How Astro Bot went from tech demo to PlayStation superstar


I saw a lot of games during Summer Game Fest, but I was easily most excited for Astro Bot. I got play about 30 minutes of the 3D platformer, and it’s everything I wanted. Astro Bot is full of creativity, beauty and immaculate gameplay.

Astro has already starred in a great VR game and a wonderful pack-in experience with the PlayStation 5, but now he’s the star of a full game. And he’s ready for the bigger stage. Astro Bot releases on September 5, 2024 for PlayStation 5.

After my demo, I had a chance to chat with Nicolas Doucet, studio head and creative director of Team ASOBI. I asked him about the challenge of taking Astro into this larger world.

Building a bigger bot

GamesBeat: Did development on this start right after you were done with Astro’s Playroom?

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Nicolas Doucet: Yes. Very much so. We went back into prototyping more. The tech demo had a lot of ideas that we had in the two years running up to Playroom. We had other ideas we wanted to try. That’s why you see some of the power-ups you tried today. It’s quite different from what we did before with the magnet and the booster, the way the triggers are moving. We spent a year prototyping and then went into production.

GamesBeat: Is it exciting to finally release a full console game? Rescue Mission was beloved, but being on VR limits the audience a bit. Playroom was a smaller thing.

Doucet: Playroom was an important step. We’re a small team, a fresh team. We proved to ourselves that we could make a game that people liked for the controls, the tech and the charm. Expanding on that and being able to show that to the world and seeing the reactions, that’s really nice. We wanted to make sure that whatever the player wants to do, we’re there to answer those expectations. The reward culture is a very important part.

To adventure!

GamesBeat: Sony’s done very well in recent years making very narrative-driven, adult-focused games. I remember that era when they still made a lot of colorful platforms, things that maybe kids would like more. Is it important to you to serve that audience again and have something that’s a bit more for all ages?

Doucet: Totally. You’ve played PlayStation since the beginning. It should go all the way from those serious, dramatic games to lighthearted things you can play with a five-year-old. When we play the game, when we test the game, we test it with very young kids, all the way to older people, more casual players, and everyone in between. People like you and I who play games like Elden Ring, we need to be able to enjoy this as well.

It’s very important to go really wide. Here you, when you enter here, there’s a very good example of the liquid physics. If you punch those guys, in the back you can see those bricks? If you punch the bricks, the haptic feedback, you’ll feel that on the other side. If you spin next to that tree…

GamesBeat: There are tons of little details like that.

Doucet: It’s really important. We have that rule. Anything that looks interactive is interactive. Anything that is smaller than Astro is something you can use as a toy. We try to stick very closely to that rule.

It's Mr. God of War!
It’s Mr. God of War!

Full of character

GamesBeat: Astro Bot has become a kind of celebration of all things PlayStation. We saw that in Playroom, and it’s continued here, where you’re rescuing a lot of those PlayStation bots. How did that concept come about? Why do you feel it’s important to the game?

Doucet: That was an interesting discussion, in fact. When we set out to make a bigger platformer, the Duel Sense and all the new parts, there were a lot of parts that felt sufficient. We could have made a game that would have just as much appeal. But as a PlayStation fan, why not double down and go even deeper and have more cameos? People have come to expect that.

We went back and had this idea of tying the cameos to–in this level, did you find them all? You have Ratchet and Rivet in this level. The next level has Parappa and Lammy. We go in deeper. There’s 150 cameos. There’s going to be some stuff for every generation.

GamesBeat: I got the most excited in the last one when I saw Jumping Flash in there.

Doucet: One of the things that’s interesting, especially since it’s a game that’s family friendly, we hear a lot that it works as a generation bridge. A kid today plays with these funny characters and wants to know, who is that? Well, when I was your age, I was playing Jak and Daxter and Um Jammer Lammy… 30 years is exactly one generation. Did you know you can hover like this? And then cut down again and again. We’re having a lot of fun with physics, especially the liquid physics.

GamesBeat: Are there going to be third-party characters, or mostly first-party?

Doucet: That’s a question I can’t answer today. When you play the game you’ll see.

GamesBeat: Does Sony let you have pretty much anyone you want from their characters?

Doucet: It’s not just anybody we want. The amount of care and love we get from the other teams — when we first got into it, we knew we’d have to be really good to be good enough for these amazing teams, these 20-years-old triple-A teams. But they really like what we’ve made. The exchange became very easy. We work with Santa Monica. We work with Naughty Dog. We work with Guerrilla. They make different games, but the values and the work that go into it, that’s similar. Everyone is passionate about games. They speak to different audiences, but it’s the same passion.

Big boss.

System spectacle

GamesBeat: All the systems are impressive. You guys seem to have this reputation for being tech wizards. Why are you so good at this? You almost make it look easy.

Doucet: Well, it’s still tough. One of the elements, anything to do with the hardware is because — it’s made in Japan. The mechanical side of being made in Japan, we get the prototypes for things like controllers very early. We’re able to get started early on the hardware side.

On the software side, there’s an element of physics are fun to play with as a toy. If we can integrate that inside the game, with just the right amount, that doesn’t have to be the core of everything you make, but just part of the experience. It’s an interest we have in general.

GamesBeat: There are so many of these abilities. It’s constantly switching up the gameplay. Was that the main motivator there, just making sure there’s a lot of variety?

