We had the chance to sit down with Sony Canada’s PR and Marketing Director, Matt Levitan, at FanExpo Canada to talk PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, Cross-Buy, God of War: Ascension, Little Big Planet Karting and more.
It’s an interesting time for Sony. As the next console generation looms, the ageing hardware of the PlayStation 3 is entering its winter years, while the PlayStation Vita is still finding its place in the crowded gaming market. It’s events like FanExpo Canada that make all the difference in public perception. This is the golden opportunity to showcase some of the upcoming games, as well as continue pushing the strengths of the current hardware to the eager crowds that flock to the convention. In my three years of attending the FanExpo, Sony has been a consistently strong presence. The large, 0pen-concept booth and top-shelf titles on display usually compels me to rush straight to them.
Uncharted 3 was the big hit of the show last year, and I was enraptured from the second I played a demo in the Sony booth, which was decked out in a giant model of a crashed plane. Sony’s first-party offerings this year are noticeably different, combining the unlikely pairing of a fighting game, a bloody hack ‘n slash and a kart racer. While the majority of games on display from other developers lean towards the M-rated crowd, Sony is taking more of a casual approach this year with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and LittleBigPlanet Karting the standout games at their booth. Not wanting to leave the adult crowd out, a fully-playable demo of God of War: Ascension was also featured.
On hand to talk with the media at FanExpo Canada was Matt Levitan, the Director of Public Relations and Marketing for PlayStation Canada. We spoke about Sony’s first party offerings, and he had some great insights to share. The first point of interest for me was PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. A new IP for Sony that has been in gestation for three years, I was curious to know more about the development process and the direction that Sony planned on taking with this game. Having played it myself, I can say that the Super Smash Bros comparisons are warranted, but the game looks and plays very different. The pacing, combat style and diversity in character moves was unlike any other fighting game I have played, and having three other players in the fray made things quite chaotic.
Given that PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was Sony’s big title at the FanExpo, this seemed like a logical place to begin our interview.
Ben Rowland: Thanks so much for speaking with us. Three years in development, we’re finally starting to see the fruits of the PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale development process right now. Now the obvious comparison to PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it, is Super Smash Bros.
Matt Levitan: (laughs) I’ve heard that before.
BR: What do you feel that this game does differently? By that, I mean how does PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale differentiate itself, outside of the character roster?
ML: The fighting in general is a little bit different, in terms of the strategy. There’s no health bar per se, essentially by doing a variety of attacks, you build up AP. Once you get AP, you go through a variety of levels. You start with a Level 1 attack and all the way up to Level 3 attacks, so it’s really a question of how many kills and deaths you can get as opposed to whittling down a health bar per se. There’s a lot of strategy in that, in terms of whether or not you hold your special attack if it’s a Level 1 and power it up to a Level 2 or Level 3. I find that, because of the different franchise characters that are in the game, there’s different strategies for the different people that you play. I find that it is somewhat, in my opinion, a deeper fighting game than Smash Bros. Melee.
BR: The diverse roster of characters, including everything from Fat Princess to Big Daddy to Nathan Drake, covers the big stars of the Sony franchises. Have you tailored their attacks to mirror what we see in the games, and will fans of these series find something to identify with in Battle Royale?
ML: Absolutely. Take your Colonel Radec from Killzone, who is kind of a long-range type of fighter. You’re better off staying away from your enemies, and his special attacks are better from a distance. This character versus Sly, who is more of a sneaky attacker, so you want to be in close combat but there are a bunch of moves that you can use to turn Sly invisible. Compare this to someone like Big Daddy, who is all about brute force and you want to get in close and hammer your opponent. His special attack, which is Level 3, fills the entire screen with water and everybody kind of drowns. So everyone has specific special attacks that pertain to their character, but it’s all built around the IP and I think that fans of all these games will really gravitate to the characters they know and love.
BR: One of the common criticisms I hear about certain fighting games is that they’re unbalanced, in the sense that some people tend to stick to their favorite characters and some of them do have a decided advantage. In this game, how has the balance been met?
