Pay to play your old games on Vita

The long running joke in the video games world is that Nintendo are often re-selling the same game over and over again by way of re-packaging or re-distributing. I mean, how many times have you bought Super Mario Bros.? A new version of this is the HD remake which Sony have adopted as their go to solution for selling old content and that’s fine, most of the games are classics and should be experienced by new audiences. However Sony’s solution for current PSP owners to be able to play their UMD games on the UMD-less PSVita isn’t exactly ideal. Or all that fair.

According to Kotaku, Sony are to launch something called the UMD Passport service on the 6th December in Japan where the UMD Registration App will become available for PSPs. Once downloaded you fire up the handheld, insert a game disc and register it through your PSN account. After said stages, the game will be available to download – for a price. Yep, in order to play your old games on a PSVita, you’ll have to pay anywhere between 80p (¥100) and £19 (¥2400) depending on the title. The former is much more palatable than the latter. At the moment, 40 publishers have signed up to the program offering 200 games with the average price looking to hover at £8 (¥1000). Games like Gran Turismo and DiRT 2 for example.

It should be known that the prices mentioned are discounted and those 200 games will cost more to download for people who don’t already own the UMD but it does make me question why there is any cost at all. If the price was one set fee I could understand that. I could be told it was to cover admin and the cost of setting up this scheme in the first place but differing prices just looks like previous supporters of a product are getting screwed. Sony have also covered their butts when it comes to the prospect of piracy as once a UMD is registered with an account, it can’t be passed on and registered to another allowing more than one owner to receive the discount (via Andriasang).

But hey, on the plus side the scheme also works for the PSPgo meaning finally owners of that ill-fated downloadable-only hardware can play the games which never came to PSN in the first place.

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Ace in the hole

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

In the late 90s I was exposed to the Ace Combat series after playing a demo on a friend’s PlayStation. I loved it. There was something about flying a plane without the multitude of button presses usual flight sims entail that really appealed to me. Not to mention the almost endless self-targeting rockets strapped to my wings. As the years passed, so did the Ace Combat games spanning a number of platforms but in recent years, arcade flying fans could only get their kicks on portable systems. As excited as I am every time a new Ace Combat is announced, I quickly grew tired of the series and since Namco Bandai shied away from home consoles, I figured so did a lot of its followers. Apparently not as the publisher has announced that total sales of the series has surpassed 10 million units worldwide, an impressive feat for any long running franchise.

Ace Combat started life as Air Combat in the arcades over 15 years ago and it was the comically dramatic story lines and increasingly striking graphics that prevented it ever becoming a cliche sim. The next in the series, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, is the first multi-platform release and throughout its development has promised a new approach to an evidently popular but tiring franchise. Dog fights are said to be more exciting, the pace is supposedly faster and helicopters have been included to the flying arsenal. A few weeks ago, a demo appeared on Xbox Live and PSN which proved to be very successful in terms of downloads. Over 1.2 million gamers have had a taste of the game and puts Assault Horizon in a good pre-release position.

But there is a snag. From what I’ve read from commenters online, although so many have downloaded the demo, I’m yet to read a more than a handful of positive comments for it. That’s not to say the neigh sayers won’t pick up the game (we all know how quickly the Internet can dismiss things) but I too found Assault Horizon to be a little lacking. As promised, the adrenaline was heightened and the pace has gone up a couple of notches however it still felt like the same kind of game we’ve had for the past 15 odd years. Maybe the demo wasn’t great at showing how the series has moved on but what I got out of it was a stronger desire to play this kind of game on my 3DS. It’s meant to be coming towards the end of the year and right now I’m holding out for that version as Ace Combat has become the kind of game I want to pick up and play rather then dedicate lengthy amounts of time in front on my TV. Is that a bad thing? Not really although is quite interesting how I’ve wanted the franchise to make a triumphant return to home consoles and Assault Horizon is the closet thing to that yet I’d rather play it on a handheld. I wonder how the rest of the 1.2 million downloaders thought.

How long is too long for a demo?

How long would you like your demos to last? Enough to get a good sense of the game? Enough to leave you wanting more? How about long enough to actually complete it? That’s what one PSP game is offering. According to Famitsu (via Kotaku), the PSP’s version of Ragnarok, an online strategy RPG, the demo released by GungHo Online Entertainment lasted around 16 hours allowing the publication to see on of the many endings. And that’s why this model works for Ragnarok, because if people want to see the other ones they’d have to purchase the full game. If you fancy giving it a go, the demo can be downloaded here.

Technically, this can be considered a freemium model which may not be big on consoles, but is something that’ll have to be considered in the long run. The PSP has already had a freemium game and again it’s an RPG. Bakumatsu Revolution could be downloaded from PSN and then distributed among PSPs via wireless connectivity. A genius way of virally spreading your game inside a tight community and then charging for additional quests and loot thereafter. Sony seem more keen to adopt the freemium model than other platform holders and are even changing PlayStation Home to incorporate free-to-play games.

