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What Does the PS Vita Mean for Gamers?

Will the "PSP2" really be *the* portable of the next generation?


Sony PS Vita

Sony PS Vita - Front


It looks like Sony may actually have listened to the fans when they created the PS Vita. Not only did they include several features fans were asking for, but they decided not to use a form factor similar to the PSPgo, which didn't sell all that well (mostly for reasons not related to its form factor, but never mind that for now). We've seen the pictures and the list of specifications, but what is is going to mean for gamers when they open the box and turn on the new device this holiday season (we hope)?

Double the Fun

Dual analog sticks are something that gamers have been asking for every time the PSP was revised, and until now, that request was ignored. For most PSP games, the absence of a second stick is not a big deal, as there are plenty of other buttons to use, but for some games, a second stick is crucial. As I played Lord of Arcana recently, I experience firsthand something the FPS gamers have been dealing with all along: the inability to easily move both the camera and the character at the same time. For some games, it makes a huge difference in a player's ability to get through the game (and thus in how much fun they have). With the PS Vita, a second stick will make that problem moot.

A second stick will also open up the possibility of adding PS2 Classics to the PlayStation Store, alongside PSOne Classics, as many PS2 games used both analog sticks. This would not only give Sony a huge source of extra revenue, it would give gamers an easy way to play favorite older games. The other thing to note about the PS Vita's analogs is that they are no longer the "nub" style used on the PSP, but are actual sticks (though rather short ones). This should help considerably with sore thumb problems encountered after even relatively short play sessions on the PSP.

More Ways to See

Another feature some gamers wanted to see on the PSP was a camera. The camera peripheral for the PSP didn't make it to North America until quite recently, when Eye Pet PSP and Invizimals were released. The camera offers not only more ways to play games, but it also means more non-gaming ways to use the PS Vita.

And the PS Vita won't have only a single camera, it'll have two. One backwards-facing camera will work to integrate augmented reality in some games, and it will function like the camera on just about any portable device these days. The second camera is forward-facing and might just enable users to have Skype video calls--I might yet get the portable video phone of the future I naively envisioned for the PSP when Skype was first released on it.

More To See

The PSP's screen was the biggest and brightest seen in a handheld when it was released, but Apple's iPhone4 "retina display" with its insanely high resolution has upped the ante. So Sony has responded by doubling the number of pixels on the PS Vita screen as compared to the PSP, and by making the screen just a little bigger. The result should be games with fantastically high-quality graphics. Sure, it makes the device a little less portable than its predecessor, but not too much so. The new PS Vita screen will also be OLED (organic light emitting diode) rather than LCD (liquid crystal display) which should allow considerably improved visuals without reducing the battery life too much (we hope, anyway--Sony has not yet revealed any battery life information).

More Ways to Touch

You may or may not agree that touch screens are the way of the gaming future, but they certainly are popular, and in order to better compete with Nintendo's DS and Apple's iDevices, Sony pretty much had to add touch capabilities. But they didn't settle for simply adding a touch screen. Not only is the PS Vita's main display a touch screen, but it also has a back panel that's touch sensitive. What this will mean for gaming depends on what developers do with it. A front touch screen will simply allow the PS Vita to have similar games to other touch-sensitive devices and thus better compete. A real touch pad may (and, I hope, will) allow for interesting and creative new ways of playing games.

More Ways to Connect

The PSP was already a pretty connectivity-rich device. It had wi-fi, allowing local PSP-to-PSP connections and internet connections. The original model had an IR receiver, which was never really exploited and so was dropped in later models, and the PSPgo added Bluetooth. The PS Vita will have both wi-fi and 3G connectivity (though Sony will adopt a strategy similar to Apple's, and offer one model with only wi-fi, and one with both wi-fi and 3G). What this means is more ways for players to connect. You'll be able to go multiplayer using 3G if there's no internet connection around.

More Power

Sony has apparently said that the PS Vita is as powerful as the PS3, and if you consider that statement as meaning relative to their size, then maybe it's true. What we do know is that this device has lots of guts. This could mean lousy battery life as a trade-off, which becomes a problem. Nintendo's Game Boy, remember, was not the most powerful handheld of its time, not by a long shot. Instead, it had incredible battery life. That said, battery technology is slowly improving. We'll just have to wait and see if it's enough to give the PS Vita sufficient on-the-go playtime.

More Folks on Board

Finally, and probably most crucially, Sony has good developer support. Some reports are even saying that developers are really excited about the PS Vita. You can see from the initial list of games franchises we can expect to see on the PS Vita that it's going to have at least a few really, really great names behind it. And of course, Sony will be using its own first-party developers worldwide to create a host of games. But it's the third-party support that I think will be crucial, and it looks good so far.

Basically, Just More

So from what I've seen so far, it looks like Sony is offering gamers more of everything. More of what they want, and more of what they didn't know they wanted. We'll see how all those new features will translate into gaming as the games start to be released. But I hope that developers see all that touch capability and the rest as a set of tools they could use and don't feel they have to use all of them in every game. It could make the difference between games that are just a mess, and games that are fun, quirky and innovative.

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