PS Vita ‘probably’ region free

There’s a reason why handheld consoles are called portables. It is, and this may shock you, because they are meant to be portable. So naturally, one of the bullet-points I’d be keen to find out regarding Sony’s PS VIta is whether or not it’ll be region-free. A simple request I know but when you think that Nintendo have only recently released the region-locked 3DS, I’m concerned that the PS Vita may follow in its territory-restricting ways.

But at a press session yesterday for European and Australian reporters (via IGN), Michael Denny, Sony’s VP of Worldwide Studios Europe, said that to the best of his knowledge, there will be NO region restrictions on the PS Vita. Such a quote would have been all the more impressive if he didn’t say ‘to the best of my knowledge’ because that indicates a final decision hasn’t been made or Mr Denny wasn’t given the memo saying otherwise.

The logic behind locking a portable device down to certain territories is a fairly backward one but with so many variations in law between countries, I do understand if Sony chose and Nintendo was forced to region-lock their devices. With the expanded content being offered on both PS Vita and 3DS, there’d be oodles of red-tape and paperwork to wade through in order to keep licence and copyright holders happy. But to us, the consumers, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating if you take your portable gaming system overseas and not be able to peruse the local game shops for a bargain or that particular title not available in your home country.

So lets just hope that Michael Denny’s knowledge is fully up to date on this one.

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EA’s mass tweaking

After the news that Mass Effect 3 will be delayed until next year and to coincide with the release, a handheld/mobile version is also in the works, EA boss John Riccitiello spoke to investors yesterday (via Eurogamer) about the franchise and his plans for the third game. Some may interpret it as dumbing down and others opening up Mass Effect 3 but either way, I’m not sure what to make of it: “One of the things that Ray Muzyuka and the team up in Edmonton have done is essentially step-by-step adjust the gameplay mechanics and some of the features that you’ll see at E3 to put this in a genre equivalent to shooter-meets-RPG and essentially address a much larger market opportunity than Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 began to approach.”

Considering Mass Effect 3 is supposed to end the trilogy for Shepard, trying to broaden the franchise to a larger audience seems a little odd. I guess a lot more people will potentially by the game regardless if there are anymore to come. Like Mass Effect 2 on the PS3, it’s said to come with a digital summary of the previous two games so you don’t necessarily need to play them to get the full story. But you’ll be greatly missing out if you don’t. It’s hard to imagine what else can be done in order to tweak it even more to the genre of RPG shooter since Mass Effect 2 tread the lines between the two blurring them as it went along.

One thought is that Mass Effect 3 will include a multiplayer component, often denied by BioWare but with EA hungry for the Call of Duty pie, anything is possible. Another idea could be the inclusion of motion controls by means of Kinect and PS Move but where would that leave PC gamers? Depending on how it could be implemented, they may not even want motion controls. EA has previously spoke of a desire to have some kind of connected experience in all future games with Frank Gibeau saying how the publisher’s job is to ‘inspire’ developers to “edit and tweak [their creative vision] so it’s a bigger commercial opportunity.” Sounds familiar huh? Who knows, maybe Facebook integration will be a part of Mass Effect 3 but without any more details, we’ll just have to wait until E3 when EA will reveal how they plan to extend (or insult) the franchise.

Mass Effect 3 delayed, Mass Effect portable okayed.

The official Facebook page for Mass Effect 3 had some bad news yesterday as it posted a message saying the game has been pushed back into early 2012 instead of holiday 2011 when it was said to come out. Executive producer Casey Hudson wrote: Mass Effect 3 will be released in the first three months of 2012. The development team is laser focused on making sure Mass Effect 3 is the biggest, boldest and best game in the series, ensuring that it exceeds everyone’s expectations.”

I can’t but wonder if this has anything to do with the outcry towards Dragon Age II and its many recycled dungeons. At the start of March, composer Inon Zur spoke to IGN about his involvement with the fantasy game saying how it was a bit if a rushed job due to EA wanting to “capitalize on the success of Origins,” pressing BioWare hard for it to be released sooner rather than later. Only 14 months stand between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II and for some players it really showed. If it were allowed the appropriate breathing space, it’s probable that the gameplay could have matched the high quality story telling that DA2 is said to possess.

What happened to BioWare’s other triple A franchise may have nothing to do with the delay but I’d imagine it would at least be at the back of their minds. The time between Mass Effect 2 and 3 would have been a fair amount longer in comparison if it were to come out this year but an extra few months to really tighten up the code could be the difference between an award winning game and one that’s not quite up to par.

