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Next-Gen Handhelds


rustyjaw
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I've been looking over the specs for the PSP and DS handhelds, and I have to say I'm excited about both machines. I like the direction both are taking and it will be nice to have some variety.

 

The PSP seems to essentially be a miniature console, Sony's even made a point of saying that they want to make it easy to port PS2 games to the PSP. While I like this idea, I'm concerned that it could make the PSP little more than a portable rehash machine, play old games on the go. Of course this isn't always a bad thing as often old games get updates in the process, and many old games are worth playing years down the road.

 

Along with the min-console theme, the PSP looks to be aimed at older gamers with more money. I haven't seen anyone quote a price for it, but the best-guess seems to be $250. That's 2.5 times more than the GBA SP, clearly not a toy that most parents will pick up on a whim for their children.

 

I wouldn't be surprised to see the PSP debut at a higher price-point, unless Sony pulls a loss-leader thing to try and gain marketshare quickly on Nintendo.

 

One thing I'm very much looking forward to with the PSP is a richer graphical experience, suddenly entire genres of games that were impossible to do properly on a handheld will now work, for example Gran Turismo-style racing games with true 3D environments, 3D platformers, FPS games, etc. But along with that glee, the old-schooler in me fears that this could signal the beginning of the end to 2D gaming, a style I still enjoy. I hope this isn't true, but it seems most gamers demand complex 3D games these days, if that's what sells that's where gaming will go.

 

Cue Nintendo. While the DS also sports true 3D capabilities, I believe that Nintendo isn't really trying to create a mini-console with the DS. Instead they appear to be trying to create a new kind of gaming experience. The most obvious sign of that it the dual screens, one of which allows for stylus input.

 

My concerns about the DS revolve mostly around the two screens. I wonder how many developers will really be able (or willing) to integrate dual screens into games in creative ways. What I means is that, one of the examples I've seen of the DS is Metroid which has the FPS part running on the lower screen and the map running above. While that's convenient, it's not really innovative, it's a time-saver, you don't need to leave the in-game view to take a look at the map.

 

Maybe there are other ways in which the second screen is used in Metroid that are truly new, but I fear that a lot of developers will look at the second screen simply as a place to show information that you used to have to exit the in-game view for, which may not be enough to make it a selling point. Of course I don't claim to be a clever game designer, I may be shocked at how many great ideas show up on the DS's twin screens.

 

The touch-screen on the DS is something I'm very positive about. In many ways my Palm device has replaced my GBA as my preferred portable gaming platform because I like the kinds of games and the type of interaction you have with a stylus vs a set of buttons. Puzzle games in particular function very nicely with a stylus, and if the DS becomes a bastion of puzzle games that use the touch-screen I will be extremely happy.

 

The philosophies behind these two systems is quite different, IMO. Each has it's plusses and minuses, and they are almost diametric. For example, where the PSP encourages current console games to be ported without significant changes, the DS almost requires completely new games (unless developers decide not to make special use of the second screen). The DS opens up to a whole other kind of game with the pen-based input, where the PSP sticks closely to the tried-and-true.

 

I realize I'm running really long here, so I will wrap this up with one last concern about both systems. With the new power these systems will bring to handheld gaming, are the days of $20-$30 portable games numbered? Both systems add complexities to the development process in their own way, bringing them close to the level of complexity in today's consoles. Will $50 portable games become commonplace?

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I really dig the design of the PSP, and I'll most likely be getting one knowing that Sony willput all it's weight behind it, plus there are tons of developers working on software for it. I'm expecting a 250-300$, and although that's a little pricy, I'm sure it won't hinder sale sthat much.

 

I also like the DS and what it might bring to the table. My main conern is that developers won't use the second screen for anything truly innovative, instead opting to use it as an always on inventory or map screen. The touch screen is also nice, but durability is a concern for me.

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The touch screen is also nice, but durability is a concern for me.

 

After using my new Palm with a screen protector installed from day-one, durability isn't a concern for me at all. The screen is in great shape.

 

EDIT: To follow up, I'm actually very concerned about the screen on the PSP, given that it appears not to come with a cover. Although a case is listed as an accessory, a flip-up cover would be more convenient...I have to assume that someone will come up with a attachable screen cover accessory right off the bat.

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As far as software pricing is concerned, I would be pretty surprised if the PSP software didn't come in around the $35 to $40 range. That's just guessing due to Sony's current software pricing model.

 

The DS on the other hand, I'm guessing will stick in the $20 to $30 range. They've already commented on the media that they'll be using will be cheaper than the GBA's media... so I would guess it would allow them to stay in the same price range.

 

Both just guesses on my part though.

 

Glen

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Originally posted by Pharmboy@May 12 2004, 02:50 PM

little more than a portable rehash machine, play old games on the go.

 

With all due respect to the GBA, how much of its line-up is old SNES titles? :P

Well, this is why I followed up that sentence with this one:

 

Of course this isn't always a bad thing as often old games get updates in the process, and many old games are worth playing years down the road.
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Nice post, Ed.

 

A thought on the PSP:

 

Graphically-speaking, I think it would indeed be very interesting to see that kind of anticipated resolution and acuity on a portable device. However, I'm concerned about screen size. What good is Console-quality images when you can't make out the fine details anyway, due to the small screen? The screen size on the GBA is all you really need to enjoy its level of graphics. That same screen displaying what we're anticipating may not be enough.

 

Just a thought.

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Originally posted by Sam P@May 12 2004, 04:47 PM

Nice post, Ed.

