Elder Scrolls Online
Transmedia, ARG Producer, Alice & Smith
CTO & Co-founder, Kolibri Games
Larry Hryb: Welcome to the Xbox podcast. My name is Larry Hryb, Xbox Live's Major Nelson. I got to get Jeff in here. Jeffrey, are you there? There you are. Hold on. Hold on. I brought you full screen. I want to talk to you
Jeff Rubenstein: I'm taking over the show. Oh, I lost it.
Larry Hryb: This is so much show. We have so much show here. We almost have a half dozen interviews, don't we?
Jeff Rubenstein: Bursting at the seams. It's a busy week, Larry. It's maybe the first busy week in gaming of the year so far, isn't it?
Larry Hryb: I don't know, tell my calendar that because for the past three weeks it looks like it's been pretty busy but, as always, it's good to see you. It's been a big, big week around Xbox as always.
Jeff Rubenstein: It has. I heard you had the Korean chicken sandwich over at Shake Shack. [crosstalk 00:00:45] Did that live up to standards?
Larry Hryb: I told you I was [crosstalk 00:00:47] going to have it.
Jeff Rubenstein: You didn't go?
Larry Hryb: You're the one that had it. I didn't have it.
Jeff Rubenstein: I did. Wait. Okay. I feel like everyone's doing a chicken sandwich right now. I'm derailing this immediately. Sorry.
Larry Hryb: Chicken wars are my favorite wars. I'll just say that.
Jeff Rubenstein: It's true. Hamburgers? I don't deal with hamburgers anymore. What have you been playing?
Larry Hryb: Oh boy. You can kind of see it a little bit behind me; I've been Hitmanning it, Sea of Thieves, Elder Scrolls Online. I have an interview later on for that. I've been playing the, "Let's get a bunch of guests on the show" game, which is a multiplayer game and it's a lot of fun.
Jeff Rubenstein: It's true, it is true. And you can bring in people from all over the world, which is the best part of it, right?
Larry Hryb: Yeah. Should we go through the interviews we have this show before we get into it, or should we wait on that? You've got, because you held a Ninja star to my head, we've got Yakuza.
Jeff Rubenstein: There's really no throwing stars in the game, but yes.
Larry Hryb: We have Scott Strichart is back on the show and, of course, that's your interview so I step back and let you guys shine.
Jeff Rubenstein: I appreciate that. Let me do my Yakuza thing.
Larry Hryb: And why do we have him on?
Jeff Rubenstein: We have him on because the Yakuza collection, that means 3, 4, and 5 are all available now on Xbox through Xbox Game Pass, and also on Windows 10, and we got to know what to expect so we're going to learn that.
Larry Hryb: So then we have- What else do we have? We've got Rich Lamber is going to stop by about Elder Scrolls Online. That's a big news earlier this week. We'll talk to him and then, oh, I'm going to turn the lights down. Things are going to get a little scary. Jeff is going to interview the Bloober Team about The Medium, exclusive on Xbox Game Pass, which is out this week.
Jeff Rubenstein: Here's the thing about Bloober Team, with a name like Bloober Team you would think they would make Slime Rancher or some happy rainbow colored platforming game or something like that. And no, they make, exclusively, psychological horror games, like Layers of Fear, Observer, Blair Witch from last year, and now The Medium, which is now available. [crosstalk 00:02:58] It's disturbing.
Larry Hryb: We've got that. We'll do that interview and then if that's not enough, if that's not enough, we're going to peel back the layer a little bit and we're going to show you behind the scenes a little bit about Xbox, what PlayFab, which is a technology, a suite of technologies that we have at Microsoft here to enable game developers to do everything from matchmaking, to messaging, to storage, achievements, all these things. We're going to talk to Jamie Gortzman, who's the head of that team, and then we're going to talk to a couple other developers about how they use PlayFab. If you're a game developer or a budding game developer, you just want to kind of maybe look behind the scenes then we're going to talk about that. We've got a lot of show for you today, so thank you for bearing with us and thank you for letting us-
Jeff Rubenstein: Bearing with us. We're bringing these things. This is good. It's a little different instead of our usual BS, where we're talking about chicken sandwiches. Why did you even bring that up?
Larry Hryb: Why did I even bring it- I don't know. Chicken sandwiches. So we've got that- Hey, look what I've got here, Jeff. Let me show you something. This is actually pretty interesting. I don't know if you're able to see this little...
Jeff Rubenstein: That is a robust container around your controller.
Larry Hryb: That is my Android phone for Android Cloud gaming, so you can play all the Game Pass games on there, and then this is a special clip and then this goes right around the Xbox controllers. It's from our good friends at OtterBox. I think you've got-
Jeff Rubenstein: Are we sponsored this week?
Larry Hryb: Well, no, we're not, we kind of are, but we've done a great partnership with OtterBox.
Jeff Rubenstein: Look at that.
Larry Hryb: They've got this really cool case that you can buy as the gaming carry case, and then of course inside of it is a bunch of way to strap your controller in. They've got the gaming clip, which I showed you up here. I feel like I'm showcasing the gaming clip. And then- Go ahead.
Jeff Rubenstein: Do you remember when I first started working here back in 2013- [crosstalk 00:04:46].
Larry Hryb: Like it was yesterday, Jeffery.
Jeff Rubenstein: -going around to Puerto Rico and we went to a lot of different places. We opened up a store in upstate New York and I was lugging around the OG Xbox One and it couldn't fit in my backpack and so I had a special backpack for it, and now you can bring like hundreds of games in that little- get that little case out. Lift that little case, again. The fact that you can bring all the controllers, the biggest part of it, and you can bring all these games with you is pretty great.
Larry Hryb: Has a little handle.
Jeff Rubenstein: Now you just have to be able to go somewhere but when we get there.
Larry Hryb: This is for the stylish gamer.
Jeff Rubenstein: It looks rugged. It's got the handle. It looks like it's-
Larry Hryb: It's got this interesting little thing up at the top here that you can actually, it looks like you can set your phone on. [crosstalk 00:05:39]
Jeff Rubenstein: Set the phone down.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. You got a little easel action going on there. That's kind of cool.
Jeff Rubenstein: I mean, we've all been in the airport and we've seen people with these- [crosstalk 00:05:47]
Larry Hryb: Have we though, Jeffery? Have we been to the airport?
Jeff Rubenstein: Not recently but in Seattle, at least, you would always see someone playing while waiting for their flight with like a large portable screen. Now you can just do it with your phone. [crosstalk 00:05:59]
Larry Hryb: They've got a whole gaming line, OtterBox gaming line, and we're working closely with them. They've got all the things I just showed. They also have a case for your phone, of course, kind of like a regular normal case that you'd see. But they also have gaming glass privacy guard, which I didn't even think about. This is so nobody else, you know those privacy shields that go over computers, it's one of those.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah. I've definitely been on the plane and I'm playing Switch and it's like a more violent game and I'm like, maybe everyone shouldn't see this game.
Larry Hryb: I've seen you, you're playing it and you kind of start cheating towards the window.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah. It's like someone's getting murdered in this cut scene. Okay. Yes. That's probably, it's probably good. Also, when you're traveling you want to really protect your monitor. Everyone doesn't need to see your business.
Larry Hryb: They sent me a whole bunch of stuff. Oh yeah, here's the thing.
Jeff Rubenstein: Oh, wow. So there's a box of OtterBox stuff.
Larry Hryb: There's the actual phone case, if you just want to just go with the phone case as well. This right here I think is the- yeah, there's the privacy shield, so you kind of can't- Right? So when you turn it sideways people can't quite see what you're playing.
Jeff Rubenstein: [inaudible 00:07:11] you're watching Netflix or something just out while you're waiting for something and people judge your choices. I'm like, look, I'm watching...was it Brotherton? Brimerton?
Larry Hryb: Are you watching that? Really?
Jeff Rubenstein: My wife is, and I went upstairs while she was watching it [crosstalk 00:07:25] and I was like, "What is this?".
Larry Hryb: You are no stranger to costume dramas. Let's be clear.
Jeff Rubenstein: No, no, hardly, hardly. But I didn't realize the Victorian era was so...
Larry Hryb: Tawdry?
Jeff Rubenstein: Randy. Yeah, tawdry.
Larry Hryb: Randy, that's perfect.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah, trying to bring in English. Yeah. Anyway. Why don't we get to these interviews, huh?
Larry Hryb: Yeah, let's do that.
Jeff Rubenstein: Where do we want to go first? Do we want to spin the globe and land somewhere?
Larry Hryb: You know what I have to start, we've got to talk about The Medium and you did such a great interview with that, so I think it's what we should do, we should start with that. We'll talk to team Bloober. We'll get in here. Jeff did a great interview with them. You learn more about The Medium available at Xbox Game Pass right now. It looks amazing, let's take a look.
Jeff Rubenstein: Over the past five years no studio has been more synonymous with horror than Bloober Team out of Poland. We've seen games like Layers of Fear, Blair Witch, and now, out this week, The Medium. I'm very happy to be joined, live from Poland, from Kraków by two of our friends that we saw at launch, Wojciech Peyko and Jacek Zięba from Kraków, from Bloober Team. Congrats on launch guys.
Jacek Zięba: Thank you very much. And of course, thank you for having us here. We waited for you after the last time, so thank you. Thanks again.