On top the the news about the set back, EA listed a handheld/mobile release for Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3 too. It comes as no surprise when EA are actively pursuing the mobile space and already have both franchises on the iPhone. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has an iOS version as does Mass Effect who received a prequel to ME2. However, it needs to be said that neither of them are very good. Though mobile phones aren’t necessarily the avenue here because we could just as likely see a 3DS or NGP versions which would be a lot more interesting if true. Whatever they end up being, I’m hoping the Battlefield 3 (coming late 2011) and Mass Effect 3 (early 2012) portable won’t be watered down ports but follow the brilliant Dead Space on iPhone and create there own unique experiences.

Super Angry Birds

The battle continues. Another developers has chimed in about their thoughts on the future of gaming and again champions Angry Birds as the way to go. Dan Gonzales, vice president of Sourcebits is echoing Peter Vesterbacka’s quotes last week, saying the mobile platform is eroding the significance of traditional portable handhelds. Gonzales told IndustryGamers: “The hardcore gamer, while fairly large in a historical context, is completely dwarfed by the number of casual gamers adopting smart phones and tablets. The world is changing and fast. Angry Birds is the world’s new [Super] Mario Bros.

The context of such a claim is quite important however. If Gonzales think Angry Birds has given purpose to a platform, showing how games could or should be played then yeah, it just might be the Super Mario Bros. of mobiles but the idea that it could be a replacement for a series spanning over 25 years, I have to disagree. Mario as a name and the games which he stars in are increasingly popular with the genius of Nintendo making him adaptable for all ages.

Angry Birds is huge, there’s no disputing that. It’s been downloaded over 100 million times and is one of the most profitable games in history but with that being said, it’s also a massive obstacle to over come if you’re a mobile developer. Games that are completely different genres often get compared to Angry Birds (in user reviews) with the Boom Blox inspired bird-flinger often coming out on top. Rovio have nailed the market developing a game that almost everyone buys when they get a new mobile. So in that respect, you could say the game is the new Call of Duty, an enormously popular and profitable franchise bridging the hardcore and casual gamers spectrum and the title all your friends tell you to pick up if you’re new to gaming.Taking on these giants of the mobile space is going to be quite a task for any developer.

Back to the original point, Gonzales downplayed the existing handhelds saying: “My kids will never own a DS or PSP. They have everything via smartphones and tablets. When I travel, I love to walk from the back of the plane to the front and see what people are doing on their devices. Not surprisingly, it’s mostly games. I particularly see a lot of Angry Birds on iPhones and iPads. Not just one or two, but ten to 15.” The danger is that we’ll see a lot of Angry Birds clones too which does little to further a market. And depriving his youth of either a PSP or DS is just cruel! How will they experience the brilliance of games like Zelda, Professor Layton or even Pokemon? Until we get more of those to contrast the bite-sized offerings, both Nintendo and Sony’s portables are fine. The record-breaking achievements of the 3DS and buzz around the NGP is proof of that. Mobile devs have a right to gloat but the “anything you can do I can do better talk” is getting old fast. Without one the want for the other diminishes.

The affordability of next generation handhelds

The bells and whistles of the PSP2, sorry, NGP, where rung and er blown today but with an OLED screen and crazy-powerful processor, Sony’s absence of a price doesn’t mean it’ll be overly expensive. European head Andrew House told Eurogamer that the NGP is going to be “affordable.” He was reluctant to give even a ballpark figure but promised something appropriate for the handheld market. However House also revealed how Sony would preferably like to make a profit on early sales over a loss: “Ideally we would want to have our hardware be profitable, in addition to our software. We’ve experienced both sides and we know which one we like to be on!” Don’t fret, ideally and actuality are two very different things.

Affordability has risen in the last couple of generations but one things for sure, if the price of the 3DS proves successful, the NGP is likely to follow suit. And the original PSP retailed for $250/£180 which is relative to the 3DS (except here in the UK) so realistically, with technology as feature packed as the NGP, a similar price could be viewed as ‘affordable’. Seeing as Japan should be getting the system this WInter, the rest of the world will probably receive it a few months later. Plenty of time to save unless of course the year is full of awesome releases… Oh crap!

PSPgo Unboxing

Vodpod videos no longer available.So it’s the weekend, impulse purchases are on the up and Sony has just released the PSPgo. For me, that’s a dangerous combination. What adds to my unstoppable gaming impulse buys is the unboxing video from Giant Bomb above which, although brief, does heighten my want for the handheld. I don’t know why either – maybe it’s rather slick white casing which I only found out about the other day, or the resemblance to an iPhone. It could just be that the PSPgo’s new shape and size makes it more likely to be something I carry around justifying it’s handheld purpose. But mainly I think it’s because I’m a sucker for gadgets!