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by Ethos

Handheld Gaming Part 3: The Future of Sony and the NGP (Riddles)

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Alright, so we’re a day late, but a dollar short? I think not. Because if all indications are correct, I’m about to pound out a fairly monstrous article to close out this extended Handheld Gaming Week.

My first two articles, if you haven’t read them, were very casual in nature – rather than attempt in-depth dissections of the past and present states of the portable gaming industry, I decided to merely recall my personal experiences with each. Now, though, I plan to take the groundwork I’ve laid with those two blurbs and leverage into a fairly even look at the upcoming next-generation handhelds from the two big players, Nintendo and Sony.

So, in other words, today I’m here to talk about Sony’s Next-Generation Portable. Buckle in, gents and ladies.

The PSP2 – Ah, the Next-Generation Portable

So I gave Sony first in line today. FAVORITISM?! I don’t know. Not really, at least when it comes to handhelds. I owned a PSP-2000 for a time. I was rather fond of the device, but truth be told, I barely played the thing. We went over this in my previous article, but the only PSP game I ever finished was Crisis Core, which was the game I bought the system for. But my own experiences aside, the PSP may have occasionally struggled in the realm of software support, and it occasionally lost its way – as evidenced by ventures such as the PSPGo – but one thing must be said: it was the first handheld to edge out a share of a market long-dominated by Nintendo and its many GameBoys. And that, alone, is a great feat.

Six years later, its successor is revealed to the world in the form of “NGP,” which you all should know, acronyms Next-Generation Portable – Sony’s working name for the device. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it looks like it could breathe new life into Sony’s handheld brand – if they do things right.

Uncharted, on the Tiny Screen?

Let’s start by discussing something we can all relate to: Uncharted. There’s an Uncharted game (now simply called “Uncharted” as a working title) oming to the NGP. You can watch a demo for it right here:

Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? Of course we can’t get the full effect by looking at a video of the screen, but even still, it’s easy to conclude that this thing can produce graphics nearly on-par with PS3 quality.

On first glance, the touch-screen controls don’t look terribly appealing. Sliding my grubby finger across the screen where all the action is taking place seems bothersome. It also seems messy; those screens had better be resilient. But, I suppose we’ve had to put up with the same shit on Nintendo DS for some time. And also, I’ll admit it looked less offensive in some areas than others – being able to tap the ledge you want Drake to grab while climbing actually seems fairly intuitive.

Oh yeah, and there’s gyroscope controls as well. Actually, it’s the same sixaxis technology that’s in every PS3 controller, but never utilized. If you recall, the original Uncharted – which was released fairly early in the PS3’s life – utilized sixaxis controls for mechanics like bomb-tossing and tightrope balancing. Both were pretty awful, and sixaxis support was promptly canned for Uncharted 2. But hey, as unappealing as I’m making it sound, remember: gyro controls just might work better on a portable system, where the screen is right in between your hands. The vine-swinging segment made it look super-clunky, but I have to admit, it looked pretty slick for the sniper sequence.

Rear trackpads? Well, if nothing else, they’re an interesting alternative to a second screen. I’m really not sure how I feel about rubbing my fingers back and forth just to shimmy up a vine, though. Of all the NGPs features, it’s actually what intrigues me the least – but, I’ve only seen them on display in the above demo, so perhaps my mind will be changed in time.

And it’s not – no, it’s not – 3D enabled. Can you believe it? Yeah, it seems a little fishy to me as well. Sony’s pushing 3D hard for both the PS3 and their line of Bravia TVs – I mean, shit, did you catch any of their presentation at CES this year? I’d applaud them for not pushing the gimmick for NGP just yet, but mark my words: there will be a 3D-enabled NGP within a year after its initial release.

Tangent aside, I think at this point we can agree: The NGP looks slick. It’s clearly an amazing piece of technology, packing a punch never seen before in a handheld device. It has a revamped menu system, forgoing the Xcross Media Bar for a new, touch-based layout. It has a screen that’s four times the resolution of the original PSP. It has front and back cameras, it has dual-analog sticks (AT LAST) it even has 3G connectivity. Yeah, that’s right. It’s an impressive device. But that’s not enough to tell the whole story.

