It’s barely 17 months since Hermen Hulst took over the reins of PlayStation Studios, the international network of world-class development studios that produce some of PlayStation’s greatest hits – from Returnal and Astro’s Playroom to The Last of Us Part II. , Dreams, Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart and much more.
During our busy 20-minute chat, Hulst provided updates on a multitude of topics: studio development updates, thoughts on PS5 and PS4 development, PlayStation Studios’ vision for the PC versions, and even more.
Listen to our full interview on the official PlayStation podcast here, or read on for some key excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity.
iGamesNews: Do you consider single-player storytelling games essential to the PlayStation Studios console experience?
Hermen: Absolutely. Single player, storytelling games – it’s our DNA. PlayStation Studios have created, in my opinion, some of the most memorable storytelling experiences available. We love doing them, and we’ll continue to do them as long as players enjoy them. To me, the thought of sitting down on a Friday night with a whole new world and a great story to explore – sounds pretty perfect, right?
We also want to make sure that we create a variety of experiences for our audiences. Franchises, new IPs, big games, smaller and more innovative games, single and multiplayer stories. Who says the multiplayer experience can’t have great stories, right?
PSB: We have seen the announcement of Haven, from Jade Raymond as well as a group of industry veterans. And more recently Firewalk, which also has some big names in the industry.
How do you see partnerships like these fitting into the larger vision of PlayStation Studios?
Hermen: Yeah. You know, these partnerships are very exciting. You could, I guess, make a distinction between the development teams that are part of Sony – like Naughty Dog, Insomniac, Media Molecule, Sucker Punch, etc. – and the development teams who work with us as partners… Haven, Firewalk, but also teams with whom we have been working for years, such as Kojima Productions, From Software.
For me, in many ways, there really is no difference. They are all PlayStation Studios. We are, at the end of the day, a creator-driven organization. Which to me means we want to find the best possible development studios in the world and help them pursue their ideas with passion.
For me, it’s important that PlayStation Studios is a place that allows creators to join us and do the best work of their careers. This is really what I am looking for.
PSB: Can you give us an overview of the total number of titles that PlayStation Studios is currently developing for PS4 or PS5?
Hermen: Well, we’ve got a lot going on right now. PlayStation Studios have over 25 titles in development. Almost half of them are new IPs. The other half are titles set in franchises that PlayStation fans already know and love. So that’s a lot.
PSB: How important is the new IP for PlayStation Studios?
Hermen: New intellectual property is extremely important to us. The new IP is the cornerstone of the game. But the new intellectual property is only one aspect of our strategy. In the end, I want PlayStation Studios to be fiercely daring, to take risks. I want us to continue to embrace the legacy of PlayStation, to push the boundaries of gaming, to keep making games that matter. Games that probably wouldn’t have been created anywhere else.
And you know, Bend Studio is working on some very exciting new IP that they are very passionate about. They build on the deep open world systems they’ve developed with Days Gone. So I’m really happy for Bend Studio.
PSB: How have the teams at PlayStation Studios been able to face and adapt to these great challenges over the past year?
Hermen: Perhaps the biggest challenge has been when we need specialized locations, often physical locations. Mainly performance capture, audio work. We’ve come up with some really smart solutions to some of these problems, we’ve built tiny recording studios in people’s homes.
But when you’re doing a performance capture for a lot of cutscenes, with multiple actors, it’s not that easy to figure out. So you have a choice. You could do this later in the schedule, which could cause you problems. Or you could risk the final quality by doing it a different way.
But I can tell you that we are not going to risk the quality. We want to deliver very high quality games, finished games, and we obviously have to do that without pushing our teams to breaking point.
So we currently have two very big, very narrative games in development: Horizon Forbidden West and the next God of War. And for both, they’re frankly affected by access to performance capture and talent. For Horizon, we think we’re on track to release this holiday season. But that’s not entirely certain yet, and we’re working as hard as possible to confirm this to you as soon as possible.
And for God of War, the project started a little later. So we’ve made the decision to postpone this game until next year, to make sure Santa Monica Studio can deliver the amazing God of War game that we all want to play.
With these things, something has to give. It can’t be the quality of our titles, and it sure won’t be the health or well-being of our great team.
PSB: How does the PS4 fit into the development vision of PlayStation Studios? Is this still an internal goal for the future development of the game?
Hermen: It really is. You can’t build a community of over 110 million PS4 owners and walk away from it, can you? I think that would be bad news for PS4 fans, and frankly not a great deal.
Where it makes sense to develop a title for both PS4 and PS5 – for Horizon Forbidden West, the next God of War, GT7 – we’ll keep watching that. And if PS4 owners want to play this game, they can. If they want to go ahead and play the PS5 version, this game will be there for them.
That being said, it is also very important to have centerpieces for the PS5, hence the development of Returnal and Ratchet exclusive to the PS5.
PSB: [How does] Does the PC fit into the worldview of PlayStation studios?
Hermen: We are still in the early stages of our planning for PC. And Horizon Zero Dawn has been very successful. I think this shows that there is an appetite from gamers outside of the PlayStation ecosystem to experience the incredible portfolio of games that PlayStation fans have enjoyed for years.
But I want to stress that PlayStation will remain the best place to play our PlayStation Studios titles at launch. But we value PC gamers and will continue to look for the right times to launch each game. Bend Studio just released the PC version of Days Gone on May 18th. So that’s about two years after the PS4 was released.
And I hope a new group of fans can and enjoy this title. And that’s the goal: we want to reach new players who haven’t yet experienced the great stories, characters and worlds we’ve built. Releasing PC games will never come at the expense of creating an exciting lineup of great console games.
PSB: Another topic that has come up recently is Japan. Do you think, from a PlayStation Studios perspective, Japan is still a big development center? Or are you perhaps considering switching to a more western approach to game development?
Hermen: Oh no, I want to be very clear that Japanese games and Japanese talent remain extremely important to PlayStation Studios and Sony Interactive Entertainment. Japan and Asia are strongly associated with our heritage: the success of Sony, the PlayStation brand, and many of our iconic PlayStation franchises were actually born in this region.
I remember watching the PlayStation 5 Showcase event last year. It struck me how much Japanese influence there was in the games we showed. And what a key part of PlayStation’s DNA it is. It’s one of the things that makes PlayStation different, unique in my mind.
I know the potential of high-quality games from Japan and Asia, and some of the best development talent in the world is there. They have this history of innovation, know-how and competence, this pride and this team spirit. We really want to continue these traditions.
Polyphony Digital is such an important part of the PlayStation family, creating the best driving simulation games in the world. We are building Team Asobi in Tokyo, a world-class studio that is developing an all-age franchise with global appeal. Such a creative team.
And alongside Asobi, we will continue to nurture and build partnerships through our external development team. So I’m really excited about the future of PlayStation games from Japan and Asia. And I am grateful for the interest and passionate support of our Japanese teams.
PSB: Good to know. And maybe that’s a redundant question, but it looks like we might not have seen the end of Astro Bot?
Hermen: I hope not! I love this guy.