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How SONY's Hometown Studio Rose From the Ashes In Time for the PS4

Bundy

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Parts Unknown
How SONY's Hometown Studio Rose From the Ashes In Time for the PS4

The Tokyo-based Japan Studio, responsible for PlayStation 2 classics such as Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and the Ape Escape franchise, seemed A.W.O.L. for much of the PS3 generation. Now, on the eve of the PlayStation 4's release, Japan Studio is trying to make a major comeback. I went to Tokyo to find out how.

It wasn't a single trip. I had to go to Tokyo twice to get the full story, and to gain an audience with the man who is sort of Sony's secret weapon for making Japan Studio a force to be reckoned with once again.

That man is Allan Becker, former head of Sony Santa Monica which is, not coincidentally, one of the studios that defined the PS2 and PS3 generation with the likes of God of War and thatgamecompany's Flow, Flower and Journey. Becker now runs Japan Studio and it was in the studio's Tokyo offices that he told me about his goal: "For Japan Studio to be relevant globally in two and a half years."

Becker wants Japan Studio to be back in a big way. When I asked him whether we can expect strong PS4 titles from the studio, his reply was simple: "Absolutely." In an age when Sony studios in California and Amsterdam make standout games like Uncharted, Last of Us and Killzone, getting a studio whose most notable PS3 games between 2006 and the beginning of this year were Siren: Blood Curse, Echochrome and Tokyo Jungle to play a major role on PS4 would be a huge deal. And it'd be a boon to PS4 gamers everywhere.

Getting there, however, won't be that easy. Becker, who has been at the studio for two and half years, inherited something of a mess. "The thing I was shocked by was the number of titles in production," he said of when he first arrived. "That completely blew my mind." At that time, there were 40-something titles in production, and the environment was, what Becker called, "a free-for-all."

That was then. Now, Sony's most creative studio is starting to make leaps towards recapturing its former brilliance.

A Trip To Tokyo
My first trip to Tokyo happened in mid-September. I took the bullet train from Osaka, where I live and have so for over the past decade. The Allan Becker interview didn't look like it was going to happen, and I'd need a second trip for that. However, I was going to see some of the most powerful individuals on the PlayStation team, including one with deep Japan Studio roots and another who had more recently taken hold.

The first of those two was Shuhei Yoshida, the Internet's new favorite gaming executive, a ubiquitous Twitter personality who travels the world in his job as the chief of all of Sony's game development studios. Among gamers, the always affable Yoshida has become well-known for his willingness to be frank and to interact with PlayStation gamers on Twitter—an openness that might raise eyebrows among Japan's traditional (and stodgy) business culture. I sat with Yoshida by an enormous hotel suite table covered with an array of PlayStation hardware. To help me tell the Japan Studio's story, he turned back the clock.

Between 1996 and 2000, Yoshida was mainly managing the Japan Studio at Sony's Tokyo headquarters. "I started hiring people and created internal teams that eventually made Ape Escape, The Legend of Dragoon, and Ico," Yoshida said. He produced titles like the first Gran Turismo, whose team, led by Kazunori Yamauchi, were spun off into their own studio, Polyphony Digital.

Yoshida produced PlayStation 1 role-playing game The Legend of Dragoon, overseeing a hundred-person team and a $16 million budget, which, at the time, was quite large. "Eventually, we recouped that, thanks to sales outside Japan," says Yoshida. "The sales in the U.S. were very strong." Even in the early days, success abroad was key to the Japan Studio.

It wasn't only the internal titles that helped make PlayStation a winner. Starting with the first PlayStation, Sony was blessed with a seemingly endless reservoir of games. "There was no shortage of great third party games," says Yoshida. "That really pushed the PlayStation in Japan."

While Sony also had first-party, internally-developed games, the Tokyo-based giant wasn't exactly Nintendo. You bought Sony hardware to play video games from an array of what often seemed like other Japanese studios, whether that was Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII, or Metal Gear Solid. Strong internally developed Sony titles were gravy.

Yoshida was proud of Sony's games but acknowledged that the embarrassment of third-party riches could have led to complacency. "And so, probably the company took getting some third party support for granted," said Yoshida. "[And thought that] PlayStation can be successful without a strong first party."

