Report: Sony Spinning Off Astro Bot Team In Japan Studio Shut Down

According to multiple unnamed sources, VGC reports that Sony Japan Studio is shutting down and spinning off ASOBI Team (the Astro Bot devs) into a new standalone studio. The news comes mere days after the confirmation of a next-generation PSVR designed for PS5.

Sony Japan Studio is one of Sony’s longest-running internal studios with decades of experience dating back to the PS1, but they’re mostly known in the VR world for their work on The Playroom VR and Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, in the ASOBI Team division. They also provided support on Everybody’s Golf VR, Deracine, and The Last Guardian VR experience.

In the report from VGC, their sources say that the studio is currently winding down and it seems legitimate. Several key members of the studio have departed in recent months. According to source, the studio hasn’t been profitable in recent years and changes in leadership hadn’t helped recently. A Bloomberg report from late last year mentioned expiring contracts and the studio falling out of the spotlight of focus for the PlayStation brand.

There is of course precedence for this sort of thing happening. Last year, almost a year ago exactly in fact, it was revealed that the mysterious UK-based studio Sony founded to work on a “AAA” PSVR game was shut down before its project was even revealed. When Evolution Studios closed, DriveClub VR was shut down and pulled from the PlayStation Store. A similar situation occurred with Starblood Arena. And of course Guerilla Cambridge, the developers behind RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, was shut down shortly after the game first launched on PSVR.

While this is unfortunate news for one of the most storied Sony studios with a stable of talented developers, the good news seems to be that ASOBI Team is living on in its wake wit hopefully more resources to continue building Astro Bot games.

Let us know what you think down in the comments below! We’ve reached out to Sony for comment and will update this story if we hear back.

Editorial: Lack of PSVR Support In Astro’s Playroom Is A Huge Missed Opportunity

Astro’s Playroom makes an extremely convincing case for Astro Bot to become a legitimate mascot for the PlayStation brand as a whole. And yet, despite his previous game being a VR exclusive, this one’s VR support is conspicuously absent.

Go to this time stamp (3:00) in the video above to see some Astro Bot gameplay and  DualSense controller impressions

From the bit that I’ve played so far, basically just the opening ‘Cooling Springs’ level (full playthrough here), Astro’s Playroom seems like a really excellent game. It follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, the excellent PSVR-exclusive Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, and brings a bright, cheery, and colorful 3D platformer adventure to life. It’s a genre that’s often neglected these days, but it clearly still has a lot of life left over.

In Astro Bot on PSVR (for PS4) the DualShock 4 controller and PSVR headset itself were used in a litany of novel ways. You could headbutt objects in the environment to interact with them, dodge things thrown at you, or sometimes lean and peek around corners to find hidden collectibles. It was a great showcase for why not every single great VR experience needs to be a first-person action game.

When Astro’s Playroom was revealed, as a free pack-in for PS5 no less, we noted the lack of VR support immediately. Ever since The Playroom VR and then the subsequent full-fledged Astro Bot game, he has felt like a VR mascot. But now, he has left the immersive realm behind — sort of.

psvr headset ocean descent easter egg astro bot astro's playroom

There are plenty of references to PlayStation’s past throughout Astro’s Playroom. In the Cooling Springs level alone I found 3D model replicas of every iteration of the PlayStation 3, as well as the Navigation Controller and the PS Move Sharp Shooter rifle — the predecessor to the PS Aim Controller. These collectibles are known as “artifacts” and I’d be willing to bet there are plenty of VR-focused artifacts to find as well.

The opening beach environment has floaties in the shapes of PlayStation symbols, other bots litter the background of levels re-enacting scenes from iconic PlayStation games, and the entire premise of the game is that you’re adventuring into the inner-workings of a PS5 itself. It’s very meta, very silly, and extremely charming.

Hands-On: DualSense PS5 Controller Feels Like A Preview Of The Future Of VR Haptics

Yet, despite the lack of formal support, it would be inaccurate to say Astro’s Playroom is a sign Sony doesn’t care about VR. If anything, the litany of Easter Eggs (like the fact that Astro himself will put on a VR headset if you idle the controller for long enough) proves Sony recognizes VR as a core tenant of the brand. Or at least that it’s top of mind enough to not forget about.

