PlayStation’s Haven Studios is trying to reinvent game development

Haven co-founders Jade Raymond and Leon O’Reilly (center) along with PlayStation 5 architect Mark Cerny. Photo: Axios

The developers at Haven Studios, one of Sony PlayStation’s newest video game teams, aren’t just making a game — they’re trying to craft a better way to make games by moving development into the cloud.

Why it matters: Game development — which combines programming, animation, interactive design, art, writing, sound and more — is such a notoriously complex process that creators often joke it’s a miracle any games get made.

  • Haven’s goal: A server-based approach allowing for more collaboration, faster iteration and simultaneous work by multiple developers on specific parts of games.

What they’re saying: Think of it as a game development take on Google Docs, “but it’s not a document, it’s a level in your game,” PlayStation 5 lead system architect Mark Cerny told Axios at Haven HQ in Montreal last week.

  • Haven’s vision, he explained, would replace the status quo of developers needing to huddle around a monitor to compare notes or check their progress.
  • Instead, games would be built on cloud servers, with changes visible to all collaborators in real time. “The level designer is modifying it at her computer and everybody who is play-testing it is seeing those changes,” Cerny said.

Between the lines: Haven’s tech isn’t there yet, but the studio has been working on a cloud-based approach since it was founded last year by veterans from Ubisoft, EA and a team making games for Google’s recently shuttered Stadia platform.

  • Starting in the midst of a pandemic, the Haven team had no office and no easy means to build a new dream game together.
  • “We had kind of a very big necessity to innovate,” co-founder Jade Raymond told Axios in Montreal.
  • More than 30% of Haven’s 115 or so developers are now working on cloud-based development tools, artificial intelligence and machine learning, with an eye toward streamlining development, Raymond said.

Details: Haven’s approach so far involves putting development tools in the cloud, making new builds of its game available remotely and running cloud-based telemetry checks that analyze performance during every play test.

  • Haven developers are also exploring how AI and machine learning can help create game graphics. Noting recent advances in AI-generated art that create crude visuals out of simple text prompts, staffers are testing if AI can produce rough versions of character concepts that an artist can refine.

The big picture: The target of Haven’s efforts? Slowdowns baked into modern game development that Cerny and Haven’s co-founders argue impede creativity.

  • A game creator can have a brilliant idea during development, but the process of putting it in a build and testing it “has just increased and increased with each passing generation,” Haven chief technology officer Leon O’Reilly said.
  • Moving development into the cloud, he noted, would shave off some of the time developers spend downloading immense amounts of data every time there’s a new build. “How can we keep that iteration time down and keep people in the flow of just creating, trying, iterating, testing?”
  • Cerny, who just celebrated his 40th year making games, believes cumbersome development processes hurt game quality. “The game ends up not being your best ideas, or it ends up being your ideas but they’re not in the best possible form, because it’s that really fast iteration that lets you polish it and get it into place.”

What’s next: Haven execs hope to get close to that ideal Google Docs in the coming years as they develop their first game while also fleshing out their development process.

  • “There are some innovations that are interesting for us, but we ultimately aren’t going to spend all of our time dreaming and staring at the sky if it doesn’t deliver a great game,” Raymond said.
  • As for what that game is: All Haven will say for now is that it’s an ambitious, multiplayer, live-service project.

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