Sony's "next generation portable," or NGP as it has been known since its announcement at a press conference in Japan, has been the object of much speculation since its January debut. GameSpot caught up with Sony Computer Entertainment's head of worldwide studios, Shuhei Yoshida, at a pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo press event to grill him about what we can expect from the new handheld, how 3G will figure into the package, what configurations the device will come in, what support for legacy PSP titles there will be, what the biggest hurdle is to the NGP's success, and much more.
GameSpot: The last time we spoke, Sony had just unveiled the NGP. Now that you've had a chance to see the Internet's reactions to the hardware, was is what you expected or were you surprised by anything?
Shuhei Yoshida: Oh, if anything, I was surprised about how overwhelmingly positive the reactions from people who have had the chance to have hands-on with the system were. So that made us really, really happy and pumped.
GS: Obviously, there are quite a few unanswered questions, so let's dive into those. Where did you end up on video out?
SY: Yeah, so video out…actually, we have decided not to put that in the system. So, you know, there won't be an HDMI connection or something like that. So, it's unfortunate, but we had to make some choices in terms of components and cost of goods.
GS: In terms of unit types, there've been rumors and speculation about different configurations that include 3G. What can you tell us about what Sony is aiming for?
SY: Yeah, we are still working with the 3G carriers in each country. So our offering might, you know, be different by region or even by country. So we are still nailing the details. So we will be talking about that when we get ready.
GS: In terms of software, one of the biggest challenges the PSP had was that software releases were inconsistent after the strong launch. What has Sony learned from that and how are you applying it to the NGP?
SY: Yeah, absolutely. So that's one of the biggest things we always talked about when we were approaching the design of the NGP, you know…we were so excited about the PSP with a big screen and beautiful screen and in PlayStation 2-like graphics just as we are talking about PlayStation 3-like graphics on the NGP.
Yeah, so there is a similarity there. But the bigger thing we learned about the PSP was that people get accustomed to the graphic side of things pretty quickly. And once the standard is set, that's something people expect from their games. So that will require constant evolution. So we have to keep up evolving and always, you know, provide a certain level of performance on the system.
But, you know, once the graphics appreciation has passed, it all comes down to the actual gameplay. And our biggest mistake, I would say, with the PSP was we were just so happy to provide the PS2 gaming on the go, and we kind of stopped there. We had the Wi-Fi capability with the PSP and in some of the countries, like in Japan, playing with other friends with Wi-Fi became a huge phenomena.
But outside that, there is very little that you are able to put on the PSP. So what we wanted to do with the NGP was, besides the great graphics and CPU, think on what interface we could put in to make the gameplay really stand out. You know, something that you cannot even do with the PS3. So the front and back touchpad, the dual-analog sticks, social connectivities, and the camera AR.
All these you cannot replicate in the console experience. So we have to show what this means with our own games. But we are confident the NGP has enough of these elements that as we go, people will see the gaming experience on the NGP will be unique enough. So that they would want to play NGP games in addition to what they have in the console. That's the difference.
GS: So we're seeing today that there is the possibility of compatibility between the gaming experience on the NGP and the PS3. Is this a focus for the NGP?
SY: Absolutely yeah, that's something we are very excited to be working on. For one thing, the core performance is very similar, much closer between the PS3 and the NGP compared to the PSP and the PS3. So some games can be made available for both the PS3 and the PSP. Like we are showing Wipeout today…how the online compatibility…when you play Wipeout online, your opponent might be coming from the PS3 or the NGP.
And that's very exciting for us. And the other point too is we can provide through the PlayStation Network because we expect most of the NGP users will have a PSN account, as compared to the PSP. When we launched the PSP, we didn't have the PSN yet.
So the connectivity would not be limited by connecting cables between the PSP and the PS3 with a USB. But we can create connectivities through the PSN and we can do some cool stuff that we are not talking about as yet, but we'll be very happy to show pretty soon what you can do between the PS3 and the NGP.
GS: So Sony has been big about talking up the NGP as a game system, but will the multimedia capabilities be on par or greater than what the PSP offers?
