Eidetic playstation game



Keywords: eidetic playstation game
Description: From Syphon Filter to Resistance on PSP and Uncharted on Vita, Sony's Bend Studio has an intriguing story to tell. And we're gonna tell it.

Since the release of the PlayStation more than 15 years ago, Sony has had an almost single-minded approach to first-party development: find a great studio, have that studio prove itself, and snatch it up. From Sucker Punch to Guerilla Games, Sony has established the most impressive first-party roster in gaming with this mindset.

One such company that Sony scooped up is Bend Studio, the Oregon-based production house behind the entirety of the Syphon Filter series. More recently, however, Bend Studio has been given the monumental task of taking PlayStation 3's most important franchise -- Uncharted -- and faithfully bringing it to the PlayStation Vita in the form of Uncharted: Golden Abyss. I recently got a chance to speak with the heads of Bend Studio, Creative Director John Garvin and Technical Director Chris Reese, to discuss the past, present and future of their studio.

John and Chris explained to me that the origins of Bend can actually be found in the now-defunct studio Infocom. Infocom developed Zork, one of the most important games early in the gaming industry's history. Two of Infocom's MIT-graduate founders, Marc Blank and Mike Berlyn, spun-off to begin working on games for the Apple Newton, Apple's first foray into the PDA space. The company was called Blank, Berlyn and Co. and the studio's initial directive was sports games.

But Blank, Berlyn and Co. wanted to do more. The heads "wanted to expand beyond the Newton. so that's when I was brought on," Chris Reese explained. And expand they did. The studio changed its name to Eidetic and began to pursue the expanding console market. Eidetic's first game was Bubsy 3D. a notorious flop on the PlayStation that Garvin and Reese were willing to candidly speak about.

"Bubsy was the first foray for the studio to get into the console," Reese said. "The PlayStation had introduced the capability of doing 3D. it was all the rage to do 3D, so that was sort of the transition. and it was a hard transition. There was a lot to figure out." And though Eidetic's first title was critically panned, Reese and Garvin note that some positives came out of Bubsy 3D's development. Bubsy had impressive draw distances for the time, and was running in a higher resolution than standard PlayStation games were. Moreover, it wasn't necessarily that Bubsy 3D was a bad game, as much as its contemporaries made it look behind-the-times.

"If you look at the context of when Bubsy came out, it was like the same time that Mario [64] had come out," Garvin told me. But there was a Bubsy-killer within the PlayStation family itself, and that was Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot. Garvin notes that the "downfall" of Bubsy was with Crash. "It did not have huge open vistas, it had very tight linear rail driven gameplay that looked beautiful. They had tons and tons of textures and lots of special effects and really great animations." Garvin ultimately admitted, "the Crash Bandicoot path sort of won, right?"

But all was not lost for Eidetic. Bubsy 3D wasn't going to be the beginning and the end of the studio. As Garvin explained, his guys came back from that year's E3 having seen Crash Bandicoot "and they were like 'Oh, we're f***ed, right?' Because they could tell that's where the future was going to be." But for Eidetic, the future really rested in a spy-action series known as Syphon Filter. "It all started with this one page synopsis that Sony brought to our studio. an action espionage thriller because Goldeneye [on N64] had just come out and it was really successful and they kind of wanted the PlayStation equivalent of that."

So why did Sony trust Eidetic after Bubsy 3D? According to John Garvin, it was simple. "The reason Sony came to us and gave us that project was because of Bubsy." The team already had experience crafting a game on Sony's new console. Plus, there was an already-existing engine that could run Syphon Filter. Chris Reese noted that that while the "entire team size was maybe eight people" for Bubsy 3D, "I think for Syphon 1 we bumped that up to a whopping 13 people." This was a nimble and intimate studio that had the potential to produce a hit game. And produce a hit game it did.

Hearing Garvin and Reese reflect on Syphon Filter was great, especially because of some of the great stories they had to tell. One was about the voice of Syphon Filter's main character Gabe Logan, who was voiced by John Chacon, not a member of SAG or an established voice-actor, but a truck driver from California's Bay Area. And then there was the ridiculous looseness of Syphon Filter's story. "Four weeks before we shipped [Syphon Filter] we swapped levels," something John Garvin explained as being possible due to "the total script" being no more than 13 pages of dialogue.

