Tuesday, February 1, 2011

NGP - Next Generation Portable or Not Generally Promising?

I can't say that I'm surprised that Sony would be releasing information about this considering both the growing hype surrounding the 3DS and the fact that the PSP Go and 3000 model aren't doing much of anything at the moment to help Sony's bottom line. I am kind of both confused and interested in how Sony believes their Next Generation Portable will fare against Nintendo's 3D capable handheld, and apparently the Ipod brand, considering the specs that have been revealed. 

 Tech Radar has some information about the specs that I'm going to post for your viewing enjoyment. 

The PSP2's name is NGP
Sony's codename for the PSP2 is NGP, which stands for Nice Gamey Playtime. Only kidding. It stands for Next Generation Portable.

The PSP2 specifications are pretty tasty
The PSP's replacement has a five-inch, 16 million colour 960x544 OLED touchscreen, twin cameras, twin speakers and a microphone. There are also twin analogue sticks and a ridiculously powerful quad-core processor based on the ARM Cortex A9. Expect four to five hours from the battery.

It's got twin sticks
The "biggest criticism" of the original PSP, according to GamesRadar's Justin Towell, was that it had no second stick. "Why is a second stick so important? It allows you to move your character with one stick while looking with the other."

The PSP2 specs include a touch-sensitive back
The rumour factory got this one right: the NGP includes a touch-sensitive back so you can control the on-screen action without hiding it behind your fingers. The screen's multi-touch too. The combination of a touchy front and back is fascinating - Sony talks about it enabling "touch, grab, trace, push and pull hand movements."

The PSP2 specs include POWERVR graphics
The NGP doesn't just have that nifty quad-core processor: it's got a quad-core Imagination Technologies PowerVR graphics processor too. We can summarise its spec in one word: mighty.

The PSP2 specifications include GPS
Sony promises that the PSP2's built-in GPS will mean some interesting location-aware games via the PlayStation Network, and an application called Near will let you know if your friends are, you've guessed it, near you. The PSP2 also includes a three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer and three-axis electronic compass for handheld-waggling motion-controlled tomfoolery.

The PSP2 design looks a bit like a PSP or PSPgo
Sony calls the PSP2's shape Super Oval Design, which is one in the eye for anyone who expected mere Ordinary Oval Design. It looks quite like a PSP, we think. It'll be 13mm longer than the PSP-3000 at 182mm in length - that's big. Thickness? 18.6mm.

The PSP2 UK price will be so low, Sony will lose money
That's what a little bird told Eurogamer, anyway.

PSP2 games won't be download-only
The rumour mill predicted download-only games, but while the NGP does indeed support downloadable games the device introduces yet another new format, "a small flash memory based card dedicated for NGP software titles". What Sony has said is that the games will be "PS3 quality" - quite some achievement if it pans out.
Trophies will be coming too
It seems that Sony's Trophies system from the PlayStation Network will also appear so you can score points wherever you play - even on your Android mobile....

The PSP2 will play Android games; Android will get PlayStation games
The newly announced PS Suite is fascinating: it'll bring PlayStation games to Android, and casual games from Android to the NGP. Could we also see games become cross-platform with the PS3?

The PSP2 will have a 3G connection (and Wi-Fi)
The NGP has all the connectivity options you could ask for: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and 3G. That always-on connectivity means it's ideal for social games too - so much so that Sony's gone rabbit-ears crazy in the press release, promising 'infinite possibilities for users to "encounter", "connect", "discover", "share" and "play" with friends wherever they are.' Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) says that every game title for NGP will be provided with a space called LiveArea where "users can share the fun and excitement with other players".
The PSP2 UK release date will be late 2011
Sony's a bit vague on this one. "NGP will arrive at the end of 2011", it says. In time for a lot of Christmas stockings then...

Emphasis is mine. Notice the battery life is the same as the 3DS' ? I wonder if anyone also noticed the turnabout praise for the device and yet last week gamers were clearly disturbed about the 3DS having a poorer battery life than it's previous incarnations? We gamers can be very fickle can't we? 