SY: We are trying more than what we've done with the PSP.
GS: If that's the case, can we expect a closer alignment in video support to what the PS3 can do?
SY: Well, you know, that's everybody's hope because the NGP has such a large, beautiful screen. It's a perfect device to carry with you. We'd like to make it a very easy, seamless process that you can have on the PS3 or network services that you can have on the NGP.
We are not just talking about the video compatibility; we are talking about other network services that people use heavily now. Nowadays, you know, not just video, but other services. We like to bring as much of that to the NGP, so that people can have a multi-device-like benefit or sign up with certain network services.
GS: And as far as compatibility between legacy PSP titles goes, are all the legacy titles going to work on the NGP?
SY: We are still going through the QA process, but the premise is, you know, the older PSP titles…those coming from the PSN store and the dedicated PSN titles, including the Minis, should work fine on the NGP. But, because the NGP has a larger screen, graphically the games will get some benefits.
And we are also adding some edge smoothing using filtering techniques. So consumers will have the choice to make the textures smoother. We'll also provide options to remap some of the controls onto the right analog stick. Some PSP games like Resistance Retribution and Metal Gear Peace Walker use the face buttons for camera control. This makes the games a bit challenging to use. But when you remap the buttons to the right analog stick, you can have an easier time. Other games like Monster Hunter use the directional pad as a camera control. So we will provide options for people to remap the direction of buttons to the right analog stick as well. We are working on the details of that.
GS: And as far as other gaming options go, how do you see Android games figuring into the software library and system launch?
SY: Yeah, so we have to define the launch. We are still working on that, on both PlayStation 3 and the NGP. So for the PlayStation 3, our target is to go multi-devices, even beyond the PlayStation devices, like Android phones or tablets. And so we are providing the PSOne gaming content to some of the hardware before we have the proper PS suite launched later this year. But our target is to have a lot more content and support to multiple devices, including our own PlayStation devices. And the NGP is certainly one of the key devices that we will like to support PSS. So that, as NGP owners, you'll be able to choose to play some more casual, cell-phone-type content on top of the console-style NGP games. Also, from the content providers, they can have a larger installed base of devices that they can target when they create games on the PSS format.
GS: What do you feel you absolutely have to nail in the NGP for it to succeed?
SY: Right now it's our titles. We definitely have to deliver the promise and capability of the NGP through our games. Talking about all the features, the hardware features is nice, but unless it has a meaningful use to the games, we just can't expect people to be excited for those features. So we are working really hard to make the hardware features very meaningful in our games to show off the capability of the NGP across our titles. So that's a number one priority for me.
GS: And looking at the market, what do you think about price?
SY: Pricing is important and the value is important as well. So we are looking at different options in terms of our offerings. So the right pricing could be different based on what we are going to offer. We are really taking it seriously in terms of setting the price.
GS: Has everything that's happened with the PSN impacted NGP development?
SY: The outage affected our development activities, so all our developers diverted their efforts to the non-online side of things, like core gameplay. So the outage has ended, and the teams are back to working on the online features. But aside from that, nothing has changed in terms of planning for the use of the PSN or the NGP.
GS: So for the titles that have cross-compatibility between the PS3 and the NGP, how are those going to get delivered?
SY: So we have capability to deliver games online through the PSN store, on both the NGP and the PS3. So that's very easy solution. But some games require physical media, like Blu-ray games or cartridge games. So we are looking into options as to how we provide the actual game content to consumers. Some consumers may not have access to the PSN. In that case, how we deliver those games? Do we want to package game discs and a game card in the same package? So we are looking at different options. But network is the easiest.
GS: Last question: What can people expect from Sony at E3 this year?
SY: So we might have some new game announcements [laughs]…very exciting titles. We will talk more about the social connectivity side; what that means to our games. How games would use these live videos and news and 3G connectivity.
GS: Will we hear about the NGP launch?
SY: We'll definitely have more information, but you'll have to wait and see.
GS: We'll be there. Thanks for your time.