Category Archives: Editorials

Editorials meaning extended rants.

PSP as a Media Player?

With Sony’s handheld set to launch in the US towards the end of the month, the predicted handheld war between the PSP and Nintendo DS is really going to take off. The DS has had a few months to get a head start and has achieved an impressive dent in the market in that time, but the PSP is a seriously impressive piece of kit that’s going to take some beating in a world where aesthetics are everything (just look at how the iPod’s done).

In the inevitable “which is better?” flame wars that accompany any console launch always seem to fall back on an attempt to decide whether the innovative gaming concepts that are possible with the DS’s unique hardware, an idea that is certainly appealing but has yet to prove itself as a financially viable direction for the industry, is going to compete with the PSP’s ability to function as a portable media hub. Indeed, it seems that the PSP comes closer to the concept of being an entertainment hub than Sony originally envisioned for the PS2. While it’s an appealing idea to have your movies, music, and games in one pocket (using the term loosely) machine, available wherever and whenever you want them, is it actually going to be a viable media player?

One of the first pitfalls is storage. Unless Sony come up with a recordable UMD standard – unlikely, considering the piracy implications – all of the non-game content on your PSP has to run from one of Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duos. Prices of memory obviously falls over time and with increasing demand (in 2000 a 64MB SD card would set you back £180; I just bought a 1GB card for a little over £40) but even when a $150 1GB Memory Stick Duo falls to a more affordable price, a gig simply isn’t a lot of space when you’re talking about media. Just look at how the once-cavernous 5GB early MP3 jukeboxes are now curiosities, and anything less than 20GB is now considered small. Those don’t even hold video!

It might be adequate as a music player of picture viewer, even if it’s not going to trouble the likes of Apple and iRiver too much, but what is really going to be awkward for the PSP is video. The US version will come with a free copy of Spider-Man 2 on UMD which should look great, but it’s never going to take off when movies are $20-30 each and they only work on the PSP. It’s not like you get a DVD copy with it so that you can watch it on your nice TV and sound system for the 99% of the time when you’re not sitting down with a small screen for two hours. You can’t even output the PSP to a TV to watch the movie.

The PSP can play movies off the Memory Stick, but it only accepts video in its proprietary MPEG-4 format that the user will have to encode themselves and the average person isn’t going to have a clue how to do. Putting DVDs onto the PSP could prove popular, but DVD ripping is illegal in most places, even for DVDs that you own. It will remain that way until DVD is an obsolete format (meaning: when HD-DVD/Blu-Ray is the standard and they no longer make DVDs), which isn’t going to happen in the PSP’s lifespan. Sony aren’t going to be able to advertise this ability and no-one will legally be able to make and market software to do it.

Ultimately, the PSP is going to be another portable games machine. The implementation of music and video playback is just too limited to be anything more than a gimmick. At best it will be used in the same way that a camera phone is used as a quick substitute for a real camera; the PSX CD player function updated for the 21st Century. Like the PS2 DVD player was used as a first player for many people before becoming the basic player for the kids’ bedrooms, the PSP’s multimedia functions will simply pave the way for the next generation of portable jukebox players as video functionality becomes the next big thing.

The early success of the DS has shown that new ideas can be popular, and the PSP is going to need quality software to back it up – not just PS2 ports – if it wants to take Nintendo’s handheld crown.

An N64 Port: Worth $375 million?

I had the opportunity to play the new demo disc from the US Official Xbox Magazine today, containing the first playable demos of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Conker: Live and Reloaded. I’ve enjoyed the other Splinter Cell’s tremendously and this one looks to be as good, if not better – very much more of the same, but with some incredible graphics for the Xbox (can’t wait to see it running on a decent PC) and some very cool new abilities such as the ability to cut through fabric walls such as tents and the ability to throw or push your captives to their deaths. If you liked the other ones you’ll certainly like this.

The other thing was Conker: Live and Reloaded, an upgraded port of Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the N64 and Rare’s first major Xbox release since they were purchased by Microsoft in 2002. They’re throwing in what is supposedly a very robust Xbox Live version of the N64’s underused multiplayer component (the “Live” part of the title) as well as an admittedly very impressive graphical overhaul with some of the best fur effects since Sulley in Monsters Inc. You have to ask, however, whether Rare have been a good investment so far. Their prolific and high-standard N64 output has given way to a trickle of Xbox games, so far consisting of Grabbed By The Ghoulies (average score of 7.1) and Kameo, a former GameCube game. Add an N64 port to that list and you haven’t exactly got a huge return on $375 million.

