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Early impressions of the Sony Vita, as a catalyst for general debate.

EDIT: Old article I wrote a while back. Decided to upload it.

Introduction

I recently purchased a Vita. The irony of this statement cannot be ignored, as whilst my purchase of the Vita is recent, the systems release wasn’t. Why should this matter you ask? Well quite simply due to the fact that in the time between its release and the present the Vita has not been getting a whole lot of good press, or any press for that matter.

Whilst the system undoubtedly has the potential to be great it has suffered, with poor sales worldwide, and middling reviews. The reasons for this seem varied. Whilst one might argue this is merely a result of launching a handheld in 2012, Nintendo’s 3DS has had much greater success and market penetration showing that a handheld released today can indeed sell.

However, we cannot merely use 3DS sales as evidence that the handheld market is still present. We must remember that the 3DS is made by Nintendo, remember them, I’m sure you do, and so do many others. With a Nintendo handheld people immediately associate history. Nintendo have been making handhelds since time Imodium and creates something that cannot be measured…sentimental value.

How can Sony overcome this? To some extent they can’t. Even if the Vita is a major success, times are changing. With the undeniable rise of phone-based gaming, consumers are not willing to spend $40 on a video game when they are able to purchase a game for $1 or less for their phone. Some will argue that these games are throw away, made to laugh a week or month at the most, and to a large extent they are correct. However this doesn’t matter, as in a world where phones are replaced yearly, a game that promises a week of entertainment seems a proportional purchase.

Therefore, the questions must be asked; can Sony succeed? To answer this question we will need to first quantify success, an exercise that requires a substantial reduction in expectation. The market that Nintendo came to in 1989 with the original GameBoy, and more recently in 2004 with the Dual Screen (DS) no longer exists. The market for handheld is rapidly diminishing,

Nintendo have to date sold 15,367(Units to ten thousands) DS handhelds to date, in 9 years since its launch. Whilst the breakdown can be found online, it is interesting to note that, whilst the figures are impressive, they have been declining since the year peak in 2009. When this is compared to the overall Vita sales of 2.2 million. Overall sales figures may not prove much use, as we need to bear in mind the fact that the Vita has been on the market for 15 months (from its earliest release date of 17/12/11 in Japan.)

What must be addressed however is the issue as to whether a side-by-side comparison can indeed be made between the sales figures of the two devices. As mentioned at the beginning, times are constantly changing, and the marketplace (driven by consumer expectations) has shifted dramatically since the initial launch of the DS. The DS was released in quiet seas when consumers were willing to adopt handheld devices due to lack of competition. However, the Vita has been released in stormy seas, brought on by the winds of IOS and Android. This Vita is struggling to keep its head above the water, with a wave about to break into its face. Evidence of this can be found with the original PSP sales. The PlayStation Portable (PSP) was released on December 12

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2004 in Japan, and 3 months later in the US with a release date of the 24

th

March 2005. (PAL region had a release date of 1

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September 2005.) Sony’s first handheld was seen as a success with the PSP selling a total of 71.4 million units worldwide (as of September 14

th

2011.) When contrasting the performance of the PSP against the Vita across the

The PSP’s success could even be so much as damaging Vita sales. A recent article published by NVG highlighted that PSP in the months of May/June the Sony sold a collective figure of 1.4 million handhelds. However, upon closer inspection it can be seen that 1 million of those units were PSP’s, with 400,000 consisting of Vita sales. Why is this? Can this be based purely on games? The Vita allows users to download the majority of original PSP games from the store, so it can’t be that. Features? The Vita outstrips the PSP for features, including many of the problems that original PSP owners complained. As discussed above markets have changed, however surely this cannot account for the PSP outselling the Vita….or can it. It must be asked as to why IOS and Android game have become so successful?

To answer this we need to take a step back and evaluate the market as a whole. Since the launch of the original PSP there has been a major global event; the economic downturn. People are finding themselves with less disposable income. Not only this, but those who have not found their buying power effected feel a psychological imperative to save. The effect of this can be seen without even viewing sales figures. You don’t need to be an expert to known that sales of games on IOS and Android devices has skyrocketed, and right under our noses a new industry has been born. One of the major factors without doubt is price. IOS and Android games are either free, or incur upon the user a minimal fee. Price has come to control consumption. Most of the individuals who purchase games on their phones do not read online game reviews, or follow the industry. They simply want a time wasters, something that can fill the bus journey to and from work, and for that these games are ideal. You don’t need to look far before you see Rovio’s Angry Birds being played on someone’s phone, or any of the already ubiquitous merchandise. Now, I am not stating that all IOS or Android games are throw away. Some certainly aren’t, but the ones that aren’t are usually sold in a lower number, and therefore consumed by a smaller majority that would ultimately have less effect on the handheld market.

