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Thoughts on Sony Eriksson Xperia Play Announcement

Xperia Play

We all knew it was coming months ago but Sony Eriksson finally announced the Xperia play android smartphone in a superbowl ad. The phone is as we’ve seen before, essentially an Xperia X10 with a slide-out panel with PSP go style buttons. There seems to be a middletouch panel which incorporates controls which are possibly intended to mimic analogue sticks.

The device is the first to make use of Sony‘s new Playstation Suite scheme which allows Sony to distribute both classic and new playstation branded titles on a wide selection of hardware running the Android operating system, as opposed to only on the PSP.

In theory, it’s an interesting idea that should work. In practise, the phones have to be good and have to offer something new and interesting to consumers. One issue Sony might have is that harcore Playstation and PSP fans will want to stick with the current PSP and NGP to come soon, and want to keep their smartphone as an iPhone or other model.

Smartphone owners who are casually into games but not necessarily into Playstation will also be likely to go with whatever device is the best for general features such as the phone and browser.

In other words, if Sony want this phone to be successful and not be a repeat of the NGage, it needs to be a great general smartphone as well as having a unique and strong gaming element. A competitive price on the phone and data plans would obviously help too.

When I first saw the leaked photos and information about the device back in August last year on Engadget, I thought this was an absolutely terrible idea and hoped the photos weren’t real. Now, after hearing about playstation suite, I have more confidence in it. However, I still think it will be a niche product, will confuse casual gamers who won’t be able to understand the difference between this and the NGP, and unfortunately it could be forgotten quite quickly after launch unless Sony really does something special with it.

You just have to hope that they’ve learned their lesson from the PSP go and will go the extra mile to make sure future handheld products such as this one are a success.

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Sony Playstation Suite

Playstation suite was announced at the same event as the NGP but I didn’t get around to mention it in my original post. This is a new product that will be available to Android smartphones and tablets. It will allow downloading and playing of official playstation games, old and new on non-Sony devices for the first time.

It’s clear that this is the company’s first real attempt at the cheap downloadable mobile games market, as minis have in many peoples eyes been a colossal failure. Despite it being highly unlikely that they’ll give Apple any real competition, I think it’s the right tactic for Sony and their ambitions in mobile gaming to be using.

It’s a but strange that they chose to announce the service at this event, but they held back the announcement of the much talked about Xperia Play (rumoured name) until most likely the world mobile event in Barcelona in February.

The announcement of PS Suite all but guarantees the device is definitely coming and soon, but I suppose they just didn’t want to confuse everyone by showing two new pieces of hardware on the same day.

Hopefully we’ll get more info on the service including how and when it will be made available, the games and hardware soon.

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Sony Playstation Meeting 2011 (PSP2 / NGP) Thoughts

The PSP2 (codenamed NGP for next generation portable) is the result of what happens when Sony are keen to make up for previous mistakes, mostly the PSP go and listen to the players’ requests. As far as features go, it has everything you could want. Yes, I would probably have preferred a slider form factor, or even a flip, but it’s still got everything else almost any gamer could ask for. Here’s what it has:

  • Two analogue sticks, and from what I’ve seen so far, they appear to be actual sticks and not nubs as before, making them hopefully much more usable.
  • It’s not download only. This is a big deal. The go was a disaster, not because downloading isn’t the future, it was just implemented terribly and was also before its time. Adapted memory cards will feel familiar to Nintendo players and is the right thing for Sony to be doing now as it keeps them a big firmly placed in retail stores.
  • It has a huge 5 inch touch OLED screen, but when you look at it next to the 3000, it doesn’t actually look that big. While it’s not as portable as before in terms of pocketing it, most people would likely put their PSP in their bag anyway so I don’t see it as a problem whatsoever.
  • The touch panel on the back I was worried would be too big a part of the product, but I feel that it’s most likely going to be a gimmick like the sixaxis and hardly used. It will be good but will only give additional options to developers, just as the current gimmick started by Apple and now adopted by Nintendo and Sony of sensors and gyroscopes won’t feature in most games.
  • It’s casual friendly. The interface looks very Apple inspired. The bubbles on each “home screen” change the formula around from the grid style Apple pioneered, but you can see where they got their inspiration from, especially when you look at the dots at the bottom which indicate what home screen you’re on. The array of sensors and that big touch screen really make this a device that can eventually have mass appeal. Like the 3DS is positioned predominantly to target hardcore gamers at first, Sony are doing the same here, but admittedly with far less chance of broadening the appeal later on. They won’t be too worried about that though as they know their market well.
  • They have crammed in everything but the kitchen sink. The device has almost everything you could want. 3G, GPS, quad-core processing and PS3 like graphics as well the obvious things like wi-fi and bluetooth. This makes Nintendo’s SpotPass and StreetPass look very basic by comparison.
  • Playstation Network is fully integrated, meaning we’ll probably get to see our online friends, message them, invite them to games, maybe even voice chat. This would all be in addition to trophy support. Even though I don’t chase trophies like I used to, it’s still nice to get them when I’m not trying and it’s a feature that a lot of people want so I’m happy about that too.

That is about all I can think to mention about the system. Normally, after events like these from Sony and other companies, in recent times I’ve often felt disappointed and always left pondering where they could have improved. This time it’s hard to find fault with the NGP.

While it’s essentially the same strategy as the PSP was launched with, of pure power and the promise of console style gaming on a handheld. This time Sony are in a much better position to truly fulfil that premise and give Nintendo a better run for their money.

The only remaining question everyone has is how much it will cost. Of course, all of the great news today could be undone if they announce it at £300 or more, and you could easily see them doing so considering the specs the machine boasts. You just have to hope that they’ve either found a way to produce it fairly cheaply, or are willing to take a hit on the system to make it back on game sales. Perhaps a combination of these is likely.

Another point to bear in mind is that Sony are desperate to put the failure of the PSP go and the PS3 launch price behind them, and therefore they may be considering being aggressive on price straight away to try to avoid damaging their reputation again. They will want to keep things going steadily as they have been with PS3 for the last two to three years.

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Video Game Comics

Resistance (comics)
Image via Wikipedia

The worlds of games and comics are increasingly converging. Whether it be the digital distribution of comics through devices such as the PSP or iDevices, or actual comics based on games. I want to focus on the comics themselves in this post however.

Recently we’ve seen the likes of Halo, Resistance, WoW, God of War and Ratchet & Clank among many others all get turned into comics. The issue I have is that most games don’t tend to have stories which are particularly interesting, unique or long. Games have traditionally been sold mainly on gameplay and not on story.

In that last few years, that has changed and more games include complex and engaging story lines. Therefore, you would hope that the future of game based comics is looking considerably brighter since up to this point, the reviews for those types of books are generally not favourable.

You would think that games from the likes of bioware, such as Mass Effect or Dragon Age would be ideal for comic adaptations. God of War, less so. It’s also strange that the World of Warcraft comics haven’t been better as they have a huge back-story of lore to pull from.

Perhaps it’s just taking comic book writers and game makers time to adjust to each other’s mediums. Game creators need to provide comic writers with better source material and characters, and comic book creators may need to further get to grips with the gaming medium and how they can best portray a game story in comic pages.

If these things happen, then we may see some truly great game comics in the next few years. Right now it seems that it’s more of a cash cow for both parties and that has to change. Just like in the games industry, quality is what sells in the end so it makes sense to only pick games which have enough story to translate successfully. It also helps to get great talent working on these books. If a great game is combined with a great writer and artist, perhaps we could see some of the most critically acclaimed comics originate from games in the foreseeable future.

For people like me who like to see new ideas in comics rather than rehashing the same characters and stories for decades, it’s good for us too. Just as long as the quality is where it should be. Let’s just hope that this breed of comic becomes much more than just a collector’s item for fans who buy the special edition of a hit game.