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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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Gran Turismo 5 Review

Gran Turismo 5

GT5 was highly anticipated for many years until its eventual release a few months ago. It’s not a game for everyone as a lot of gamers tend to either not enjoy or understand realistic racing simulations. Burnout this is most definitely not. I’m a huge Burnout fan too but this is a very different game, but we all know that.

This game, like the previous ones in the series demands absolute precision and rewards skill and practice. The 200 or so premium cars are things to behold. Stunningly detailed, with interior views that really make you feel like you’re driving the car. They even simulate the G-Forces and car shaking in this view. Sometimes it can be too intense to look at, especially on the oval tracks. It brings home to you the kind of punishment these professional drivers put themselves through.

Because I’m not a big fan of the other camera views the 800 standard cars, all without the cockpit view and in lower resolutions are almost worthless to me. They look awful most of the time and aren’t as fun to drive. It’s a real shame, especially as there are some great cars that are only available in standard versions, such as the Bugatti Veyron. 1000 cars is a great thing to be able to say in advertising, but in practise it’s a let down.

With this said, 200 cars is still more than almost any other video-game. I believe Forza 3 has approximately 500 in the special edition of that game. I wish Polyphony had cut the number of cars in half to that same number if they could have made them all premium quality.

Cars are nothing without tracks, and there is a great diverse collection of tracks in the game. From randomly generated Rally Stages to American Ovals, Le Mans and Suzuka, there’s something for every type of racing fan. There are even a selection of imaginary city tracks based on what could be possible if street races were held in those venues. As usual in Gran Turismo games, there are also some imaginary tracks designed to test driving skill to the maximum. These tracks are okay but they aren’t the best looking and sometimes the layouts aren’t entirely to my liking, but it’s a personal taste issue.

As far as gameplay, the cars handle brilliantly. They all handle slightly differently and you can feel this different when you race. Set-up changes, including tyre choice can make huge differences as well. Using the wrong tyre compound can cost you dearly, especially in b-spec races where the drivers can’t handle the cars and spin out.

Reviewers have been critical of GT5 as an actual game rather than a pure simulator, by saying that it’s essentially a 10 out of 10 simulator, wrapped up in a  5/10 game. It is true that some elements of the game are not entirely imaginative, and they could have made the interface a bit better, but it’s by no means broken and in my opinion I think those reviewers are being too picky. If you’re a fan of simulation racing, you will know exactly what you’re getting yourself into with GT5, and despite it’s few shortcomings, this is a very fine game that you’ll undoubtedly love.

I’ve spent a lot of time with it since it came out and I still don’t feel finished. I’ve got almost all the cars in the game I could wish for. I’ve driven every track many times and got about as far as I can with the special events as well as the regular A-Spec and B-Spec modes.

Why then would I want to continue further? Well, in a recent update, Polyphony added a new mode called Seasonal Events. This mode is updated every week with 5 new special event races for particular cars, as well as time trial and drift trial challenges with online leaderboards. It adds a lot of replay value to the game by making you interested in buying, tuning and racing cars you may have otherwise have overlooked. The rewards for these races far outweigh the cost of buying and tuning the cars. They also offer great XP to allow players to level up to the max of 40 a bit more easily by reducing the amount of grinding you’ll have to do. I assume that they’ll be doing these special events with almost all, if not all of the premium cars over time, so the game could continue to provide new reasons to play for many months to come.

Not only this, but Polyphony have stated that they plan to upgrade some standard cars to premium ones in future updates, as well as enable their online remote-racing service which you can use in a web-browser to play B-Spec races remotely. Your PS3 does have to be running and playing the game, but it’s still a nice and unique concept.

Just to mention some other small issues with the game, I feel that the online racing is below par and it’s disappointingly clunky to use. So much so that I don’t really want to bother with it until they patch it to make it much more streamlined and faster loading. Then again, most people, myself included will never race online and still play the game for months consistently and have a great time, so it won’t be a big deal for many people.

I can’t wait to see what else Kazinori and Polyphony have up their sleeves for us in future updates. In the meantime, if you don’t own this game, or even don’t own a PS3, you should pick this this game up if you think it’s your type of thing. I would also suggest buying an HD TV as well, since this game really gets the most out of it.

In general, it’s a brilliant driving game that just about met incredibly lofty expectations and you shouldn’t miss it.