Jeff Rubenstein: It's great to see you. So you launched Observer two months ago and here we are with the first fully exclusive Xbox Series X and S game. The first that only launches via Series X and Series X, the first true next gen game on Xbox, also on PC, and of course available through Xbox Game Pass. Launching now. How do you guys feel?
Wojciech Peyko: Of course we are super excited about launch year so we were preparing the game for like four years. This iteration of The Medium, because the idea was here in the company, even before we start working at Bloober. So for us every launch is a special moment, so we are very happy. We can finally share our game with the audience with the players. And of course we hope that you will have a lot of fun playing The Medium.
Jeff Rubenstein: And I have been enjoying the game. [crosstalk 00:09:46]
Jacek Zięba: A lot of fun?
Jeff Rubenstein: Fun is maybe not the right word. Maybe it's tense. A lot of tension. I've been playing several hours into the game and I think it's important to talk about what type of scary game this is. This is not jump scares, but really you Bloober Team is masters of psychological horror. It's a little bit different involves what's in people's heads in many ways. I would love for you to talk about, for those who have played Layers of Fear, who played Blair Witch, how The Medium is different in terms of tone and how this is really a jump up for the studio in general.
Jacek Zięba: I think the tone maybe it's similar. It's still like psychological horror here, but because of the first person perspective [inaudible 00:10:34] at the same time and crazy surrealistic, visuals of the spirit world, it's really different.
You know, like what is the kind of horror it is, it's not like atmospheric horror. It should disturb you. And what we want to achieve, if you put off the game for awhile, because you have some break or even you finish the game, we want to have this disturbance in you later to think about the game, what happened, what you saw, what you feel right now, to create the seed of fear in your mind.
Wojciech Peyko: [crosstalk 00:11:10] As you said, we were- thank you. We were aiming to disturb our players, like a Silent Hill series did. In previous titles, we were using more jump scores than The Medium is, and with The Medium with all those cinematic experience we had a mission to build a game that will slowly dwells into your minds. We were trying to build the tension and sometimes scare you and, of course, release all those emotions that we were trying to build inside you. But I think this is a different game. It's like a slow burn horror stuff, more than the game that is relate [inaudible 00:12:05] to jump scares.
Jacek Zięba: Yeah [inaudible 00:12:08] the game, just being in the game should be more scary. This is our goal.
Jeff Rubenstein: I feel like dread is a good word for this. There's sort of an oppressive atmosphere instead of things jumping out at you, this is not a combat game. You're not managing ammunition or anything like that. There's been a lot of talk about the technological aspects of the game, and for good reason, we saw some of that split screen footage here just a second ago. Talk about how you're taking advantage of the power of next gen Xbox consoles.
Jacek Zięba: What is most important for us, it's a hardware. How powerful hardware is. And having Xbox Series X and this, we knew that we don't need to downscale our idea. It can work really good, as of course we can, and fulfill our dream how this game should look and feel. Without powerful hardware rendering two worlds at the same time, it's like rendering two games at the same time. It's just impossible. Without the hardware that's no dual world gameplay, in a way.
Wojciech Peyko: We will need to use very, very simplified graphics, for example.
Jacek Zięba: Yeah, and SSD of course it's crucial again, because sometimes parts of the spiritual are reloading under other levels and you will never notice.
Jeff Rubenstein: I didn't notice it, yeah.
Jacek Zięba: Yeah. You just play continue or new games it's like one loading screen and done. You are in the immersion experience and go away and survive.
Jeff Rubenstein: Honestly, I would have preferred a couple of breaks in there just to have a deep breath from time to time. I was reading great article about the game and about your development in VG247 this weekend, and Jacek, there was an interesting anecdote about you playing on Xbox Series S and not even realizing it.
Jacek Zięba: Yeah, some days before the final certification on the Xbox we try to play the game all the time to know what's happen and if this is the experience that we really want to give the players. And I test whole game one day on the Xbox Series S, and somebody came to me and say, "But you know that this is Series S not X" because I say, "Wow, this crazy how it looks" and it would blow my mind. And another day I check the Series X and I was blow away again, so we know if the main developers didn't see a really big difference playing the whole game, this is awesome because of the hardware, but also because how we manage these two platforms here.
Wojciech Peyko: [crosstalk 00:14:58] If you are not using a 4k TV, you will probably not notice that this is the other version.
Jacek Zięba: I clearly want to also give the players on S as similar experience as we can.
Jeff Rubenstein: And that's awesome to hear that you're doing it. It's a powerful little machine. We sold- [crosstalk 00:15:17].
Jacek Zięba: I love this console.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah, I do too. It's great for travel, as well. Use it for streaming too, it's an awesome stream box. So we saw Marianne and as oppressive as the atmosphere is I like that she talks to herself, 'cause I feel like that's what I'm doing is I play. We know Troy Baker's in the game, you recognize Troy Baker. He's in a lot of games. He's immensely talented and he's a great looking guy. I would love to be Troy Baker, but let's talk about, we spend more time with Marianne. Can you talk about her voice actress? Because I like the little sort of levity that she brings to this, otherwise, scary atmosphere.
Jacek Zięba: Yeah. The voiceovers we work with OM Studio from London. They also have a studio in LA with what I remember, and we've been there most of the process of creating the games, even in the demo that we show some people before, and they help us with the voices. And then we do another casting and it was really hard to find the final Marianne. And Mark Estdale, the chief of OM Studio say "Okay, I have one person in mind, let's check this person, yeah?" and we check the actress and we thought, "Yeah, she's perfect" and he said, "Yeah, it's the same actress that you do in the demo".
Wojciech Peyko: Her name is Kelly and I will-
Jacek Zięba: Kelly Burke.
Wojciech Peyko: Kelly Burke. Sorry if we butcher her surname. It's Kelly Burke and she was great playing as Marianne and members of our studio also said, "Okay, she's cool, she's a different than normal". Sometimes she's a badass, sometimes she's vulnerable as Marianne should be. I think she perfectly matches the character.
Jacek Zięba: We also show her for reference some voiceovers from Silent Hill, [inaudible 00:17:20] slow reading to go into the vibe, and when Marianne is narrator [inaudible 00:17:26] different kind of voiceover and she's just perfect. We know when she has narrated the scene and where she's talking in the scene, were there emotions and were [inaudible 00:17:37] it's only a recollection of a memory. It's really good cooperation and we are going into it would happen in the future with her.
Jeff Rubenstein: I just want to go back to the split screen part again, and what I thought was really interesting is the types of gameplay that you're able to use when we have two things going on at once. Here's a great example here: this shot. Sadness wants you to go up the stairs and in the spirit world, those stairs exist, but in the real world, they've collapsed, and so it's really interesting how you have to sometimes go back and forth between the worlds and see- you could see Sadness goes up those steps, you can't, and you've got to figure things out. Talk about the gameplay and some of the things that it really unlocks for you to have these two worlds at once, that it's not technology for technology sake, but it's actually like really interesting gameplay.
Wojciech Peyko: Thank you very much. From the beginning, we were designing the game to flow between words. You always have to do some picking one world to have results in the other, or find a way to use your powers to overcome the obstacles like this one here. Eventually, you will use an elevator, but it will get stuck so you have to use your ability to detach the spirit from the body, go somewhere, grab the energy, use the energy in the spirit world to create an electricity normal world. That's why I'm talking about this because you always have to think with [inaudible 00:19:19] do something in one of the world to have results in the other. From the very beginning, we were thinking how to use them, not only to have them to show only the story, but also how to connect it with the gameplay.
Jacek Zięba: The main goal is to think which power and which order I should use to figure it out, how to progress further in the game.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:19:49].
Jacek Zięba: It's more a little like Zelda or some Nintendo game. A little like, of course. [crosstalk 00:00:19:57].
Jeff Rubenstein: This one might not be rated for everyone the way a Zelda game might be. What I think is interesting is the spirit world, you would think that's going to be the scarier world, but as you get later on in the game, no, the material world is just as frightening. Let's talk about Bloober Team a little bit here. You've made something like five games in the last five years. Are you exhausted? Do you get a break now?
Jacek Zięba: You know, we finished the project, of course it would time to rest, but I'm really can't wait to start something new. I think we're just crazy.
Wojciech Peyko: We are divided to smaller teams. For example, we didn't participate in a Blair Witch game, for example. We were there at the very beginning. For example, I traveled to LA to meet with Lionsgate, so to Blair Witch, and work on the pitch, but then the other part of our team develop the game. We were doing The Medium full-time for the last years. We love our job. Of course, I don't like to wake up in the morning but if the teleport will exist I can teleport to the office, and it will be great.
Jacek Zięba: And you know, who wants to work scared? It's beautiful. It's lovely.
Jeff Rubenstein: We'll see if that comes out, but if you zoom in a little bit of frightening stuff there. The real demons, I guess, are your commute and your calendar, but you're managing it very well. I hope you get a little bit of a rest here before you recharge and get started on what I'm sure will be more psychological horror, because you all are masters of the craft. The Medium is out now [crosstalk 00:21:56] on Xbox Game Pass for Xbox Series S Series X, and also on PC. Make sure you take a look at those pretty beefy specs if you're going to want to get the best out of the game, but it looks great. Well done, and look forward to seeing more from Bloober Team.
Jacek Zięba: Thank you.
Wojciech Peyko: Thank you very much.
Jacek Zięba: Bye.
