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.

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.

The PSVita may support older games and last longer than five hours

Back in June, a Japanese research company asked a collection of potential 3DS owners why they weren’t buying the handheld. The number one reason was its cost and now that’s been cut so dramatically, presumably some of those questioned are now owners of Nintendo’s new handheld. That is unless it was the weak battery life which put them off. It was number nine on the list and the actual gameplay time Nintendo say is capable on the 3DS is between three and eight hours.

Not quite the seemingly endless amount previous DS systems could run for but it may just end up being longer than what the PSVita can do. As part of the 2011 Tokyo Game Show, Sony has announced that its new portable machine will last somewhere between three and five hours depending on what you’re doing on it. If you’re offline, have the screen brightness at default, refrain from using Bluetooth and the built-in speakers opting for headphones instead, consumers should expect three to five hour gaming sessions. If you fancy oggling a film or two on the rather nice OLED display, the PSVita tops around five hours and for music alone it’s more like nine hours.

Though not quite the numbers wanted, there’s only so much a humble rechargeable battery can do and the PSVita is certainly a powerful beast. It’s a shame that from what Sony are saying, playing games with a brightened screen and online will lesson the battery life even more but when the PSVita is being touted as a portable PS3, it’s annoying but somewhat understandable.

Much like Sony’s other TGS announcement. It’s been promised that the PSVita will support older PSP titles and those downloaded from PSN will be retrofitted to use the second analog stick. But what of the numerous disc-based UMD games? Some of them never made it to PSN, will PSVita owners be able to get their hands on them too? Sony’s answer: maybe (via Kotaku). As of now, they’re thinking of solutions for gamers with solely UMD collections who want to upgrade to the PSVita but have said little else on the matter. To me, it sounds an awful lot like the promises made around the early days of the PSPgo. Back then we were led to believe a programme would be put in place for a UMD conversion programme however due to legal and technical issues, Sony abandoned the idea. But, as neat as the PSPgo was, it was never at the forefront of Sony’s long term strategies whereas the PSVita is. It’s their next portable, the PSP2 in fact and they want it to be big. So migrating the old audience from PSP to Vita is essential and if it means coming up with some crazy scheme then a crazy scheme we can certainly expect.

Limbo for PSN next week

In case you missed all the hubbub recently involving Playdead’s brilliant XBLA hit Limbo, the story goes as follows; A rumour surfaced that Limbo was headed to PC and PSN some point this year and now it’s been made official on the game’s website. Next Tuesday (19th) sees Limbo saunter onto the US PSN and Europe will get it a day later with Japanese customers having to wait a little longer as a date is still unknown for them. Steam shoppers will be able to pick up the game on August 2nd.

As part of the announcement, Dino Patti, ceo of Playdead set interest alight, teasing us of how there’s to be a “little extra secret” added to these versions. Hopefully whatever this secret is, it’ll find its way over to the Xbox 360 too.

Happy days then for anyone without a Xbox 360 as one of its best downloadable titles will soon be available for all to enjoy. I gave it top marks in my review, noting the absence of a traditional soundtrack and instead having a haunting score, adding to Limbo‘s creepiness. As of today, said score has been released onto iTunes for £3.49, including six tracks of melancholy and woe with equal measures of glee. Nice.

Welcome back to PSN. Have some old games

The PlayStation Network is slowly coming back online with individual territories being drip fed its features until soon, all this nasty hacking business will be a distant memory. Good for Sony, I’m glad to see them back online and more so the users and dedicated fans who have been deprived of games, content and the confidence that their private data is still private.

To make good, Sony announced details of a Welcome Back programme where users affected by the outage are to be given two out of five PS3 games and two out of four PSP ones. If you have both PS3 and PSP, you’ll be in able to download four games altogether. Nice huh? But what are the titles available? I speculated that it could go either way with the generosity from having relatively new games to ones that have been around for years. Sadly, we’ve been given the latter. European PSN users can choose from LittleBigPlanet (2008), inFamous (2009), Wipeout HD/Fury (2008), Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty (2008) and the newest game on the PS3 list, Dead Nation (2010). For the PSP, you have LittleBigPlanet (2009), Pursuit Force (2005!!), Killzone Liberation (2006) and ModNation PSP (2010).

On top of those good but mighty old games non PS Plus member get a free 30 trial whereas existing members will be given 60 days extra for free. Music Unlimited subscribers will have an extra 30 days subscription and Home users are to be treated somehow in the future but those details are missing right now. You have 30 days in order to claim the games and must have been an account holder on 20th April 2011.

But seriously? I know it sounds incredibly ungrateful but most of the games have been kicking around for a fair amount of time. They’re great if you’ve never played them though I’d guess the likelihood is that many members will do. Commenters on the European PlayStation Blog, where the news broke, voiced their displeasure at the list to which a Sony representative responded by saying Sony put a lot of effort into compiling a list of quality Blu-Ray games instead of just PSN titles and the average Metacritic rating for all in question is 84%. It’s really hard to offer something for everyone who owns an account he said referencing the 77 million figure which is known to be grossly inaccurate. But fair point, coming out of such a travesty which is bound to have cost Sony a great deal of money and offering anything like this is commendable on their part however when you have games that date back to 2005 it’s hard not to scoff at Sony. And this is not about getting free content any more it’s about feeling valued as a customer. Old games don’t make me feel valued. Do you?