Microsoft initially appear less than on board with the freemium model. When Dungeon Fighter Online comes to XBLA, the current plan is that it won’t be the free-to-play version seen on PCs but a fully paid-for game. However, in June, several sources claimed Microsoft was collecting data and discussing the possibility to bring free-to-play games to the 360 where gamers exchanged MS Points for in-game items. Maybe Dungeon Fighter Online will stay a freemium game after all.

Nintendo is adamant that free-to-play games will not be a feature of their consoles. Time and time again Satoru Iwata has scoffed at the idea of this model so don’t expect to see any on the 3DS or Wii U which could make them less relevant to gamers in the near future. On the nearest supposed contender to Nintendo, the App Store, in-app purchases and free-to-play games account for 72 per cent of its revenue. Like it or not (and I don’t), the freemium model is very big business and a better way for console publishers to combat piracy and pre-owned sales than DRM or pre-order bonuses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next generation of consoles focused on this type of gaming pushing us almost entirely into a digital distribution. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not

The great porting dilemma

Lord of everything Street Fighter and all round funny chap Yoshinori Ono has told Joystiq.com what he thinks of direct console to handheld ports. In a nutshell, Ono thinks they’re dumb. He and his team at Capcom prefer to see the transition to a portable device include specific features to take advantage of that hardware. Cramming a console game onto a something smaller are meaningless to him.

“A lot of people, when they’re porting to new hardware, especially a handheld, they’ll talk about how it’s difficult because of memory restrictions or speed or things like that, and I haven’t found that to be the case,” Ono said. “We’ve been putting less energy into the porting process itself and more energy into adding additional features, because we don’t want to do a straight-up port – that’s silly and meaningless.”

Two of Ono’s games making their way to the PSVita are Street Fighter X Tekken and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Both will feature additions that supposedly utilise the Vita’s many inputs much like Super Street Fight 4 3D did on the 3DS. Ono said how the 3DS game has helped with development as he’s already racked up some experience with a touch screen and making a game fun to play on it. But Vita’s multitouch capabilities offer even more cool opportunities for entertaining play although the rear touch panel is a bit trickier.

“The rear panel presents kind of a challenge for us, because when you’re playing a fighting game, given the button configuration you’re going to have your index fingers on the top and your thumbs on the front,” he said. “We don’t want a situation where you’re accidentally throwing shoryukens because you moved your ring finger in the middle of a bout.”

No, we certainly don’t and my thought is if it doesn’t work, don’t use it. The ethos of exploiting the new tech to its fullest is highly commendable of Ono but there’s a danger too that things may get a little silly with features shoehorned in for the sake of it. The great thing about Super Street Fighter 4 3D was how well it used all the best bits of the 3DS, the stereoscopic screen, boosted CPU, online mulitplayer, Street Pass and analog stick. Other than 3D, the Vita can do all those things for Street Fighter X Tekken and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and more – but it doesn’t mean it has to. If the feature set stopped there, I can’t imagine there’d be too much concern over an unused rear touch screen.

That aside, it’s the tailoring of games that will help the PSVita win over dubious consumers who aren’t sold on the idea of a pocket console. And I don’t mean handheld gamers, but those burned by the PSP which had too many titles trying to emulate home console games. The experience wasn’t right and the hardware couldn’t compete with PS2/3 graphics and controls so more often than not, things felt a little underwhelming. Not every game fell into this category and if developers continue to think the same as Ono, that category will become smaller and smaller.

Media Molecule sets sights on new ground

Media Molecule are a development team relatively small in number but considerably vast in originality. They’ve gone from being a fairly unknown studio to one of the most admired within the industry and created arguably Sony’s biggest new IP, LittelBigPlanet. It’s already graced the PS3, twice, as well as the PSP and will soon be available on the PSVita when that itself is released. In between these big titles are the numerous DLC packs with another added Move support to LBP2, the name Media Molecule could easily be a prefix for name LittleBigPlanet.

A gambling man could be tempted into betting the next game from the Guilford based studio would be another LBP but director Siobhan Reddy has been quoted by Edge saying “We’re stepping away from LittleBigPlanet to focus on some new ideas,” at Gamelab 2011 in Barcelona recently. Being a huge fan of the create-em-up, the idea that the minds behind such a creative franchise are broadening their portfolio is great news. Media Molecule took the idea of a sandbox experience, mixed it with platformer and then furthered that concept in LBP2 by adding pretty much every genre imaginable into the game. Some of the levels were steeped in traditional gameplay mechanics but felt fresh nonetheless so it’s clear they understand what makes a game good, regardless of genre.