But ultimately that’s what makes it all the more frustrating that Astro’s latest adventure is missing the peripheral that helped make him so lovable in the first place. In my mind, Astro and VR are intrinsically linked. Playing Astro’s Playroom without a VR headset just feels incomplete. Like an imitation of something else.

I miss being able to lean in and wave at my little buddy or lean around corners scoping out enemies. I miss how interactive it felt and that feeling that I was right there in his world with him. Seeing him through the window of a TV screen just isn’t the same — even in native 4K resolution.

Generally, I feel like the lack of VR support here, from a studio that has made VR a bit of a specialty in recent years, is just an enormous missed opportunity. I can’t think of a reasonable reason to not put in optional VR support other than Sony decided it wasn’t worth the time, and that’s a shame.

Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions here and once the PSVR 2 arrives there will be another new Astro adventure or, at least, VR support added to Astro’s Playroom. Maybe.

At the end of the day Sony appears to be adapting the character to appeal to a broader audience by removing the shackles of a VR headset and I think they’re going to succeed in that regard — but I just hope it doesn’t come at the cost of their support for VR as a medium.

Astro’s Playroom will be included on every PlayStation 5 console for free and is a great showcase for the new DualSense PS5 Controller — we highly recommend you play it if you get a PS5.

‘Astro Bot’ Director Nicolas Doucet Takes Over as Head of Sony’s JAPAN Studio

Nicolas Doucet, the Creative Director and Producer behind PSVR exclusive ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission (2018), has been promoted to Director of Sony Interactive Entertainment’s JAPAN Studio.

As first reported by Gematsu, Doucet is said to continue his work as a creative director at SIE Japan Studio in addition to his new role. Doucet previously worked for Sony’s London Studio and Saffire Corporation.

Initially born as a spin-off of a mini-game called ‘Robots Rescue’ from The Playroom VRAstro Bot Rescue Mission tasks you with guiding a patently adorable robot named ASTRO as you recover his robot pals who have been scattered among the stars.

'ASTRO BOT' Behind-the-scenes – Insights & Artwork from Sony's JAPAN Studio

The plucky little VR-native platformer has garnered some pretty impressive review scores since its launch in October 2018, boasting a Meta Critic composite score of [90/100], a [4.5/5] star user review rating, and a rare [10/10] score from our full review.

Astro Bot was also lauded with a few awards, including the best VR/AR game of 2018 Game Awards and the VR Game of Year at The Edge Awards in 2018, and notable nominations by BAFTA and SXSW.

Outside of The Playroom VR and Astro Bot, SIE Japan Studio is known for developing PS platform classics Ape Escape, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian. Other VR games produced by the studio include Déraciné and Everybody’s Golf VR.

At the time of this writing, it’s unclear whether Doucet’s promotion signals a greater focus on VR games for the studio. Having an experienced VR producer at the helm may prove beneficial however as Sony makes strides to release PlayStation 5, and later, the second iteration of PlayStation VR.

The post ‘Astro Bot’ Director Nicolas Doucet Takes Over as Head of Sony’s JAPAN Studio appeared first on Road to VR.

Sony’s First-party Platformer ‘Astro Bot: Rescue Mission’ Heading to PSVR in October

Sony’s Japan Studio, the minds behind The Playroom VR (2016), today announced that their upcoming platformer Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is headed to PSVR in the US on October 2nd, 2018. European availability will come a day later, October 3rd.

Japan Studio Creative Director and Producer Nicolas Doucet announced the news via a quick video interview explaining some of the game’s core elements, which include a unique way of interacting with your cute little robot buddy, Astro. Using the Dual Shock 4 gamepad, you collect gadgets that you then use to help Astro on his way through levels to reunite him with his lost crew.

We went hands-on with the charming and cheerful Astro Bot: Rescue Mission back at E3 2018 in June, and walking out of the demo it was clear that Astro Bot has taken some classic Mario-style platforming elements and mixed them in VR to awesome effect.