Jeff Rubenstein: 2020 was a lot of things to a lot of people, but for Xbox gamers, one could make the argument that it was the year of Yakuza and yet 2021 brings even more Yakuza onto Xbox, some games for the first time. I'm very, very pleased to be welcoming back to the show, the patriarch of [inaudible 00:22:38] localization on the Yakuza series, Scott Strichart from Sega. Thanks so much for joining us.
Scott Strichart: Dude, thanks for having me again, Jeff. It's good to see you.
Jeff Rubenstein: It is. It's good to see you too. I got to say the Yakuza games have brought me tremendous joy. A year ago, at this time, I had never played any of them. Now I've completely played through Yakuza 0, Kiwami 1 and 2, and I just recently
PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:23:04]
Jeff Rubenstein: ... Kiwami 1 and 2. And I just recently, maybe a week ago, wrapped up Yakuza: Like a Dragon after 70 hours. I'm still moved. There's still a hole in my heart that is shaped... My messy hair, I'm attributing to looking like Ichiban Kasuga. So, I appreciate that. In fact, I went down to the local tattoo parlor and got one of these. The whole back.
Scott Strichart: Oh my God, that looks rad.
Jeff Rubenstein: I didn't want to take my shirt, but underneath the shirt, it's the same dragon tat all the way down there.
Scott Strichart: I don't doubt it. I believe it.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yes. So how things been going? How was Like a Dragon received, and what's it been like at the studio and at Sega?
Scott Strichart: No, it's been really cool. That game, there's a lot of trepidation about the change to the new battle system, and everyone's like, "oh, RPG. I don't know." And after it released, I think everyone kind of came around like, "wow, you guys knocked it out of the park for this being your first RPG ever made." So, we're really happy with the reception of that. Ichiban is a huge hit. People love him in no matter what language you chose. And what a great protagonist. Overall we're over the moon about the reception to Like a Dragon.
Jeff Rubenstein: That's great to hear. I will second that, and after we had Kaiji Tang, the English language voice actor for Ichiban Kasuga, on the show a few months ago, I ended up playing through the game with English VO, which I thought I would not do. And he was phenomenal. A lot of the performances were really great. So, that's awesome. But as we see some video here, for those of us who played Yakuza 0, 1, and 2, we're wondering wither Kiryu Kazuma. So what's going on with him? And we're going to find that out over the coming months. So what's coming to us here next week? Or now actually.
Scott Strichart: So Yakuza Kiwami 2, if you're coming off that title, they're obviously a little bit dated, a little bit more aged, but we have given them the full HD treatment. We restored a lot of loss content. We gave them a new pass on the script. So we brought them in line as much as possible with that continuity so that you feel like you're still going from a one part of Kiryu's story to the next, and as you kind of progress through 3, 4, and 5, it's just going to... If you're curious what happens afterward, that these games really bring that to the forefront.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah. And if you're someone who maybe the first game you played was Like a Dragon, which was I think a good entry point, but there were certain things in later chapters where it's like, "who's that? Who's that?" And so even there are a few times I even did that, but I think some of these characters are going to be showing up because I'm seeing them in the video that that was just being shown there. So I think it'd be cool to go back in time and see how those people got where they got. With these three games all hitting at once, I feel like it's almost like if you had never seen Stranger Things and all of a sudden you discover it, and it's like, "Whoa, I've got 30 episodes here." I get to just soak it in and go crazy all at once.
But these things, these games came out, there was some space in between them. Is there any common threads between the three or things that really connect them, besides the story, to Kiwami 1, and 2, and 0? Or are we looking at sort of like a very different look at the game? I know some of the progression systems had changed from game to game, so if you want to break down from game to game, sort of like how they evolved as you're able to really look back now that all those games are out.
Scott Strichart: Yeah. Yakuza 3 was the jump from, a generational jump. So for us, it was a big leap. And that game, every one of these games introduces a new style of learning moves. These introduced the revelation system where you see events happening in the city and can learn the move by watching that ridiculousness kind of unfold, and you're in for a treat with every single revelation. From a battle system perspective, you do kind of learn that you're already kind of the Dragon of Dojima, right? So you've got this Dragon of Dojima with style that you're building on.
And then in 4 and 5, we introduce multiple character perspectives for the first time. So if you've played Yakuza 0, you're aware that game flipped between Kiryu and Majima, but 4 introduces four different protagonists each with their own battle style. And 5 has five different protagonists each with their own battle style. And so there's a lot to learn and a lot to do. So if you imagine everything that takes place in a single Yakuza game, Kiwami or Kiwami 2, and then multiply that by the amount of protagonists we have, again, I come back to the idea that these are just absolute feasts of content.
Jeff Rubenstein: Well, speaking of feasts, because we're getting a buffet of feasts here. Can you talk about just on the length of the games? We've seen some like Yakuza 0. Oh my God. I must've put in 80 hours into Yakuza 0. And whereas Kiwami 1 and 2 were a little more, I don't want to call them bite-sized. They were still tens of hours long. But how are we looking in terms of how much time you'll be spending in these worlds?
Scott Strichart: Tens of hours is a great indicator until you hit 5, cause 5 just and you're like, "wow, this is a long game." And then when you beat it, it's like, "you have beaten the game and you are 12% done." Cause there's just that much side content and stuff to do. You can go hunting in the hills with Saejima. You can start driving a taxi with Kiryu. We're great at bringing you a wealth of side content to enjoy. And how much mileage you get out of that is, of course, personal preference. But it's there, if you want to enjoy it.
Jeff Rubenstein: So a lot of the side content, I feel like batting cages are things that we've seen multiple times. I got very into some of the golf stuff, especially early on in Like a Dragon, just because you're so broke. You're literally fishing for coins under vending machines. And that was a viable play style early on in the game. But if some of them are just crazy, and you're doing them really just to see a different side of what turns out to sometimes be some of the nicest gangsters that you've ever met. They always take time for people. So are there any sort of memorable, sort of sub-stories or interesting diversions in Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 that really stand out to you as you've been going back through them?
Scott Strichart: One of the ones that always stands out to me is the curry man. I forget what his actual name is, but there's a man dressed up as a curry superhero. And one of the most famous to the fan base things is this a dialog box that you get where it says you can "be spicy and lend a hand" or ignore him and be not spicy. So there's a little things like that, the little touches. We introduce a lot of the side characters that people have loved ever since Saigo, and the trainers, and all that kind of stuff. Akiyama makes his introduction as a playable character. There's so much to love. Anna. Man, I could just go on. But it's best left for you to explore.
Jeff Rubenstein: So can we talk a little bit about you and what you do? Because no one explores everything that's in the game so much as the person who's in charge of the localization of these games. And as I was playing through Like a Dragon most recently, I could only marvel at the amount of work that went into it. Can you just sort of just talk about that process? Because I'd have to imagine some things in the game might not at first blush make sense or be just like a common thing that we see here in the West. And so how do you tackle those things? I would love to just learn more about even how you got into it.
Scott Strichart: Yeah. The 3, 4, and 5 were happening at the same time that I was working on Like a Dragon, and to attempt to even try to do that was insane. So the localization stuff was handled by a different team, but I was obviously well aware of this, of the process and how to do it. So for 3, 4, and 5, we didn't look at these localizations as being like needing to be done from scratch. We essentially took existing localizations and went through them with a fine tooth comb and to make sure that they were up to snuff and in line with the content that we've done previously, 0, Kiwami, Kiwami 2. So that you wouldn't feel like, "Oh, this feels older. This sounds older." And there's especially now, cause in 3, there was a lot of content that was just simply because of multiple teams had touched it in the past, it needed another extra layer of polish.
And that makes this really the ideal version of 3, because it helps to understand and piece together that story in a way that the original localization didn't. In addition to restoring some of the content that had originally been cut from the original release of 3, because they were just like, "cabaret clubs? No one knows what a cabaret club is. Cut that." So now that's all back and adding additional layers of that localization. But when you look at, by the time you get to 5, which is the biggest localization effort ever made for our team. Some odd 2.1, 2.2 million Japanese characters, cause it's each chapter with featuring Kiryu, Saejima, Shinada, Haruka, and Akiyama is almost like a game. And so it's almost like five games inside a single game that you have to look at and make sure that the voice is consistent. Especially if you have multiple team members touching it. And it's just a massive effort, no matter even if it's just a quick rewrite or a quick skim, it's just layers, and layers, and layers, and layers.
Jeff Rubenstein: Well, y'all did a fantastic job, because I've gotten most of the references, even if I've never been to a cabaret club or really well... Everything I know what to expect I know from Yakuza 0 and Sotenbori, even what it's like to work there apparently. But it's funny. I've actually looked at the maps and I figured out more or less where in Osaka that area is with the restaurant with the dancing crab. And I think I figured out where in Yokohama the park is, and it looks like you nailed a lot of those different things.
And so in a year where I haven't really left this room very much, you've got me excited for places I now want to visit in real life. And just not pick a lot of fights of course, but visit and see them and sort of just enjoy them and see if there is indeed a underground fighting ring underneath the stores.
Scott Strichart: Oh, absolutely.
Jeff Rubenstein: I'm sure that's all accurate. So Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 out now. And while there is tens of hours or more to play, you're on the the clock, I guess I should say. Because the final story, the swansong of Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza 6, the Song of Life, is coming in just a couple of months, right?
