Another techy Sony product with more big promises. We've been here before, right? Not this time, though. If the NGP, or Sony's Next Generation Portable, seems different, it's because the way the portable lets gamers game.
There's something about the NGP (that's the codename for Sony's PSP2) that is simple, something that pops. Nintendo might've pioneered touch-based gaming, but Sony is taking it in an entirely different direction.
On the rear of the portable, there is a touchpad that is the same size as the screen. In the game demo I played of upcoming NGP title Little Deviants, players use the rear touchpad to manipulate cute balls around a lush cartoon landscape. But by pressing on the rear touchpad, it appears as though players' fingers stick up underneath the terrain, altering the landscape.
So by moving one's fingers around, the landscape changes as new mountains are formed. But if players stop touching the rear touchpad, the landscape returns to normal. It's a lot like putting your hand under a table cloth and moving it around a table. The game's mechanic was compelling enough to help sway Sony into including the rear touchpad. The game does feel a bit like a tech demo for the rear touchpad, but not in a bad way. It also offers the interesting feature of being able to "pinch" the cute ball characters on the front touch screen, causing them to slingslot.
According to Sony's Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida, the hope is that developers will also use the rear touchpad as extra buttons or even shortcuts for commands. It opens up an entirely new way to game.
Even familiar moves in Uncharted, the second game I demoed, are given a new spin on the NGP. Using the rear touchpad, player brush their fingers up to have the game's hero, Nathan Drake, shimmy up vines. It feels a bit like you're massaging the NGP, and pressing up on the thumbstick probably makes more sense.
The addition of touch controls on the front screen worked well in Uncharted. Players can tap vines and ledges, causing Drake to jump towards them automatically. It makes the gameplay easier than the traditional Uncharted on the PS3, but it works. The touch feature that I liked the best in Uncharted was the ability to use a swipe motion on the front screen due to the close proximity of the thumbsticks. So controlling Drake and the camera with the two thumbsticks, and then using a swipe on the touchscreen felt very natural and hardly gimmicky.
And the dual thumb "nubs" made this Uncharted feel like... Uncharted. The addition of the additional thumb nub truly gives this portable a PlayStation feel, replicating the experience of using two thumbsticks like on the PS3 controller. It's not hobbled like the PSP, which only has one thumb nub.
In the demo, I played enemy AI seemed to be a bit lacking, as I easily snuck up behind an enemy, and pressed on him via the front touchscreen, causing Drake to shove him off a climb. No doubt the AI was dumbed down so people could easily experience the press commands.
While the game looks like it's a port of the first Uncharted, the game is actually a brand new title. Thus, it has new features, like the ability to have Drake snap photos. There is a camera icon on the screen that can be pressed, bringing up photo mode. The input for photo mode uses the gyroscope, so moving the NGP around gives a different view of the landscape. Pinching the screen causes it to zoom, and touching it snaps a photo. There is also a first-person sniper mode. I picked up a sniper rifle in the game, and clicking the left shoulder button took me into sniper mode. Aiming, however, was then gyroscope-controlled. Sony seemed unsure if aiming in sniper mode would only be gyroscope-controlled as the game is still in development.
Besides a new Uncharted for the NGP, new Killzone and Resistance titles are being worked on for the NGP.
During today's presentation, the footage of Uncharted for NGP looked very close to PS3 level graphics — not quite PS3, but close. However, Capcom's Lost Planet 2 looked blocky with heavy pixelated backgrounds. If Uncharted on NGP looked close to the PS3, Lost Planet looked close to the PS2.
The NGP does not produce PS3 level graphics, and Sony's Yoshida was quick to point that out. "It's close to the PS3. You feel like it's the PS3." He's right, it is very close, thanks to developer tech like shaders, something like Uncharted looks very near to PS3 level graphics. They're not the same, but there either in the same ballpark or playing the same game.
The footage that third party developers showed today of Yakuza 4 or Metal Gear Solid 4 running on NGP are demos of what is possible on Sony's handheld. But tonight in Sony's Shinagawa headquarters, the company showed off two titles, Little Deviant and Uncharted, that show more than promises and what ifs, but playable reality.