This article is suddenly turning into a debate I wanted to write separately. Whilst I don’t mind, I shall insist upon myself that it ends now so that this separate article still has a chance of survival and individuality. However, to sum up the portable gaming market has undergone a huge shift. Whilst the precipitating factor for this can be seen as a combination of consumer purchasing power and more powerful mobile phones, the economic crisis has certainly acted as a catalyst. Whilst this market shift was undoubtedly going to occur, it is questionable as to whether it would have occurred so quickly, or in such a dramatic fashion.

Now, we can continue with the original point of this article, a discussion about he PS Vita.

At a glance

A mere glance at the Vita would give anyone enough support to state that it is undeniably an incredibly ‘sexy’ console. With a large OLED screen, and sleek curved edges the Vita is a joy to hold, and gaze at. It is also certainly a far more functional device than it’s predecessor the original PSP. Sony answered their fans calls integrating twin analogue sticks, finally allowing game developers to design fuller games. Whilst the rest of the device shares characteristics with the PSP that is no bad thing. The D-pad is present but has been enhanced, with the arrow keys now feeling sensibly stiffer and more responsive. The elegant and defining four shape buttons are present, and whilst being slightly lessened in size still feel comfortable, responsive and undeniable ‘PlayStation’. The shoulder buttons make a return and remain generally unchanged. Labelled ‘L’ and ‘R’ they continue to be rather ‘squishy’ when pushed, a feeling that can give the impression of unresponsiveness. I personally would have liked to see these replaced with a more solid ‘clicking’ response, similar in style to the face buttons. However, at present they seem perfectly accurate, and despite the immediate impressing of unresponsiveness, are instead perfectly functional.

Taking a page from Nintendo, Sony has decided to integrate a touch screen onto the Vita with general success. Let me first clarify that whilst the Nintendo DS series integrates a touch screen, it has two screens with the bottom applying touch mechanics, whilst the top displays the game. This is important as it allows Nintendo, and by result the user to enjoy the benefit of touch screen dynamics without having to obscure their gaming experience by their fingers, or the greasing marks left behind after their fingers have left. This is the main drawback with the Vita. I have already mentioned the fantastic large OLED screen. However, after messing around with the Vita for a matter of minutes, that large screen isn’t quite as beautiful. It doesn’t help that the touch screen mechanics are not only implemented into the Vita menus, but are the only way to navigate them. Therefore, you find your screen has more smudges in a couple of minutes than a cake shop window. Despite this Vita’s touch screen recognition is fantastic, with an experience I find to be nearly equal to that of the iPhone.

The PlayStation Vita comes equipped with both a front and rear-facing camera. These can be utilised in both games and unsurprisingly by the integrated camera app. The camera app allows users to take photos and video using both cameras’. These photos’ can then be uploaded to a PC, or shared over WiFi with social media services such as Facebook and Twitter.

Under the hood

Okay, we all know that the Vita is the most powerful gaming handheld on the market. I am therefore not going to even include the technical specifications in this review, let me explain why. When the PlayStation 3 was announced it was hailed for its technical prowess. The Cell Broadband Engine Architecture,

CELL microprocessor was hailed as a never before seen technological milestone in gaming hardware whilst simultaneously showing a successful collaboration of the Japanese Sony, Toshiba, and the American IBM, an alliance commonly known as “STI”.

However, presides the fancy names, was an undeniable powerful processor and system. However, was it utilised correctly? I can remember countless occasions with myself (and others) noticing that multi platform games looked (and perhaps more scarily ran) much worse on the PS3 compared to its main rival, Microsoft’s Xbox 360. People asked why? Why is a console that was touted as the most advanced piece of console hardware ever made coming up short compared to a system not only stated as being ‘less’ powerful, but also cheaper. Well, developers (upset with the bad wrap they were getting) answered and their statements were telling.