MUCH MUCH MORE here! Seriously, READ IT!

SCE Japan is ready to kick some ass, as it seems :)
(big JRPG confirmed j/k)
 

Prelude.

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Jun 18, 2013
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Well, they allegedly have two jrpgs in the works so they pretty much got their shit together.
 

Empty

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good article. it's kinda crazy they had 40 games being worked on in some form.

i hope the sales of pupeteer and mixed reaction to rain doesn't torpedo their new management. they really are a very creative studio.

interesting tidbit about the last guardian
"We're real-time in that process," Becker replied. "And we don't necessarily agree with each other—Fumito Ueda and I—about process. In some sense, I sort of... implemented change, which, I think, is causing some concern and consternation. But, once again, I think the benefit will come through. We're still through that phase of adjustment and finding the right balance and groove."

"I think," Becker adds, "it's moving along in the right direction."
 

GameSeeker

Member
Jan 13, 2008
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The Kotaku article is quite good; well worth the full read. Nice work Brian Ashcraft & Kotaku.
 

Derrick01

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May 9, 2011
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Massive JRPGs don't sell anymore, I think it would be a waste of their time and money to try it (that being said if I don't get Dark Cloud 3 I will cut a fool). What I'm surprised about is that Sony still hasn't even attempted to cash in on the Wrpg craze. Yeah we heard Guerrilla might be doing one but that's just a rumor still.
 

Shinta

Banned
May 14, 2012
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Fantastic article. Make sure to read the whole thing. I wish we got more insight into studios and the people involved, like in this article.

As far as Japan Studio, I think they're going to REALLY shock people on PS4. Even when they were "crippled" we still got stuff like Gravity Rush, Tokyo Jungle, Rain, and Puppeteer.

Imagine what they will do when firing on all cylinders? I think people won't know what hit them honestly.

Japanese creativity and dedication to polish, with Sony Santa Monica organizational structure? I think you'll see this kind of Japanese comeback throughout all of next gen. Capcom and Panta Rhei, SQEX and Luminous, Konami and Fox Engine, just to name a few.
 

donutzsick

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Feb 5, 2013
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I was reading this article and checked to see if anyone posted on gaf already. It is seriously a great article, so many tidbits in here.
 

Xater

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Jul 28, 2007
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Japan Studio was a bummer during the PS3 era. Hope it works out and they really step their game up.
 

Bundy

Banned
Jun 1, 2013
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Parts Unknown
Massive JRPGs don't sell anymore, I think it would be a waste of their time and money to try it (that being said if I don't get Dark Cloud 3 I will cut a fool). What I'm surprised about is that Sony still hasn't even attempted to cash in on the Wrpg craze. Yeah we heard Guerrilla might be doing one but that's just a rumor still.
One of the reasons why a lot of people/gamer love SONY's world-wide-studios --> Variety
 

Cornbread78

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Jul 27, 2009
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One can dream... one can only dream....


Hopefully another jrpg.

Although it'll get $hit on, I'd take a White Knight Chronicles III to correctly end the series with great online tools....
 

TimeEffect

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Mar 17, 2010
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Massive JRPGs don't sell anymore, I think it would be a waste of their time and money to try it (that being said if I don't get Dark Cloud 3 I will cut a fool). What I'm surprised about is that Sony still hasn't even attempted to cash in on the Wrpg craze. Yeah we heard Guerrilla might be doing one but that's just a rumor still.

Games like Puppeteer and Knack don't/won't sell massively but they are still made, presumably with decent success.

I absolutely want a JRPG and it can be successful.

Dark Cloud is my only hope. But I trust no one but Level 5 to do that.
 

btkadams

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Feb 5, 2008
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i've actually felt that sony's japan studio output has been getting better in the past couple years, but i'm assuming this guy's arrival probably didn't affect gravity rush, puppeteer, and knack that much. if it's going to get a lot better, i will be very happy.
 
Apr 14, 2008
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This jibes really, really well with verendus/famousmortimer/etc.'s claims that SCEJ is working on a new Souls game with Miyazaki and a separate Final Fantasy competitor.

