PS4: Mark Cerny interview
How happy are you with the way PS4 is being perceived by gamers?
We say that we are developer inspired and consumer focused, and that’s really a statement of ‘we pay all of this attention to developers because they create the content that gamers want to play’. So our focus was to create a console that could legitimately be called ‘by game creators for game creators’ with the ultimate intent of having that rich line-up of games available on the platform, and I think that’s been a tremendous success. We have the strongest launch line-up of any console we’ve ever created and we have 140 games in development.
Ted Price told us how glad he was that you were at the PS4 reveal, headlining the event. Do you think it would have been different if you weren’t on board?
I did feel very strongly that a game developer should lead hardware development at Sony Computer Entertainment. I didn’t feel that it needed to be me as much as I felt that it was important that somebody who understood the various aspects of game development that set the direction for the hardware. The way I look at it, it’s very important to have a very focused technical view on what the details of the hardware are and how, as a programmer, you can utilise them to make the games more cinematic or more realistic. It’s also very useful to have the global perspective of how that hardware is going to fit into the process of game development and result in a game coming out in its intended timeframe at its intended budget. So, my strong belief is [that] somebody who had been a programmer and a producer should be leading the charge on the next generation.
You said that this is the first time hardware and software divisions have worked this closely on a console. Do you think that’s going to help improve the quality of the games?
I think we are already seeing the benefits from that strategy. Our strategy was the Nolan Bushnell quote – ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’. So the idea was very familiar, [with] accessible architecture for year one but then a very rich feature-set that the programmers can learn and explore for year three or year four. What we’re seeing now is the benefit of that accessible architecture. We have games that are coming over to the platform that otherwise would have stayed on PC.
You mentioned briefly how there were aspects of the hardware that you could have made more powerful but you decided to make more accessible. Is that because, with further advancements in the PC development scene, you were worried those developers wouldn’t be able to port their games easily?
We’d seen on PlayStation 3 that if the hardware is tricky to use, there’s quite a learning curve and that the initial games are not what one would hope they might be. So we came out of that with a hardcore commitment that, with PlayStation 4, we would make hardware that would be much more familiar and much more accessible.
The flipside of that coin is that you must then have something for programmers to dig into in the later years of the console, because you need the console to grow along with the evolution of games. And that’s where all of the customisation we did to the GPU, for the sake of asynchronous fine-grade compute, comes in.
How is it going back to design and development? Is it easier than before?
Definitely, game development on PlayStation 4 is easier than it has been on other platforms. Knack is not a large title. We had a skeleton staff of programmers during much of the project but, because the hardware was this supercharged PC architecture, we were able to make quite good progress. We were also able to try out ideas much more easily than we could have on other architectures, so if we had some concept like making a character based on 5,000-part physics, we could put that into practice without that much effort.
How important are indie developers?
One of the things I like about indie is it presents more options for the development community. You could be somebody who had been working on PC [with a] small team and now you have the option of bringing those titles to PlayStation 4. But you could also be somebody who is on these 100-person teams doing some specialised work, maybe it’s lighting design or some details of the motion-capture process, and now you can be on a smaller team and contribute much more broadly and deeply to that title. You can have that same experience as a developer that most of us had in 1994 or 1996 in the early days of PlayStation.
How much input did you have in the controller design?
The controller was a very, very broad collaboration that went out to the game teams and even some of the third-party teams. We looked at everything we could put into the controller and solicited feedback from the teams on what we should include. And then, because first-person shooters are very important to us, we went to key teams who make the best of the best and we got their specific feedback on trigger springiness, concavity or convexity of joysticks and deadzones, and tuned the controller through a succession of prototypes to what it is today. The result is [what] we showed at E3 and I did not hear – and it’s a tough audience – any negative feedback about the controller.
How important is it for you to go into the next generation with the most powerful console on the market?
I believe the performance is very important. We had a very specific performance target. We worked quite hard for over five years now to achieve that target. We set the target at ten times the previous generation because we believed that was where we needed to be to meet the expectations of the playing public. And I’m very glad we set the target that high.