This week we're weighing up the latest news on Sony's NGP, and to help us we've brought in an ex-Kotaku Editor. Which one? Well, we'll give you a clue - his name rhymes with mild-juice. And I had to edit out multiple references to Far Cry 2.
Of course I'm referring to Mr David Wildgoose, now Group Editor at Next Media, working relentlessly on PC Powerplay and Hyper. Speaking of Hyper, the Goose also told me you should all check out the new look issue (the one with De Blob on the cover). I agree - you should check it out. My name is Mark Serrels and the new issue of Hyper is the best games magazine in the Citadel.
Anyway, on to the topic at hand...
MARK: So Goose – what say thee in response to the NGP announcement, and all the news streaming in overnight?
GOOSE: My initial response to the NGP news was an almost complete lack of surprise. The next PSP is almost identical to the original PSP in terms of the thinking behind its design. Sony, as ever, is all about winning the hardware arms race, and the NGP is the most powerful handheld launching this year.
But I can't help but wonder, given that the PSP was the most powerful handheld of its generation, what lessons Sony learned from that humiliating loss to Nintendo?
MARK: I was actually surprised the design was so conservative. From an aesthetic standpoint I felt like the original PSP looked a little dated in comparison to the latest smartphones and even the DS Lite. I expected something... different. I expected to be surprised - for a different reason!
Before the event I said that the Sony’s new handheld was in desperate need of a point of difference and, on some level, had to be some sort of convergence device, bearing in mind that it would be directly competing with a new set of handheld devices. At this stage I’m a little unconvinced.
As for lessons learned, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of deja vu. We had Jack Tretton channelling Ken Kutaragi, claiming that consumers would be happy to pay over the odds for slick, well presented tech, we had a number of Japanese developers demoing PS3 ports - but no new software designed specifically for the device - and very little in the way of proper third party support. The original PSP struggled with an onslaught of rushed ports – I hope the NGP doesn’t suffer a similar fate.
I have a weird, dark, unrequited love for Hideo Kojima, but his vision of cloud based gaming, which suggests that players could take their home console experiences on the move, seems to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of mobile gaming. I don’t want a home console experience in my pocket – I want an experience tailored to the medium.
GOOSE: Mark, I can't but agree with you. The PSP was at its best when it offered experiences tailored to a portable, handheld environment. I'm thinking puzzle games such as Lumines and old-school RPGs like Persona. But when a GTA or a God of War or a Resistance was shoehorned into a UMD, the compromises left you wondering why you weren't playing the real thing on a console. Even a PSP game I adored, Valkyria Chronicles 2, still had to sacrifice its console sibling's distinctive art and expansive battlefields.
But agreement makes for a boring Objection! piece, so let me play devil's advocate. Sony would argue that the NGP's twin sticks, larger screen and near-HD resolution means you can deliver console-like gaming without the compromise. You'd play Metal Gear Solid 4 on a handheld, surely?
MARK: I’ve played through Metal Gear Solid 4 four times and watching the NGP demo, with that handsome bastard Kojima presenting, almost had me limbering up for round five. So yes, I would 100% play MGS4 on a handheld.
It’s an interesting one – I think one of the greatest innovations of the PSP was its superior sleep function, which really freed developers up in terms of what they could do with on-the-go gaming.
Ready at Dawn had arguably the best track record on the PSP - with Daxter and their God of War games – and their technique was to completely ignore the fact they were developing a handheld game and simply make the best game possible with the tech. So, in that regard maybe I’m being a little pessimistic.
At the end of the day, however, my most played game on the PSP was Loco Roco – a game tailor made for the PSP. You won’t find a bigger Metal Gear Solid fan in this country, and I’ve yet to touch my copy of MGS: Peace Walker. It remains in cellophane to this day.
Take from that what you will!
GOOSE: I take from that that you don't want watered down experience on a handheld; you'd rather play console-like games on a console. While I'm sure the techno-fetishists are currently sitting in a pile of wadded, slightly moist tissues after watching the Uncharted and Unreal Engine demos, it's not something that gets me excited.
Which is why I think the PS Suite announcement was the most interesting - and why I earlier placed that "almost" qualifier on my complete lack of surprise. After experimenting with "bite-sized" gaming with the PS Minis, Sony's decision to throw open its doors to the Android development community should result in far more of the type of gaming experience I want from a handheld. Of course, whether I'm willing to fork out what will surely be well over AU$400 for the pleasure is another issue entirely.
How much would you pay for the NGP?
MARK: What I’d pay for the NGP is probably a bit irrelevant, because I’d probably be willing to pay stupid money. What I think the price will be is probably a more reasonable question.
I expect the 3DS to cost in the region of $350-400, so I wouldn’t expect the NGP to retail at anything less than $499.
It seems almost impossible to predict. A 3G enabled, 16GB iPad retails at $799.95, and the undoubtedly pricey (but super shiny) OLED screen has me wondering if Sony are more interested in targeting that premium market. That being said, I think most would baulk at anything more $599.
I think the next generation iPad is being overlooked in this equation. Most are weighing up the 3DS and the NGP, but the 3DS will sell to a different market, searching for a different experience. Sony are essentially butting heads with the Smartphone market and the insane range of new tablets that’ll hit the market in 2011. Children and ‘core’ gamers will happily carry around a 3DS alongside their iPhone/iPad, but will they do the same with an NGP?
GOOSE: You're probably right in regard to pricing. The DSi XL launched at $349 so that's surely the minimum we're looking at for the 3DS. The PSPgo launched at $449 - a figure admittedly skewed high by the excessive margin Sony had to offer retailers to even stock the download-only device - and the NGP looks considerably more costly than that. With a price tag of around $500-600 is Sony running the risk of falling in between the high-end iPad and the low-end smartphone with a product that sort of mixes bits of both, but doesn't do enough to stand on its own as an all-in-one device?
Software pricing is another concern - and not just for Sony but for Nintendo, too. PSP and DS games are already vastly overpriced compared to the smartphone market. When NGP games are pushing "close to PS3 graphics", you can bet they're not going to be selling for $1 a pop. Consumers already don't pay $50 for a PSP game; why would they start paying more than that for an NGP game?
Still, we're speculating mere hours after the device was revealed. Sony's got the best part of a year to come up with answers to all these questions - probably longer in our case since I very much doubt the NGP will launch in Australia in 2011. And by that point, with the 3DS established and new iPad and smartphone models in the wild, the market could look very different.