So Yeah, What’s Sony’s Plan for This Thing?

Good question. Here’s a key difference between Nintendo and Sony when it comes to this next-gen handheld race: Nintendo has success they can sit upon, the PSP needs to change its game up if S to stay relevant. And, it seems like Sony is trying to do just that – a certain Eurogamer article reveals what Sony’s overarching strategy for NGP might be.

In the article, they quote an anonymous source who reportedly attended a presentation for the NGP that Sony hosted at their headquarters in London. According to their source, “NGP is a developer’s dream – Sony is finally doing the things developers have been crying out for for years.”

Generous words, to be sure. Reportedly, the NGPs dev kits are far easier to utilize than the PS3s. “A PS3 dev station can take three hours to set-up. This looks like it will take under 20 mins,” quoth the nameless Eurogamer source.  ”It just makes everything easier – they’ve really thought about it this time.”

Interesting. Glad to see Sony got that monkey off of its back. But here’s the big one: according to the source, the kits are optimized to allow for cross-platform development between NGP and PS3.

“Any shaders for PS3 stuff will just work,” said Eurogamer’s source. “We won’t have to rewrite. What would have taken two-to-three months before looks like it could take just one-to-two weeks now. The architecture is obviously different, but it’s the same development environment.”

Cross-platform development, eh? What sort of fruits could that yield? Well, according to the source, Sony envisions “some kind of interactivity between the two versions with NGP-only extras.”

Hm. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Well,  it does to me. Do you remember the days of GBA-to-GameCube connectivity? You bought an overpriced cable from Nintendo, plugged your GBA into your ‘Cube, and either used it as a controller, unlocked goodies, or activated some type of meta-game feature. (Like the Tingle thing in Wind Waker! Where’d he’d like give hints and drop bombs and stuff.) If you remember, games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures required GBAs as controllers, and would utilize both screens during gameplay. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles did the same thing. It was a neat concept, but it wasn’t right for its time – to properly play such games, you needed at least two players in the same room with GameBoys and cables. And to get the most out of them, you needed four. A steep price of admission.

But in this day-and-age of internet connectivity, that sort of console-to-handheld compatibility could potentially take off, and make a sound argument for the necessity of an NGP. Imagine playing Dead Space 3 with the NGP as your controller – Isaac’s menu screen, text logs, and video logs could all occupy the screen of the NGP, potentially making for an extremely refined and intuitive heads-up display. Imagine picking up an audio log in BioShock Infinite, then listening to it through headphones plugged into your NGP. Imagine selecting and assigning plasmids by simply tapping  your NGPs screen. There’s a lot of possibilities there, and I hope Sony sees that.

But there’s so much more that could be done with PS3-to-NGP connectivity – imagine PSN games such as the recent HD Prince of Persia titles, playable either on your NGP or PS3. This could easily hold true for all PSN games – have DeathSpank both at home, and on the go. With synchronized trophies, since the NGP is confirmed to have trophy support. And cloud saving as well, to easily carry saves across both platforms.

PS3 games could ship with NGP-only extras on the discs, accessible by connecting the two systems. For example, you could access a special NGP game mode, or some demos, or a perhaps a portion of the game’s online feature suite, or hell – maybe the whole damn game, just so you can have it on-the-go as well.

“But hold on,” you say. “This sounds like it could cheapen the NGP software brand name.” Well, yes. But that’s assuming Sony even plans to focus on an NGP software brand name, and I don’t think they’re going to. NGP games will be sold in stores, but the physical medium will be flash cartridges. That’s right, no more UMDs. In essence, Sony is doing something rather devious with the NGP: they’re continuing their push towards an all-digital format, but they’re selling it as a physical medium. According to the Eurogamer source, all developers at Sony’s london event were told that “All games at launch available on flash would also be on PSN.”

See, Ethos? You should have just waited for this!