To those of us still up in arms about Battery life; for what the technology is promising it's actually pretty normal to expect a compromise in battery life. These portables are slowly becoming more and more complex as we introduce new technology into them. So, this is an unfortunate trade, but unlike mobile phones, these are dedicated gaming platforms which are used more frequently in that respect. Texting, talking and the occasional half hour to an hour of mobile game playtime isn't really that taxing as playing a full featured game while using features like 3G and GPS in a gaming context. 

Now that I got that out of the way I want to talk about the NGP's most critical flaw. Not the specs, not the features... the biggest thing any gamer worth their salt should of noticed right off the bat. 

Where are the games? 

Carry on, my wayward meme....

Sure the NGP has an impressive array of technology going for it, and that seems to be sony's big draw in order to lure it's 'hardcore' faithful to the device, but without games, this thing is going to be dead in the water. It's pretty much the same flaw that seems to have plagued the PS3 at it's launch; Lots of potential, yet no system selling must haves in sight. I know that there's a possibility of them coming in time, but as it stands currently, Sony is pretty determined to let  the third parties be the ones to drive content. A move that seems to be advantageous as long as the developers are on board with the console, and last time I heard, devs are going nuts over the competition at the moment. 

The really sad part to all of this is that with the lack of UMD format makes any opportunity for instant back cataloging impossible, which means if you want to upgrade you may have to pay for your old games again much like you probably would have if the PSP Go were anywhere near as successful as it would have been.
In a way, this reminds me of the old adage of how one crucial little detail can screw up everything. Much like one cherry could totally ruin one's plans for world domination. 

Another point of note is the issue of  NGP games being provided for the handheld,  Android based phones and PS3. This form of cloud based "asynchronous gaming" is referred to as the Playstation Suite. Which can be summed up in this Joystiq article
Sony's PlayStation Suite service will have somewhat humble beginnings as a delivery system for PSOne Classics on Android and will, of course, be supported on the NGP, but Sony is looking to cast a wide net with the program over time. The first step to bringing the PlayStation brand out into the world is to open it up to as many Android users as possible.
"We have a completely open stance," Hirai said (translated by Andriasang), "With carriers and with handset makers." Which means it's not just phones like Sony Ericsson's ephemeral Xperia Play that will benefit from the PlayStation Suite, but other, buttonless Android phones that people ... probably shouldn't try to play PlayStation games on. 
After Android phones, Hirai is looking to move to Android tablets. Following that, he said, "We're not ruling out PSS even on products like Sony Internet TV Powered by Google (Google TV) if adoption rate increases, or if it will help push adoption greatly." Sony is "focusing first" on Android, with an eye toward other operating systems including iOS and Windows at a later date, because "we don't have the resources to make it compatible with everything from the start." 
That's a lot of things that aren't PlayStations running PlayStation games!
oh crap. Kaz.. what's going on in that head of yours?

i'm stillll in a dreammmm , Ridge Racerrrrrrrrrrrr

The biggest impression that I get is that Sony is poised to hit the third party distribution market; Using their consoles at first and then possibly abandoning them at a later date in order to use cloud computing to distribute third party games through some sort of automated service. Basically becoming the Steam service of console gaming. I can't say if this is a good thing or not, in fact. I don't even know what to think about a move such as this. I had my suspicions as most people have that digital distribution was going to be something developers and companies were going to make a bee-line for, but to see Sony potentially cannibalizing their brand and games in order to make this a reality seems almost surreal. 

It's like they're saying "Play our games on anything you want just as long as you play them", which sounds like a last ditch effort in order to save themselves from... well .. themselves. And yet this provides some serious worry to be had about the future of the Playstation brand. For the sake of things, I really hope I'm wrong in my reasonings, but the evidence doesn't bode well at all. 

