PlayStation 3, Teledildonics and You

Talking to Cliph on IM about the PlayStation 3, we touched on the ideas of how the social space in Home will be filtered. For example, in the public area, people can talk to each other using a keyboard, the built-in phrases (“Would you like to play a game?") or via a Bluetooth headset. It’s likely that there will be a bunch of ‘banned’ words for those using the keyboard input, but will there be any restrictions on what can be said via a headset? Is there anything to stop me turning the virtual air blue with obscenities?

Sony have said that in the private space, there will be few restrictions. You will be able to decorate your ‘room’ with whatever images you have on your PlayStation 3’s hard drive. You can stream whatever movies and sound files on your PlayStation 3’s hard drive and everyone visiting your room will be able to see and hear these files. I’m willing to bet that without restrictions, there will be a thriving red-light market in Sony’s Home faster than you can say “WELCOME TO JOHN’S COCK PALACE.”

But let’s go even further. By taking the possible sexual underworld of Home and combining it with Sony’s own USB Trance Vibrator (released with ‘Rez’ on the PlayStation 2), we could be witnessing an evolution and mass-marketization of teledildonics.

I can’t wait to see what happens when you put in the Konami code.

Home (or: I think Sony just killed Second Life)

sony_home.jpg

Today at the Game Developer’s Conference, Sony officially announced “Home”. Home is so many things, it’s a little complicated to describe.

Pitched as somewhere between Second Life and MySpace, it’s a social space where PlayStation 3 owners can meet PlayStation 3 owners. They do this by navigating an avatar (similar to Nintendo’s Mii, but more realistic and with more customization options) around a 3D world. Each user also gets a private space - a virtual apartment - which they can customize as they see fit. They can invite people into this private space and launch multiplayer games, or stream music and videos from their PlayStation 3 to the other people in this room. Sony’s Home includes a virtual ‘trophy room’ where people can display their ‘entitlements’ (Sony’s answer to Xbox 360’s achievements) as moving, 3D trophies.

Oh, and it’s all free.

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This was Sony’s ace in the hole. A completely unexpected, beautifully executed masterstroke that almost makes you forget about all of Sony’s fuck-ups with PlayStation 3.

Almost.

Right now, Sony is still talking about the possibilities of Home, and although a lot of these are still pretty blue-sky suggestions, they do give you some idea of what an online virtual world is capable of when you’ve got the weight and muscle of the entire Sony Corporation behind it. For example, using its ability to stream high-def movies, there could be movie premieres (in a virtual cinema) of Sony Pictures movies within Home. And for the MySpazz crowd, there’s the possibility of in-game appearances by their favourite Sony BMG bands.

I bet the makers of Second Life won’t get much sleep tonight.

Unlocking Sony DVD players

I recently bought another new DVD player - a Sony DVP-NS52. Both the Sony Store and Peats offer to make this player multi-region for an extra EUR20. I opted not to go for this and take my chances unlocking it myself (albeit safe in the knowledge that I could bring it into Peats and get them to unlock it at any time in the future for the EUR20).

Anyone with a region-locked Sony DVD player could do worse than to check out Selen.org’s Making the Sony DVP-NS705V multi-region before shelling out for a ‘chip’ or anything like that. Although this didn’t list my model explicitly, it did say that it theoretically should work for the entire “NS” series, and has even worked across other models. I tried it on mine last night and success!

One note though - Windows 2000 and XP have nasty IR support. You’re much better grabbing a DOS boot disk from bootdisk.com and using that instead.

Mac Mini

Poor Apple.

There wasn’t one thing mentioned at Macworld that wasn’t already revealed on the internet already. By way of ‘punishment’, Apple decided not to show the webcast live, but rather only offer it after a couple of hours. This is completely understandable, since there were a couple of major announcements which had been completely ruined by over-zealous fans who have now crossed the line into breaking the law to find out what the announcements would be ahead of time.

Having watched the Macworld speech, I’m fully convinced that Apple are one of the few technology companies in the world that “get it”. I remember someone describing Tim O’Reilly as a visionary, because since it takes 18 months to write and publish a book, he has to be constantly thinking “What will people want to read about in 18 months time?”. I think the same could be said of Apple - they are thinking ahead of time, to think “What will people want to be doing with their computers in 18 months?” rather than reacting to current fads.

Introducing the Mac Mini

I’ve taken to using our G4 in work as my main workstation. Initially, I just wanted it because it looked neat and would finally make my desktop look classy. But recently, I’ve fallen in love with the power and the flexibility it provides. To make matters worse for my bank account, I’ve started toying with the idea of buying myself a Mac for home.