Another reason why Media Molecule’s move away from LittleBigPlanet is a good one stems from one of the most problematic issues in gaming; over saturation. With Sony claiming the star of LBP, the Sackboy, as a part-time mascot for the company, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a multitude of spin-off games and needless titles dirtying up an awesome franchise. The get out clause of course is how LBP2 can be used to create any kind of game so even if MM were asked to make, say, a Sackboy kart racer, they kind of already have or at least given others the tools to do so themselves. Right now, Sony and MM are treating the franchise respectfully and allowing it some breathing space while they go off and spread the talent onto something new is pretty much just what this fan (both thumbs are pointing towards myself right now) wants to see.

Of course that’s not to say Media Molecule are abandoning LittleBigPlanet. There is still the aforementioned Move support DLC as well as some undoubtably more unannounced packs but it’s with great anticipation that I’ll await the reveal of the next Media Molecule game. I’m sure whenever they do it’ll be rightly or wrongly compared the LBP and even expected to live up to its genius but the jump from LBP1 to 2 was really quite substantial so who says the leap to their next game won’t be just as impressive?

Sony E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Sony’s press conference wasn’t particularly kind to those of us who live in the UK. Not because it didn’t mention much about Europe but because it was on so freaking late! To top it off things were running late so what should have started at 1am instead began almost twenty minutes later. Not a massive amount of time unless of course it’s 1am…

Anyway, onwards and upwards and Sony began proceedings with an official apology from Jack Tretton regarding the PSN downtime recently. They couldn’t exactly ignore it and despite mumblings within the community that they would do just that, Sony have proved they are a humble company after all and do value their image and development studios dearly. It was classy and well done, almost as much as the segway between negativity and positivity regarding PSN; start by apologising and end with “isn’t it awesome? Well it’s going to get more awesome too!” referring to the many video and music streaming services either on or coming to the PS3.

Naughty Dog made an appearance with a playable demo of Uncharted 3 to wow the audience though after seeing the new Tomb Raider game, I wasn’t as wowed. Don’t get me wrong, Uncharted 3 looks good, very good with all the usual Nathan Drake stylings that make for a fantastic third person action adventure but, and it could very well have been the live feed, the demo didn’t feel like it came on leaps and bounds from Uncharted 2. Then again, said game was really quite special so perhaps it doesn’t have to and perhaps my incredibly tired eyes saw things differently. Still, the action looks superb with the demo showing Drake sneaking his way around a ship, taking out guards and being chased by a huge wave of water that did look incredible. Naughty Dog have done wonders with their water physics it seems. Another must have for this holiday season? It’s definitely looking that way.

Again Sony pushed their commitment to 3D entertainment as hard as they could with almost every demo and trailer in 3D – for anyone in the audience with 3D glasses of course. But they realise that not everyone has a 3D capable TV or even wants to upgrade to one seeing as they can be a tad pricey. The solution? Produce a 24 inch PlayStation branded monitor and two pairs of glasses for $499 plus throw in a copy of Resistance 3 for good measure. That should sort it right?

To keep with the whole 3D love, Sony also announced God of War Origins, a 3D and HD remastered version of the PSP God of War games which, to be honest, doesn’t do a whole lot for me though it’s a series with legions of fans so I’m sure it’ll sell well. What did tickle my fancy was the Ico and Shadow of Colossus HD collection that will also be in 3D. Team Ico’s legendary games were meant to come out not long ago but were pushed back until later this year. The inclusion of 3D is probably why.

Ken Levine of BioShock fame took to the stage to show off another dazzling trailer for BioShock Infinite, a game not out until next year but already looking amazing. He went on to say how in the past, he’s not been too kind towards motion controls particularly Sony’s Move. However they’ve some how made him change his mind (cough huge wads of cash cough) and now he loves the device because it isn’t just about waggling a HD wand but so much more. Levine spoke of enhanced interactions with Elizabeth, the female hero of BioShock Infinite, by using the Move controller. What ever could that be?

What I found quite bizarre about Sony’s conference was how their next handheld is meant to be coming out later this year but it didn’t seem to be shown with the gravitas that a new system deserves. The official name is now PSVita and all I can think of is Ryvita, the tasty health food snack. I’m sure that will dissipate soon much like the giggles after hearing the name Wii for the first time. It also has a price of $249 for standard Wifi models and $299 for ones that are both wifi and 3G capable. No doubt Sony are making a considerable loss for such a relatively low price but they need to match the 3DS in order to compete. Graphics and processing power be damned, if the 3DS is having a hard time selling a $349-$400 PSVita will definitely struggle. Expect prices of £220 and £250 here in the UK.