 

A thought on the PSP:

 

Graphically-speaking, I think it would indeed be very interesting to see that kind of anticipated resolution and acuity on a portable device. However, I'm concerned about screen size. What good is Console-quality images when you can't make out the fine details anyway, due to the small screen? The screen size on the GBA is all you really need to enjoy its level of graphics. That same screen displaying what we're anticipating may not be enough.

 

Just a thought.

Right. Let's compare the PSP and GBA

 

The PSP (480x272 pixels) has 130,560 pixels, 4.3" diagonal

 

The GBA (240x160 pixels) has 38,400 pixels, 2.9" diagonal

 

The PSP displays almost 3.5 times the information of the GBA. And it displays far more color (24-bit vs 16-bit), which will allow more detail by itself.

 

Compared to standard def TV (640x480 pixels) has 307,200 pixels.

 

TV displays 2.4 times as much information as the PSP, which is substantial, but the PSP is closer to TV than it is to the GBA (by percentages).

 

Another way to look at it is if you too a TV, flipped it 90-degrees and chopped the image in half, you'd be close to what the PSP is capable of (minus 48 vertical pixels). So it's kind of like what you get if you play split-screen games on TV.

 

That's not bad at all.

 

Yes, the screen is small, but 4.3" isn't bad, considering how much larger it is than the GBA. And as anyone with a small TV can tell you, shrinking all those pixels down actually makes the image sharper. It doesn't add information, but increased sharpness looks nice.

 

So no, we're not at the level of television yet, but I think the PSP will be the first handheld to approximate a console experience. If developers are careful in making details easier to see at the small size (compared to TV), I think some serious gaming could be had on it.

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It doesn't add information, but increased sharpness looks nice.

 

Not to mention it makes scanlines and artifacts less visible if you're on interlaced.

 

It makes sense that they would design the visuals accordingly. After all, they're working with just one screen size/ type, unlike consoles which are displayed on a million different devices.

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Originally posted by CaptDS9E@May 12 2004, 05:49 PM

You guys know i love multplayer and DS online has my eye. Expecially Mario Kart. PSP has my intrest as well , but price is a big point with both these systems.

 

capt

Well, they both have 802.11b, so there's no reason that a developer couldn't make multiplayer games for the PSP as well, you walk into a hotspot, log on to the net and if a game server is available you're hooked up. I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen on both platforms.

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4.3" isn't bad

 

You hope that's what she'll say.

 

 

Seriously though, both these systems seriously grab my attention. But the price factor is going to play a major role in my opinion. It was tough for me to through down $100 for a GBA. Now maybe $150 for a DS and upwards of $250 for a PSP. That?s a lot of allowance money. I know they say they aren?t marketing towards kids, but I don?t see that many adults playing GBA at the airportor anywere else. They play with their PDAs and iPods. I?m sure Sony will make a stellar portable, I just worry that not enough kids will convince their parents to buy one for them.

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Actually, since the SP was released I'm surprised at how they have sprung up everywhere here (San Francisco). I see adults on the subway frequently playing the GBA SP.

 

Of course, I also see a lot of people using PDAs too, and on the rare occasion I can actually see what they are doing with it, 7 out of 10 times it's playing a game.

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Considering the MP3 and movie capabilities of the PSP, I don't see it as a hefty expense, honestly. I spent $400 on my iPod. If the PSP offers swappable disks for MP3 playback at 1.8g per disk, I might just start using that instead. It still doesn't compare to 30 gigs on an iPod, but if I'm traveling, I can bring just the PSP with a couple games, mp3 disks, and a movie or two for all my entertainment needs.

 

The DS, on the other hand, I'm not sold on at all. I have a GBA, not an SP, and I have yet to complete a game on that system. It might be that I hate the screen, it might be that I don't like the games, but I just don't dig it, and have no need to get an SP.

 

In regards to the DS, I'll be *very* surprised if it gets a lot of real support from developers. First off, the interface will force them to make completely different games. While this is what Nintendo is hoping for, it's not what developers want to deal with. A couple interesting titles will come out, but I have a feeling that the development cost / benefit ratio will keep companies away from it. Of course, if market penetration warrants it, developers will be all over it. It is the Gameboy after all, the best-known and market-owning handheld.

 

I hope I'm wrong about the DS. If anything, I think we might see some titles that "kind of" use the screen for things like maps, radars, inventories, etc.

 

Also consider the ergonomics of the thing. It's a portable item meant to be held with two hands and played at leisure. The notion of keeping a stylus ready while controlling in a traditional way tells me a couple things may happen: a) confusion, B) lots of lost stylii. As a professional in the usability / user experience space, I wouldn't endorse this idea. While it's potentially novel, it's setting users up for a lot of problems.

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I am saying, however, that I suspect that Sony will ensure a DRM scheme that crosses it off my list

 

Agreed, or something to the affect of a later "patch" to add those features as Sony has done with alot of recent hardware (and promised as such with the release of the PS2 HDD). Of course the push to 2005 for the PSP bodes well in this regard. Sony is notorious for doing this type of thing but I'm hoping they know better with the PSP as it looks to be an extremely EXCITING piece of hardware!

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If the PSP offers swappable disks for MP3 playback at 1.8g per disk, I might just start using that instead.

 

Don't get your hopes up. I can't remember where I read it but the story is that Sony is going to be very tight-fisted with the UMD-writers to keep piracy under control. The article said that Sony would keep all the writers for themselves so developers will submit their final code to Sony for duplication!

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Originally posted by Ruffneck@May 13 2004, 04:12 PM

http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/05/13/news_6098199.html

 

I think this is a good start. :)

Seeing 3 confirmed games from Square makes me smile. :)

 

I have to say that when they first started talking about the DS, they thought 10% of people being interested in it would be a good thing. I think we're way beyond 10% now, don't you think?

 

Glen

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