The Sony press conference has concluded, leaving the usual hype and tall promises in its wake... but also some substance to back up those claims. After the conference, attendees were encouraged to play demos of upcoming Playstation 3 titles on development hardware. That's a definite improvement over videos which can be enhanced to exaggerate a game system's capabilities.
So what happened during the conference? The announcements and demonstrations made by Sony's top brass and third-party representatives evoked a wide range of feelings. I personally felt everything from comforting reassurance to teeth-grinding annoyance to outright disbelief.
The reassurance came from the demonstration of the Playstation Portable running games originally released for the Playstation ten years ago. That may not be a selling point for some, but I've personally been waiting for this feature ever since the rumor of backward compatibility appeared on gaming news sites, and am deeply relieved to finally see it in action. These golden oldies will be downloadable from a special Sony distribution site, but no prices have been set for them. If Sony plays its cards right and sweet talks its third parties, it could expand the software library of its beleagured handheld with hundreds of titles. This is very good news.
There's more good news for owners of Playstation products. Sony's Kaz Hirai has promised that online and networked gaming will be the lifeblood of the Playstation 3, claiming that "it will be a standard feature in the future, like air conditioning in cars" and that "it will be as essential to game systems as the air we breathe." More importantly, and perhaps most surprisingly, Hirai declared that the basic features offered by Sony's HUB online service would be free to all players. There will, however, be online commerce in the form of micropayments, similar to the way Xbox 360 owners can purchase games and additional content from the Xbox Live service.
There's more, folks. The Greatest Hits line of budget priced Playstation hits will be extended to the Playstation Portable. Sony's taking the first step by offering five of their own titles for just $19.99 each. These games include ATV Off-Road Fury: Blazin' Trails, Ape Escape: On The Loose, Twisted Metal: Head On, WipeOut Pure, and Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee. Just from looking at this list, you can tell that the folks of Sony are really fond of long-winded subtitles. Er, anyway, there's no news on what third party games will be added to the list of Greatest Hits, but it's probably safe to assume that the puzzlicious Lumines will be among them.
Well, that's enough good news. Next comes the irritation, provided in spades by Kaz Hirai. The smarmy director of Sony Computer Entertainment America was up to his usual mischief, once again making the claim that "the next generation of systems doesn't start until WE say it does." Two hours of this man's self-serving, arrogant ranting would make even the most mild-mannered research scientist turn green and destroy entire cities with his bare hands. Hirai would later go on to put what little of my hair is left in jeopardy with narcissistic claims about the popularity of the PSP, conveniently leaving out that the system is getting spanked like a masochist in heat by the DS in Japan.
Last come the jaw-dropping surprises. After enduring thousands of complaints, Sony has relented and brought back the Dual Shock design for the Playstation 3 controller. The boomerang won't be making an appearance on these shores, or Japan, or even Australia where it would be most appropriate. What we've got instead is a standard Dual Shock controller, covered in tacky silver spray paint. It looks familiar, but there's a new feature hidden inside, replacing an old one. The vibration motor that got Sony in hot water with Immersion Technologies has been swapped out with a motion sensor... you know, like the one in the Wii remote. Pretty much exactly like the one in the Wii remote, actually.
Another shocker was the price of the Playstation 3. When Kutaragi said that the system wasn't going to be cheap, he wasn't kidding! A base model Playstation 3, with a low-capacity 20 gig hard drive and (according to several news sources) no slots for SD cards, will set American gamers back $499. Yeah, that's actually a hundred dollars MORE than a fully loaded Xbox 360, with its own 20 gig hard drive. A deluxe Playstation 3 with a 60 gig hard drive and slots for other forms of media will come with a deluxe price... exactly $599, just a hundred dollars less than the sticker price of the first 3DO. When I originally made this point to someone in a chat room I frequent, he asked, "What the hell is a 3DO?" Yeah, my point exactly.
Now that the emotions are out of the way, let's get to the cold, hard facts. To qualify as a Greatest Hit, a PSP game has to be out on the market for at least nine months and sell at least a quarter of a million copies. The Playstation 3 will support a wide variety of media formats... nearly everything that spins will fit into the disc drive, while the more expensive model will also accept SD cards. The Playstation 3 will use the Emotion Engine- er, Cell Processor, and over ten thousand development systems have already been shipped to third parties eager to start work on their first Playstation 3 games.
And just what games will be available for the Playstation 3? Well, you've got all the usual flagship titles which you've come to expect from a Playstation launch, including Ridge Racer, Metal Gear Solid, and Tekken. Sega's throwing in its own two cents with a new installment of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, as well as Virtua Fighter 5. Then there are a handful of original releases, including The Resistance: Fall of Man, a not-so-cuddy first-person shooter from Spyro the Dragon creators Insomniac Games. The Resistance takes place in an alternate 1940's, where Hitler was small potatoes in comparison to a bunch of nasty space creatures. Can you save humanity from an alien invasion? Will the Fuhrer get a rectal probe? We'll find out soon enough.
Speaking of probes, Electronic Arts' own Larry Probst was on hand to give a blue ribbon (Get it? Probst Blue Ribbon? OK, I'll stop now) to NBA Live '07, which features nearly photorealistic graphics. When you play this, you'll feel like you're sitting in the front row... without being sandwiched between Spike Lee and Jack Nicholsen! Tiger Woods gets another swing at the video game industry with Tiger Woods PGA Tour '07. The only tiger who prefers Wheaties to Frosted Flakes is brought to the Playstation 3 with special View-Cap technology, making him so eerily realistic that you'll swear he's trapped in your television. He's heeere...
And that's about all there is to report. The Playstation 3 is real (it's really really real!), and development has already begun on a number of games. From all indications, it seems as though history will repeat itself with the Playstation 3. The controller's the same. Many of the games are the same (although enhanced with high-definition graphics and Dolby Surround sound). Kaz Hirai and his boss Ken Kutaragi still haven't learned the concept of humility. Finally, and most importantly, the Playstation 3 will be expensive at launch, but incredibly versatile and more powerful than anything that has come before it. Meet the new boss, folks... he's the same as the old boss.
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