Finally, this week saw the lid blown off of the top of Sony's not-too-well-kept secret regarding its upcoming handheld device. Codenamed the 'NGP' we've already rounded up the early news and had a glimpse of what's to come. There's no indication as yet of when the portable console will come to light, Nintendo's 3DS dropping this March, of course, but one thing is for certain...the battle for portable gaming supremacy just got a lot more interesting.
Check out Matt, Jon and Tom's reactions to the newly proposed portable console and hit us up with your thoughts in the comments section below!
Once again, it would seem that Sony are going to deliver a device that gadget nuts have only previously pictured in their wildest mechanical fantasies. Stuffed with technology, pulsating with power, the NGP has gone and stolen a whole bunch of Nintendo's thunder with its toweringly impressive specifications. Dual-sticks, a massive touchscreen, a rear trackpad, titanic TARDIS's of power in the CPU and GPU, accelerometers and cameras. You'd better keep it away from your other half when it comes out, because it'll almost invariably have sex with them such is its potency.
But is anyone else getting a massively strong sense of deja-vu? Nintendo, understandably, are pursuing something of a legacy with the 3DS. The clue is in the title. They got it pretty much bang-on with the laughably underpowered, but incredibly endearing, DS and the addition of increased power and glasses free 3D, not to mention that lovely analogue nub, is a logical extension. It looks planned.
By contrast, it kind of looks like Sony panicked and chucked literally every gadget they could find at the NGP.
The last time Sony tried this they ended up launching a bloated console with few titles to keep it afloat, dropping a whole bunch of features and pricing themselves out of the market. Of course, the PS3 had rather more going for it after that, largely thanks to slow but steady groundswell movement and a carefully collected stable of first and second party developers, but 2006 was hardly a brilliant year for them.
And let us not forget the original PSP. As Jon suggests below, this latest turn of events casts the old handheld as something of an orphaned child in winter - locked outside in the cold and left to wither and die. But there are lessons to be learned from the PSP's release too. Power does not equal profit, yet Sony appear to be following the same model as last time: a powerhouse portable that's actually less portable than it seems.
But the battle will be won and lost, as it nearly always is, with the software. The PSP had some great technical games, but nothing that really made the console a definitive purchase. Whilst the DS had games exclusive to the platform that offered experiences you literally couldn't find anywhere else, the PSP was too often cast as the little brother to the PS3. There was nothing there upon which to build any kind of lasting legacy. it will be interesting to see whether or not Sony and its developers can take advantage of the fact that the NGP is equipped to deal with both PS3-style games and those you'd find on the iPhone.
Sony have highlighted a bridging point between the two and tried to appeal to both camps, the aim being why choose one when you can have both? But what if you already have both: a console and a smart phone? What then? I'm looking for a unique selling point other than that the device is looking to fulfil my gadgetry addiction. I fear that by simply chucking in every bit of technology already in use, Sony have forgotten to innovate this time. Don't get me wrong: I'm excited, it looks amazing and I want it to succeed so very much, but I'm desperately hoping that they make the most of it otherwise we might see an old story come back around for another pass.
First things first: the NGP is an amazing piece of kit. You know it. I know it. And everyone on the internet knows it. To this end, I'm not going to bang on about the (delicious, succulent and disturbingly erotic) hardware and focus on a home truth that's been slowly blossoming from a minor concern into a full-blown worry. Dear reader, there is an elephant in the room- and a question that nobody seems willing to ask.
Sure, we've got something to look forward to... but what will happen to the PSP now?
Many pundits wondered why Sony took so long to announce the NGP despite us knowing practically everything about it months in advance- but in hindsight, they justifiably held on as long as they possibly could. Basically, unveiling the NGP has doomed the poor ol' PSP to a year of hell.
Nintendo's latest financial reports clearly demonstrate that people don't buy handhelds when their successor looms on the horizon. It's a no-brainer, and PSP sales are already on the ropes outside of Japan. However, as usual, software is the major issue. The 3DS will be backwards compatible; meaning that developers can merrily keep on coding safe in the knowledge that their games will have a consumer base down the line. Hell, shovelware merchants can keep churning out games in the cheap and cheerful DS format for years to come.
