Interview with Andy Satterthwaite

Producer & Designer of GripShift™ for PSP™

Andy is probably best known to date for his work on critically acclaimed titles such as Wipeout XL and Colony Wars for PSOne. Now working with developer Sidhe Interactive, he has spent the last two years designing and producing GripShift™ – an original new title for PSP™.

Below Andy reveals some of his experiences and insights in developing an innovative new game for the exciting new handheld from Sony.

Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions, Andy. With the current release of GripShift™ for PSP™ you must be very excited.

Absolutely! My family hasn't seen the game yet, so I can't wait to show them and it'll be great playing it on my PSP™ rather than on the dev kit. I'm really proud of the game - I hope everyone who buys it enjoys playing it as much as we do here.

What titles have you previously worked on?

Wipeout 2097 (Wipeout XL in the US), Colony Wars and N-GEN Racing for PSOne, and Quantum Redshift for Xbox.

Tell me about your current position at Sidhe Interactive

I’m a producer and a designer – it’s really an ideal job for me. With GripShift™ I got to originate the concept, expand on it through the design phases and then manage the team through production. I also got to design about half the levels in the game. It was a real privilege to be that involved in all phases of the game.

When Sony announced the PSP™ and its specifications – what type of games did this breakthrough system inspire you to want to create?

Handheld gaming is perfect for me as I’ve got a wife and kid at home, and spending hours playing epic games in front of the TV doesn’t really fit in with my home-life-style. The idea of being able to play cool 3D games in the palm of my hand made PSP™ so exciting to me. I wanted to create games that I’d really want to play and would suit my need for rapid pick-up-and-play quick burst fun.

My first thought was to do a future racer as they’re my first gaming love. I really like the fast impact of those games and I thought hand-held and wireless would be so cool! I then found out that some of my ex-colleagues at SCEE were working on Wipeout Pure, so I started thinking of something else.

Ever since I was a kid I loved constructing race tracks but even more I enjoyed doing crazy stunts on those race tracks (using books for ramps!). So I had that in mind when playing a few retro games at the time (Stunt Car Racer on the Amiga, Elastomania on PC) as well as getting to grips with Super Monkey Ball for the first time. The combination of mad-platform stunt driving and puzzle solving just seemed ideal for a hand-held platform and with all that pick-up and play, quick burst level gameplay seemed like a great idea especially if we could put a track editor in there as well!

Tell me about your first PSP™ title, GripShift™

GripShift™ is a cross between a platform/puzzle game (like Super Monkey Ball) and a driving game.

It’s so much more than just monkey ball in cars though as the feel of the vehicles is based a lot on future racers. Being able to drive fast and slide round corners, boost at any time to fine control your speed but also being able to steer, boost or handbrake turn whilst in the air gives it a real stunt driving feel.

We also have lots of platform game elements, like jump-pads, drawbridges, crushers, magnets, teleports and moving platforms that really spice up the action and make it more of a brain strain to get from A to B, rather than just a reflex twitch.

There are multiple challenges on every level and multiple types of level, including Racing and bonus games.

And of course there’s the track editor. We actually used a version of this track editor to create every level in the game.

Does working for an independent company like Sidhe allow you freedoms in the design process that other studios don't?

Absolutely. I would never have got the chance to design a game like a GripShift at a big studio. Huge companies have huge overheads, and that means huge budgets before you even get started! Taking risks on innovation is something most large companies are not willing to do, 'cause the costs of failure are too high'.

At a small company you can take more of a risk. If you see an idea you think is going to be cool, test it out, then run with it.

Of course with an independent studio, you still have to convince a publisher that your game is cool but that's a great way of validating your idea too."

What were the challenges you faced when creating an original franchise like GripShift™ for a yet to be released platform?

1) Getting people to see that it wasn’t just a racing game, that it was much more than that.

2) Getting people to understand the concept when they’d never played “Stunt Car Racer” or “Super Monkey Ball” – whoa, that was tough!

When people got the game, they really got it and loved it! And once they played it for a few hours, it became a few days before they put it down again.

Was it important having a publisher like Red Mile Entertainment that was supportive of a new franchise for the PSP™ platform?

Absolutely, working with up and coming publisher Red Mile Entertainment was a fantastic experience. Red Mile was very receptive to new ideas, which was very important for an original franchise like GripShift™. It’s great for the gamer and ultimately the game.

