Yesterday, we talked about Datura’s mysterious world. The game, created by Sony Computer Entertainment Santa Monica and Linger in Shadows demoscene group Plastic, explores the idea of life after death – starting with your character in an ambulance.
Michal Staniszewski, Director, also talked about how he’s using the PlayStation Move in unique ways like stringing three controllers together to map arm motions and attaching a Move wand to Sony’s Personal Viewer to create a makeshift VR helmet.
Did you ever try making the arm with three Move controllers? Did you ever develop that?
Michal Staniszewski, Director: Yeah, yeah. But, we wanted to make some kind of neural network that teaches itself based on how you hold the primary [Move] controller, but actually it didn’t work. One Move controller isn’t enough information for the whole arm. Maybe if we could work another year or two we could figure out something, but everyone was tired at that point.
Datura sounds like it has a really long dev cycle. What kept you going? How did you keep your team motivated?
We were thinking about it like, “Well, have you seen something like this before?” [Laughs] It’s something new. I motivated my team by saying, “Hey people, you’re doing something that could move the experience further.” We’re investigating new areas that everyone is scared of and basically because I didn’t have any experience that, I moved in that direction, because if I knew what would happen, I would’ve been scared. It was a jump right from the beginning, but we are happy about it at the end.
You made another pretty big jump, too. We were trying the head-tracking controller with a PlayStation Move velcroed onto a Sony Personal Viewing System and the game synchronizes with the head-tracking.
Yeah, the idea came about two weeks before GDC. Before that, we still had a cool head-tracking base and facial detection, but it was completely different like the head-tracking demos you may have seen on YouTube.
We were always asking ourselves why the creators for 3D TVs didn’t add those small LEDs because it costs nothing–completely nothing–and it would solve every problem. And face-tracking is not perfect. Maybe if you had a couple of a LEDs, but it’s really hard to do it so it works perfectly with the Move controller.
You have all this tech developed for Datura and soon a completed game that the world will get to play. What do you want to do with all this extra tech that you have?
When we started with this head-tracking, new ideas started to pop in really fast, but the [Datura] project was almost closed. We’re finishing QA now, and it would be really risky to add those [ideas] now. From this moment, we need to discuss what we’re going to do with it. The helmet works really great but will we implement the motion-tracking for another product? We’ll see.
Going beyond Datura, how else do you imagine using PlayStation Move? You’ve done some pretty creative things with it.
We normally don’t do games. Our group comes from the demo scene, a creative society, which makes demos, not games. And demos are really easy to do compared to games. We are also doing experimental projects using interaction, like interactive digital art installations, and then we’re using everything we’ve got. We are mixing technologies, like Kinect and Move and 3D. We’re making 3D cinema projectors like IMAX and stuff. We have a variety of different technology and techniques.
So we’re not strict game developers. Right now, we are being game developers more than before. Maybe because of that, we have a different approach than other developers do.
What technology are you most interested in? If you were going to make a new console, what features would you want?
After what I’ve seen with 3D head-tracking, I would focus on a more immersive version of that. There are a lot of mobile games, like the free ones. The market’s going in a completely different direction. So, it would be very nice if someone to go into something like virtual reality in the home. There would be very immersive games where you can sit down and go directly “into” the game.
What’s your favorite part about this experience you created?
Watching people play it. [Laughs] Asking themselves, “What happened?” Because you haven’t been in any experiences except for the forest. Maybe when we try it again, we’ll go into what we call Rooms. This is the most important important part of Datura. You go into a completely different place, like it doesn’t need to be real. Each of these places you will have a decision to make. I really like how people interpret these in the end.
What I would really like to do is watch people speak with each other after playing Datura, because when we’re doing playtests, when people talk to each other, they say, “Oh, I’ve seen that and you made a different decision.” So, they see different solutions throughout the game and ask, “Why did you do that?”
I really hate in games when decisions are highlighted. For example, in inFamous you have Red and Blue. Mass Effect, they have choices and basically you see what you say. In Datura, you don’t know when a decision happened. It comes from your actions. It can be really fast. You might not notice it, but it will count in the end and when you play it again, you’ll be able to see that there was a branch somewhere.
I think Datura is one the truly creative games I’ve seen at GDC, However, I feel like one of the challenges is how are you gamers going to look at a video with a floating hand without a clear objective? I appreciate how you made the game ambiguous and you throw players into a world, but sometimes, gamers feel like they need to be led with waypoints and objectives being commonplace features. What would you say to that group to convince them to try your game?
Yeah, games are getting easier and easier. Look at Final Fantasy compared to what it was a couple of years ago. While I’m not going to say I’m not targeting gamers, my target is people that want something new. For me, I’ve entered a stage in my life where I have a little boy and I have less and less time to play games. How much time do people have to play games? So, my idea is to play a game that is exactly like a movie, because you still have time to watch movies. You don’t have any puzzles or you don’t need to think hard or stress yourself out. You just watch it and enjoy. Datura is something like that.
Who I’m targeting is people talking to each other saying you have this PS3 and its standing on your desk. When do you play it the last time? Like, two years ago. It’s just standing there or maybe your kids are watching movies on it. There are a lot of people like that who thinks games eat their time. Eight hours for a game, which is repetitive stuff all the time?
Everything in Datura is genuine with completely new gameplay inside. Because of that, it was really hard work. Nothing is scripted, it’s all hard-coded in C++. Because of that and the storyline, everything you need to do you need to learn each time because it is new. So I’m targeting people that will come back to games.
I wonder if people who come back to games will be connected to the Internet to “come back” to this. I could see people who are really hardcore into games being connected to the Internet, but a lapsed gamer may not use PSN.
Yeah, it’s a PSN game, and people that come back would need to learn PSN, which is hard for them. Yeah, it’s a problem. Maybe your friend could come by, and you’ll say, “I know you loved games as a kid. I’ve got something that won’t take up too much of your time, and you’ll have something to think about after playing it.” So, basically, it’s not a tremendous production that would kill us if it won’t succeed, so we have this advantage that we can try it.
Have you thought about releasing something like this for PC, so more people can experience your vision?
Actually, Datura is a closed topic. It’s Sony-oriented, being a Santa Monica production. But I believe PC gaming may come back. Steam is growing and it is super easy to purchase games. Indie productions are growing, so why not? The hardware we’re are using involves a little bit more. I’m still at the age where I can change something. I’m getting older and it will fade out, but right now I still feel that I can change gaming.