But the NGP isn't backwards compatible, meaning that studios have a stark decision to make regarding PSP development. Eleven months simply isn't enough time to create a new engine, design a game experience, test and release it... but on top of all that, developers will need to sell it as well. In effect, Sony has forced developers to make a choice between rushing out games for the PSP or carefully crafting new titles for the NGP, and you'd better believe that they'll choose the latter option in droves.
Us consumers face a similar quandary. Do we spend our hard-earned cash on a format that's been dated for death? Or do we save up for the shiny newcomer with its sexy specs and glistening pecs? I think we both know the answer to that.
We can all agree that the UMD needs to go, but as a first day PSP adopter, I genuinely despair for the next twelve months. Whilst my crystal ball is cloudy, I can just about see my piano-black pal through the swirling mists; encrusted with dust, spider webs and grime as it languishes on my shelf. Sony has left their first handheld (as well as its fans) out in the cold- and let me be blunt- this next year will be bitterly cold indeed.
Still, the NGP looks fantastic... and Sony fans are used to hibernating through the harsh winters to emerge into console glory days. Maybe I'm worrying too much?
One of the first things that flashed through my mind when I started to read up about Sony's new mouthwatering gadget was 'How much is this thing going to weigh?!'. Just when you think you've got to the end of its list of features, you discover that you've still got a fair amount left to scroll through. As intriguing as that is from a technological perspective, this is meant to be a device that you can easily carry around with you, and I for one don't want a brick to slow me down when I've got to quickly get to my desired location.
With 3G, bluetooth, and Wi-Fi all present, you should be able to get online or link up with a friend's device fairly easily, which means that the multiplayer experience might be much more immersive than the current generation of hand helds. Also, with these connectivity options available to it, plus a front and rear camera, and an on board microphone, it might be safe to say that Sony are trying to pinch some of the communications market away from Apple by allowing people to interact with one another face to face whilst on the move, via their NGPs, although that's pure speculation and I wouldn't expect anything quite as good as Facetime.
Of course the most important thing are the games and several well known series are supposed to be making a move onto the NGP including Uncharted, Resistance, and Killzone. It'll also be backwards compatible when it comes to downloadable PSP games, so all you have to do is simply transfer them from your PSP. Finally, for all of you who like a bit of a challenge, the trophy system'll be present this time around, so not only will you have another reason for multiple play throughs but they probably won't get stale quite as quickly.
That leaves us with the user interface system. There are 9 buttons including the Playstation series' classic circle, square, cross, and triangle formula, an L and R button, plus home, select and start buttons. Navigating menus or moving around game landscapes'll be done using the D-pad or two analogue sticks, and the XrossMediaBar will be replaced by a LiveArea system. In addition to the touchscreen there'll also be a rear touch pad, and as far as we know the majority of games'll support a combination of buttons and touch sensitive controls. Personally, as curious as I am about touch sensitive and button controls working in tandem, I'm slightly worried that they'll be more of a hassle than anything else, seeing as you'll have to take at least one hand away from the conventional controls in order to quickly tap the screen, before rushing back to them to prevent your character's untimely death. Touchscreen controls should also be another warning sign to Apple, seeing as it could see the introduction of iPhone / iPad style games on a device produced by a company that has a strong hold on the gaming community and may well come into the market at a much cheaper price.
When you put the sum of its parts together, what you're left with is a device that's steaming with potential. Imagine being able to walk out of the house whilst continuing to play something like Call Of Duty with your friends, without having to make a compromise when it comes to graphics. That's just one element to the equation, all the other features that are crammed into the NGP means that you'll hopefully be able to use it for a range of other functions outside of the gaming world, and could well make it a worthy adversary not only to other handheld devices, but also to other portable electronic equipment like the iPhone. My only worry is that Sony have bitten off more than they can chew, and the NGP is presented to us with a range of technology that's been haphazardly thrown together, instead of polishing off each of the individual elements so that they work smoothly with one another like a streamlined marlin effortlessly cutting its way through the ocean.