Friday, December 3, 2021

How Q-Games Got the Rights From Sony to Bring Back Lost PS4 Exclusive The Tomorrow Children

In a piece of rare and exciting news, Kyoto-based developer Q-Games recently announced that it had acquired the rights to its 2016 PlayStation 4 exclusive The Tomorrow Children, which was originally published by Sony Interactive Entertainment as a free-to-play online game, only to be shut down after just over a year. The deal will allow Q-Games to make the game available again for the first time since November 2017.

Now, Q-Games CEO Dylan Cuthbert has opened up about the process of getting his game back from Sony, the details of this unusual new deal, and some of the changes he plans to make ahead of the game’s second launch in 2022.

In a new interview, Cuthbert told IGN Japan that he had enquired about the possibility of acquiring the rights multiple times over the years, beginning back when Allan Becker was still head of Sony Japan Studio. Initially, he said, the response was that Q-Games would likely have to repay the entire development cost of the original game. While this was not a realistic option for Q-Games, the ongoing support from Tomorrow Children fans convinced Cuthbert to persevere.

There were two key changes that led to the successful deal, both of which came down in part to veteran developer Cuthbert’s decades of networking. First of all, in 2019, Double Fine veteran Greg Rice – an old friend of Cuthbert’s – joined SIE as Head of PlayStation Creators, becoming the company’s liaison for independent developers.

“I said to him, ‘Well, I’ve got this IP just sitting there, so can you look into getting it back to us? Because it’s not going to do anything at Sony. If we re-release it then at least Sony gets to earn some royalties, and we get to give the game back to the fans,’” recalled Cuthbert. “I asked him to start pushing, and he said he’d try. But after about three months he hit a wall, and once again I thought it was going to be impossible.”

And then came the next big change. When Hermen Hulst took over as the head of PlayStation Studios (formerly Worldwide Studios), Cuthbert immediately reached out to say hi. Hulst had previously headed Guerrilla Games, with whom Q-Games had once worked on some commemorative artwork for the Killzone series – posters that featured characters from The Tomorrow Children (below). This proved to be the connection that would complete the circuit.

Hulst's Help

“I sent Hermen a message on the day it was announced that he had taken over at PlayStation Studios,” laughed Cuthbert. “That was a busy day for him, and I think he was out celebrating with [PS4 and PS5 lead system architect] Mark Cerny, because Mark mentioned to me a few months later that Hermen had seen the message. Hermen told me he would check into it, but I thought maybe he was just being polite. But a few months later, Greg Rice reached out to say that there had been some movement at the top, and that it may be possible after all.”

From then, Cuthbert and Rice embarked on a year-long puzzle-solving mission to track down the various rights involved with the IP. For example, the rights to the music composition and orchestration were held in the US by SIEA, while the voices had been recorded by actors in the UK via SIEE. The majority of the rights were held in Japan by SIEJA, but many of the original Sony staff who had worked on the game had moved on, which meant many details had to be tracked down afresh. Also, there were third-party software licences pertaining to things like the animation system and the audio system, all of which needed to be traced so that new waivers could be signed.

“NaturalMotion, the company that made the animation system, had been bought up by Zynga, so now I had to find a way to contact the CTO of Zynga to ask for the waivers to let us use the animation system,” Cuthbert told IGN Japan. “It wasn’t as simple as just getting the rights to the IP – there were all these moving parts under the hood. It was like detective work, but we did manage to track down all of these people, and get the waivers we needed to go ahead with the transfer.”

"It was like detective work, but we did manage to track down all of these people."

One of the last puzzle pieces to fall into place was the rights to the voice recordings. The recording sessions had been held at Pinewood Studios in the UK, but Cuthbert discovered that no records remained of who had worked on them. Luckily Cuthbert had been directly involved in directing the sessions, and was able to find the session manager (who had moved on to a new job) on LinkedIn to get hold of the missing information. “It took a long time, but it was exciting to see the pieces coming together,” said Cuthbert.

Without these necessary steps, Q-Games may have been faced with the task of remaking the music, or the voice recordings, or any other unsecured elements from scratch.

With all of the detective work done, it was simply a case of agreeing a royalty rate and other contractual details with SIE. Cuthbert said, “Sony gave us a decent deal that will incentivise us to put the work into re-releasing it, while also giving Sony some income as well. So now everybody’s happy.