Midway’s Shaun Himmerick summarized the responses of the major video game developers’ very simply when he stated, “The politically incorrect answer is that the PS3 is a huge pain in the ass." He did elaborate however. "We had to play catch-up on the PS3 because of the memory constraints and how it renders; how it processes is just different. And it's harder on the PS3."

So you’d think after hearing this news the ever-caring Sony would try and help developers struggling to develop on their platform…….. you’d think. I say this because this isn’t dreamland and therefore this is not what happened. This was the statement from Kaz Hirai We don't provide the 'easy to program for' console that (developers) want, because 'easy to program for' means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is, what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?"

You’re probably wondering about now where I am going with this? What I am trying to say is that pure hardware is not the be all and end all. It is but a part, a utility, a vassal that allows game developers to imagine their dreams realised in the hands of consumers. Therefore, whilst the Vita may be technologically dominant, what matters is how this is utilised, managed and ultimately harnessed to turn a machine into a memorable experience.

To do this there are two main areas that need to be addressed; infrastructure and games. Personally, I always believe games are the most important factor. Infrastructure, this essentially being the operating system of the device, whilst no doubt being important is not essential, and a good infrastructure will not sell a console. Games are the crux. They are the entity that drives sales. Without a solid line-up consoles’ do and have failed. I will try my best to cover, what most would consider, the essential titles as well as covering games I believe are noteworthy.

Software

The fluidity, content and overall connection of a console’s operating system seems to hold subjective importance. Some people seem to believe that it is very important, whilst others’ opinion spands from general disinterest to utmost neglect.

Personally, I’m position somewhere around disinterest. I do genuinely appreciate a fluid operating system (menus etc.) Whilst I have certainly made my annoyance known verbally when I feel that a device is being held back due to this, I’ve discovered I have a pretty good tolerance for it.

This noted, I found the Vita menus an absolute joy to use. It was actually the first time I have flat out stated, when asked about the Vita by friends, the fluidity and overall user-friendliness of the OS (whilst this might be due to lack of opinion related to the games is another matter.) When the PlayStation 3 was released the menu, whilst being smooth was barren, devoid of both content and colour. The Vita’s menu cannot be more opposite. Not only is it colourful, but also smooth and responsive, with the touch screen being implemented fantastically. You don’t need a user manual; it is so obviously simple at first sight. The large round icons scream out to be pressed, which, when done, quickly opens up the relative program, or ‘app’.

Speaking of apps, the Vita comes pre-installed with the expected crowd, with an icon for the PlayStation Store, Friends, and Trophies. These all act in the manner you would expect, especially if you are a PS3 owner. There are some new Vita specific apps that make use of the Vita new hardware.

Games

As mentioned above, I believe games are integral to a consoles success or failure. They are so integral in fact that I am going to take more time to play them. I’m a great believer that a game is not merely the number of hours it takes to finish. It is instead the smiles, the frowns, the laughs and (on special occasion, although I’d never admit it) the cries that are expelled during those hours.

Whilst I cannot comment completely, what I can say is that the Vita is very impressive graphically. The dual analogue sticks work well, and whilst perhaps being on the small side, combine to offer a gaming experience unlike any other. I speak candidly when I say that this is the closest you will get to play a PS3 on the go.

I will follow up this article with individual game reviews, further hardware impressions and basically anything I feel deserves to be discussed regarding the Vita.

Until then, thanks for reading, good hunting.

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Let me tell you about this inspirational dude called Jack.

This is Jack. He's a classic video game collector/trader. His story is pretty cool so bear with me. He's a Hong Kong citizen. Grew up playing video games, with Zelda being his true love. As he got older, he worked in a restaurant waiting tables. With the money he gained from that he continued to collect and enjoy games. His girlfriend at the time then decided to move to Osaka in Japan to continue her studying. He followed her, and whilst there gathered a massive collection of classic games. He then returned to HK, shipping his collection back with him. He opened a store in Mong Kok with proved highly successful. With the profits he decided to live his dream and decided to open his own restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant failed leaving him penniless.

He had hit rock bottom. He said the one thing that kept him going through all the trouble was his passion for video games, and the memories associated with them. He decided to reopen his store. He now has a tiny space in the basement section of the same mall he used to look down upon from the 5th floor. Undeterred he says that whilst he runs a business that makes profit, he does it in the hope that others will be able to relive their childhood and the happiness associated with it.