I really, really hope all this speculation, these leaks, etc. are right, and they're working on an Uncharted/God of War/Killzone caliber JRPG while simultaneously working on Demon's Souls II, all for ps4. Sony pumps out awesome games in so many genres that the lack of a FF-caliber JRPG has always mystified me. It seems they're looking to rectify that.
 

Dragon

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Jul 7, 2007
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Massive JRPGs don't sell anymore, I think it would be a waste of their time and money to try it (that being said if I don't get Dark Cloud 3 I will cut a fool). What I'm surprised about is that Sony still hasn't even attempted to cash in on the Wrpg craze. Yeah we heard Guerrilla might be doing one but that's just a rumor still.

Final Fantasy
Dragon Quest
Pokemon
Tales series

They all sell pretty well, we're just missing the mid tier games in sales. Suikoden has largely vanished and Sony has given up on Wild Arms just to name a few.
 

Wynnebeck

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Aug 5, 2012
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I teared up when SE shown KH3 at E3. I will legit cry if the JRPG is Legend of Dragoon 2 or a reboot.
 

Coxy

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I really hope it happens, especially the JRPGs

40 games in development and he cut them? not sure if he's the hero or the villain of the piece here
 

Empty

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This jibes really, really well with verendus/famousmortimer/etc.'s claims that SCEJ is working on a new Souls game with Miyazaki and a separate Final Fantasy competitor.

I really, really hope all this speculation, these leaks, etc. are right, and they're working on an Uncharted/God of War/Killzone caliber JRPG while simultaneously working on Demon's Souls II, all for ps4. Sony pumps out awesome games in so many genres that the lack of a FF-caliber JRPG has always mystified me. It seems they're looking to rectify that.

if they're making a ff style rpg i feel like it's probably a legend of dragoon game. yosp mentions it again in this article, referencing popularity in the west too. after dedicating a ps blog post to it with the psn release and dropping references in interviews.
 

Prelude.

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Jun 18, 2013
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Really, there working on two? Maybe one of the was that newly announced Vita Jrpg Freedom something?
No, they're PS4 titles. The first one, apparently pretty far in development, is a "Demon's Souls 2" and the other one is a jrpg meant to compete with something like Final Fantasy.
 

Azull

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Feb 13, 2013
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Very good read. Let's hope that rumored JRPG is going to be awesome because god knows we need one.
 
D

Deleted member 17706

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This just reminded me that I had forgotten about Puppeteer. I should probably buy that game. It looked very cool.
 

Fezan

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Seeing how much Loved and passion was gone into making Pupeteer and how much it bombed i wonder where will they go next
 

Into

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Aug 20, 2012
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First, great piece by Kotaku, this is actually some good information especially surrounding the Sony Japan studio which is almost shrouded in mystery

They have not done much for the PS3, we cannot even sit here and pretend/lie that they did, because they quite frankly did not.

Its crucial they play a big part, especially in Japan if the PS4 is to do better than PS3 ltd and beyond.
 
Apr 14, 2008
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A Legend of Dragoon reboot would be cool. It's an interesting IP, but the first game was pretty weak. It was just slow.

Reading more of the article, it seems Sony has fully come to grips with the challenges they face as more and more third parties go mobile (whether that be phones or 3DS, leading a darth of content on both PSV and PS4), and it's sounding like it'll lead to an expansion of SCEJ comparable to what we've seen with SCEA and SCEE over the past 7-8 years.

It's coming rather late, in my opinion, but at least it's happening. It's been sorely needed.

I wonder if they'll start going after all the talent from studios like Tri-Ace that have mostly gone MIA during Japan's market upheavals over the past generation.
 

johnny956

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Apr 16, 2013
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We'll do our best. I'm glad you liked it. And thanks everyone else for the kind words, too. Brian worked extra-hard to get the access needed to tell this story.

Yup I love articles like these and it's great to see Sony so open about the problems they had with the studio. Keep up these articles and the clicks will keep coming
 

Guerilla

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"The thing I was shocked by was the number of titles in production," he said of when he first arrived. "That completely blew my mind." At that time, there were 40-something titles in production, and the environment was, what Becker called, "a free-for-all."

Holy fucking shit, the mismanagement of these studios was spectacular. No wonder Japan didn't contribute anything.