One of my favorite aspects of last year's PlayStation Experience was the panels. I got to take some time away from the games on the floor and hear from the talented people behind the games. So I was admittedly a little disappointed that this year's panel offerings had been drastically cut back. I get it, though, a lot of the panels I attended last year were sparsely populated so the events team probably thought by narrowing down the offerings, each one would have a bigger audience. And based on the panels I attended, that certainly seemed the case. But the larger audience size could have also been a result to how many more people were at the conference overall. But more panels also would have freed up the show floor a little bit, cutting down on the lines to play the games. Additionally, because there was only one room set up for panels this year (the main hall that also housed the Keynote), there was only space for one panel at a time (compared to the three rooms available last year). Lastly, partnering with the Capcom Cup meant that panels were only offered on Saturday, as the room was used all day Sunday for the tournament.
The order of the panels this year was also odd. A lot of people wound up in the Call of Duty panel just to get better seats to the P.S. I Love You XOXO panel. And then I watched as a ton of the audience bailed after that show, which had to be a blow to the last two panels of the night. For PlayStation Experience 2016, I hope they find a happy medium between more panels and better scheduling. We've seen now from two years of experience that Greg and Colin have the biggest draw so schedule them up front or at the end of the day. I also feel a variety in panel length would help. Last year, panels were an hour and this year, they dropped to about 40 minutes. As a result, some of last years panels ran out of things to talk about and ended early, but none of the panels I attended this year had any time for Q&A's, which tends to be a staple of the Kinda Funny live shows especially.
So with all that out of the way, here's what I thought of this year's panels, all of which have been uploaded to YouTube and will be linked here:
PlayStation VR and the Future of Play - There was a similar panel at last year's show titled "Virtual Reality: A New Era for Games", featuring Shuhei Yoshida. This panel was talking about the early VR demos that some of the teams had worked on and the difficulties faced. This year's panel touched on similar themes. Dave Ranyard, a Director at London Studio, the team behind The London Heist demo talked about VR as being a huge new world to explore for game designers, while Anton Mikhailov of Media Molecule descibed the idea of developers creating in Virtual Reality. He likened it to having the tactility of clay with the flexibility of digital design.* Another point discussed was the logistical problem companies face getting people to try it. At events like PlayStation Experience, there had to be a balance between the number of people getting to experience it versus the time per session. In order to get the maximum amount of players, the demo time had to be shorter. The overall feeling of the panel, unsurprisingly, was that they are very excited for the possibilities VR holds for the gaming industry and beyond.
* For me, Mikhailov's words really hit home later in the conference when I caught him hosting a live demo of Dreams on the LiveCast stage. People drew monsters on big sheets of easel paper and then one of the Media Molecule developers designed one of the creatures live in-engine onstage. It made me think that Media Molecule is really creating a new artistic medium that's accessible for artists who might not have the skills to code.
Uncharted 4: Stories from the Performance Capture Set - The Uncharted 4: A Thief's End panel featured Neil Druckmann alongside cast members Nolan North (Nathan Drake), Richard McGonagle (Victor "Sully" Sullivan), Troy Baker (Sam Drake), and newly announced cast member Laura Bailey (Nadine Ross). The panel was filled with incredibly familial banter between the cast. It was abundantly clear how friendly all of these people are outside of the game and the chemistry onstage was electric.
A couple short scenes were shown: the introduction to Nadine that has first played on Thursday's The Game Awards and a new scene featuring a meeting between Nadine and Sully. These scenes were also replayed in a package showcasing the different cinematic passes at the scene, from the motion capture live action footage through a couple of animatic stages, and on to the final design.
One of the most interesting aspects the panel addressed was the controversy that stemmed over a white actress playing a black South African woman. Druckmann explained that Bailey read for the part and "was Nadine" and then saw design from the development team that "was also Nadine." He expressed that actors in video games are not beholden to look like the characters they play, identifying that another character in the game yet to be revealed is a white man played by and African-American actor.
Call of Duty Black Ops 3: Unlocking the Potential of A.I. - Having never played a Call of Duty game, I had no direct interest in this panel but still found myself intrigued by the discussion. Unfortunately, it was very technically driven and felt like it would have been a better panel at something at the Game Developer's Conference for people within the industry instead of a fan-focused event like PSX. Still, I found it interesting how they discussed being able to rebuild their AI systems using the power of the new generation of consoles. This new power has led to a change is development strategy. Rather than being restricted by technological constraints ("No we can't do that."), they're finding that they can work from the perspective of design constraints ("No we don't want to do that.") instead. When discussing the future of gaming AI, they predicted that there will continue to be a deeper engagement between the AI and the game world. The AI will have it's own story and the player will be able to clearly answer why they do the things they do.
PS I Love You XOXO - Much like last year's Beyond panel, this one featuring Greg Miller, Colin Moriarty, Shuhei Yoshida, Gio Corsi, and Ryan Clements played to a packed house. The whole cast played excellently off the energy of the crowd and were all excited to be talking PlayStation with each other in front of probably upwards of a thousand fans. They went through the standard topics of an event show like this: best moment of the Keynote, favorite game shown, what was missing, etc. As I touched on above, the only two things this panel was missing was extra time and audience Q & A. Plus, Arthur Parsons of Tt Games showed up to help Greg announce that he'll be appearing in LEGO Marvel Avengers in his first voice acting.
As I was one of the throng of people who left after the panels on The Future of Storytelling and Fighting Games, I can't speak to either of them, but I have provided them here for your viewing if you'd like. As a storyteller myself, I hope to find time soon to watch that video. I'm not really a fighting game fan so that panel is certainly a lower priority, but I might try to squeeze it in anyway.