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PS Vita Designer on Perfect Screen Size and Battling Engineers

James Gallagher's Avatar + Posted by James Gallagher on Jan 19, 2012 // Blog Manager, SCEE

Last December I attended the Tokyo launch of PlayStation Vita, which is going to be in your hands just about one month from now. While I was there I got to chat with Tokashi Sogabe of the Sony Corporate Design Centre, head of the team in charge of the aesthetic of the console. Sogabe-san has 27 years of experience working with Sony, in which time he has designed the Walkman, Vaio notebooks, the current slimmer model of PS3 and many other electronic
devices.

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We spoke about the look and feel of PS Vita and the eternal tug of war that goes on between the designers wanting to create something as sleek and compact as possible and the engineers whose job it is to cram as much technology as they can into that shell.

PS.Blog: A lot of people seem impressed by the five inch OLED screen on PlayStation Vita. How did you decide on that particular size?

Tokashi Sogabe: When we first saw a prototype of the beautiful OLED screen we used on PS Vita, we felt it deserved to be bigger than the 4.3 inch screen on PSP. It’s almost as if we settled on five inches in order to really maximise the same impact that we felt when we first saw it.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking bigger is better when it comes to screen size but it isn’t. There was a great deal of discussion and we even talked about using a 5.5 inch screen with all of the buttons included on it, but that had a negative impact on the operability of the device and the idea was abandoned.

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How much development has gone into the dual analog sticks and what design challenges did they present?

The engineers have been working on the PS Vita analog sticks for quite some time and it is a much greater technical challenge to build sticks this small than you might imagine. We also built a prototype with flat slide pads, a bit like what you have on your laptop, but it just didn’t feel responsive enough for gaming and we learned that you need that physical response of tilting the stick to feel like you have total control.

For me as a designer they have presented a huge challenge, partly because it much easier to design products with entirely flat surfaces. We also discussed the position of the analog sticks at great length: I didn’t feel that they were in the perfect position from a design perspective but Worldwide Studios were adamant that they were in the best position for comfortable gameplay, and in the end they won out on that point.

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How do designers and engineers work together to ensure all aspects of the device, such as performance, form and comfort of use are all just right?

There is always a battle between engineers and designers and I’m not just talking about PlayStation Vita when I say that – it is always there. To give you an example, I originally intended for the final machine to be thinner than it is now. From a designer’s point of view thinner is always better. However, the engineer has to cram all of the technology into that case and so they’re going to be fighting back on that point.

A designer is always looking to create that magical first impression aesthetically and an engineer’s job to bring the working device into reality; neither side wants to make any compromise whatsoever.

Also, it’s not just designers and engineers who have a say. When we started work on PS Vita, the shape we had in mind was very similar to the final product, but in the testing phase we tried many different designs, including a sliding system [similar to PSP go] and a clamshell. We settled on the final model after many discussions with the game development teams in Worldwide Studios.

Who usually wins these battles between designers and engineers?

Many years ago I would have said that it was the designers, at least here at Sony. In fact, when we were developing the Walkman I remember coming to the office with a block of wood and saying that it needed to be this size and shape, and it was up to the engineers to make that happen.

It’s hard to compare then and now because Sony has become so much bigger as a company. Of course, your question also depends on personalities – some designers are very stubborn and will never budge, whereas others are easier to convince.

Talking about PS Vita specifically, I was pushing through this idea of ‘thinner is better’ but I had to be reminded of things like the feature set, processing power, battery life… the overall package.

There are times when you have a design idea that you love but then the engineers see a major flaw straight away. I actually wanted PS Vita to be entirely made of metal but then it was pointed out that this was impossible due to the internal Wi/Fi, 3G and GPRS antennae.

So yes, I’m afraid designers do lose on some occasions!

//Add Your Own

24 Comments

1

+ PhantomOfPanton on January 19th, 2012 at 6:04 am said:

This thing is so attractive! <3


2

+ DDark on January 19th, 2012 at 6:18 am said:

Played it last night at the Atlanta Vita meetup and it feels as good as it looks!


3

+ Fylian on January 19th, 2012 at 6:21 am said:

Brilliant design Tokashi you rock, can’t wait to get my hands on one!


4

+ remanutd5 on January 19th, 2012 at 6:23 am said:

well i’ve played at NYC meet up and im really impressed !!! the system felt light on my hands , the touch controls are very responsive , Uncharted Golden Abyss ( looks , feels and more importantly PLAYS like uncharted ) so yea its a must have
but the game that took me by surprised was that cute little game you see Little Deviants ( oh my god this game is tons of fun and very , very challenging ) i think it was the hardest demo of them all lol


5

+ rog0705 on January 19th, 2012 at 6:27 am said:

Beautiful design. Can’t wait to pick mine up.


6

+ Omegian-Ultima on January 19th, 2012 at 7:21 am said:

uncharted will rock the vita!


7

+ snakeeyes211 on January 19th, 2012 at 7:29 am said:

Will the first edition ps vita’s little deviants be a full retail game or a downloadable?


8

+ Major_Hoare on January 19th, 2012 at 8:02 am said:

But will it blend?


9

+ TUSTIN1 on January 19th, 2012 at 8:18 am said:

How about elaborating on whether it’s a hardware or software problem that’s stopping titles like ModNation Racers:Road Trip from having online play.

