Phil Harrison recently joined SCEA from Sony's European contingent. Prior to joining the US branch, Harrison was the Communications Director at SCEE.
Having worked for Sony in both Europe and the US, can you tell us what some of the immediate differences are?
Harrison: There isn't really a great deal of difference. It's the same product, the same passion and enthusiasm for success and the same drive to better and better.
There must be some differences at least in the third party areas of your job?
Harrison: *laughs* It is true however that there are differences there. I still don't know anything about the baseball titles, so I pretty much leave those to other people.
What exactly were your responsibilities working for SCEE?
Harrison: I have held several positions in my time there. I guess the first thing I did was start it. I originally worked for Sony Electronic publishing which was headquartered in New York. At that time Sony Imagesoft was the major label we had. I was then hired by the US based company to work in Europe to help form relationships with publishers and developers for a more established company that was built following the acquisition of Psygnosis in 1993. At that time we were focused on publishing 16-bit cart titles primarily for Super Nintendo. Throughout that whole period, I held the position of director of product development.
During 1993, I was asked to start the developer evangelism program for the PlayStation in Europe. This involved hosting a small and understated development conference in London in December of 1993. We had the very first prototype box; it was a huge steel box that was the size of a desktop photocopier. I remember you had to carefully turn everything on in the right order otherwise it threatened to malfunction. It was connected to a PC from which we downloaded all of the various demos.
Can you tell us a little more about this position?
Back then the technology was only running at about 30% of what the final units are now able to handle, and as a result, the famous "dinosaur demo" (which featured a polygonal Tyrannosaur from Jurassic Park) included only the head of the beast as opposed to the entire body, that people see now.
We were showing only the rudiments of the graphics engine. We had a video tape of the FMV because we didn't have a CD drive. We were describing how the sound system worked, because we didn't have the sound chip finished yet.
Throughout 1994, I headed up the organization that supported developers and shipped development tools. I also put together the internal development teams in London, of which the first was the NBA Shootout team.
After this, I got more involved in the marketing side of the PlayStation. I took the evangelism role out to the consumer for the launch of the PlayStation in Europe. It was a great experience for me to get involved in the launch of the system.
What are your new goals at SCEA?
I have three major goals in (no particular order) in the greater picture. First has to do with Sony Computer Entertainment; to make sure we are profitable, and continue to be successful with the PlayStation. Second is to the publishing and development community. These companies need to be able to make profit from the PlayStation business and feel that there are new creative and technical opportunities for them with the PlayStation. Finally, is my responsibilities to the consumers. I have to make sure that there is software out there which justifies their purchasing decision, and reinforces their loyalty to the brand.
Be sure to read tomorrow's Special, where we continue our discussion with Phil Harrison. Tomorrow's Special will focus on Sony's Yaroze program and will answer many of our reader's questions, expose some new facts, and disclose some potential plans Sony has for the innovative project.
While this project is an aggressive move, and is likely to draw some nice PR for Sony, what is Sony trying to accomplish with the Yaroze program? What are its goals?
Harrison: It's very interesting to see the comment that it 'a nice PR move' considering the entire project was conceived and implemented by an engineer in the R&D; at Sony in Tokyo. It should be recognized that this came from somebody who is culturally and creatively in tune with the developers.
Back to the question though, there are two things we are trying to achieve. If you've looked at the recent history of videogaming, the systems which have been popular have been what I would describe as a 'closed system'. When you buy the box and get it home, there's nothing you can do with it. I recently did a presentation where I put an image of the startup screen for the Commodore 64. All there was was the word "READY" and a flashing cursor. In that presentation, I said that those five letters have meant more to the industry than we could ever have realized. We are hoping that we will get consumers who have a passion, a vocation or even just an interest to get back into developing videogames. This is how some of the most high-profile developers of today started. We're trying to bring that opportunity back. If we want this industry to grow, and we want new talent, we have to deliver a mechanism or on-ramp. The Yaroze program is one such mechanism.
I'd also like to point out, that the Yaroze system isn't just for creating games. The main PlayStation product developer is working to product a product that will be sold at retail. There are certain conventions regarding how products play or look. Consumers have high expectations for their $50+ purchase. If you take creative technology outside of these conventions you don't have to worry about the review it will get in Next Generation, or whether the buyer at a major retailer will give the product a spot in the Christmas catalog. If you do this, you can start pushing the envelope about what gaming is.
So if you remove the expectations of a commercial product, you think that it is possible to open your mind to what might not have been thought of before?
Harrison: Exactly. We need to break past existing conventions. Hopefully we'll see some new engines, or routines that will be helpful to full fledged developers in addition to helpful to others in the Yaroze program.
Returning to the commercial side of the house for a moment: would it be unfair to say that Sony is hoping to reap some new product from the program?
Harrison: The idea that we have is that we would release a "best of Yaroze" compilation at regular intervals. Perhaps up to ten games on a single disc. Looking at some of the games that have been done already in the Japanese program in just a few months, the results have been very promising. We don't know exactly what the compilations will cost, but the authors of the games will certainly be compensated and it will help show their products to a wider audience.