As you stand there, in this tiny room filled with cigarette smoke, you can't help but feel his passion and his energy. Whilst he lost everything ("shit happens" as he put it) he continues to do what he loves, in the hope that others who may suffer the same trials and tribulations may make it through like he did.

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So I'm moving abroad

This is really a space where I like to express thoughts. I'm moving to Hong Kong on the 8th of August for 9 months. I've decided to take a teaching role. Having just graduated I feel in need of an adventure.

I've always been a firm believer that in order to grow as a person you need to do something that you are not completely ready for. I'm not 100% ready for this, and that for me is what is so exciting, Now, by now your probably thinking "dude, your insane!". However, I have been to Hong Kong before, three times actually, but I've never lived there. This will be different, this will be new, and this be certainly be a journey both in the metaphorical and the physical!

The only qualm I have with games is that they don't allow your imagination to go wild, playing them that is. Whilst I'm sure the development process requires incredible levels of imagination......(apart from maybe Call of Duty) playing them doesn't. I'm certainly not saying that playing games is 'bad' for you, as if they are....then I'm pretty buggered! No, what I'm saying is that don't expect to 'grow' from playing them. They are an escape, and whilst escapes certainly relax you, they don't......stress you.

Now.....I'm sure you thinking..."Dude have you played Super Meat Boy....that stresses me!". Okay, of course I've played Super Meat Boy, and yes I've had to search for the batteries around the room after I've thrown the controller down. However, it is not that 'stress' that I'm referring to. Instead I've referring to a different stress, a more natural stress a human stress. Whilst playing SMB can be stressful, you aren't gonna starve, get lost etc from failing. However, in a strange place, finding your way around, finding food etc is a stress that is intrinsic.....if you will a 'survival stress'

In todays world I think this 'survival stress' is more difficult to feel. We buy our food vacuum packed, waters comes out of the tap etc. However, in a strage, unknown place, all this little things (that we take for granted day to day) start t mount up.

I'm looking forward to it. I intend to use GiantBomb as my blog of this adventure...solely because its convenient, and if my friends/family want to read it they can.

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My thoughts on this generation.

Generally I think its been a really good generation. Great to see new IP's like Dead Space, and of course fantastic to see the Metal Gear Solid franchise continue and end as well as it started. I think this generation was a really interesting one. Whilst initially it was all about HD games, and the spectacle that brought. Then clearly the emphasis changed, more towards the online potential etc, and expansion of the consoles use to music, video services.

I thought it was particularly apt how Blu-ray really took a back seat, and whilst many would argue it was essential for many PS3 games, many Xbox players did not mind multiple disks.

However...the biggest update and development for me was downloadable titles. With the Xbox Marketplace and PSN Store we some really good, strong titles that really defined the importance of the 'indie' scene. It was really fantastic to see games such as Braid, Super Meat Boy, Castle Crashers, Journey (the list could go on) really come and take centre stage as 'important titles' than merely being 'the cheap alternative'.

I think this generation was generally definitive. As I'm sure you'll notice I have not included the Wii in much of this, and that is because (at least for me) it did trail behind. Whilst titles such as Mario and Zelda might have stayed strong, so did Metal Gear, Gears of War (insert important games that continued/originated on the preceding hardware) on the Playstation and Xbox system. However, those systems also added fundamentally to the 'gaming' platform, and really made video games/interactive entertainment finally take centre stage (where it rightly belongs) with films and music.

I think this was the generation that coined the iteration of 'blockbuster titles' with games such as GTA with development costs nearing $100 million. These are huge sums of money which show the importance of these games. As I referred to earlier, what is even more telling is how games such as Super Meat Boy (which only had 2 developers) was able to come to fruition and be played by millions of people worldwide. That is the power of this generation, and that is what is so exciting.

I'm not sure what the next generation has to offer. As terrible as this may sound, I don't think I shall be purchasing another console, as my interest in actually playing games has diminished. However, thanks to this generation games have taken, and will remain at the forefront of all entertainment, and that is something that all who work in the medium should be very proud of.

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So I'm officially here...

Okay, I've been following this site since its inception, well technically before its inception, whilst it was still in the minds of its makers...(deep)

Anyways I've never really got into using my account.

Well the time for change has come. I am officially present.

Enjoy.

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