Also, for the sake of pure speculation, let’s cross our fingers and hope that when the NGP is released, Sony will finally give fans what they’ve been clamoring for, and start releasing PS2 classics over PSN. 3DS will have a virtual console store for GBA games, and Sony needs to follow suit. All I know is that Final Fantasy X on a portable sounds pretty damn sweet. And so does Xenosaga. And Dragon Quest VIII. And lots of other I could surely come up with.

The Grand, Sweeping Point

Much of this is yet to be seen, I know, but with the assumed focus on PS3-to-NGP compatibility, it seems that Sony is aiming the handheld squarely at their own userbase of PS3 owners. Which, if you think about it, isn’t a bad strategy. It’s kinda taking a page from Nintendo’s book in a way, and as we’ve already established it could work. If Sony sees this to its potential, and offers real rewards and useful features to PS3 owners who adopt an NGP, they could see great success. However, they do have….

Some Potential Obstacles to Overcome

Yeah, that. There are some things we don’t know about the NGP yet; some questions that need answering.

1. The Price Point – Yeah, this is honestly the biggest one. The 3DS costs $250. The NGP needs to stay around the $300 range, but I’m going to guess it’ll end up being around $350. For Sony’s sake, it better not cost any more.

2. Backwards Compatibility – it’s a bigger deal on handhelds, because while it’s practical enough to have two consoles plugged in, it makes no sense to carry around two portables. It’s safe enough to assume that any games released over PSN will be transferable, but what about all those god-damned UMD exclusives? Apparently Sony told Gigazine (via Adriansaang) that they’re working with third-party developers to bring more UMD games to the PSN store. They went on to say that they also plan to re-release PSP games on the NGP’s card-based format. However, there has been no further elaboration on the subject.

3. 3G Connectivity: Paid or Included? – it really needs to be included. Or, at the very least, make it part of a PSN+ subscription. Like a $10 addendum to the current PSN+ fee. My point is, don’t charge gamers an extra $30 per month for 3G connectivity. That would suck.

4. Cloud Saving – It’s gotta have cloud saving. If Sony really wants to market this thing as the PS3 owner’s companion, then Ethan’s gotta be able to carry his DeathSpank save from PS3 to NGP seamlessly. Sony hasn’t denied the prospect of cloud saving, but they haven’t confirmed it either. I’m 95% certain it will be included. If its not, it will have a decidedly negative effect on my desire to purchase the system.

Conclusion

I think the NGP could be a fantastic handheld. If they make it a valuable and useful device to a PS3 owner, offered at a reasonable price, then I’ll buy one. Truth be told, I’ll probably wait for the inevitable second iteration – which I predict will feature 3D. I just hope they don’t split the physical and downloadable games apart; I hope to be able to play all PSN games on the NGP, and I hope it has cloud saves. I hope all games released on flashcards see release over PSN. If they don’t establish a brand consistency between the two machines, Sony’s presence in the handheld market risks becoming irrelevant. They have an opportunity here to extend the reach of the PlayStation brand in some fantastic ways. Let’s see if they can capitalize on it.


Tingle! Tingle! Kooloo-Limpah! #009

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Yesyes, I haven’t done one of these since late May, I’m well aware. But hey, here’s one now!

More PS2 games in HD to collect on the PS3

Yup, although an ICO/SotC collection was not announced at E3, a Sony head honcho, Shuhei Yoshida, confirmed that more PS2 collections were making their way to the PS3 in HD on Blu-Ray. I’m more than okay with that, because the announced Sly Cooper collection got my attention at E3, and those are PS2 games that I never would have played otherwise. No specifics were announced, but Yoshida talked about the positive reaction to the God of War collection and how he now hears a lot of requests.

Another point of note is that Yoshida was asked about the possibility of PS2 games coming to the PSN. His reply seemed to go away from the direction of PS2 HD collections, and more in the direction of making the PS2 library available for PS3 owners. Something I’m sure they’ve been thinking about the moment they axed backwards compatibility. Yeah, I’ll pay for collections (especially on games I don’t already own), but I’m not going to pay money to rebuy my PS2 games. I’m only stupid enough to do that with Final Fantasy IX.
(IGN)

Pretty... and realtime! Click to see bigger.

Final Fantasy XIII Versus Final Fantasy Versus XIII?