ML: Yeah, I’m a huge Marvel Vs. Capcom fan, and if I get Wolverine, Dante and Deadpool, I am unstoppable. It’s funny, but with this game, I’ll gravitate towards a couple of different characters such as Kratos. Then I’ll play against someone from Superbot and they’ll choose Parappa and school me. So it’s really a question of how good at the game you are, and how much you know about blocking, timing, when to use your special attacks, where different weapons spawn and how to play background environments into your strategy. Even though you think you might be better with one character because it’s a very powerful character overall, there are little nuances with each character in the game. You would be surprised how good you’d be with Fat Princess if you really learned how to use that character.
BR: So it’s more about skills versus stats?
ML: It really is, actually. It doesn’t seem to be as deep when you look at it, because it’s more colorful and it has a platformy feel to it. But the more you play it, the more you realize it’s actually quite a deep fighting game. It’s not a button masher, so just standing around and hammering away at the attack buttons will get you toasted. It’s so frenetic and there’s so much happening on the screen at any given time, so your position in the environment is really important. You have to pay a lot of attention, and it doesn’t dumb itself down to a really base-line fighting game. It’s actually pretty deep.
BR: Yeah, when you have four players on the screen at the same time, it can get pretty chaotic.
ML: Yeah, 100%, especially since a lot of time, you’ll get times when two or three people are Kratos. Trying to find your Kratos versus the other two, even when they have different costumes on, is pretty hard when there are super moves and crazy attacks going on. I’d say it’s one of the fastest fighting games I’ve seen, certainly in terms of four players on the screen and the action that’s going on. What’s amazing too is that the Vita version doesn’t drop any frames, so it looks and plays as fast as the PS3 cousin. We announced recently that when you buy the PS3 version, you’re going to get the Vita version for free as a downloadable voucher in the game.
BR: That’s the Cross-Buy program.
ML: Yes, I think the Cross-Buy is really going to lift the boat for the Vita. We have a couple of games we’ve announced for that, and third parties are jumping in as well. Once you’ve built a library of four or five games for the Vita, why wouldn’t you take a look at the hardware since you already have the software for it?
BR: One of the most interesting features is the Cross-Play, in that the Vita version is going to run parallel to the PlayStation 3 version. Are there any notable differences between the two versions that players will notice? Outside of one version being portable, of course.
ML: Yeah, it’s a much smaller screen, but the graphics look amazing on the 5 inch screen. They’re pushing more polygons on the PS3 versions and you’re probably seeing it on a large TV, but they are able to do great stuff on the smaller screen with the Vita version. Whether you’re playing player versus player, multiplayer or just locally in your house, I think it plays exactly the same. All the modes are in there, all the character selects are the same. The Cross-Buy functionality for DLC will be passed through between both, so we really wanted to marry them together so that you don’t drop a step when you use the portable version.
BR: The Cross-Buy between the PlayStation 3 and the Vita is also happening with the new Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank games that are coming out. Do you feel that this is going to become the norm for first-party titles moving forward?
ML: Yeah, I think so. It’s a big investment for Sony, though. We have a completely different group developing the All-Stars game for the Vita, and we’re going to be giving that game away for the PS3 owners. So there’s a revenue question mark attached to it, and whether or not it will stay in every game moving forward for first-party. But I like it for Sly too, because Sly is the type of game—I love platformers and grew up on the Mario and Sonic games—that’s the kind of game where, say I’m taking a flight, and I want to play it at home, save it in the cloud, play it for a couple of hours on a plane and then be able to pick up where I left off when I get home. I’ll probably play Sly more on the Vita than on the PS3, so I think it works great for all genres.
BR: Do you think this will help popularize the Vita more with home console owners?
ML: 100%. We have over 2.5 million PS3 owners in Canada, and we look at them first and foremost as the people we want to go after to build the install base for the Vita. What better way to do that then to provide them with content right out of the gate. We also announced that we’re bringing PS Plus to the Vita, so if you’re a PS Plus member on the PS3, you’re going to get content applicable to the Vita as well. Content, that’s what we’re hearing. People are saying that they need more games, they need better games. You know, it’s hard in the first six months of the life cycle of any console or handheld. We think we have a pretty good library already, but we’re going to improve that throughout the year.