Previously, the two offerings I could afford (eMac and iMac) have been, well, slightly out of my taste range. The previous generation of the iMac was beautiful, and I would gladly have bought one of those, but the current version hasn’t blown me away.

I don’t think that my situation is that uncommon. Which is why the Mac Mini is the smartest move I’ve ever seen Apple make.

The Mac Mini retails for EUR519 (but you can get it for EUR378 if you know someone who works for Apple who will help you out with their massive 27% discount). Let’s just think about this for a second: EUR519 for a powerful, small, quiet computer? Before Christmas, I paid over that for an iPod and iSkin for my girlfriend. An iPod with the exact same amount of storage! This alone is an amazing feat, but there’s more.

##Beauty is not caused. It is.

No other technology makes people coo quite like Apple products. And not just engineers or techies either - ordinary people. My mom took a look at an iPod and understood the intrinsic value of the design that went into it. If my mom can appreciate the design and craftsmanship, that they can work so hard to create something that looks so simple, then you know they’ve won out.

And there’s not a single person I’ve spoken to that hasn’t been absolutely bowled over by the Mac Mini.

First, there’s the size of the thing. I think Apple invented a new size rating: “Bewilderingly tiny”. Add to this Apple’s traditional clean lines and uncluttered interface, and you’ve got something to leave people impressed and design aficionados breathless.

Add to this the power of that little box - more powerful than my main workstation, a silver G4.

But the really amazing part is the versatility. At that kind of price range, it’s become less a case of “Can I really justify buying a Mac” to “Where in my life could I use this Mac I just bought?”

A Mac for the Living Room, a Mac for the kitchen…

Personally speaking, I’m most interested in using the Mac Mini in the Living Room - as a Home Entertainment Centre, and – providing I can find the right kind of Firewire/USB TV-in card – PVR. And I find it hard to believe that Apple didn’t have this use specifically in mind for the Mac Mini. The size comparisons are right: roughly around the same height as a video or DVD player.

I had been thinking about doing something similar with my XBox, chipping it to allow it to run one of the many homebrew Media Centre solutions, which would allow it to play DVDs of any region, DivXs, all my MP3s and so on. My main reluctance to this comes because of two important factors:

  1. I have real trouble with the idea of an XBox as anything other than a “games station” As much as Sony and Microsoft try to reposition their products as the all-in-one home entertainment solution, I have real trouble accepting this. The idea of navigating my files with a controller seems completely alien to me. This probably reveals more of my rapidly-oncoming middle-age than I’d like.
  2. The XBox is too damn noisy for anything other than playing games

Enter the Mac Mini.

It’s small, “Whisper quiet” and doesn’t look out of place beside my video and DVD player, and offers an array of features unmatched by any of the other offerings.

Oh, and it’s a kick-ass computer too.

On the Nintendo DS

Okay, so maybe I was a tad harsh in my dismissal of the Nintendo DS. Both have been launched recently and of the two, the DS appears to be doing better. There are a couple of factors relating to this.

First is that Sony have only launched the DS in Japan while Nintendo have launched in Japan and the US. When Nintendo started selling their DS in Japan, Sony – bold as you like – teased gamers by taking over Subway stations and having functioning PSPs presented behind reinforced plastic with armed guards. When Nintendo furiously churned out DSes for sale in the US, Sony sat on their Laurels and insisted that they were manufacturing 500,000 units, no more, no less. This number barely managed to cover all of the internet pre-orders, with retail units barely getting a slice of the action.

Then of course, you have the battle of the launch titles. In this case, Nintendo have Sony licked. They launched with an update of their most successful and most celebrated titles to date, Mario 64, as well as numerous other first-party titles. To further pile on the pressure, they even resorted to giving out a “demo cartridge” of what was coming with the new Metroid Prime (which immediatley conjured memories of the Kenner Star Wars “Early Bird” certificate). Sony could merely present people with a handful of games.

Finally, there are the other factors, such as the much-reported battery status of the PSP. Apparently, despite all best promises, the PSP can still only manage roughly 45 minutes of battery power when playing Ridge Racers, whereas Nintendo with its years of experience of creating handheld gaming hardware, can squeeze something ridiculous out of the DS.

Any or all of these could lead to keeping people away from the PSP.

I recently had the opportunity to play with a DS brought back from the US. I had a mixed bag of first impressions. First was the aesthetics of the thing – it’s big, and ugly. And I mean really big and really ugly. Close enough to two Gameboy Advances sellotaped together to make me want to open it quickly to find something to like. Opening it up, it feels plasticky, but the interface is nice. Starting up Metroid, I got to see what the touchscreen was all about. It works well in Metroid. It feels natural to move your thumb to the place you want to look. It also makes for some logical, intuitive menu options.

