NGP getting augmented reality games

GDC 2011: AR cards one of the new features revealed at Sony developer session; virtual treasure hunts, item exchanges, area recognition also planned; NGP not as powerful as PS3.


Uncharted: Golden Abyss
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita

When Nintendo ships the 3DS on March 27, the portable will come with six augmented reality games. These titles will be based on a real-life card that is placed on a flat surface, which a player then centers the portable's outward-facing camera on. Once recognized, the AR card will initiate a game that will appear to be set in the real world, altering the surface and requiring the player to physically move the 3DS to center on targets or various other aspects of gameplay.

The NGP will be able to play augmented reality titles.
The NGP will be able to play augmented reality titles.

Now another handheld will also be bringing AR games to market. At a Game Developers Conference demonstration this week, Sony revealed that its Next Generation Portable will also have augmented reality functionality. During the demo, Sony Computer Entertainment director Tsutomu Horikawa used an old dinosaur demo from 1995 as an example.

The demo showed a Tyrannosaurus rex walking forward with cruder graphics from the era. Then, Horikawa pulled out an NGP demo unit and pointed its outward-facing camera toward a poster of a T. rex on the ground. He then panned up toward the ceiling of the room, and lo and behold, a 20-foot-tall T. rex was towering over the room--on the NGP, anyway.

AR Games weren't the only functionality revealed at the Sony session. The NGP will sport a feature called "Near," which will let players know where they went that day and find out which NGP games are popular in any given area. The 3G model of the NGP will achieve this via GPS, while the non-3G version will do so using Skyhook, a service that determines one's location via wireless hotspots.

The Near service will also allow for gaming possibilities similar to those used with the PSP GPS peripheral. People can engage in virtual treasure hunts at real-life locations and, once a treasure is found, exchange rare items wirelessly.

The majority of the Sony session, though, covered familiar ground. The power of the device's Arm9 CPU, with four 32-bit cores and advanced branch prediction, was touted, as was the processing brawn of its PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU. The CPU has four symmetrical cores, similar to console and PC architecture, allowing for the sharing of assets from PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games.

The NGP uses programmable shaders much like the PS3 and has a lot of VRAM compared to the PSP. However, in terms of clock speeds, it won't be as powerful as the PS3, since if it were, "it would probably set fire to your pants," according to Sony platform research manager David Coombes.

Coombes said the NGP is a little bit bigger than the PSP and has four times the resolution of the previous portable's screen. He went over the features of the portable, including its dual thumbsticks, which he called "proper sticks," not PSP-like nubs. It's got a three-axis accelerometer and a three-axis gyroscope. The device also has touch screens on the back and front, both of which are multitouch and actually sense pressure as well.

The NGP also has two high-frame-rate cameras that will be able to detect human faces and have head tracking. The cameras will be capable of a passive camera mode that will let players take pictures of themselves that can be used as an avatar that will reflect damage. The NGP will also be capable of an active camera mode, which will be able to capture real-life textures for use in a game like the NGP version of Little Big Planet.

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