The game is launching exclusively on PSVR; if the rest of the game, which Doucet told us would take around 8 – 10 hours to complete its 26 levels, holds true to the amount of fun we had during the E3 demo, it appears PSVR could be getting another system-selling hit on its hands. Check out our hands-on here for more.

The game is said to be heading into pre-order later today for $40.

The post Sony’s First-party Platformer ‘Astro Bot: Rescue Mission’ Heading to PSVR in October appeared first on Road to VR.

Hands-on: ‘Astro Bot Rescue Mission’ Aims to Be the Delightful & Engaging Platformer VR Needs

We’re here at E3 2018, and I got chance to play Sony Japan Studio’s upcoming platformer Astro Bot Rescue Mission. As a thematic extension of the little bots that were first introduced in The Playroom (2013) and later in The Playroom VR (2016), you use the DualShock 4 controller to control your little bot-buddy to jump, run and bash your way to through the world to the end of each level. If this doesn’t sound like it needs to be in VR to be fun, that’s where you’re wrong. This is very much a VR game from the ground-up, and introduces fun and engaging ways to immerse yourself in the bright, beautifully realized world.

Astro Bot Rescue Mission follows a deceivingly simple formula that iconic platformers such as Super Mario Bros. (1985) have prepared me for since I first held a gamepad: run, jump, collect coins, bash not-so-difficult baddies, finish the level with style for extra points. Astro Bot goes an extra mile though, and gives you a reason to use your point of view to your advantage, and making you engage with the world directly by using special gadgets collected along the way.

Image courtesy Sony Japan Studio

Taking control of Astro, an adorable little captain of a ship on a mission to rescue its lost crew, I run through increasingly difficult maze-like levels, requiring me to make Astro jump, hover, and smash enemies along the way. Trailing behind him, I eventually find myself craning my neck, peering around corners, and looking far up into the sky to guide him through a death-defying saunter along metal beams connecting buildings and interesting contraptions. Looking even closer, I find hidden areas that I might have otherwise missed had I not taken my time; more contraptions, more coins and bots to rescue, more long jumps to make on my way through a world I can only describe as AAA quality.

Image courtesy Sony Japan Studio

One such contraption, a panel that you have to physically bash your head against, activated a suspension bridge for little Astro to cross over to a secret area. Keeping your composure is important when playing a game; I try not to give into the ‘wow’ so I can take in everything possible in the short amount of time I have with a game, but here I was smiling and giggling at the thought of having to ram my head into a big panel emblazoned with a big “pow” sign. There are of course switches and buttons to activate too, but there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a challenge and literally taking it head on.

The game’s baddies at the beginning are mostly standard ‘goombah’ types that you can kill either with a direct attack, or by activating your hover jump, which shoots out little booster lasers underneath you that do damage to enemies below. Later on in the demo, I encountered enemies with retracting spikes and an electric variant that would do damage on contact, necessitating a hover-booster attack.

Image courtesy Sony Japan Studio

The end of each level presents you with a mini challenge, which plays out somewhat like the flagpole in Mario. Here though, you slingshot Astro through a series of golden rings to a goal using your touchpad in search of the highest extra score.

Playing through two levels, I was then jumped ahead to the world’s final boss – one of six giant beasts you fight at the end of each world (a total of 5 world, 4 levels per world and 26 ‘extra challenges’ throughout). The giant mechanical gorilla towered over me, his head nearly 15 feet tall, dwarfing me and Astro completely. Called the ‘Tooth Fairy’, I had to dodge his flame attacks and smash his teeth in, revealing a hook under each tooth that I would have to yank out with the help of my newly acquired gadget, a grappling hook that shoots out and you physically pull with your controllers to retract.

Image courtesy Sony Japan Studio

Beating the Tooth Fairy after dying once, my demo was over. Even though I only had about 15 minutes with Astro Bot, nearly every interaction I had was immensely rewarding, something I’m looking forward to in the full game, which is said to last between 8-10 hours. While I haven’t had a chance to play with any more gadgets outside the grappling hook, I expect more fun ways to interact with the world directly to help Astro along his way.

Astro Bot Rescue Mission is slated to release on PSVR Fall 2018 with the launch price of $40, and if what I experienced today is reflective of the sort of fun ahead, then it’s going to be worth every penny.

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