How would you best describe the gameplay of GripShift™?

GripShift™ is a real genre fusion. We describe it as Puzzle-Platform-Driving-Action, but it could easily be Puzzle-Stunt-Driving or something else.

It’s not just a standard driving game where you’re stuck on a road. It’s Platform driving as you’re high in the sky on treacherous ribbons of track and you’ve got to work out how to get to the finish of the level without plummeting to your doom! Then there are the options of how to get their fast, how to get to the finish and collect all the stars on the way, and then there’s hunting for the hidden token.

Most of the levels require some real thinking to work out how to get to the finish and then some real driving skill to do it fast.

Do you think mixing genres in the unique way that GripShift does presents a risk of people 'not getting it'?

God yes! Most websites and articles insist on locking a game down to a single genre. As soon as you get flagged as a "RACER" then people expect you to handle like Ridge Racers or whatever the latest racer they've been playing is.

Then when you're something different it takes someone with an open mind to realise that and embrace it as new rather than just immediately discount it and go back to what is safe.

When we were trying to find a publisher for GripShift there were many who dismissed it without playing it "We've already got enough racers in our catalogue" etc. etc. ... Then Sony Online found us when they'd been sent a copy and they did get it and as is frequently the case with GripShift couldn't put it down!

What are your thoughts about the games that are coming out for PSP™?

It’s got to be the best opening line-up for a platform ever however it’s sad to see that so many of them are ports or sequels of PS2 titles. It would be good to get more original IP’s on to the platform.

What really excites me is that this is the first generation and most of this first run of software (including GripShift™) was largely developed on emulators with the dev kits only arriving towards the end of the development cycle.

Once developers really get to grips with what the hardware can do, we’re going to see some amazing titles, the likes of which have not been imagined on a hand-held before.

What type of games would you like to see come out for PSP™?

My games ?

Anything that’s good, the more the merrier! Let’s get as many great titles on the machine as possible. I want to see games that make full use of the connectivity of the PSP™, and that strive to make full use of this beautiful device.

As I said earlier, I would like to see more original PSP™ IP’s and fewer PS2 franchises but ultimately if it’s a good game who cares.

What are in your opinion, the key elements to a PSP™ game?

It has to be short burst game play. Something you can play for 5 minutes or 5 hours depending on your personal time frame. It should feature wireless multi-player and it should be designed to work on a small screen

What elevates GripShift™ above the sea of PS2 to PSP™ ports that are currently on the market?

Well it’s not a PS2 to PSP™ port to start with and importantly it’s an original PSP™ IP that was designed for PSP™ from the outset and not comprised from another platform.

The content creation side with the Track Editor is something you don’t get on many products on any platform, much less a handheld.

How important is it to design a PSP™ game for the PSP™?

Whenever a title is designed for a specific platform it tends to be better than if it’s a lowest-common-denominator cross platform creation. It’s very important.

What freedoms did designing GripShift™ for PSP™ from the ground up allow you?

We were able to design the game we wanted. In particular the Track Editor was always an essential part of the plan to us. Being able to build all our levels using an editor so we could tweak them easily was essential to making the game great. And allowing the players to create and share their own levels, makes GripShift™ extra special.

Of course, we didn’t get it all right first time and many of the game elements have been tweaked and refined through usability studies and focus groups to make them as fun and functional as possible.

How has this benefited the PSP™ gameplay of GripShift™?

The repeated tuning has made the game a great balance between quick fun, and tough thinking.

And being able to give users the chance to create fully featured levels using the track editor is so cool. I know that people will have ideas for stuff we’ve never even thought of.

Which direction do you see PSP™ games going in the future?

Up, definitely. They’re just going to get better as developers learn to use the console more and hopefully we’ll see more specific PSP™ IP’s. I think this will certainly happen as developers shift from PS2 to PS3. At that point doing a straight port is not practical so PSP™ games will have to be more stand alone products, and that will be great for everyone.

Do you have any comments on potential future versions of GripShift™ for PSP™?

Bigger, Better, Faster!

What additional gameplay features would you like to see included in future versions of GripShift™?

I’ve got lots of ideas, but I don’t think I can say anything about them now. Ask me again in a few months!

Are there any other plans for work you would like do on future PSP™ titles?

Yes :)