game for the PlayStation 3 this fall, when it’s releasing a new version of its hit “SOCOM” military-action franchise.

The game will help showcase a new PS3 motion-control system called Move that’s expected to cost about $100.

Move is going head-to-head with Microsoft’s Project Natal control system for the Xbox 360 in the crucial holiday season.

Both companies are hoping these exotic new control systems will refresh their maturing consoles as the economic recovery takes hold.

They’re also hoping for the kind of success that Nintendo has enjoyed with the Wii, attracting players turned off by complicated control systems, while also inspiring game studios to create new forms of immersive entertainment.

Zipper and “SOCOM” helped Sony leap ahead in the past.

When the PlayStation 2 introduced a network adapter enabling online play in 2002, the first “SOCOM” game was released to showcase this capability. The “SOCOM” franchise went on to be one of the PS2’s biggest hits, selling more than 10 million copies, and Sony bought Zipper in 2006.

“SOCOM 4” is still early in development, with no price or release date set yet, but Sony has been showing it to fans and reporters in events across the country, including one in Seattle earlier this month.

During that session, I caught up with Zipper President Brian Soderberg, who co-founded the studio in 1995 after working on military-simulation systems. Here is an edited excerpt of the interview:

Q: What was it like to make a game with Sony’s Move motion-control system?

A: Well, it actually was quite easy. I was a little skeptical after playing the Wii because it’s very casual game and “SOCOM 4″ is more of a core game. Although really, we’re shooting for a more accessible game. I think the Move does that for us — it’s much easier than trying to get both thumbs going.

Q: I’m curious about how physical the game will be, like with physical attacks?

A: We’re still researching additional gestures. I know we’re going to do some close-quarters moves like rifle butts and maybe bayonet style. Other things you can investigate is grenade throw and things like that.

Q: I wonder how people will feel about intense games like this and motion controls. When you start killing characters with your motions instead of just your thumbs, is it going to be a different psychological experience?

A: I think it will. It’s interesting, when you walk by our offices and you see people playing with it, they actually seem a little more immersed, because it is more like a gun.

I think it actually opens the door for more immersion and obviously when you start doing gestures you’re getting more physical and more into the game.

Q: How far can you go this direction? Is there some kind of boundary you don’t want to cross, having people do these things physically?

A: I don’t know about boundaries. It feels like there are really no boundaries that you have now. You have full 3-D motion and such accuracy and precision; you can pretty much do anything. Anything you can do with two hands, you can start to make that the interface to your game.

Q: It’s like we’re at a crossroads with entertainment, with these new systems taking us into the next realm.

A: I think this really is. It’s just what are the developers going to do to take us to that next level.

Q: How will Sony’s motion system do compared with other motion systems coming out this year?

A: Sony took their time and they did some really neat things. Their thing was to be super comprehensive with the full 3-D space recognition, plus the full three axis recognition, plus the precision and very low latency. It makes it possible to play all these core games, besides casual games, with such precision. I think the core game players are maybe going to embrace this as well.

Q: Do you think Microsoft’s Natal system is sharp enough for aiming and motion in core games, or do you think they might just have minigames that show off Natal capabilities?

A: The minigames, casual games, are the obvious things that would be easy to do with that system. I’m not sure how you start doing guns in it. Maybe they’re going to have add-on controllers, additional peripherals, added into it.

Q: Is it hard to keep your team motivated to build the fourth edition of something?

A: I always think that. I always think they’re going to get tired of it. But when I actually check around the team a lot of them are really rabid “SOCOM” fans too, so they get really excited about it.

Q: I hear this version’s going to be more cinematic.

A: Definitely. Besides the usual emphasis on AI [artificial intelligence] and replayability and being able to do things from different directions, the single-player will have a very cinematic story. As you play through you’ll actually learn things about what’s going on with your enemies and your teammates. There will be some cool surprises, that sort of thing.

We did some really cool things with the cinematics. Rather than just doing motion capture where you hook up the guys and capture the motion, at the same time we also captured the voice so we did dialogue and motion together. …

Q: So they basically acted it out?

A: They basically were actors, yeah. We capture everything. We even did some digitization of the camera moves as well, so we had a handheld camera and a professional cameraman to actually do the motion. It really makes a difference; it makes it really feel like a movie.

Q: I understand this material will appear not just in cinematic sequences but during game play as well?

A: Absolutely. As much as we can. First of all, it’s going to run in the actual game engine, so it’s not like movies [playing at certain points during the game]. As much as we can, we will not take the camera away from the player. You’ll be going through the environment and you’ll just experience these cinematic events. …

Q: How is business? We heard dreary reports about the game industry over the past year and now all sorts of interesting new things are coming to market. Are we into a new cycle?

A: It seems like it’s turned around to me. Sony’s really bullish on the future and we have some really big titles … just came out. There are some big titles coming out and I think Sony’s really doing well so I think the business is turning around.

Q: Do you think people have money to buy these new games and motion systems?

A: I think so. These new games that have been coming out recently have some pretty big numbers with what they sold. I think things really are turning around.

Comments | Topics: Games & entertainment, Nintendo, PlayStation

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