Scott Strichart: Yeah. Looking forward to that, Oh God, get the tissue box ready. It's an emotional journey. Setting out to finish Kiryu's ride is something that you got to be ready for. So, like Jeff says, "the clock is ticking." But, man, just also take breaks between those games, and you can't burn yourself out. Like he was saying that there's no shortage, these were spread out over years of releases, and now we're throwing them at you at the same time. So absolutely enjoy everything else that the Xbox has to offer between this stuff.
Jeff Rubenstein: And they're part of Xbox game pass. So check out Yakuza 3, 4, and 5. And if you haven't already, Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2. We'll be completing the full arc of Kazuma Kiryu just a couple of months from now, but they're there for you. Check them out. And if you don't have Xbox game pass, you can subscribe for just a buck for your first couple of months. So definitely worth checking out. Scott Strichart from Sega. Thank you so much for joining us. Always a pleasure to talk, love the work you all are doing. So keep up the great work, and know that you've made a lot of new fans on Xbox here in the last year.
Scott Strichart: Thanks, Jeff. It's going to be a big year for RGG. We're not nearly through everything we're doing. So follow us on @RGGStudio and keep up to date on the latest. There's more to come.
Jeff Rubenstein: I love to hear that. So we'll have to have you back to talk more about that when the time comes.
Larry Hryb: As promised, joining us today is Rich Lambert. He's the creative director at ZeniMax Online Studios. Rich, welcome to the show.
Rich Lambert: Thanks for having me.
Larry Hryb: I got to tell you, you guys had a big moment earlier this week. Can you tell us what's going on? Cause the Elder Scrolls Online, you guys have some pretty big news that dropped this week.
Rich Lambert: We do. So we have a brand new year-long story that we're releasing this year called Gates of Oblivion. The big feature point is Mehrunes Dagon in the chapter that we launch in June. And it's a really cool story about essentially a deal with the devil, Daedra, and deceit. And so it's going to be a lot of fun this year.
Larry Hryb: Tell us a little bit about the game. Cause I know there's a lot of folks that listen to this podcast or watch it that certainly they're hardcore fans, but maybe there's some other folks that aren't. So tell us a little bit about what Elder Scrolls Online is for those that maybe are living under a rock.
Rich Lambert: Sure. So first and foremost, it's a true Elder Scrolls experience. You can play it solo. You can participate in all the story content, and you get to learn more about the world of Tamriel. Now the extra added bonus is you get to play with your friends and in a multiplayer setting. And so it's this really interesting mix of solo and group content. And I think one of the biggest bits of magic with the Elder Scrolls Online is that you can jump in at any point. You don't have to level up through seven years now of previous content in order to get to the newest stuff or to play with your friends. You can just jump in and start playing right away in playing together.
Larry Hryb: That's a great point, because a lot of people read this and they're like, "well, it's been out for a while. I'm going to get left behind." But I know your team has taken a lot of care in trying to solve that problem for a lot of people to be as accessible as possible from a welcoming standpoint and just letting anybody that wants to play in. Right?
Rich Lambert: Absolutely. Yeah. It's one of the, the bits that I'm most proud of. It was definitely a major paradigm shift for us and really for the industry, I think. But yeah, we battle level the players to the content so that you can play with anybody. You can go anywhere. You can kind of choose your own path and choose the direction you want to go and do it. You don't have to follow a prescribed leveling process. Yeah.
Larry Hryb: I hate to say this, but it really is choose your own adventure, right?
Rich Lambert: It is. Which is again, very Elder Scrolls.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. To your point. Exactly. Right. When you're looking at the game and you've been working on it for quite some time now, what was it like making the transition from this really rich, single player experience to this now living, breathing world that's open 24/7 for millions of people to join.
Rich Lambert: It was definitely a learning process. We had basically Oblivion to learn from. Morrowind as well, but Oblivion was really the thing that we'd started working on and trying to figure out what is Elder Scrolls. And so we got part way through that process. And then Skyrim came out and Skyrim was very different than Oblivion. And so we had to kind of change things around again. And then at launch-
Larry Hryb: That darn Todd Howard. Always changing things up.
Rich Lambert: And then we got to launch, all of the things that we kind of thought were super important in the Elder Scrolls world didn't necessarily translate as well into the multiplayer world. So for instance, you having a major effect on the world. We had lots of quests, lots of objectives in the game where you go into a quest and it's basically the bad layer or the hostile layer.
And then you get and finish it. And you've changed the world, changed the setting, and it's turned into this friendly layer. And that is fantastic in a single-player game, because the player sees changes in the world directly. But in a multiplayer world, if you and your buddy are playing together, and he did the quest and you didn't, you don't see each other. And so you're split up. And so that was the biggest issue we had at launch was all of these player separation issues. And it took us almost a year to fix a lot of them.
Larry Hryb: And tell us a little about how you fix them in terms of some of the experiences in game to kind of address that. Because I think it's really interesting.
Rich Lambert: We focused a lot more on visual changes in the world rather than physical changes. So a really good example is you go into an area, and you get a quest from a certain NPC non-player character. Sure. You go through this quest and then at the end, if you choose to kill that NPC or that NPC dies in there, when you go back and you go to turn the quest in, there's an NPC there, it's just a different NPC. That's a visual cosmetic change. The sky can change colors, those kinds of things. Those are easier to do than flat out there's hostile creatures in this area and not hostile creatures in this other area.
Larry Hryb: Getting back to the announcement. I want to also point out that for those of you that don't know, Elder Scrolls Online, part of game pass. So there's no reason not to try if you're game pass member, and why aren't you? There's no reason to try it out. You've got 4k ultra HD on Xbox series X. It looks amazing. It looks amazing. But I want to get back to some of the [inaudible 00:18:17]. We've got an article up on Wire about all of the announcements, and kind of go through some of the announcements and what this content means you talked about the top of the interview. Tell us what we can expect in game in June.
Rich Lambert: Sure. So in the chapter, the Blackwood chapter, we have roughly 30 hours of new story content. So basically a massive single-player game right there. We have a new 12-player trial for our veteran players. We have a brand new tutorial that we've changed this year to focus a little bit more on allowing you to choose your own story, rather than being focused only on this new chapter. And then there's tons of new cosmetic rewards, new gear, lots of cool new items to chase, and stories to be had. And then the big new feature that we have coming is the companions.
Larry Hryb: There we go. Yes. Tell us about that. I want to double click on that, because that to me is something I, when I read that, I was like, "all right, now we're talking." Cause everybody always wants to have their companion with them.
Rich Lambert: Yeah. So companions are, if you choose, your permanent adventuring buddies in the world of Tamriel. You can, once you've unlocked them in the Blackwood chapter, you can level them up. You can assign roles to them. So they can be a tank, a healer, a damage dealer. You can basically set which abilities they use. And they also have their own sets of likes and dislikes. And so there's this report system that as you kind of progress through it, you unlock more quests that tell stories about them.
Larry Hryb: Now, one other thing, that's great because maybe some of your pals aren't online and you've at least got your buddy, but how does it work when we all have our companions?
Rich Lambert: So we're going to go into a lot more details as we get closer to the final launch of the system, but the goal is they replace a player. Okay. So they're not in addition to, but again, we're still working on a lot of these things. Our goal is you can use them anywhere, probably not PVP and probably not solo arenas, but everywhere else is, is kind of the goal.
Larry Hryb: What's great is, because it's online. You guys can kind of look at the feedback, and I know you have a tremendous, tremendous community, and you're looking at all that feedback and bringing that back in. But you can look at that. You're going to be able to tweak this and kind of evolve it along with the community, which is another hallmark of ESO. Right?
Rich Lambert: Absolutely. I think that's one of the biggest reasons why we're as successful as we are, is we listen to the community.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. What's the best way that people can get all their information? Maybe, like I say, maybe some new folks or just game pass members are like, "I got to check this out." What's the best place for them to plug in and get details on this and all your updates?
Rich Lambert: I would go to the TES Online website. That's the best place. It has all the info there as well as all the different versions and what they all mean.
Larry Hryb: Well we'll do that, and I'll make sure we put a link in the show notes. And of course I just put it up there. It's on Twitter, TES Online, @TESOnline. Well, Rich Lambert, I want to thank you for joining me today. I'm looking forward to getting you on. I know that we'll get you on later this year. We're getting close to getting Bethesda being actually part of the Microsoft family officially, so we can have a cake and a party and all of that stuff. You guys are still shipping great stuff, and we're looking forward to what you guys have in store. Great announcement, content coming out in June. And maybe we'll get you back on in June when it launches. How's that sound?
Rich Lambert: That sounds great. Looking forward to it.
Larry Hryb: Thank you, Rich.
Rich Lambert: Thank you.
Larry Hryb: There you go. I told you, we're not done yet. We're not done yet. We've got three gaming interviews. Well done on that, by the way, Jeffrey.
Jeff Rubenstein: Thank you. I feel like I've had different, I had more costume changes than Beyonce in this show. I think three or four different looks. Do you like my Yakuza jacket?
Larry Hryb: Yeah. I thought you kind of pulled that out of nowhere. I was like, "what's he doing?" And then there it was.
Jeff Rubenstein: What is he doing? It's Ichiban's dragon. What I didn't do is like they do in the game, and they rip their jacket off. And then you're like, "this old man's super ripped. Who would have guessed? Who would've guessed."
Larry Hryb: But yeah. Thank you for doing the Bloober team, team Blooper. Great. Check out to the media available on game pass Yakuza. And speaking of game pass and Yakuza, Jeff, tell us about that.
