Thursday, June 16, 2011

NGP morphs into PS Vita at E3

Sony's E3 conference gave birth to the new branding for NGP. It's now called the PS Vita. I can't help but think that Sony must be using the same guys Nintendo used to name the Wii U. In fact, I get visions of Dragonball dancing in my head as I just finished watching the original Dragonball anime and am now about 20 episodes into Dragonball Z. Kakarrot! Raditz! Vegeta! Vita! 

Stupid name aside, the new Playstation Portable (I refuse to call it Vita) looks to be a very capable piece of hardware. It features dual analog controls which allows for shooters to finally get the proper control scheme on a portable platform. Also included were dual touchscreens one each on the front and rear of the device with Sony showing off unique ways to interact with them. Also announced were WIFI and WIFI + 3G variants as this device will be more firmly tied to Sony's Online portal (for better or worse). UMDs will not be supported and the only way to get content would by purchasing them from the Playstation Store.

However, what Sony really stressed were the next-gen graphics capabilities and the very capable OLED screen used as the primary display. Sony claims their new portable will offer PS3-like graphics in a portable device... claims which aren't too far from the truth. A demo of Uncharted for the new portable wowed the E3 audience. However, given the obvious technical wizardy packed into the new handheld, I have to wonder what the battery life will be like. If Sony can manage 6-7 hours or more like on the current PSP's that would be great, but if it slides into 3DS territory, then you lose much of the advantage of a portable system.

It was clear Sony came out swinging for the fences. Their only real competition in the portable space has been Nintendo's wildly successful DS series of handhelds. Pricing for the WIFI unit was announced to be USD 249 while the WIFI + 3G unit would be priced higher at USD 299. This is on par with the 3DS, which would give Sony a much needed leg up in it's battle to gain market share against Nintendo.

However, neither pricing nor the technical capabilities have been the key drivers for the success or lack thereof of the PSP platform. The original PSPs had always been more powerful than Nintendo's DS series. It's always been the games that mattered. There was a distinct lack of compelling titles for the PSP, most titles being ports from the PS and PS2 throughout most of it's lifecycle. Original and unique titles were few and far between with most of the best RPG experiences being Japanese only affairs which didn't find release in the US.

The PSP suffered from a lack of identity. Sony used the platform to create PS2 like experiences on a portable device, instead of creating unique experiences for the device playing to it's strengths as a portable. So the messaging that the new portable will offer PS3 like power in a portable format has me wondering. Has Sony learned from past history or are they doomed to repeat it? Some of the demos shown at the Sony press conference and in their E3 booth are a step in the right direction. Let's hope that Sony has finally learned that it's all about the games!

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