The Average Gamer

The Playroom was Co-Created by wipEout Devs

Firesprite Logo Black
As many people observed last week, it’s been weird having a PlayStation with no wipEout game on the horizon. “I know. That comes up a lot, actually,” laughs Graeme Ankers, former Game Director at Studio Liverpool and now Managing Director at new, independent studio, Firesprite. You wouldn’t have known at the time, but the PlayStation 4 did launch with a lot of the wipEout team behind it – Firesprite worked together with SCE Japan Studio to create the one game that sits on everyone’s PS4 console: The Playroom.

Sony closed down Studio Liverpool in August 2012, letting much of the staff go. Four of them established Sawfly Studios, while others created the twenty-odd team at Firesprite, alongside a handful of developers from other studios. “It happened organically,” said Ankers. “There were five founders, including myself.”

The other co-founders are Executive Game Director Stuart Tilley, Art Director Lee Carus, Technical Director Chris Roberts and Programming Director Dr. Stuart Lovegrove.

“We just looked back and thought about what we’d done over the years. There’s so many really strong content creators. We’re in the games and entertainment business and a lot of the guys and girls have created content and helped with platform launches and hardware launches, particularly PlayStation 1 and 2, PSP, PS3 and PS Vita.”

“Even going back to the really early days of Psygnosis; Shadow of the Beast, Lemmings, Rollcage, Colony Wars. A lot of the guys and girls have touched those titles over the years and made them, delivered them. We just had a shared vision. We’re still passionate about making games.

Firesprite Studio Photo 2“Firesprite in some ways is a bit of a reference about setting your screen on fire. It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do.”

Sony approached the new studio with Japan Studio’s concept for what would eventually become The Playroom. “It was January-time when we really got going on The Playroom,” continued Ankers. “The timeframe of development was quite aggressive. When we got fully going it felt very much like [we were] a new studio, a new relationship. Working directly with [Studio] Japan as well was very different. Nicholas [Doucet] and the Japan team were fantastic in terms of what they wanted to do. It was almost like one team, going forward.”

“They have some great people, really talented people on that team with ideas on what they wanted to make. We worked with them on how we push those production values.

“We developed all the visual side of The Playroom. We did all the little layout dudes that were around, and the Asobi character, the menus, all those sequences. We were very much the technology team, worked with the programmers to put all the art together and had input on the creative side as well.”

Asobi. When you launch him, it says "No punching", so that's immediately what you should do.

Asobi. When you launch him, it says “No punching”, so that’s immediately what you should do.

Ankers wouldn’t be drawn on future plans for The Playroom but I did ask how uses on Twitch like The Spartan Show were received within the studio.

“This is my personal view on it. When we first saw, particularly The Spartan Show stuff, it was amazing. We’d kind of subconsciously thought about Asobi as almost like a co-host or a chaperone in the room with you but a few of us were quite surprised in the way that they’d used it. It was amazing to see. They were getting some great hits.”

“It was a really fascinating thing to see. I didn’t ever imagine it being used in that way.

“The good thing about being in the games industry and it’s almost a next-gen thing really is people using your content in different ways that you originally envisaged. It’s all so wide-open as part of the next generation.”

Of course that also leaves things open to the darker side of human nature (which you can hear more about on our podcast).

Xbox One Unboxing Stream - The Playroom Neogaf 1“I guess that’s prevalent in a lot of the social media stuff – Facebook, YouTube, etc.,” said Ankers. “The moderation has to be there and people have to be responsible or be aware that that kind of thing is not good.”

Twitch have always banned users for streaming nudity and other non-gaming content and have now established a temporary blanket block on The Playroom. OF course, that doesn’t stop PS4 owners streaming non-gaming content through it over UStream. Nintendo also recently cancelled their Nintendo 3DS Letter Box service because users were using it to exchange offensive material. I asked Ankers if Firesprite had considered this.

“Certainly from our aspect of just creating the visual side of it, it’s not a question for us. I’m sure there’s an overall strategy that will be put in place for that sort of thing.”

So as an independent studio, what’s next for Firesprite?

“We’re working on something new that we can’t say what it is yet.” (*sigh*) We’re putting a lot of effort into building creating a new game engine. The experience working on Playroom and some of the other things we’re working on as well, has been fantastic in shaping that. We’re trying to put the emphasis on getting the creative power into the hands of artists and designers.

“It should put us in a great position where we can make games, really deliver specific features that make the best games. That’s what we’ve always done and what we want to continue doing – keep the production values and the content as high as possible.”