Jeff Rubenstein: Well, yeah. So there are now six Yakuza titles in Xbox game pass Yakuza 0. Kiwami 1, 2, 3. 1 and 2 [crosstalk 00:45:43]
Larry Hryb: Is it all the Yakuza?
Jeff Rubenstein: No, because the Kazuma Kiryu sort of story arc, who's the main guy, that he looks tough, and you'd recognize him, with the white suit jacket and the red shirt. I don't feel like anyone could pull this off in real life. And yet it just look so normal to him. His story will wrap up in Yakuza 6, the...
PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:46:04]
Jeff Rubenstein: So normal to him, his story will wrap up in Yakuza 6: The song of life. And that's coming to game pass, coming to X-Box, windows 10 in March, late March. So you're on the clock. You have three months to beat. Yakuza 3, 4, 5 before 6 comes out, might be a bit of a tall order, but I'm going to get started tonight.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. So thank you for that. And of course, ESO, Elder Scrolls Online, big, big update coming in June. They talked about that. You get your companion and a few other things, I'll get those guys back on. So that was a lot of fun. So that was kind of the game side. Now we talked about the games of course is what it's all about, but now we're going to talk a little bit about what makes games run. And that's actually, it's interesting because you have something to say about game stack and what those guys, the interviews are going to do, right Jeff?
Jeff Rubenstein: Well, yesterday, the Azure PlayFab team is actually celebrating the three-year anniversary of joining Microsoft. And so they're heading into year four here and here. I'm over here, Larry.
Larry Hryb: Oh, hi. Hi Jeff.
Jeff Rubenstein: So as they enter the year forward, they're starting a new tradition, which is the PlayFab anniversary awards. And these are fun awards, which honor, amazing in these studios who have been equally amazing PlayFab partners. So why don't we check out more about that? And then we come back, we'll let you know where you can find out more if you're going to get into game dev, and this might be the thing for you.
Larry Hryb: Really excited to have James Gwertzman with me today, James. Nice to see you.
James Gwertzman: Hey, good to see you again. It's been a while.
Larry Hryb: Now. I'm excited to talk to you because you have an anniversary, work anniversary, a business anniversary, but you work on PlayFab which for those folks that don't know, could you explain folks what it means? Because it's not a title, it's a bunch of technology that lives behind some of our games, right?
James Gwertzman: Yeah. Well, so games have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. As we've talked about, they've gone from like products you buy and sell, and then you're kind of done with to games that are now living, breathing, ongoing services that are continually being operated. And doing that requires a lot of technology out in the cloud to sort of run and host and update the game. And so PlayFab is this sort of collection of these services built for games in the cloud that help developers spend more of their time making the game fun and less time having to build the boring plumbing it takes to make these modern games live. And Microsoft bought PlayFab about three years ago. So the anniversary we have is we're coming into third year anniversary of us joining Microsoft. And so it's been a pretty amazing run since then. And we're kind of taking this chance to look back at our time at Microsoft and reflect on what that path has been like.
Larry Hryb: Now PlayFab has been around for quite a while. I think you said seven years, right before Microsoft purchased.
James Gwertzman: It was founded in 2014. So yeah, it's seven years.
Larry Hryb: Wow. 2014 feels like it was just yesterday, but it's, you're right. It's seven years ago. Now, when we look at PlayFab, people are probably scratching their heads going, I think I know what that is. Tell us about, you kind of did it at a high level, but tell us about some of the games that leverage PlayFab and some of the titles you've worked with over the years.
James Gwertzman: Yeah, well, Since joining Microsoft, a lot of our, Microsoft's own products have sort of switched over to using it for a lot of the technology, for example, Minecraft, Gears of War, our new flight simulator game. And they're all kind of big games Microsoft is sort of known for that are using PlayFab and that kind of make sense. Minecraft far and away, the biggest title we have on the platform. But we also have games from a lot of third parties, like No Man's Sky, or the new Dirt Game from Codemasters, SpongeBob Squarepants from Tilting Point, which won Google's game of the year award on Android play last year, these are all games that are using PlayFab for one or more of their kind of backend services.
Larry Hryb: And when you say backend services, like I said, I know I have a lot of some IT folks that listen to my show and they, certainly game developers and fans of gaming. When you say backend services, that's a whole collection of, a whole suite of different things, kind of just talk through what that is, because it's actually pretty interesting.
James Gwertzman: Yeah. So, so I think the best place to start is probably with multiplayer, because I think that's where people can kind of most easily understand why you need back-end services. So for multiplayer games, you've got to typically run game servers, somewhere typically out in the cloud that let players, to keep people from cheating you want to have sort of an authoritative source of truth on the cloud that says, yeah, this person shot this person. And that works as opposed to trusting the players are going to self-report okay, this worked because otherwise you are open to cheating, but you've got to do things like matchmaking, bringing players together, voice chat, text chat, technologies to sort of help keep your community safe. That's sort of the starting point.
Then you can kind of widen from there, getting to things like games with, in-game transactions or live content updates. You want to have a place to store the content that you're updating for the game. You want to be able to, if you're doing user generated content like Minecraft does like the marketplace, making it easier for players to upload and store their own content, and then sort of organize that. And then you get into things like analytics, a lot of games actually track and sort of generate data on what players are doing because they'll use that to help make the game better.
You know, developers are constantly asking, Hey, I just added this new player class or a new weapon or a new module. How did it do? Did people enjoy it? Was it successful? Because game developers want to do more of what the players want and you can't do that if you're flying blind, you don't want to just keep asking surveys. Did you like the last level? You'd rather actually be able to look at the data and say, yeah, players love the last level. They put it all the way through and really got into it. And we should do more like that. So analytics and data analysis is another one of the kind of big services games typically invest in.
Larry Hryb: I know it's interesting you say that because I remember, when we launched 360 and we had achievements, it was really rudimentary, but developers at that point could look at achievements and go, Hey, wait a minute. Only 5% of the people got the end game achievement and kind of figure out that only 5% of the people finished the game. This is much more sophisticated because it's really helping folks look at what gamers are doing and help fine tune the game. And we've seen that time and time again, over the past few years, as you said, with some of these games as a service, like you said, like Destiny or some of the other games where they use the state of the kind of tweak it and make the game better.
James Gwertzman: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that is really, if you go to game developer conferences, one of the biggest, this is really the biggest shift I would say in the community, as we call this live ops, live ops is this sort of general term for everything you do in a game post-launch.
Larry Hryb: Right.
James Gwertzman: And, take a game like Fortnite, everyone's familiar with Fortnite, they're probably one of the first AAA games, it's on all the major platforms like consoles and as well as mobile, that's free to play and invest really heavily in live ops. And that's an example where it's not just a game anymore. It's really a full on community. And as games become these sort of communities of players, the need for these, these services goes up. Epic has, what they're calling, Epical Line services, they are focusing on. We have our own, these things, PlayFab is sort of the Microsoft version of that, is now growing dramatically too. I think since we got acquired, we've grown almost 10 times where we were, back three years ago. So it's been a pretty rapid rate of growth.
Larry Hryb: You talked about some of the other games that are working, but I want to point out, we've talked about a lot of AAA titles, but really any gamer, I mean, you can create an ID game and you can tap into some of your services, right?
James Gwertzman: Yeah. Yeah. And in fact, it's free. A lot of the services are free for people who are building the games for X-Box. So if you're using your game on Xbox all the things we're talking about are free using X-Box live. And then in addition, you can then pay for them for other platforms. And we see a lot of developers, again, it's way cheaper and more cost effective to use services like these from us than building yourself from scratch and having to not just invest to maintain it. But then if something goes wrong at 3 am, you're the one getting the call to go and figure out why your server crashed as opposed to our team waking up to figure out why the server crashed.
Larry Hryb: Right. I don't think our team wakes up. I think they just never went to sleep. It's interesting, PlayFab, as you said, is this collection of services, kind of goes through, that you offer game developers, but it sits, I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sits on top of this other service that a lot of people may know, which is Azure, right. Massive cloud service. Right.
James Gwertzman: Great. And in fact, that's actually one of the things I wanted to share with you, which is, since the last time we spoke, I've actually changed my job title. My role has changed a little bit, so I'm no longer just General Manager for PlayFab now, I have this sort of new role where I'm actually looking after Microsoft's entire gaming cloud business as it was. And so that's not just PlayFab, which is our set of services that are pre-built for you. They just work. You can use them immediately, but then you're right, that sits on top of Azure. And a lot of game developers choose to use both.
They want to have services like PlayFab that works out of the box, but if there's something they want to do, that's custom or unique to their game where maybe something in PlayFab not quite right, they're also free to build it themselves on top of Azure. And so we have a whole bunch of game studios, a broader set of game studios that are using, services like our raw computer virtual machines, networking, our storage layer. It's a bunch of things you can do in sort of the raw cloud layer as well. So PlayFab itself sits on top of Azure, our own first-party studio sit on Azure. And then we have a lot of customers out there like Pearl Abyss or Nexon that are using Azure for some of their games themselves.
Larry Hryb: What are some of the things that in this world that have impacted people that they might not be aware of? That when you bring it up, you're going to go, Oh, because there's just so much going on back there.