One PSVita title that really looked good was LittleBigPlanet. A series which has now graced all current gen PS systems with each one adding a little more magic. The PSVita version does so with its touchscreen controls utilising all the tools from the PS3 in a smaller, maybe even easier to control, pocket port, making good of all the features PSVita has. Take pictures with the camera and instantly import them into the game is one example. Graphically it looks lovely but could well have been faked so I’m taking the footage with a pinch of salt but still, LittleBigPlanet on PSVita may just be a the one game you need to make the system make sense. And with touch controls, the kinds of levels and experiences created by the users are likely to be similar to bite-sized iPhone games, adding another feather to LBP‘s already downy cap.

A good show from Sony but I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything. A few odd choices were made and the delay was a little annoying though handing out multiple 3D glasses and getting everyone to their seats must have been a pain. Next up however is Nintendo this afternoon at 4:30pm BST which is the conference I’m most excited about. Not long now!

Why isn’t the 3DS selling in Japan? Goo can think of at least 20 reasons

After initially selling out at launch across Japan, just a few months on and the 3DS isn’t exactly flying off the shelves. To be honest, it’s not even outselling the PSP, a system over five years old despite having a considerably larger library of games if you take into account DS and DSi titles. However, that’s just what the people of Japan are doing when deciding whether or not to pick up a 3DS and more often than not, they chose not to. A survey carried out by Goo Research (via Andriasang) asked 672 women and 438 men in Japan their main reasons for not buying the new handheld and the number one reason is price. To them, it’s far too high and the prospect of a reduction is one they’d rather wait for. Over here in the UK, the cost of a 3DS is falling by the week with the Carphone Warehouse dropping as low as £160, a £70 drop from when the system was launched. And like the UK, Japan will be seeing – if it hasn’t already done so – a price drop for the DSi which brings us on to the second reason on Goo’s list; Japanese gamers are happy with the DS and DSi. As I previously mentioned, the lack of games for the new system means people are turning to older releases but the money savvy digital hobbyists are just as content with sticking with the older handheld too. Unfortunately, that’s just what happens when you build something as robust and popular as the DS. Nintendo has admitted they’re having a hard time promoting all the new features the 3DS has to offer but I’d imagine it’s only a matter of time for word will spread.

After all, numbers 11 and 13 on Goo’s list are the inability to play GameBoy Advance and GameBoy games. Odd that such a thing would put people off buying a brand new console, even more so when the last generation wasn’t able to play these games either. But the upcoming eShop launch next Tuesday should rectify that issue. Other reasons for the Japanese public to avoid a 3DS are things not so easily addressed as the size, weight, screen size and button layout are all apparently a problem. These kinds of criticisms can only really be sorted with a lite version, something I thought Nintendo wouldn’t have to do with the 3DS because I thought the system was pretty much spot on. It has the adopted style of Nintendo handhelds being a slick clamshell with a great analog nub and decent size top screen. It appears my neighbours from the far east think differently which could force a second version within a year or so. I doubt it would be sooner but then Sony is said to be releasing the NGP and that factors into the list also. The fourteenth reason for not buying a 3DS is that those questioned want to save their money for an NGP. Quite different from the response in March when Goo asked members online as to what system they’d buy next with the 3DS being number one receiving 14,668 votes leaving the NGP with only 5,200.

So what’s happened within such a short time that is putting Japanese gamers off a 3DS? If price wasn’t such an option then why is it now? Maybe the small number of games that have come out in that time did little to inspire the audience and the slipping of the eShop may have hurt those who wish to play classic titles. This year’s E3 will be very important for Nintendo and I have a lot of faith in them delivering another great conference with not only an official unveiling of Project Cafe but also we’re bound to see a whole load of upcoming 3DS specific games too. All it needs is the next Mario Kart, Pokemon or even Monster Hunter and we could see a complete change in opinion towards the 3DS in Japan. Hell, just show more of Beyond the Labyrinth from Tri-Ace. That game looks gorgeous and designed to make good use of the 3D capabilities which are yet to be truly tested.

Here’s the full list from Goo Research:

1. Price is high/waiting for a price drop
2. Satisfied by DS/DSi
3. Worried about eye strain
4. Worried about getting sick from the screen
5. Few launch titles
6. Will buy once a game I want is released
7. Satisfied by cell phone and smartphone games
8. Satisfied by PSP
9. The battery is weak
10. It’s heavy and I don’t feel like carrying it with me
11. Can’t play Game Boy Advance games
12. The color I want isn’t available
13. Can’t play Game Boy games
14. I’ll save my money for NGP, thank you very much
15. Waiting for a version with a larger screen
16. Because you can’t move your DSi Points over
17. The buttons layout looks hard to use
18. No Famicom/NES in the Virtual Console
19. The zoom view for DS games is hard on the eyes
20. Waiting until my friend buys it