Bah-hahaha, it’s Squeenix’s fault I can make such a ridiculous headline like that. But seriously, while it’s hard to recover optimism out of that landslide of disappointment that was Final Fantasy XIII, these new screens that have surfaced look pretty gorgeous. Not just that, but it’s the fact that Tetsuya Nomura is saying that the game is open world with roaming monsters. Therefore I’m pretty sure it will not be Tunnel: The Game: The Sequel.

Still, we know nothing about the battle system, or mechanics, or anything really, so I really shouldn’t be hyping this up to be an urban, adult Kingdom Hearts. Still, redemption for FFXIII is way too appealing, and so my brain will likely hold out hope for this until we have more details.
(Siliconera)

PSN and XBLA Are Trying Really Hard to Get You to Cancel Cable

Or me, at least. With ESPN free for XBox Live Gold subscribers (it just became worth it again), and now Hulu in talks with PSN, I can’t imagine any reason why I should be paying for TV. Now, Hulu has been rumoured to be in cahoots with XBox before and nothing’s happened yet, so who knows when this PSN deal will materialize, but if it’s free with PSN+ then that’s $100 a year instead of close to the same price a month for all the TV I’d want to watch anyway. Game consoles are the new TV.
(IGN)

Infinity Ward Wants to be Your BFF

Don’t really want to go into detail about this – read the linked source if you do – but I wanted to mention this at least. Infinity Ward (not Respawn) is embracing the social internet and listening to tweets and Facebook comments and even opening up a phone line to call or text with concerns or suggestions. I know other companies do this to some degree as well, I just thought it was cool.
(IGN)

This is a rich white man

EA Loves the PS3, but Especially Loves the XBox, but Especially the PS3

I like this article because it’s EA trying to pick favourites without upsetting Microsoft too much. Essentially, EA’s COO, John Schappert, spends his time talking about how well the PS3 is doing and how much EA loves it, but throws Microsoft a bone or two just in case the tides turn. My favourite quote was the following,

We have high hopes on the PlayStation 3 this year. Again, we like them all, but PlayStation 3 is doing very strong right now

Bah-hahaha! “We like them all”. It really is like a parent talking about their children.
(IGN)

See! I had a lot of shit to write. 5! 5 shit to write. That’s a lot for me, so I hope you forgive the delay. As for now? I’m hungry. See you fuckers later.

Hey! Look! Listen! #55

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

There’s a lot of stuff in my RSS reader today. Way too much for me to process right now, in fact; though I’ll do my best to touch on the more relevant news items.

Anyway, ah. Welcome to another edition of Hey! Look! Listen! I’m your host Oliver “Riddles” Motok, and there WILL be a happy ending this time!

Ahem. So. Let’s get to it.

RUMOR: Sony to Reveal “PSN+” at E3?

Okay, I like the sound of this. If it’s true, Sony has the right idea about premium online services, unlike Microsoft.

According to one of Joystiq’s sources, Sony is prepping to reveal a service called “PSN+” at their 2010 E3 Media Briefing. The rumored benefits of a PSN+ subscriber are as follows:

-Free access to a “rotating list” of PSP Minis and PSone classics. That’s pretty damn sweet.

-”Exclusive in-game DLC. Eh, that’s something I suppose.

-”First Hour” demo access to full retail titles. Unfortunately, to access the hour demo, you have to download the full game file. Still, you don’t pay unless you choose to purchase full access.

-Free “PlayStation Protection Plan” access. Yeah, that’s pretty nice.

-Cross-game voice chat. Ehh… well, I suppose that’ll excite other people.

-Cloud-based game saves. Meaning… you could access them anywhere, I suppose? Sweet.

-Some kinda auto-patching system.

All that extra goodness for PSN+ subscribers. However, online play will remain available to everyone. That’s the big difference between PSN+ and Xbox Live.

It’s rumored that the price would be in the range of $9.99 per month. Seems a bit high, though – Sony must know that it’s a bit pretentious price their service the same as Netflix. In any case, this is currently just a rumor. Frankly, though, I hope it’s true. It might encourage Microsoft to follow suit.