Doucet: Yeah, yeah. Once we create a level and we have a power-up, we want to surprise the player. Every 30 seconds we want there to be something you can talk about, something people will remember.

GamesBeat: Do you have different graphics options, or is it just the one 60FPS setting?

Doucet: Yes, 60FPS. There’s HDR for HDR TVs, but we make 60 our baseline. That’s always a discussion we have. If I’m tempted to go to that edge over there, there will be something waiting for me.

Level up

GamesBeat: In Playroom you had four largish levels. Here you have a lot more levels, but smaller in size. Is that a different design challenge?

Doucet: One thing that’s a big change from Playroom is that all the power-ups are integrated into the platforming. Playroom had that separation. Now it’s all integrated. That’s one of the big differences. Whatever we do with these extra abilities, they need to be able to blend with the platforming. That’s why, when you get the booster there, later on you’re learning hovering and boosting. Mixing all that together. That was one of the design challenges compared to before. In terms of size, it varies. Some levels are long and explorative, with a tempo that’s more about exploration. Others, like the challenge level you played, are shorter, but higher intensity.

GamesBeat: You could just give him a jetpack, but you gave him a jetpack dog instead. A little bit more fun, wherever you can.

Doucet: At first it was just a rocket. Then we had a conversation. You know, we could animate that thing. It could be a sidekick. We replaced all the power-ups with animals. This one was the most problematic. Maybe you saw in the trailer, there’s a chicken with a different power-up. This one, we needed something else, so in the end we went with the dog. It’s funny, whenever you hit the boost you can hear the barking.

Dogs make for great ... jetpacks?
Dogs make for great … jetpacks?

GamesBeat: How much variety is there in the themes of the levels? You have this construction area here.

Doucet: There’s a lot. You have all the classics you find in platforming or space opera, this kind of space adventure. You have jungles, ice, snow, volcanoes, beaches. But then there are a lot of levels that have a theme that’s a bit more from pop culture. In the trailer, you maybe saw the lamp? That was themed around that. Every level, we want it to almost be like an episode in a story. You take away a memory from the level that’s shaped by the theme. As for the gameplay, usually one power-up appears twice. You get it for the first time in this level, and then it comes up again one more time. In terms of variety, it’s pretty great. Sometimes we use it a third time in a challenge. If you think about the cost-performance, it’s definitely geared for more variety than previously.

GamesBeat: It seems like some developers shy away from using the motion control stuff. You guys really lean into it.

Doucet: We have to. It needs to be used with care. You have to do it in a way that feels almost like a flavor that’s welcome. You never want to be fighting the tech. Whenever you’re doing the core gameplay, your buttons and your stick are important. We bring the gyro, the natural inputs, in places where it makes sense. When you’re flying, that makes sense.

GamesBeat: I was happy to see the challenge rooms. I was a big fan of the speedrun challenge in Playroom. Is that back, in terms of leaderboards and stuff like that?

Doucet: I have to answer vaguely, but there’s going to be some free DLC coming soon after the release. The focus of the DLC will be around challenges in general.

One of the things with the haptics, this one is based on feeling the floor. There’s another one based on the walls. You can run your hand on the wall, and you can feel the texture changing. You run your hand on the wall, and when you feel the change in texture, you know there’s a secret. These are some of the new things we’ve tried to do with the Dual Sense. You’ll see some funny descriptions for the characters here. We always try to have something for the fans. If somebody loves Lammy, then the text will have something for them.

GamesBeat: The gacha stuff is back in this one too, right?

Doucet: Yes. The coins you earn in the levels, you can spend them in the game. But also, if you replay a level, for example – if you go back in a second time, you can spend some of the coins you’ve earned to get a helper to help you get the remaining bots. The helper also uses the haptic feedback. You can boost here. Whenever you get close to a collectible — if you pause the game, you can see that you have seven bots, you’re missing two, and you have all the puzzle pieces. If you’re near one of the missing bots, the bird will help you find it. In this day and age, when you really get stuck, you can just go to the net. We might as well integrate some of that inside the game, so the whole experience feels grounded. You don’t have to feel like you cheated.

GamesBeat: This boss fight is very interesting. Normally I feel like the 3D platformer boss fight formula, the boss does generally the same thing. You hit him three times. There’s some variation. But there’s a lot of variety in this boss fight. You have the different patterns and ways they’re attacking, and even a platforming segment in the middle. Is that something you find lacking in other games?

Doucet: Yeah, yeah. That was something, keeping the boss fight mechanics very legible and clean was also important. Sometimes, when you do something very big, there’s a risk of it getting messy. But getting that balance of really big battles where it has to be special.

Out of the bottle.
Out of the bottle.

Leading man

GamesBeat: After Playroom, was it hard, knowing you were working on this the whole time, when you heard people saying how much they wanted a full game?

Doucet: I’m quite patient by nature. We just had to bite our lips and think, one day… The good thing is now that we’ve announced it, the release is coming very soon. We don’t have to be so patient now.

GamesBeat: This is PlayStation’s big game for the year now. That’s a new position for Astro. The big leading man for a change. It almost feels like he’s that mascot character. I don’t know if you look at it that way internally, but is that a big source of pride, to see Astro make this slow elevation from tech demo to a PlayStation star?

Doucet: It’s quite daunting as well. It’s a big responsibility. We’ll see! We’re excited to finally show it to the world. We were watching you guys when you were playing, and it seems to be going okay.

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