“Sony does deserve a royalty – they were there all the way through the four or five years of development, and they helped to define the vision,” Cuthbert said, adding that the team at SIE also helped Q-Games to find key collaborators such as composer Joel Corelitz, whose other credits include music for Halo Infinite and Death Stranding. As anyone who has heard the game’s gorgeously immersive and haunting soundtrack will attest, this was no small addition.

Making Old Into New

The new version of The Tomorrow Children is planned for release sometime in 2022, published directly by Q-Games on PlayStation 4, with backwards compatibility for PS5. Other platforms may follow – Cuthbert says there is no contractual obligation to remain as a PlayStation exclusive title, so the only hurdles are the additional work and resources required to port it.

To distinguish the new version from the old one, Cuthbert says he is considering adding a “Director’s Cut”-style subtitle to the name, although nothing is yet decided.

Players of the original game will not be able to transfer their saved data, as privacy laws make this an impossibility but, since it will partly be a new experience, Cuthbert feels it makes sense to have players start over anyway.

Cuthbert also discussed the changes he plans to make to The Tomorrow Children’s gameplay ahead of its new release. Cuthbert is a master programmer who famously got a 3D game engine running on the Game Boy back in the late 1980s, earning him a job working with Nintendo on Star Fox. He was also a main programmer on the original version of The Tomorrow Children, and currently he is working on the new iteration himself – a process he describes as “fixing” the game.

The Tomorrow Children was originally released as a free-to-play game with microtransactions, a business model that was decided a little over halfway through its development, in line with SIE’s strategy at the time (The Tomorrow Children came soon after 2014’s similarly ill-fated free to play SIE Japan Studio title, Destiny of Spirits).

When it returns, The Tomorrow Children will be a regular premium purchase, with the microtransactions removed – in line with how it was originally conceived.

“In the game, there is a black market, which was our monetization area,” explained Cuthbert. “That was originally in the game, but not as a free-to-play thing. The game is a parody of Marxist vs. Capitalist societies, so the black market was just meant to be a Capitalist option, to show how those two systems can work together. You could get the feeling of altruism by pursuing the Marxist style of thinking, where it’s all for one, and then you have the black market side, where you get the technology you pay for. Because of that, it actually worked well having the black market be monetized with real money in terms of the game’s lore. But it wasn’t originally designed for that.”

The black market will use in-game currency in the new version of The Tomorrow Children, rather than real money, allowing Q-Games to rebalance this feature and improve the game’s progression curve.

Since the monetization element was intended to cover the original game’s running server costs, the new version will be hosted peer to peer, without relying on a central server. One major advantage of this change is that the game is less likely to be rendered unplayable, as the original version currently is, because players will be able to host games for as long as the PlayStation Network exists.

"I’d love to see a modern remake of Jumping Flash or Ape Escape – all kinds of titles."

Other changes are being based on feedback from existing fans of the game, as well as internal playtesting. “We have the great benefit of retrospect, as well a huge fan base who already played it for a year, so we can just ask them what they think,” said Cuthbert. It will also include some brand new content, although the details are still secret.

The Tomorrow Children was one of the only games that used ray tracing on PS4, and its advanced technical backend along with very strong art direction means it still looks striking alongside modern games. Also, its loose social elements were hugely prescient, mirrored later in games like Death Stranding, and now that there is an awareness of “strand” type games, along with an enhanced demand for online co-op play, The Tomorrow Children’s use of drop-in, drop-out live collaboration makes it seem very well suited to the modern age. “I hope we can get the game out to the fans soon, and maybe even reach some new fans too,” Cuthbert told us.

Cuthbert said he hopes that his success acquiring the rights to his game from SIE is a sign of a new openness at Sony. While Sega have been flexible in allowing games such as Rez to return to their creators, or for games like Streets of Rage to be made by smaller studios, just as Bandai Namco and Konami have put their classic IP in the hands of independent developers from time to time, Sony has been notoriously guarded of its games, keeping beloved franchises dormant for years or even decades.

“I’d love to see a modern remake of Jumping Flash or Ape Escape – all kinds of titles,” said Cuthbert. Perhaps his persistence with acquiring The Tomorrow Children will pave the way for other creators to make similar deals with SIE.

Fans who are interested in keeping up to date with The Tomorrow Children’s development can subscribe to a bi-weekly newsletter here, available in multiple languages.

Daniel Robson is Chief Editor at IGN Japan. For full disclosure, he worked at SIE Japan Studio while The Tomorrow Children was under development, but didn't work directly on creating the project. He is also a fan of the game. Follow him on Twitter here.


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