James Gwertzman: I think the sheer scope of this is surprising. I think when I first started PlayFab I didn't appreciate the level of automation and sort of complexity that these games require. And just to give you some sense, at peak, I think last year, right on the holidays, we were hitting something like 120,000 or at least hundreds of thousands of transactions per second.
Larry Hryb: Right.
James Gwertzman: And this idea that like...
Larry Hryb: Across all the games.
James Gwertzman: Across all the games on our platform. And so this idea that every second, that ticks by there's like computers out there processing or doing a couple hundred thousand things every second. I mean, I don't know, but my head can't get wrapped around that. I mean, no human could ever run a game like that. It's only possible because we have not this computers, handling all this load with computers, managing the computers, managing computers to do all this because it's just a scale of complexity that's unimaginable.
And these servers are around the world. These are not just all one data center somewhere. And, here in Washington state, we've got data centers in United Arab Emirates, and in India, and in Germany and Korea and all these areas where game developer have players, because you want to put the compute as close to the player as possible for the least latency and the best multi-player game experience. And our friends in Azure are continually building new data centers and as fast as they can build them, we're moving our services and speeding up servers in those regions so that they're always available.
Larry Hryb: You know, it's interesting you say that because I mean, at data center, I've been to data centers in my life. I know you have as well, they're generally pretty much what you think, they're big dark rooms with a bunch of servers, but the ones I really want to visit is at Project Natick that we've been working on where we submerged the data center, because there's a scuba diver. I'm like, I want to go down and check that out. So, I mean, I don't know what's going on with that project, but yeah, you're right. Bringing the data centers as close to possible to where people are is part of the success here. James, we just were a few months into this generation with Xbox series X and S, tell us about what that means for PlayFab and what's next for Azure PlayFab.
James Gwertzman: So, every next generation of gaming consoles, on the PC side, new graphics cards, brings it to a whole new level of player expectations for realism and for more immersive graphics and more immersive sound. And a lot of the, what that does is it puts more and more pressure on the game production process. Game developers are expected to just do more work now and create ever better, more glamorous games, but the amount of time and budget hasn't really changed. And so one of the things we're actually looking at is how the cloud and things like Azure and PlayFab can be used, not just in post-launch operation side, but as actually part of the development process itself.
Larry Hryb: Tell us about that.
James Gwertzman: Our game, Flight Simulator. I love talking about Flight Simulator, for those of you who don't know it, first of all, if you haven't played already, go check it out. It's incredible. You can fly literally around the entire world and it's photorealistic, almost every part of the world is in there and we didn't build it from scratch. Once upon a time, we would have had to have hired an army of tens of thousands of 3D modelers to literally model out every part of the world, even then we wouldn't have gotten it right. But nowadays we are able to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to actually help do content creation.
And so the way Flight Simulator worked is we started with being satellite imagery. So we have satellite imagery of the entire planet and they basically built these 3D models, these machine learning models that could take a satellite image and sort of extrapolate what you would expect to see there in a photorealistic way and sort of build geometry for the whole earth based on these satellite maps. And it's really, and it works. It's incredible. And you can fly around places like Rio de Janeiro and it looks photorealistic and no human created that geometry is all built off this satellite images. And so that's really, to me that, that notion of computers and machine learning and AI getting involved in the content creation process, I think we're going to see more and more of that as those expectations keep going up for what players want.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. I mean, we kind of had that for years, this concept called procedurally generated levels, which is much, much, much, much, much, much simpler. I don't mean to diminish what you're saying, but I mean, just imagine that extrapolate that out to a massive level or something along those lines then it gets very interesting and also using AI to drive the dynamics of in-game events and things like that. It just really, the sky's the limit, that's really exciting.
James Gwertzman: Yeah. And so we're soughting investors as well. I think that we're going to see a lot more happening in that level and even things like, but another example, one of the technologies we're working on, I think we're going to be talking about in our upcoming game stack live event in April, is some advanced 3D audio tech we're doing. We're creating ever more realistic sort of 3D spatial sound environments. It turns out that to create, I didn't know this until I recently, it turns out to create one of these really realistic kind of 3D audio environments. You've got to take your level geometry, the world you've built and do some very sophisticated kind of calculations and running it through the models to generate the data that the game then uses to make it sound correct.
Larry Hryb: Accurate.
James Gwertzman: It's almost like audio ray tracing, right?
Larry Hryb: Yeah, yeah.
Andrea Doyon: And it turns out that running these models can take a very long time. If you're running it on a beefy machine on your desktop, it can take hours and hours even days to build these models, which is really time consuming if you're a developer. It turns out though that if you move it to the cloud, you can get a push a button and we can spin up a ton of compute and do the whole thing in a matter of minutes. And so there's also ways in which we can use cloud tech to sort of automate and speed up a lot of these, light map calculations, or audio math calculations that are part of building and testing your game.
Larry Hryb: It's kind of mind blowing when you think about what people can do now to your point of just pushing some of the production off their desk and up into the cloud and to enable them to create these things quickly, which is really amazing. Now I need to let you go, but before I let you go, I know I've got some budding game developers who may be in a high school or college or university that may or may have some ideas, how do they get started with using some PlayFab services? Where should they go?
James Gwertzman: Well, start with your game engine. So you're probably using Unity, Unreal, right? And then I would go to playfab.com and we have SDKs for both Unreal and Unity to kind of get you started with a ton of examples and tutorials on there on how to actually make your first steps and start using the services. Start from there and it's meant to be easy to use. PlayFab is meant to be something that anyone could start with.
And then once you kind of get to using that PlayFab tech, if you start to reach the limits of what you can do with PlayFab and you want to go deeper, you can start to learn more about Azure and something called Microsoft Learn, MS Learn has published a ton of really, really good tutorials on how to get started with Azure. There are some free credits available, and if you're a game developer that is using Azure, and you want to get more serious about it, you should contact us email [email protected] and we'll talk to you and we'll actually engage in conversation and figure out if we can build a deeper relationship with you.
Larry Hryb: Azure, PlayFab a lot going on there. James Gwertzman. Thank you so much. Co-founder of PlayFab and now you're the GM of all sorts of stuff here at Microsoft Azure gaming. I don't even know what to call it anymore. There you go. Thank you, my friend. And we'll see you next time.
James Gwertzman: Bye. Cheers.
Larry Hryb: Joining me today is Andrea Doyon. He's the transmedia ARG producer for Alison Smith. Andrea thank you for joining me and what an amazing setup you have there, you look great. I'm sure you're going to sound just as good.
Andrea Doyon: Thank you very much. Yes, hopefully the sound will be loud and clear.
Larry Hryb: Well, I'm looking forward to chatting with you. I talked to James Gwertzman earlier and we're talking about PlayFab and I want to, first of all, give us a little bit of history about you and Alison Smith. And then I want to talk about how you guys use PlayFab.
Andrea Doyon: All right. So as I said, actually we started to get very passionate about the form of gaming experience of those close to role-playing game basically, which is Alternate Reality Game, ARG, and started in 2007 to produce and create the ARGs. And over the years, we got very excited by this kind of experience, Schwinns Media, Interactive Teacher, et cetera. And we met the great folks at fun com and they hired us to do most of the launch of the Secret World. But most importantly, the biggest ARG that Super Troll has done back then. So we lead these project. And after that, throughout the years, we got hired by other studios, we did some consulting work on Mr. Robot. And we got hired by the team at Hello Games to do a major ARG on No Nan's Sky called, Waking Titan. And after that, we've done other ARG for Bloodlines 2 with Paradox Interactive and yeah, PUBG recently in December.
So yeah, we basically mostly started as a transmedia ARG company and these led us to have needs in live ops, to have platforms that can operate, in a persistent manner, in real time that can support our storytelling needs and we'd change and evolve and have to react on multiple channels, multiple platform, because ARG, you can get like phone calls and have part of your mission on the web base website, phone, or physically, et cetera, and live op has that kind of capacity of helping us from a text perspective. And that's what got us into the live operation with our first game on steam. That was The Black Watchmen, very early on actually, PlayFab was starting, it's already six years ago and PlayFab was very young back then when we started,
Larry Hryb: You know, it's interesting, you say you started doing ARGs in 2007 and that, and you throw that number out there, I'm like, wait a minute. That's like 14 years ago. There's a lot that is, I mean, let's be very clear. These were just starting to show up in people's pockets. Right, right. This was right in the 2007, right at the moment that the smartphone took off with the iPhone release and so forth, that is amazing.
Andrea Doyon: We had involve RC channel, stuff that players don't probably know that much anymore today, but yeah, it was a different generation. We haven't had, back then, puzzle on built-in board system that you actually need a modem to actually call with your phone line. But I mean, today, if we were to do a puzzle like that, pretty sure no one will be able to solve it.
Larry Hryb: That'd be great. There's a little challenge. Go real old school analog. Right.
Andrea Doyon: I'm finding old 1900 boats, modern men try to cut like a phone line.
Larry Hryb: Tell me about the integrations of PlayFab with some of the new platforms and how it has enabled those deep integration with the gaming communities, because it's interesting, your company creates kind of these experiences that are around many popular games, right. So you're kind of supporting it. So tell us about how the integration PlayFab works with some of those communities.