Sorry your details were nicked, here are some free games

Sony are in a whole heap of trouble with PSN being down. A growing number of authorities are asking questions as to why it happened and how the public got so royally screwed by having their identities stolen. Luckily for them, no reports of those taken identities being used by the hackers (or associates of) has come to light but with another attack allegedly planned today, who knows what else they’ll take – that is to say if there’s anything actually left.

One of the promises from Sony upon the return of PSN are a lengthened subscription to PlayStation Plus for subscribers and a free month for those not signed to the discount service. Sony have just announced on top of that, they’ll be offering two free PS3 games from a list of five and two free PSP games from a list if four depending on whether you’re a PS3 or PSN user. The names of said lists were absent from the post on the European PS blog as was what Sony Japan and Sony America will be giving their regions. Most likely it’ll be the same deal just with different lists to choose from.

In all honesty I didn’t expect this level of generosity. So far Sony have fumbled through the whole hacking mess pointing fingers and being uncomfortably secretive over important details. But this is a positive move to win back support when there’s an awful amount of hate circling the company and a pretty cool one at that. Though to play devil’s advocate, not supplying the titles of the games we’ll be offered could suggest they’re not all that exciting or ones most gamers are likely to already own. History shows it could go either way with Sony’s freebies. When PlayStation Plus launched last year, a free copy of LittleBigPlanet came with it (in Europe), a game that was already nearly two years old. But when Double Fine released the delightful Stacking a few months ago, PS Plus members were given that free of charge too so brand new games can’t necessarily be excluded, nor can third party titles for that matter.

Pessimistically I’d say we’ll be shown a list of first party games of last year at best but the optimist in me thinks that both third and first party titles will be included. Ones that really aren’t that old either. Here’s hoping PSN comes back in the very near future so we can find out what exactly are on those lists and more importantly, delete all credit card details play online.

Angry bloke rants about Xbox live

Peter Vesterbacka has been in the news recently for many things most recently being his statement that consoles were dying, making way for the mighty Smartphone. Now it seems he isn’t pleased about Microsoft’s Xbox Live content approval system because of the current inability to allow frequent updates to games. In an interview with MCV about the success of Angry Birds, Vesterbacka said: “Is that our fault? No, that’s their problem. There is no reason why, when you do digital distribution on console, you couldn’t do frequent updates. It’s just a legacy way of thinking. If the consoles want to stay relevant they have to start mimicking what’s going on around them on app stores, Smartphones and online. It’s the only way, because people expect games to stay fresh.”

However, I would argue that the reason why games like Angry Birds need a constant stream of updates is because of the type of game it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one hell of a game but fundamentally you are doing the same thing in each level with the varying factor being the layout of said level. Adding more of these over time will indeed keep everything fresh but I don’t think games that are traditionally found on consoles require the same amount of updates.

Vesterbacka added: “If you pay $59 or $69 dollars and you get no updates – but you pay 99 cents for a game in the App Store and get updates every month, then it sets the expectations higher. So the pressure is definitely on those guys.” If I pay full price for a brand new game, I don’t expect to have it updated every month. I expect the price I paid for it to cover my entertainment for either a decent amount of time or deliver me a truly memorable experience. And constant updates aren’t always a blessing. I have a good number of games and Apps on my iPhone and feel like I’m forever downloading bits and pieces – be it content or patches – for them which has resulted in me deleting more Apps rather than keeping them.

Backtracking on his previous comments, Vesterbacka withdrew his “consoles are dying” remark replacing it with how he thinks consoles and there markets are important – possibly because he’s trying to get his game onto those markets – but they’re not the fastest growing platform whereas mobiles are. Team Meat, makers of Super Meat Boy on XBLA, are well known for their contrasting opinions to that of Vesterbacka and believe, despite the numbers of Smartphones out there, such a format isn’t best suited to be the sole provider of a gaming experience: “A phone is not a generic gaming platform. It works for some games, but not everything. I cannot stress this enough. Just because something has the ability to run games that doesn’t mean every game should be made for it.” They go as far as to express a hatred to the App Store, preferring to stick with consoles and soon PC and Mac, with their updates for Super Meat Boy taking a little as a day in some cases. It clearly can work for them.

Microsoft and for that matter, Sony, do have a legacy way of thinking for their stores but Vesterbacka has to remember that those stores are very different from those found on Smartphones. The games are different (for the most part) and expectations from gamers is different. It’s just different, not necessarily wrong. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change nor do all developers for XBLA and PSN feel comfortable with the system in place but if anyone can point Rovio in the right direction, it’s Team Meat.