The first wave of PlayLink titles for the PS4 are now launching - utlising smartphone controls to allow multiple players to play together on the PS4. We talk to Wish Studios, the Brighton-based developer, which has made both That's You! (now on PS Plus for July) and Knowledge is Power for PlayLink. CEO Caspar Field answers our questions on both the games and the platform - which are looking to provide the console with a big mainstream hit.
How long have you been working on PlayLink?
Wish was one of the first developers involved in PlayLink, and it’s been fantastic to help explore and define what this thing is all about. We started prototyping around three-and-a-half years ago, exploring the potential of this new interface for console gaming.
We also had a long-running technology development track, to deliver a stable experience with two-to-six devices playing over Wi-Fi, and to make the connection process as low-friction as possible. We worked with the PlayStation system team to enable a hidden hardware feature, where players can use their PS4 as a Wi-Fi hotspot, if they don’t have Wi-Fi in their game room. There’s a lot going on under the hood of these titles, geared around good networking, ease-of-use and accessibility.
How did your experience with Buzz! feed into PlayLink?
Wish Studios has a great mix of people from all parts of the industry. Some of us were heavily involved in Buzz!, but there’s some EyePet and Wonderbook, some Kinect work, and some great people who worked on Alien Isolation, among others. So we’re pulling ideas from all over the place – we fundamentally believe in the ‘power of the remix’, blending ideas into something new.
The Buzz! experience taught us something about social multiplayer, about the need to focus on the off-screen interaction. We prototype a lot, working on mechanics that get people engaging together, reacting, talking, being in the flow together. We test multiple variants of the precise order of game events and timings, to ensure the best possible reaction. Wish has a lot of creative processes in its toolbox, and I think the originality and entertainment value of both our PlayLink games reflects that.
It must be very exciting to blend mobile and big-screen game mechanics – were you overwhelmed with potential ideas to start with?
In pure creative terms, we think PlayLink is totally thrilling. At the start, we sat down and said, ‘What can phones do? What do they offer?’ Private screens, camera, touch-input, drawing, typing, swiping. Identifying the player with selfies. All of that went into That’s You!
Figuring out how we bring everyone together with the PS4, so they’re playing socially, not just on their own tracks, that’s the challenge. You don’t want a room full of people sat silently staring at their phones – that’s completely missing the point of what PlayLink experiences can deliver. You want the off-screen interaction, people engaged, playing together, around the PS4 and TV.
Have you demoed the games to friends and family? What was the response like?
I’ve played That’s You! with my wife and some of our friends, my sister-in-law, and my brother and his wife – none of them a gamer apart from me – and they’ve all loved it. The game is at its best with people who you know well, but it’s also a great ice breaker. We’ve played it a few times with new starters at the studio, which is a great way for them to get to know people! I haven’t yet played it with my parents, but I’m looking forward to doing that soon… We’re pretty open with one another, and that’s going to be very funny to see in the game.
What’s the rough age range for your games?
That’s You! is 12+/ Teen rated, and works brilliantly with both friend and family groups right across the age range. We wrote questions to address a broad spectrum of personality types, so everyone is involved, and you can play the game sweet and sincere or rude and crude – it’s up to you. The tagline is ‘the party game that’s all about you’ – and that’s woven right through, so the players are right at the heart of the game, everyone engaged.
Knowledge is Power is targeting a 7+ rating. It’s a new spin on the quiz genre, where trivia meets tricks and tactics, all brought to life with fun characters and Snapchat-style AR selfies, with thousands of connected questions to enjoy. That’s coming later this year. That’s You! is out 4th July and will be included in PS Plus for a limited period to kick-start the PlayLink initiative.
‘Second Screen’ mechanics were much talked about when this console generation launched, but were largely discarded, why is PlayLink different?
This is all still quite new, right? People have been finding what works, and there have been some great ‘companion app’ ideas. PlayLink’s key difference is that the phones aren’t just companions – they’re the primary controller – and when you make that leap, you open the experience up to a new generation of players.
For billions of people, the touch-screen is second nature now. Coupling that to the PS4 says to all those people that they’re welcome to play, this is open to them. But when they arrive, they’re not getting saccharine me-too experiences: right across the PlayLink range they’re getting rich, novel, beautiful, engaging games that speak to Sony’s commitment to high production values and great gameplay. I can’t wait to hear what they think of the games.