It’s taken some time, but Sony this morning finally stepped up its game in the handheld space.
At a special event in Tokyo, SCE president Kaz Hirai unveiled a new strategy that sees the format-holder embrace the evolving world of mobile content.
For the time being, the PSP2 is being known as the NGP – Next Generation Portable.
But, crucially – and as predicted by MCV two weeks ago – the showcase saw it also unveil new impressive high-end portable games hardware.
During the Tokyo event, Hirai acknowledged major changes in the way mobile games content has been delivered since the arrival of the original PSP, with phones in particular advancing greatly.
SUPPORT FOR SMARTPHONES
So Sony is firstly introducing the ‘PlayStation Suite’ a new platform that extends the format onto mobile devices including Android.
Hirai described it as a ‘Hardware-neutral Game Framework’ that uses ‘legendary PlayStation content’.
A special ‘PlayStation Certified’ element means it will be properly monitored and managed by Sony and provide a secure distribution pipeline using the PlayStation Store.
Hirai said Suite "is essential to the world of portable entertainment" by adding many, many devices to the PlayStation family. It arrives by the end of 2011.
THE NEXT-GEN PSP
The big news, however, was for the next generation of PlayStation Portable, which Hirai promptly revealed to the audience.
Dubbed ‘Next Generation Portable’, Hirai described it as delivering "ultimate portable entertainment".
As we revealed two weeks ago the device itself has a similar formfactor to the PSP ‘brick’, but has two thumbsticks, and has an emphasis on PS3-quality software.
It also features both a front and rear touch-sensitive input, front and rear cameras, gyroscopic motion control (using the same technology as SixAxis and PlayStation Move), and GPS location sensors.
The input devices allow for ‘touch, grab, trace, push or pull’ said Hirai. Augmented reality features using the cameras and player movement are built into some of the games, too.
NGP’s screen is a 5" OLED five times the resolution of the PSP with a wide viewing angle. The rear touch panel is the same size as the front screen, allowing for one-to-one direct control where necessary.
The device also features Bluetooth, 3G and WiFi connectivity.
Its CPU is an ARM Cortex-A9, ad the devices dimensions are 18.2cm by 8.35cm and 1,86cm deep.
The device starts rolling out from the end of the year.
A NEW GAME MEDIUM
NGP uses an SD card-like media format for games.
According to Sony this is a flash memoir card, that can "store the full software titles plus add-on game content or the game save data directly on to the card".
SCE says it will be able to provide game cards with higher capacity in the future, "allowing developers to store more game data to deliver rich and immersive games".
Most importantly, this keeps retail in the loop as part of the PlayStation business, presumably selling the bigger games on card in stores.
An impressive demo of Uncharted revealed how all the new hardware can work together – using the classic controls for basic functions, but using the forward and rear-facing touch pads to interact with the environment.
An on-screen video also showed key franchises and new games for the device from first-party studios including Killzone, LittleBigPlanet, WipEout, Hot Shots Golf, Gravity Daze, Reality Fighters, Smart As, Broken and Little Deviants.
An improved software interface and deeply ingrained network and social functions are also key to the new PSP.
A ‘Live Area’ front-end for games links the player to their games and the PlayStation store, and is controlled via the touch-screen.
Using the 3G connection it is constantly connected, and even uses location-aware elements to help you find nearby players using an app called ‘Near’.
Plus, games built for the aforementioned smartphone PlayStation Suite for Android devices will run on the new Sony device.
Hirai said he hopes this system ultimately upsells PSP2 to Android players.
Third-parties are also supporting the device – Hirai specifically called out Capcom, Sega, Tecmo Koei, Activision, Epic and Konami. The demos from each showed off a range of functions, from the devices sheer brute-force power, to the unique interface.
Capcom went on stage to show off Monster Hunter Portable 3, a downloadable game, and explain how it was adapting its proprietary next-gen games engine MT Framework for the device, with parity between PS3 and PSP2 content.
Sega’s Toshihiro Nagoshi – best known for Yakuza and Super Monkey Ball – also stood up to praise the device, calling it ‘hardware with no excuses’ according to Eurogamer, and showed a ported sequence from Yakuza to prove it.
"Everything can be transformed to NGP," Nagoshi added, underlining the emphasis on cross-platform support Sony is advocating with PSP2.
Tecmo Koei’s demo was of a new Dynasty Warriors game adapted for NGP.
Metal Gear Solid maestro Hideo Kojima was of course on hand to represent Konami, showing an adapted version of MGS4 running on the device. (Somewhere a Sony exec is laughing darkly, given that Kojima’s 3DS offering is MGS3.)
Kojima inevitably praised the device’s abilities, but also talked at length about its networked capabilities and tendency towards cloud-based content.
Next up was Epic Games’ CTO Tim Sweeny, who had a high-end Unreal Engine tech demo to show off, plus some other UE3-based content easily readapted for NGP, and a soundbite Sony will love: ‘We consider this device a game-changer.’
Perhaps the big box office moment, however, was the arrival of Activision’s Philip Earl, one of the key execs overseeing the Call of Duty franchise, on stage. He announced a new NGP Call of Duty that will "set the bar" for next-gen portable gaming.
"We’re considering the full array of NGP features […] the possibilities are endless," he said. Although there was no footage to show.
Kaz Hirai concluded the presentation with a burst of names of other developers working on the platform, including PopCap, Rockstar, Q Entertainment, Ubisoft and a host of others.
Pic Source: Kotaku