(Joystiq via Gizmodo)

Speaking of PSN: Modern Warfare 2 Doling Double XP This Weekend

That’s right! See, there’s this American holiday called Memorial Day that takes place this Monday the 31st. It’s a day that honors those who died in service of our military, and it’s most often celebrated with wings and beer. But me? Well, I’ll be MW2ing it up the entiiiire weekend. And I’ll have beer. And hell, maybe I’ll pick up some wings. Sounds like a damn fine weekend to me. Except for the part where I’ll suck at Modern Warfare 2 because I haven’t played it in two months. (VG247)

Insomniac Games Signs Deal with EA Partners

While I have no real experience with Insomniac Games’ work (never played Resistance, never played Ratchet and Clank) this is still an interesting bit of news; Insomniac Games has only ever made games for Sony platforms. But now, in wake of a deal with EA Partners, they’re working on a game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

The days of platform loyalty really are dead. And no, I don’t necessarily view that as a bad thing. I’m just stating an increasingly apparent fact.

Anyway. Insomniac Games will continue to work with Sony, so don’t fret, Resistance 3 is still in the works. Absolutely no details were offered on what kind of game they’re developing for EA, or when it will be released. If you want the full story, check out VG247’s interview with Insomniac’s Ted Price.

Mass Effect is Being Made Into a Movie

Yeah… I suppose it was just a matter of time.

Legendary Pictures, the studio behind films such as The Dark Knight and 300, have reportedly snapped up the film rights to Mass Effect. BioWare co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk will serve as executive producers, along with series producer Casey Hudson. I Am Legend screenwriter Mark Protosevich is supposedly interest in working on the film, and it will be produced by Avi and Ari Arad, as well as Legendary’s Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni.

Sound great, right? Meh. Not to me. The Mass Effect franchise represents a narrative experience that can only be achieved through an interactive media like a videogame. To make it into a film would be to cheapen it. It just wouldn’t be Mass Effect as Mass Effect was meant to be experienced. (VG247)

QUICKIES:

Ubisoft Toronto Working on New Splinter Cell Game - Yay, Toronto! That’s where Ethos lives!

RUMOR: Killzone 3 Coming May 2011, Features 4-Player Co-op - Okay. I mean, again, I really don’t care much about Killzone. But for those of you who do, have some rumor stew!

Alright. Well, that’s it. We’re done. Goodbye now!

Hey! Look! Listen!

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

HLLfinal

What’s worse than February?

This recurring “news” column, that’s what. This barely informative, self-gratifying, irregularly updated EXCUSE for videogame journalism.

I feel sorry for anyone who’s about to read it, frankly. But hey, everyone’s gotta bite the bullet and eat a shit sandwich at some point in their lives. For the lot of you, that day is today.

So let’s get this over with.

lusiMegaphones Ahoy! Celebrates its 50th Podcast

A lot of you probably don’t need to be informed of this, but for those of you who don’t listen to Lusipurr.com’s Megaphones Ahoy! Podcast, there’s never been a better time to start. Both myself and Ethos guest star in this special, double-sized 50th podcast. I’m there for the whole thing, while Ethos’ airtime is limited to a 15-minute pre-recorded segment. Kinda stupid, actually, but so is he.

Click here to download the cast. Alternatively, you could get it on iTunes. Or you could click that big freaking banner to the left to go straight to the website itself. Choices, choices!

I like this guy already.

Mass Effect 2 Sells 2  Million

We have our first official videogame blockbuster of 2010, folks, and it’s Mass Effect 2. Here’s some PR spin for you:

Forty perfect scores. Two million units. One pop culture phenomenon. BioWare™, a division of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: ERTS), announced today that Mass Effect™ 2 has sold-in over two million units worldwide in its first week of release*. Lauded for its intense shooter gameplay and deep, hand-crafted story, Mass Effect 2 has earned an average review score of 96** — making it the second highest rated game of all time on the Xbox 360

I’ll admit to being a little surprised. I knew Mass Effect 2 would be big, but 2 million units in a week is huge.