If it’s a hardware problem and this no online play thing is going to become a regular trend with the Vita, I for one will stay away like the plague.


10

+ remanutd5 on January 19th, 2012 at 8:19 am said:

at 9 i dont think its a hardware problem because im pretty sure Resistance Burning Skies will have online multiplayer and little big planet too


11

+ TUSTIN1 on January 19th, 2012 at 8:26 am said:

It just seems like a really strange move for games like ModNation and Motorstorm to leave out online play when that’s such a core element of racing games these days.


12

+ KidCommando on January 19th, 2012 at 8:35 am said:

If there was an internal HD I would probably buy one upon launch.

Gonna wait until memory cards drop in price or a new model is released before picking one up though.


13

+ remanutd5 on January 19th, 2012 at 8:35 am said:

at 11 yea its really strange , i still dont understand that


14

+ lisatsunami on January 19th, 2012 at 10:57 am said:

Sogabe-san: nice shirt!

James, did Mr. Sogabe also design the new Tablet P, AKA, the “clamshell”? Because the Tablet P is the most beautiful piece of tech I’ve seen in a long time & is the only one I would consider choosing over the iPADD 3.

Sorry, I meant the most beautiful piece of new tech BESIDES the Vita.


15

+ iTz_CuRtAiNz_4u on January 19th, 2012 at 11:32 pm said:

Yea im already suit it up for the ride.Can’t wait for next month,my son’s bday,& the Psv is coming out to play in the US4.Me personally im only going to buy & focus on games that i can use the New Little Right Analog 3 Yeyy.Uncharted 0:Golden Abyss & Unit XVIII.


16

+ duckie42 on January 20th, 2012 at 12:35 am said:

i luv the design of the PSV. i want it because u can collect trophies :) message friends see where other psv’s R around u (not sure about messageing them) i understand the 2 month delay thay had on the countries outside JP using it as a test market, fixing major glitches & letting the 3rd parties get there online stuff ready so it can run properly… (ATT G3 / netflix) on the psv….


17

+ Angry-Puppy on January 20th, 2012 at 6:38 am said:

I wonder why they decided not to go with concave analog sticks. My thumb always travels on the DS3 sticks, especially during chase/running sequences. But I’m kinda glad Sogabe-san lost on when it came to making the device thin – thicker can be more ergonomic sometimes…and I think it is in the case of the Vita.


18

+ FORMIK on January 20th, 2012 at 6:39 am said:

Great, and more designer interviews in the near future, please! We don’t get the chance too often when compared to say developers of games, but I like hearing how hardware ideas are considered.


19

+ Joe-TFW on January 20th, 2012 at 6:54 am said:

The lack of a dedicated hard drive, the insistence of using proprietary memory cards and those card prices, the lack of an HDMI out to hook up to a display, as well as the poor battery life all combine to make the PS Vita an easy skip. I don’t understand why they would skimp on things that even a cheap smart phone has anymore. Completely missed opportunity here.


20

+ Matrix_Lion on January 20th, 2012 at 9:32 am said:

@ Joe-TFW I agree with you. I had one on pre-order when it was first available to do so. When the price of the memory cards were released I canceled my order. As impressive and beautiful as this machine is it’s lacking common sense things as you stated.


21

+ Karoa_a17 on January 20th, 2012 at 11:15 am said:

Love this device, absolutely phenomenal :) I can remember when I came back from school and saw the announcement of “NGP”, so I’ve known about it from the start. Sold both of my PSPs for it and all of the games. Pre-ordered in October, and been waiting ever since.

Sure it isn’t the perfect device that everyone must have because it only allows one account per memory card, and no HDMI or Video Out and no Hard Drive, but remember this, it’s only the beginning. It’s only the start of Vita’s life and we will probably see a lot of different modifications and updates made in the future.

As for accessories and games, Sony clearly said that the new format is for security purposes. I don’t think any of us enjoyed watching the PSP burn with Homebrew and Custom Firmware. Memory cards may be a bit overpriced, I can’t argue with that. As for games, amazing titles are approaching. And I don’t mean Uncharted on its own. I mean Resistance Burning Skies; Call of Duty; Mortal Kombat; Final Fantasy X; Dust 514; Killzone; Bioshock; Metal Gear Solid and MANY more.

This is a handheld that is truly worth the name “Next-Generation” . I’m not being one sided on this but Vita’s sales will skyrocket over the next few months.


22

+ A_N_T_H_ on January 24th, 2012 at 1:49 pm said:

Will there be more PSVITA skins other than black and white?


23

+ RoaringFlare on February 4th, 2012 at 5:09 pm said:

Yeah those are flaws im hoping Sony will be looking to fix in the future Joe. Currently i cannot get one on the release as i bought a new pair of great (expensive) headphones around the same price of the Vita for my music. I’m just going to wait till Black Friday 2012. I’m hoping, Sony, you will have a GOOD price drop for the Vita, ESPECIALLY the memory cards and other accessories for it and maybe fixed a flaw or two in the Vita.


24

+ Elvick_ on February 6th, 2012 at 5:39 am said:

Read this ages ago it seems, but can’t believe I didn’t give you the props for the interview. It’s a great insight. I hope you this again for future PlayStation devices too.


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