I can only assume that they’re going to have a sizable presence in the early days of the Xbox 2, with a possible Perfect Dark 2 being a substitute for an unlikely Halo 3 appearance and Banjo-Kazooie attempting to fill the hole that Blinx has tried and failed to. As a Microsoft second-party they must have access to the new Xbox hardware in some form and they must have done something over the last couple of years, after all.

My new digital camera also arrived today. I’m still playing around with it but I’m impressed both with the camera and with the service of Jack In The Box Electrical, who I got it from for £137 below the retail price. I might post some in-depth impressions once I’ve had some time to get a feel for it.

Missing the Boat to Azeroth

World of Warcraft

Saving for my September trip to Japan is draining all of my money which means that £30 on a game and £8.99/month to play it is simply out of the question at the moment, and that makes me sad.

My experience with the MMORPG genre is limited to say the least, consisting of around 20 hours of Phantasy Star Online (if that’s even a real MMO), a few hours on last year’s E3 demo of Guild Wars, and a couple of hours on the European City of Heroes beta. Until I decided that I was going to Japan I was saving my proverbial MMO cherry for World of Warcraft, knowing from the early buzz that it was going to be something special.

Indeed it is a very special game, with Blizzard doing what they do best by almost perfecting a genre on their first attempt while the competition spend years fixing bugged and flawed games, launch issues aside. As I regular on IGN’s PC General Board I read about people pouring days into it, and Penny Arcade‘s blanket coverage and outpouring of praise didn’t help my situation. As it stands I’ve still yet to set foot in Azeroth and I’m beginning to feel like I’ve missed the boat.

By now the vast majority of players will be fairly experienced and will know the ropes, so I know that as soon as I drop it as a little lvl. 1 thing with no clue what I’m doing, I’m going to be the n00b of the bunch for a long time. I will have missed out on those early days of intrepid exploration as people make the first ventures into the wider world, and there won’t be much for me to find that others haven’t already seen and told the world about already.

By the time I’ll have any spare money to play it at all it’s going to be October, the boat will probably have well and truly sailed with only the die-hard obsessives remaining, and there will be something else on the horizon. The last thing I want to do is be stuck playing with the kinds of bottom dwellers who get pissed off with you if you don’t roleplay your part. Maybe the game’s popularity will be enduring and I’ll have my chance to play it, but with so many other games to come in the meantime am I going to care? Time will have to tell on that one.

Edge Retrospectives

Edge is one of the few gaming publications that I have a lot of respect for. They can be pretentious but their features are consistently interesting even when they’re not about things that are necessarily popular, they’re insightful, and their reviews with their strict adherence to the idea that 5 = average and 10 = revolutionary are great.

They seem to be one of the few who realise that when they recommend a game people are going to spend £40 on it, which is a lot of money for what can be less than ten hours of entertainment. Dishing out 9s and 10s might get people through the door to see what the fuss is about, but they’re not going to stay if they don’t trust your judgement on what’s worth their money. That is, after all, what they’re paying you for.

Brown nosing aside, since Edge’s recent redesign I think I’ve fallen in love with their retrospectives on overlooked classics. They are, without a doubt, my favourite articles in any current publication and are well worth dropping the £4 to own the latest issue. Opening this month’s and finding six pages on Skies of Arcadia comes second only to opening the issue two months ago to find six pages on Shenmue in the greatest things ever to happen chart. I enjoyed GTA San Andreas as much as the next guy but it’s refreshing to read about a genuinely classic game that perhaps didn’t get the recognition it deserved instead. Even the fact that it’s a “warts and all” look doesn’t matter, because these are games that I’d play over and over again given the chance and will jump at the opportunity to read about them again. Too bad not many others would.

Since two of these retrospectives (my favourite ones so far, I have to admit) have been on Dreamcast games maybe the console itself could qualify as an overlooked classic. That’s certainly what I consider it: second only to the SNES.

Keep it up, Edge.