As the PSP’s release draws closer, Colin Berry, designer on Wipeout Pure on the PSP, talks about taking the massive PlayStation hit to the world of handheld gaming.

DIGIT: Why did you decide to do a Wipeout on PSP?

COLIN BERRY: Wipeout is a franchise with a great heritage, and many people still associate the franchise with the launch of the PlayStation in Europe. The PlayStation 2 version was not to everyone’s taste, and the PSP gives us the perfect chance to start the series over, by pulling together those elements from the earlier games which worked and also adding new features to help push the series forward.

DIGIT: How will gameplay differ given the change from a console to handheld?

COLIN BERRY: There are changes to the gameplay, but these are less to do with the game being on a handheld machine and more to do with the general direction we wanted to take. The pit-lanes have gone, to be replaced by a system where you can restore some energy by absorbing your pick-up instead of firing it, which would have been the case no matter what system the game was released on.

We have altered the physics and dynamics to make them more like the earlier Wipeout games where the ship would bounce and float, far more than Wipeout Fusion where it was locked to the track. One element that has been introduced as a direct result of the PSP is an alternative control method. The usual method of ‘dual airbrakes’ is still there, however, there is also a new ‘single airbrake’ control method that was a direct result of adjusting controls to fit the machine.

The issue with a series such as Wipeout – which has a well-known history – is that you cannot change the fundamental rules of the game. You cannot suddenly produce a Wipeout puzzle game! Wipeout has been synonymous with fast-paced racing action, so you have to work within those boundaries.

Elements can be introduced and altered, but you cannot destroy the core. In an effort not to fragment Wipeout Pure‘s gameplay, we cut back the amount of weapons and focused on producing a very fast racing game that does have weapons, but the emphasis is on racing, not killing.

Again, this was not a decision brought about by the PSP, it was a conscious decision based on where we wanted to take the game. The PSP does everything we need it to do and more, so with Wipeout Pure we have actually benefited from the extra capabilities rather than things being sacrificed or changed.

DIGIT: How different is it to make a game on a PSP compared to PS2 from a design perspective? For example, do you implement shorter levels and smaller features to accommodate for spurts of game play?

COLIN BERRY: With Wipeout Pure, we have not had to adjust too much from the point of view of short bursts of gameplay. The Wipeout franchise has always been a quick racing game series that has been structured to allow fast single races as well as longer league tournaments. The same has applied for Wipeout Pure. If people want to load-up Wipeout Pure and only play for five or 10 minutes then there is always going to be something there for them to play – alternatively if they want to have a longer gaming session they can.

Wipeout Pure is by no means a small game, but it does allow for short sessions of playing. That has been the case throughout the series, though. It’s possible some other titles in different genres might have had to cut their levels up a little to accommodate short bursts of gameplay, but it was not an issue for Wipeout Pure.

Racing games are a little different from some other genres as you have the advantage that they are generally already suited to short gaming sessions. In essence, we have the best of both worlds as Wipeout Pure is catered for both long and short gaming sessions without having to make sacrifices to the heart of the game.

One aspect of design we had to address with the PSP was that it has a few less ‘game’ buttons than a PS2 controller. So, from a design perspective we had to be clever in working out what controls we wanted and how to map them to the available buttons. We haven’t been prevented from putting anything into the game because of the format, we have actually benefited from the PSP and made use of its features such as Wi-Fi, which has enabled us to introduce new elements to the series, such as downloadable content.

DIGIT: How did the battery life versus software complexity trade-off play out in designing Wipeout? It has been said that Sony has set up guidelines for games to not have a shorter life than two to three hours.

COLIN BERRY: The battery life is determined by which systems inside the PSP you are using. If you are streaming music from the UMD this incurs a penalty of X; if you are using the Wi-Fi this incurs a penalty of Y. Therefore, there is a definite trade-off between battery life and design. In Wipeout Pure, there’s no part of the machine we’re not using at some point so the only option we had was to make sure systems are turned off when not in use.

DIGIT: Do you inevitably have to make compromises in terms of the graphics to extend battery life?

COLIN BERRY: The number of polygons you’re pushing doesn’t directly affect the battery life. The battery life is affected by the clock frequency of the CPU and GPU. However, reducing these wasn’t really an option, as it would slow the framerate down.

DIGIT: How difficult is it to develop on the PSP compared to the PS2? The PS2 is said to have high capabilities that are difficult to tap into.

COLIN BERRY: A lot easier. The PS2 is a challenge and returns dividends when used correctly, but it does take a while to master. The PSP is far easier and comes with excellent libraries to help developers get the most out of it.

DIGIT: Is the development time and resources required to make a full PSP game less than or equal to PS2?

COLIN BERRY: Initially, for Wipeout Pure we thought we would have a smaller team than we did for Wipeout Fusion, but in the end the team size for Pure has grown to about the same as it was for Fusion. It’s only been in the second half of the project that the size of the team has doubled, ending up just over 20. A smaller machine doesn’t mean a smaller game, so all the content still needs to be created.

I guess if people are simply porting an old PS2 game over then they may well have a smaller team size than they would for a PS2 game. However, we are not doing a port, the whole game is new, even the four classic tracks had to be built from scratch, so you need the resources. Time-wise Wipeout Pure has taken a little over a year, while some PS2 games take three years or more and others are done in 9 months. So, I don’t think there is really a ‘usual’ time for development anyway. It all depends upon the game.

DIGIT: Will Wipeout focus more on single player or online?

COLIN BERRY: Both. The single player element cannot be ignored – it is the bread and butter that has to satisfy people. The online aspect is very important though both for multiplayer gaming and downloadable content. No previous version of Wipeout has allowed eight players to play the same race together, so that is something we are proud of.

We are pioneering the downloading of content to a handheld machine, which is something that is very important. Allowing people once they have bought the game to download new tracks, ships, front-end skins and music prolongs the game both in single-player and multiplayer.

DIGIT: What are some of the inspirations behind Wipeout on PSP?

COLIN BERRY: For the most part the inspiration came from the previous versions of Wipeout and the reactions both positive and negative to various iterations, and the desire to produce the best version of the series to date. A little inspiration was taken from F-Zero on the GameCube, the original Mario Kart on the Super NES and probably on a subconscious level several other racing titles. However, the main inspiration has always been the previous Wipeout games and Wipeout 2097 in particular.