Eidetic made two more Syphon Filter games on the original PlayStation, during which Sony purchased the studio and renamed it Bend. But before our conversation strayed away from Syphon Filter, I had to ask them about the franchise's future. The series has segued from PSX to PS2 to PSP, but will it one day pivot to PS3? The men were elusive. "[Syphon Filter] definitely has a place in our heart, you know?" admitted Chris Reese. "It had a lot of creative freedom, which we absolutely enjoyed." But does Syphon Filter have a future? Even with the purported logo of the game leaking online some time ago, they simply wouldn't confirm it one way or the other.

From 1999 to 2007, Eidetic/Bend produced seven Syphon Filter titles across three platforms, completely uninterrupted by anything else. In fact, out of Eidetic/Bend's first eight games, the first was Bubsy 3D, and the next seven were Syphon Filter. That's why it was a big surprise when, in 2009, Bend released Resistance: Retribution. a PSP iteration in Insomniac Games' Resistance franchise. John Garvin explained why it was so exciting to finally be able to take a breather from Syphon Filter and work on something new. "The freedom that Retribution gave us to have enemy types that could fly and enemy types that could have electric armor and weird bosses that could swim through a vat of protoplasm, you typically can't do that kind of thing in the spy genre."

But there's more to the story of Resistance: Retribution than that. Bend had already worked-up a third generation PSP game engine by working on Syphon Filter, and they were ready to go on something new. "I think our strength as a studio is third-person action games," Chris Reese explained, "so that's kind of where we've tried to stay. [Doing Resistance: Retribution] wasn't a big leap to go from doing Gabe Logan. because there's so many crossover similarities, especially in terms of the technology."

To impress Resistance's native studio, a team of eight Bend employees put together a demo. "We had this character named Grayson, and it was still pretty early," Reese continued. "We had him fighting a Titan in a ravaged scene from a destroyed European town and it looked really good. So I think we showed that demo to our producers and they said 'Heck yeah, I think we could get this approved.' " Insomniac Games liked what they saw, and Resistance: Retribution was born. And though it came out fairly late in PSP's slow-moving lifecycle, it was a hit with gamers.

Finally, our conversation turned to Bend's newest project, Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Working on such an important Vita game must put these guys under a lot of pressure, right? Chris Reese agreed with a simple "yeah," though John Garvin expanded on why working with Naughty Dog is both challenging and rewarding. "The thing about Naughty Dog is those guys just have such high standards," he explained. "So I think that the expectation certainly for fans of Uncharted is that you achieve that or you're not an Uncharted [game]. it's more like pressure on ourselves to try to achieve what Uncharted players are expecting."

Garvin explained that the relationship Bend has with Naughty Dog is "pretty intimate" because Naughty Dog takes "a lot of pride and ownership in the characters and the franchise and they want to make sure that anything that is Uncharted comes out with that name feels like Uncharted." Bend dedicated nine employees to the Golden Abyss project initially, met with Naughty Dog and Uncharted veterans Evan Wells and Amy Henning, and even had a bunch of initial ideas shot down.

Naughty Dog eventually liked what it was seeing and unleashed Bend on Golden Abyss. And thankfully for Bend, Naughty Dog was there with help from the get-go. Amy Henning would read John Garvin's scripts and even helped the studio secure Nolan North as Nathan Drake's voice actor while helping vet newcomers to the series. And then there was the simultaneous recording of voice-acting and motion capture, something every Uncharted game utilizes, but something Bend had never done. "Naughty Dog let us use their studio in Culver City," for motion capture and voice-acting, Garvin told me.

He also noted how giving Naughty Dog was with assets from previous games. "I think it would have been impossible for us to achieve that sort of Uncharted look and feel without their help. They gave us their complete library to access for Uncharted 1 and 2, including all the mo-cap that they had done and that's one of the reasons why I think our animation looks as good as it does. That library of Drake animation represents six, seven years' worth of work, thousands and thousands of animations, and there's no way a studio of our size could have done it at that level of quality by ourselves."

But what about beyond Uncharted: Golden Abyss? After Golden Abyss launches, what's next for Bend? John Garvin was cryptic. "I think we're going to be really vague on this one," he told me. The studio is currently focused on working on and finishing Uncharted: Golden Abyss. After that, who knows? But here's hoping for a new Syphon Filter on PlayStation 3.




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