Andrea Doyon: Yeah, exactly. We have our own IP, but we also extend our client's IP in transmedia universe. So outside the game or between a season or between updates, for example, what's really exciting with PlayFab is the fact that with the industry as it evolves more and more platform gets open now and you can really integrate with them. And in the case of PlayFab, what it meant is that, for example, we can tap into Twitch and the whole Twitch API and the Twitch add on extensions. So even if you are not playing the game, I still can have some quests, some idle mechanics or different story telling side quests that can go on outside the game and involve or make the universe more bigger than just the initial purpose of the game and the design of the game.
And often clients are sitting on goldmine of IP and universe or even side quests that they haven't had the time to implement. And when we come to them and say, Hey guys, why wouldn't we not tap into that for some Discord world playing or for Twitch role playing or for other multi-platform role playing like that. That's where they get very excited and PlayFab being a live op platform with SDK in Unreal, in Unity and many other framework, it makes it very easy for us to do that, implement these mechanics and extend that storytelling in much more rich and complex universe. Paradox, really one of the client who pushed the envelope, the furthest in which we actually had 30 actors in their live event of 200 guests and the actors themselves got, updates based on mission progression of people online and play...
PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:09:04]
Andrea Doyon: [inaudible 01:09:00] mission progression of people online, and play [inaudible 01:09:05] all of that, and updated in real time, activity in the venue itself based on the user progression. So, you can do very crazy stuff. And with unreal engine now with real-time rendering, that we see rising right now in the industry, you can expect that to go much, much more advanced in the future, also.
Larry Hryb: You, you talked about some of these really creative things that you've been doing with these ARG's. Do you look over at movies, and roll your eyes, and go, "Yeah, that's fine. Linear storytelling, whatever." But you guys are really in real time narrative branching. That's incredible.
Andrea Doyon: Yeah, absolutely. But no, I'm excited, because we have more and more people from TV and movie industry starting to say, "We want to bring our IP online. We want to bring our IP in streaming. We want to bring our IP to more digital platform." And this is where, like I said, Unreal Engine is an incredible real-time rendering engine. When you pipe that with PlayFab, you integrate that with API and Twitch Extension, you end up with some crazy real-time integration and storytelling, that can push the global experience in a very interesting way. Either as its own show, or as a way to do something between their show, and keep the universe alive, basically.
Larry Hryb: When you're designing ARG's and transmedia projects, what has your company, Alison Smith, done to stand out in this space, and really push the boundaries of your projects?
Andrea Doyon: I'm sorry, what do you mean?
Larry Hryb: Well, when you're designing the ARG's, what have you guys done at Alison Smith to stand out in the space, and push the boundaries, and just kind of be... The question is, how are you so creative? Right?
Andrea Doyon: Well, I think the core is really to be sure that we try... And it may sound cheesy, and we didn't always succeed. But we always try to shy away from a client who come to us with purely a marketing gimmick, or a marketing component, then first of all, the lore and the way we were going to develop the ARG is not Canon, or it's not part of the core of the universe in the IP.
So, we really want that to matter, so players have a reason while they will involve themselves, how it will shape up the future of the storyline of the universe itself, especially if it's between games update, or season, or et cetera. So, I think that make our ARG interesting, because they're not just like, yeah, marketing made a side story that's just a gimmick, and will be thrown away as soon as the campaign is finished. When you start to do that, you really work with the creative team at the client, and you end up with, I think, some ERG signature that we did, that are much more memorable than other type of campaign that were so limited, and didn't have access to the creative team of the actual IP, that didn't really were able to do, or push the envelope, or get the creative freedom that they will have wanted to achieve.
Larry Hryb: Yeah, it's funny you say that, because we've all seen... For lack of a better term, ham handed marketing. And gamers are a pretty sophisticated group, and they can see right through that.
Andrea Doyon: Oh yeah.
Larry Hryb: We, you're a gamer, I'm a gamer, and people listening and watch are gamers. We just want to have fun. And if you bring us into that universe, that IP that you were just talking about, and let us have fun, and doing something a little different, why not? That's a lot of fun. You talked about the evolution of some of your projects over the last 10 years. Tell us about some of the innovation you have planned for the future, and where you see the ARG in your space going?
Andrea Doyon: Well, like I said, in the last 12 months, really the maturity of what Twitch now offer us, the maturity of what Facebook Watch is also offering us in term of API and backend integration. The same with Unreal and the real-time rendering engine. The fact that I can control the whole decor, and have your input as a collective group of player impacting the universe, the immersion, and the visual, all of that are pretty interesting. And the core of that is that PlayFab is already supporting us to do that.
So, in the future we have right now in production, very large scale project that tap into transmedia in ARG, and even events that are much more immersive in that sense. And also more and more IPR looking at the concept of persistence, that peak moment happened when the game is update, or when the universe is getting updated, or did I... I will back up to-
Larry Hryb: You [crosstalk 01:14:20], but that's okay.
Andrea Doyon: But the game is update or the episodes get updated. But basically I think that the idea of ARG that filled the void between updates, is definitely where we think we can see more and more of interactive team, better content, coming up in the future.
Larry Hryb: Yeah, like I said, we talked to James earlier, and he brought up a few ideas. And I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys have in store. Andrea Dorian, founder and chief storyteller at Alison Smith, I know you guys have a lot of projects that you've worked on, and many, many, many, many more in the pipes. So, thank you for your time. I'm looking forward to seeing what you and your team come up with creatively.
Andrea Doyon: Thank you very much.
Larry Hryb: Joining me now is Oliver Löffler. He's The CTO and co-founder of Kolibri games. Oliver, thank you for joining me today.
Oliver Löffler: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Larry Hryb: First of all, tell us a little bit about Kolibri games. We're going to talk about PlayFab in a minute, and how you guys use it. But tell us a little bit about Kolibri games, because some folks may recognize some of your titles.
Oliver Löffler: Yeah. Great. Yeah. So, in general, we are a mobile game startup based in Berlin. So, we started around five years ago in a small student's apartment, with a lot of passion for creating games. So, back then it was like, yeah, the students are partnering, we are like a few people there, but it grew quite fast from five people as founders, to then like 15 people and the small apartment. So, it's really crazy times back then.
So, we had meetings in the kitchen and in the hallway. We had lunch in the bedrooms of our founders, as well as interview [inaudible 01:16:05]. It was a crazy time. But we managed to grow the company, and go into a proper office. And today our team is over 120 people strong. And also we are part of Ubisoft since last year. It's one of the biggest gaming brands in the world, I think probably all of you know that. And yeah, we are offering now a portfolio of multiple idol games. And our most successful [inaudible 00:01:16:32], Idle Miner Tycoon, which has now more than 120 million downloads on both platforms.
Larry Hryb: First of all, congratulations, growing your company in four years from a couple of people in a apartment, to being acquired by Ubisoft, is no small feat. So, congratulations on that.
Oliver Löffler: Thanks.
Larry Hryb: Tell us a little bit about working with the PlayFab technology, and what it means, and how you use it. Because a lot of folks I've had, I've been doing some interviews all along here, and we're seeing some examples, but I'd like to hear from you.
Oliver Löffler: Yeah, sure. So, when we started Kolibri games, we were like a small team, very lean, very agile. We wanted to just release a lot of updates in a fast time. And we also wanted to really focus our use, and our time, and our resources to make great games, and being very player centric. Therefore, yeah, kind of doing this for quite some time. But at some point the players were really like requesting more social features. They wanted to play with their friends. They wanted to see how their friends are progressing in the game. They wanted also to have the ability to securely save their game state in the cloud. And back then, we didn't have a lot of knowledge about backend development, cloud infrastructure. And we also didn't want to build that up, because we really wanted to focus on the games itself.
So, we looked out for some solutions. And I think like there was a GDC a couple of years ago, where I met the founder, James of PlayFab. And he was demoing a good platform. And I think like, when I started, so it's like exactly what we are looking for. So, an intuitive platform where we don't need any knowledge, any backend infrastructure. And there were already features pulled in that where the players can connect with their friends. And it's an easy way to store the information about the player in the cloud, and also offers a lot of flexibility to customize the game experiences.
Larry Hryb: Yeah, it's interesting, because you talked about creating games, and many years ago we've talked about it. You ship the game, and you forget about it. But there's so many features nowadays that gamers expect. We expect achievements, and a friends list, and matchmaking, and game saves in the cloud is... Of course you're going to have game saves, like why wouldn't I. A lot of things like that. So, you guys have been able to leverage a lot of that from PlayFab. You can focus on making a great game. I want to talk about Idle Miner Tycoon. That was a huge hit, and that must have been pretty stressful for you guys to see that just take off, and go, "Ah guys, can we support this?" Right?
Oliver Löffler: Yeah. So, with Idle Miner Tycoon, back then we wanted to release like a game in two months of development. So, we really wanted to focus on building an MVP, like a small version of the game first, get it out there, get it to the users as fast as possible to collect feedback from the players. And then we wanted to ship this weekly updates. So, as you said, it's not about releasing the game, and let it live there, but for us, it just started when we released the game.
So, it was a very small scope. There wasn't a lot of content. You could all meet, play for one or two days, and then you burned through everything. But then we decided to do like this life operations, and see it more like it's a service. So, we really liked to term games as a service. And they're also where PlayFab came then in, and helped us to develop all of these features on top of the initial version.
Larry Hryb: I also want to point out that you guys were working with PlayFab when you were a small studio, before you were acquired by Ubisoft, or any of that. And James earlier was talking about, "Hey, if you're a student, or you're a small game developer, just go here and sign up." And I think he's proven that time and time again. He's kind of like what I do for customers, he does that with developers. He goes out and says, "You can do this," and hooks you up with the right people. So, that's really important to know is that it doesn't matter what size you are, there's tools here for you. Would you agree with that?