Then again, I’ve never seen so many people at my GameStop for the game’s midnight premiere. Not even for Modern Warfare 2. (VG247)

Heavy RainHeavy Rain Requires 4.2 Gig Install, Lets You Make Origami

Quantic Dreams’ interactive movie, Heavy Rain, will size in at a whopping 4.2 gigabytes. 4.2 gigabytes that you’ll be required to install before booting the game up. But never fear, because Quantic Dream was reportedly nice enough to include a 12-step origami minigame that you can play while performing the install.

I’m not sure that a 12-step origami piece will be enough to occupy the average gamer for 4.2 GB worth of install time, but hey, the effort is appreciated.

I haven’t talked much about Heavy Rain on Riddlethos.com, but I’m actually really looking forward to the game. I’m somewhat familiar with Quantic Dream’s previous works, having played approximately half of Indigo Prophecy back in the day. I really liked it, too – which makes me wonder why I stopped playing it.

Not interested in Heavy Rain? This video might change your mind. It features the main (female) protagonist naked. No, really. There are boobs and everything. Damn nice ones, too, as far as digitally rendered stuff goes. (VG247)

ps3slimSony Hopes to Bring More PS1/PS2 Classics to PSN, Considering Charging for PSN

IGN recently interviewed Peter Dille, Sony’s senior vice president of marketing. He’s also the man “in charge” of Sony’s PSN service.

The interview is very, very good, and there are more than a few things to latch onto and discuss. Two things in particular caught my attention: the discussion of PS2 games coming to PSN, and the possibility that Sony may go the way of Xbox Live and charge for their online service.

When asked about PS1 and PS2 classics on PSN, Dille responded that they’re “working really hard” on making more of them available. From the interview:

By all means, I think people can look for more of that because once the third-parties see how this works, it’s just found money. There’s not a whole lot of work that has to go into it and once we can get it up on the network, it finds an audience pretty quickly.

“Found money” is an excellent way to put it. On all accounts, there is absolutely no reason for PS2 games (and more PS1 games) to be on PlayStation Network. Peter Dille said it himself. I suppose it’s a matter of getting third-party developers on board, but frankly, that shouldn’t be difficult for Sony to do. So. Where are the PS2 classics?

IGN asked quite a few questions about Sony’s PlayStation Network, and one of them was if Sony ever planned to charge for it. From the interview:

It’s been our philosophy not to charge for it from launch up until now, but Kaz recently went on the record as saying that’s something we’re looking at. I can confirm that as well. That’s something that we’re actively thinking about. What’s the best way to approach that if we were to do that? You know, no announcements at this point in time, but it’s something we’re thinking about.

And… ugh. I am not in support of this. I buy multiplatform games for the PS3 for a few reasons, and the main one is that if I ever feel like playing online, I can do it for free. I don’t play enough to be considered “hardcore,” and certainly not enough to justify a $50 Xbox Live subscription, but I enjoy the occasional round of, say, Modern Warfare 2.

If Sony does introduce some type of subscription model, I sincerely hope it only applies to “premium” content – like, say, exclusive demos or videos.

I know $50 a year isn’t much to ask, and I know that people have the idea that it “pays for the stability.” But playing games online is not and should not be considered “premium content.”

I encourage you to check out the full interview here.

QUICKIES:

Here’s a few rapid-fire headlines for you. Short, sweet, and not really worth writing about at length.

Final Fantasy XIII Will Ship on Three Discs – As long as one of them doesn’t sit in a paper sleeve. (I’m looking at you, Lost Odyssey)

Final Fantasy XIV Is Coming to Xbox 360 – According to VG247, this has been “obvious for a while,” but it came as a surprise to me.

And just because we have a bit of a Simpsons thing going this week, I figured I’d include this image from the latest episode:

simpsonsZii

I should watch that show more often.

Well. Between a long night at work and frequent South Park-induced distractions, this thing went up a bit later than I anticipated. But hey, at least I did it, right? If nothing else, it means you don’t have to suffer another one of Ethos’ pathetic attempts to match my news-condensing prose.

Which is almost as bad as February, but not quite. ‘Till next time!