But I really wanted to try out Mario 64 in it.

Let me just say this… I play a lot of videogames. Right now, I’m switching between four different games. In spite of this, or rather because of this, I rarely finish games. I finished Mario 64, and it remains the largest game I’ve ever finished. This is because, more than any other game, Mario 64 was able to hold my attention for all the time it took for me to want to finish it. So the DS’s Mario 64 had a lot to live up to.

It’s playful and interesting to use the touchscreen to control it, but ultimately frustrating. I immediately went swimming and found that this wasn’t as obvious or as well-thought-out as the N64 version. Controlling Mario in general had an air of concentration about it, whereas with the N64 controller, it was something that came naturally. I didn’t play much of Mario 64, but from what I saw, it seemed more frustrating than I would have liked.

It might seem like I’m still bad-mouthing the DS, and I’m sorry if it comes across that way. There’s a lot to like about the DS, and most impressively, the forthcoming titles look fun. Who couldn’t love a game where you have to shout “I LOVE YOU” as loud as you can to win the level? (The microphone is another feature I’m sure many games developers will have a lot of fun developing with). I’ll buy one, because they’re cheap and I have a special place in my heart for Nintendo games. I’ll wait until its European release in March 2005.

But I’m importing my PSP.

PlayStation Portable

Note: This was originally posted in my Livejournal, but should probably appear here as well

A lot has been said about the new Sony PSP since the launch was announced yesterday. So I thought I’d throw my own hat into the ring here.

I’m thrilled to hear the final launch specs of the PSP. Sony have been pushing grown-up gaming since they entered the videogame market with the PlayStation. And they seem to have a firm understanding of what adults want from videogames. Compare this to Nintendo, whose new DS reeks of “Well, uh.. we’ve got a successful platform in the Gameboy Advance.. let’s add another screen! And make it a touch screen! Who wouldn’t want one of them? And uh.. uh.. ah, we’ll just figure it out as we go along”. [In fact, it would seem this feature was added purely to give Nintendo something to use as the cornerstone of their new ‘adult’ marketing campaign - “touching is good” (which, quite frankly, is a little embarassing)].

Adults want:

  • Something Pretty The PSP is an incredibly pretty piece of consumer technology. It’s small, has sleek lines and stands out from all other handhelds on the market (although sometimes smacks of the Atari Lynx, depending on the light). Sony demonstrated the kind of peerage they’re placing the PSP with in their decision to provide white headphones with the PSP.
  • Something Functional The PSP will be able to play games, music, and videos, as well as connect to wireless networks (whether you’ll be able to browse the internet or collect email from it remains to be seen). On the music side, they had originally planned not to support .mp3 in favour of their own proprietary ATRAC3 format, but finally gave in to consumer pressure.
  • Something Entertaining Sony aren’t taking any chances and have encouraged developers to port their biggest-selling Playstation games to the PSP. Within the first year, we will have titles from the following series on the PSP:
    • Burnout
    • Bust-a-move
    • Dynasty Warriors
    • Formula 1
    • Gran Turismo
    • Metal Gear Solid
    • Ridge Racer
    • Tony Hawk Underground 2
    • Wipeout

Each of these will be of a quality roughly equivalent to their PS2 counterparts.

On a personal level, I’m looking forward to the PSP for two reasons.

First is the wireless connectivity. There was some debate as to whether or not this would make it into the final specs of the machine, and I’m glad to see it has. This means that content can be downloaded directly to the machine, as we’re beginning to see with XBox Live. It also provides the means for true opportunistic gaming. For example, say I’m playing with a PSP on a bus, and I see that someone else is also playing with a PSP, we can instantly join our games and play against each other. A beautifully simple idea that, if you’ll excuse the gushing hyperbole, could revolutionise the way the general public views multi-player games*.

The second reason I’m looking forward to the PSP stems from my sense of self-preservation. I live in a house of non-gamers who, I feel, sometimes resent my occasional gaming and accompanying misappropriation of the TV. There was once a threat that my XBox could go out the window if I didn’t turn it off. A PSP could be the answer to this, or at least a happy medium - a non-intrusive way for me to play games without having to lock myself away in my room.

Right now, the Japanese launch price is 20,790 yen (approximately EUR150). MCV are reporting that the European launch price could be around the EUR300 mark.

Yes, I know the n-gage already has wireless gaming just like the PSP is proposing, but I have yet to meet one person who will even admit to wanting an n-gage, let alone meet someone who actually owns one. Compare this to everyone I’ve spoken to saying how they’re lusting after a PSP