Oliver Löffler: Yeah. Yeah. Very much so. Yeah. As I said, back then we were a very small team. We didn't have any knowledge, and yeah, it's just super easy. They have certain SDKs for unity and other platforms, and we could just plug it in, do certain calls to the PlayFab platform, and it basically worked out of the box. So, in a matter of a few weeks we integrated all of these kind of things, like to connect with your friends, to store the cloud save, and enable us to also build more multiplayer, co-operative multiplayer features, in a matter of weeks. Which we wouldn't be able if we didn't have a tool like PlayFab, and this really helped us.
Larry Hryb: What's next for Kolibri?
Oliver Löffler: Yeah. So last year, we started to build a lot of new games. So, we were trying out, again, like very small games, trying to get them out as fast as possible, and test if they are successful. If some of the metrics are looking very well, then we are thinking about if we should continue developing the game. And if not, we'll just start a new game.
So, this will be our strategy also for this year, kind of building a lot of games, iterating, and find a good hit, next set. But also, we want to focus on continuing Idle Miner Tycoon, since it's already out there now for four and a half years. But we still think there's a lot of potential, and we're still doing this weekly updates, and still supporting it. And that's also like a big focus of Kolibri Games in the following years.
Larry Hryb: Well, I want to congratulate you on an amazing... I'm going to say a half decade of game development. That's really extraordinary. And of course, being acquired by Ubisoft. You guys have a bright future ahead of you. Really appreciate it. Oliver Löffler, CTO and co-founder of Kolibri games, thank you for your time today.
Oliver Löffler: Thanks as well.
Jeff Rubenstein: All right. Thanks everyone. Yes. Check out those PlayFab social channels. Check out playfab.com, P-L-A-Y-F-A-B. And you can see where all those inaugural award winners are, and congrats to those who took home the awards.
Larry Hryb: [inaudible 01:23:05] you learned a little bit about what we can offer you as from the Xbox. So, just how game developers work. And it's amazing when you think about PlayFab, all the different... There's mobile games, of course, running on it. There's console games on it, that PlayFab is running the backend for games that aren't... Some games aren't even on Xbox. So, that's [crosstalk 00:14:21]-
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah, it's always just interesting hearing that people, who might not have tremendous dev experience, how this is able to help them put features into their game, that they would never have really known where to start. And you could be in your dorm room, and create a really cool game. And you want to have leaderboards. You want to have multiplayer. You want to have achievements. You want to have all of these other modern features that are standard in all the games you play, but you don't have to build those from scratch, that we have a service unit.
Larry Hryb: You know, the PlayFab, I don't think James mentioned this, because he and I were talking. They have a little bit of a saying when they go visit game developers-
Jeff Rubenstein: [crosstalk 01:23:56]?
Larry Hryb: The saying is, "You make the fun, we make it run."
Jeff Rubenstein: There you go. And that's the fun part. Yeah.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. So, everybody do what they do anyway. That was a lot of fun, a lot of interviews this week. So, thank you for all of my guests. Jeff, thank you for stepping in, and doing your Yakuza interview. And of course the meeting as well.
Jeff Rubenstein: You know I love to do that.
Larry Hryb: I know.
Jeff Rubenstein: You know there's no place I'd rather be.
Larry Hryb: In fact, I'm actually refreshing all the time on my podcast app, to see if all of a sudden there's going to be, your host here, Yak is a podcast. I just expect that at this point.
Jeff Rubenstein: That's actually not a bad idea.
Larry Hryb: I know.
Jeff Rubenstein: I could call BlondeNerd Britt, she's a bigger fan than I am even. But I actually like that idea. All right. I'm going to put that up here somewhere. We'll get there.
Larry Hryb: Just saying [crosstalk 00:15:40]... Thank you by the way. I experimented earlier this week for those people that are on Clubhouse, I did a Clubhouse session earlier this week. It's kind of an invite only a social app, available only on iOS right now, but it was a lot of fun. You dropped in for a little while.
Jeff Rubenstein: That was cool to just to see... I just wanted to see what was going on, and then all of a sudden [crosstalk 01:24:59]-
Larry Hryb: I got into full on talk show mode there, didn't I?
Jeff Rubenstein: Oh, for sure. For sure. In fact, when you left, a lot of the air went out of the room. And so, we realized like who's going to step in here?
Larry Hryb: Oh, stop it.
Jeff Rubenstein: And it was Haley who works on the Gears team, that took over hosting roles. She was great. So, yeah, I think it's an interesting space. We'll see where it goes. I think a lot of new social media starts off in one place, and it ends up somewhere else. And so, who knows what it would all end up being. But certainly interesting to have conversations at least right now.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. So anyway, so I'm playing around in that. Otherwise, I feel like the show has gone on quite a bit, because we had so many interviews this week. We're working on even more interviews next week. It's funny, I said, I think it was last week or the week before we were talking about all the interviews I had coming up. And some news site pick that up, and said that we have a lot of shows coming in. I was a little... They didn't really-
Jeff Rubenstein: Is that a story?
Larry Hryb: Well, they-
Jeff Rubenstein: There's a show every week.
Larry Hryb: I don't know if I was unclear, or they misunderstood. And it a little of column A, a little column B, but it was like, no, no, I'm going to have a lot of guests on this show, that's what I was saying.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah. Well, we had a couple short shows to start the year. They were like 30 minutes. And here we are, this one is over an hour.
Larry Hryb: Yeah. Well north of an hour. But the good news is if you're listening to this on whatever your favorite audio podcast option is, we have a full YouTube version of it, where you can see the guests. We'll show you gameplay on some of the games. But also, it's also timestamped or chapters. You just click right to the section you want. We're going to get you... Our job is to just get you where you want to go as quickly as possible.
Jeff Rubenstein: Exactly. And if you're already here, then maybe you don't have a destination, maybe you're just-
Larry Hryb: Right. Maybe you want to be here chewing sandwiches. And maybe you want to hear about Yakuza. I haven't talked about toilets in a couple of weeks. I'm going to, here's the deal-
Jeff Rubenstein: Toilet cast?
Larry Hryb: I'm going to start it on Clubhouse. Toilet talk on Clubhouse.
Jeff Rubenstein: Toilet talk on Clubhouse. I need to be there, because I have many strong opinions.
Larry Hryb: We are like minded in this area. So, we're going to-
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah, that we are.
Larry Hryb: Anyway-
Jeff Rubenstein: [crosstalk 00:01:27:01].
Larry Hryb: Well, listen, as Jeff said, we've got a huge week for Game Pass this week with the medium coming out. If you're on Game Pass, subscribers check that out please. Also, I'll kind of PS it at the end here, because everyone's going to probably ask about it. We talked last week about Xbox Live Gold is going free for free to play games. We'll talk about that in the future when we have more details about that. We had a pretty good week with earnings. Apparently I learned, I don't know about you, Jeff, but apparently Bethesda is now a monetary unit. So, like two Bethesda's or three Bethesda's-
Jeff Rubenstein: Oh yes. I think I read that. I was so wrapped up in this game stop stuff.
Larry Hryb: Oh, that's crazy, isn't it?
Jeff Rubenstein: I learned what shorting a stock means now. I actually was sitting there and watched the Vox is a... Well, I learned a lot of things from Vox.
Larry Hryb: Right.
Jeff Rubenstein: So, it's a good explainer there. And I am staying away from all of that.
Larry Hryb: Do you have your Robin Hood app opening? Are you-
Jeff Rubenstein: Don't wager anything that you can't afford to lose, that's the one thing i-
Larry Hryb: Assume it's going to be a lost, that's the most important thing [crosstalk 00:19:05]. Be careful out there. All right, we're going to wrap it up now, Jeff. Thank you again for joining me this week. I know you're busy. Well, we're both busy, but I want to thank you for joining us, and-
Jeff Rubenstein: Wouldn't miss it.
Larry Hryb: ... it's always great. Next week we'll be back. We'll maybe have more interviews. I'm sure we will. Working on some really cool stuff for the coming months. That's what I'm saying, for this show, okay, people that aren't listening-
Jeff Rubenstein: For this show. We don't control anything else.
Larry Hryb: I don't control anything else. So, just check us out. Jeff, why don't you tell people what to do if they happen to be watching this on YouTube.
Jeff Rubenstein: Like, subscribe, and leave those comments. We find that YouTube is the area where most people are leaving comments. We love to read them. Thank you so much for spending your time with us. And so, we want to give that back, and we want to know what you want to see coming up on future episodes.
Larry Hryb: Should we do a thumbnail for this week, since that's kind of the thing to do? Should we do that?
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah. Okay. I'll turn towards you, and I'll be like...
Larry Hryb: Oh, wrong way.
Jeff Rubenstein: We've got to do the cat. [inaudible 00:20:01]. That's not going to work. That is not going to work.
Larry Hryb: Okay. Yeah, here we go. Okay.
Jeff Rubenstein: Yeah. Sort of a Yakuza's a thing.
Larry Hryb: All right, there we go. We've got something for you. If you have any suggestions for the thumbnail, let me know. Drop it in the comments below. Like, subscribe, and all that stuff. All right gang, we'll see you guys next week. Bye-bye everybody.
PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [01:29:20]