Not too keen on the design

I've never really seen a problem with the design of the PSP other than people complaining about lack of dual analog sticks, but I'm a little confused as to what they're trying to accomplish with the front and rear touch pad. Are they're making somewhat of an effort to prove they can do better than the DS's setup? And if so why is it that there were no videos showing practical application of this feature in any games. Not to toot Nintendo's horn ( Which I understand I do a lot here) But when they debuted the DS and 3DS they did tons of work to make sure you knew why the system features were there, and how they were intended to revolutionize / evolve handheld gaming. Two screens did sound rather silly until you saw exactly how these were applied. Here we just have the intentions of use, and no actual point of application, which would probably do better to generate hype than touting specs like a car collector. The thing that really gets me is the rear touch pad obscures any place to possibly remove a battery. That makes me wonder if they're possibly going to either adjust that at a later time or leave it in some strange way of going the Apple route (once the battery is done it's done and you have to purchase another console ). I don't think Sony is that ballsy, and yet if they did this, I would not be surprised in the least .

The Dpad and button dips are interesting in design, and yet (On first glance) from the top down view they look incredibly impractical. I thought that the section was all one plastic button. This lead me to believe that this was some sort of strange bastardized hybrid of the PSP and the Nokia N Gage. Fortunately, that is clearly not the case, otherwise the jokes would be flying (who's to say that they won't be?).  Also, I can't quite tell if the two nubs on the back are finger holds or actual L2 and R2 buttons. Does this also mean I have to consciously watch how I hold the NGP without accidentally moving my character or cursor due to having big hands with piano fingers? 

The price issue is interesting as well.

 The UK price is so low that Sony is going to lose money, which isn't far fetched at all considering both HD consoles were selling at a loss as well. Of Course, this goes into the whole complex technological features being introduced into consoles in order to cater to technophiles and the most dedicated Playstation gamers. Since Nintendo has already set the bar at a suggested retail price of $249.99, Sony is going to definitely have a hard time gaining a foothold if it has to sell above that. Analysts are saying expect the handheld to be between $299 and $349 (£187-£219) ( Pricing the NGP between $199.99 and $229.99 just out of one-uppery would likely be suicide) . The only news we have from Sony is that the price won't be 599.99. But that seems to be a given. After all, who would want to buy a handheld device for 600 dollars, anyway? 

Above: oh.. right. 

Will the NGP's 3G access be any different? Nope. If you want to tap into 3G, you gotta pay the fee just as you would for a smartphone or notebook, which the NGP most certainly was never intended to be unlike the upcoming [Sony Ericsson] Xperia Play, which actually IS a smartphone. You're beginning to see why Sony plans to release a NGP model where the built-in 3G is entirely optional, because some consumers may not see the big deal in paying extra for 3G functionality... only to continue paying extra monthly just for the access privileges.
To be sure, SCEE's Andrew House remains grounded in Wi-Fi as "the most important aspect of connectivity and that connected experience", and that 3G will simply be a "subset of that". To realize 3G access on the NGP, Sony will clearly need to forge partnerships with cellular network providers in all launch markets.
Of course this is going to be optional. A mandatory 3G wireless setup with additional data plans would incredibly limit the console to those who can afford both a (possibly pricey) handheld and spending money on an additional data plan for fast dedicated internet over being at the mercy of Wifi signals. Don't get me wrong, 3G is a pretty cool feature, but (like most consumers) i'm not made of money so I would likely take my chances with Wifi if I were interested in getting this product.

The Next Generation Portable is entering the game at an interesting point in time. Sony totally understands that they need to bring something out to combat the monster that is the 3DS, but it's a possibility that they don't want to put out their own 3D handheld because one - they don't want to just play "follow the leader" like they've been doing with the Sixaxis and the Move respectively, and two - They're already investing millions in pushing 3D televisions for the sake of use with the PS3. Factor in a motion control add-on that seems to be getting less and less attention, due to their own inability to market their products in a long term setting, and I'm wondering if there even is a future for Sony as a console gaming company. 

Only one thing is certain right now. I'll be watching from my computer chair to see how this endeavor plays out. 

Game On. 

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