The Yaroze program has already taken a lot of resources on Sony's part, and clearly even more are going to be needed. It is impossible to hand a development package like the Yaroze to the masses without some sort of support mechanism in place. Can you tell us what form the support will take?"
Harrison: The entire support structure will be run from a web site. There will be various forums on the website that will allow members of the Yaroze community to assist one another. Because there are no commercial influences, we expect there to be a much greater exchange of information and technology amongst the members of the program. Once you get your tools, you start working, and if you have technical questions, or need some software, you simply download it from the site. We'll be putting up sample code, and the whole program revolves around the sharing of code and ideas through the forums.
Will full fledged developers be able to take part in these forums?
Harrison: Anyone who has purchased a Yaroze system will be able to participate. Since we aren't restricting who purchases them, it is possible that some commercial developers may participate. We have designed this program to be used by individuals, not by companies. At the same time, we do anticipate that some companies, and many educational institutions will be participating actively.
So higher educational institutions have taken an interest in Yaroze?
Harrison: Oh absolutely. Courses that have deal with computer graphics, and/or real-time 3D have found that one of the most cost effective ways of getting a real-time 3D sub-system in the hands of a student is the Yaroze.
How does someone show their finished product?
Harrison: You could either post it privately or openly to the forums on the site. You could also e-mail it privately to someone in object code form. In the Japanese program, we've seen feedback and ideas for enhancing a product posted and these suggestions have been taken and implemented by the author. The best thing of all, is when someone posts a core piece of technology or idea and then someone else says 'hey that's exactly what I was looking for. Can we join forces to build as a team.' This makes Yaroze the perfect Internet application because you can end up with large numbers of people collaborating on a product, who have never even met each other.
How does a developer get Sony to consider their product?
Harrison: We've had a number of idea's on how this might work. One possibility we are discussing for the compilation discs are that we have the Yaroze members vote on which titles they think should be included. There's a bit of a 'techo-democracy' in effect in that case. I haven't fully developed the idea just yet, but what I would love to see are a number of compilation discs coming out each year, that has a mechanism by which the consumers who buy the disc then vote for their favorite game. The author of the winning game would be given a prize of some description.
Is the Yaroze program going to be administered the same way across all three markets (Japan, North America and Europe)?
Harrison: We will do exactly the same thing in US and Europe. As a matter of fact, the US and European sites will be linked together.
Can a person take a game that they have created to a third party publisher?
Harrison: If there's a cool game that we see, obviously we would to talk to that person and say 'either you or a team that we can put together would like to turn this into a full blown product.' If the person isn't able to commit the time, than we would seek to license the idea from the person, pay them some royalty and credit them as the creator. Most likely we would then pass that idea onto a third party developer.
So most of the projects in some way will go through Sony?
Harrison: Actually, that's not the case. We would love that to happen, but they could just as easily go to some one else. If the user creates his masterpiece and then trots of to another publisher and says: 'can I show you my Yaroze game, and by the way can I have a job'. We think that will happen a lot and that's partially why we set up the program.
So there are no barriers to speak of for some one taking their game some place besides Sony
Harrison: Well there will be some legal warrantee, but it will be no more complex than a 'back of the envelope' license agreement you get when you buy an application.
Be sure to check tomorrows Special for the conclusion of our interview with Phil Harrison and more information on Yaroze.
Why was there a 3.5MB RAM limitation on the code used with the Yaroze?
Harrison: There are two reasons. The first reason is that developers at home are generally not going to have access to CD emulators, large hard disks or CD ROM burning equipment. It's impractical for us to then support them. Secondly, we wanted the program to focus on the essence of the idea rather than the production value of the idea. You can get useful product, without having to worry about FMV or CD audio.
Regarding Metrowerks' Code Warrior for PlayStation: Have developers been asking for better tools?
Harrison: Not that I'm aware of but at Sony we are striving to make available the best development tools we can in hopes that it will lead to the best product.
If we recall correctly, there will be a cheaper version of Code Warrior for Yaroze members. Is that correct?
Harrison: What we are doing there, is that we are encouraging any tool company that wants to get involved in the Yaroze program to create license free, or very low cost tools that will work with the Yaroze technology. That can be anything from a 3D modeler to a sound tool to development environment. Again they will all be distributed via the website.
Have any other tool developers stepped forward?
Harrison: We have a great deal of interest from all quarters of the development community, but I can't mention any names at this time.
How many Yaroze units do you anticipate being able to sell?
Harrison: I really don't know... and it doesn't matter either. The infrastructure required to support one user is exactly the same as if there are 50,000. This is not a retail program. There's no television advertising to recoup. We really don't mind how many we sell. Obviously, we'd like to have this program open as widely as it can. If we sell tens of thousands, great. If we sell just thousands, also great.
Why can't the system read developer gold discs?Harrison: Very simply, because outside of regular developers, a gold disc is a pirated disc. To play a gold disc, you will still need a debug unit.