AH, Japan, a land of wonder and mystery! And in case you're wondering, the mystery that had been on a lot of people's minds lately was "what will Sony unveil during the 2011 PlayStation Meeting in Tokyo?" The event, held at the Prince Park Tower in Tokyo on Jan 27, was hinted to be a big one for Sony.
And judging from the number of people and press members from around the world in attendance, everyone guessed that Sony had a really big surprise waiting to be unveiled.
Well, they were close. Sony had TWO big surprises, both of which were aimed at changing how players enjoyed PlayStation games on the move: The PlayStation Suite and the NGP.
If you're a PlayStation fan, this is a good time to be gaming.
Sony's first big reveal in Tokyo is something that'll leave players and developers who love open development platforms jumping for joy. The PlayStation Suite is - if you'll bear with the technical mumbo jumbo for a while - a cross-platform, hardware-neutral framework for delivering PlayStation game content across different devices.
Or, to put it simply: we're going to get PlayStation games on Android. Oh, YES.
This is really big news for the mobile phone gaming scene; currently, Apple's iOS (iPhones, iPads) devices have the lion's share of gaming on mobile phones.
Popular "casual" games for mobiles phones, such as Angry Birds and Cut The Rope, are practically synonymous with iPhone gaming Google's Android is the iOS's closest competitor in the world of app-centric mobile phone platforms, but thus far one of the biggest things holding Android back - notably from a gamer's point of view - is its lack of a rich library of games.
The introduction of the PlayStation Suite into the market has the potential to change all this. After all, the PlayStation brand is already well-known among consumers, and the extended PlayStation family has a proven pedigree of popular games.
An existing library of PlayStation- compatible games combined with new PlayStation-based games developed specifically for Android can only make Android a much, much more attractive system for gamers.
Sony's making a concerted effort at enticing developers to work on the platform, so as always we're eager to hear what unique new titles will be announced.
However, before you get too excited and start purchasing Android phones in bulk, keep in mind that this is just an early announcement, so save some of your enthusiasm for when the online PlayStation Store for Android actually opens its doors. Sony's hoping to launch the PlayStation Suite within the year and to kick it off, the first PlayStation Suite games you'll see on Android devices - phones or Tablets -will be classic PS One games.
There are no hints as to which games will be the first ones released, but we have our fingers crossed for Final Fantasy VII. (We never got around to finishing that RPG.)
Son of PSP
If you're a PlayStation fan who's not particularly excited about playing games on Android phones, thinking that "pshaw, those aren't REAL gaming machines," then fine. No problem.
That's why Sony also made a point to announce the successor to its PSP portable gaming device: the Next Generation Portable or NGP.
The NGP is at a glance similar to its predecessor, but a closer examination at the hardware reveals that the NGP, true to its name, has way, way more features than the PSP.
The most pronounced additions to the device are the dual analogue sticks (which is particularly promising for first-person shooters), the front/ rear cameras and the larger 5in Organic LED screen.
We'll reserve judgement for when we get our hands on the finalised device, but the games demoed during the PlayStation Meeting already demonstrated how sharp and clear the graphics on the portable device could be.
Why, we almost wanted to reach out and touch the game world...
Although, now that we think about it, that might have been a bad idea.
The 5in screen is actually a capacitive touchscreen, so we might have accidentally fired a missile at an ally or something. Of course, touchscreens are pretty much standard fare for mobile devices these days, but in a move that nobody saw coming, Sony also added a capacitive touchpad to the rear of the NGP.
It's a strange design, but one of the new games demoed for the NGP - Little Deviants -showed the potential of the feature.
The game screen - and hence the game world -was essentially sandwiched between two touch sensors, allowing the player to "pinch" and "poke" at elements in the game from different directions; like the game world was on a piece of paper in your hands.
It's a different take on user input and, combined with elements such as the six-axis motion sensors, it underlines the NGP's efforts at making a unique and immersive user interface.
You can't run from the network
Now, given technology's inexorable march towards social networking, it's inevitable that the other big push that Sony is making for the NGP is its networking aspect.
As an example of this, every game on the NGP will feature a "Live Area" accessible from the NGP menu screen; this is a combination of a boot screen, an online updates page and a place where you can see what other players are doing or chat with them.
If the Live Area feature is reminiscent in functionality to a Facebook page, then the NGP's location services - such as its ability to let you know what nearby players are playing - kind of reminds us of FourSquare.
We're not entirely sure yet why we'd want to know what gamers around us are playing, but we're certainly interested in using the location services to figure out where's that guy who keeps beating us at Call of Duty. Sony, please put that feature in.
Now, let's wrap things up for the NGP: The 3G-and-WiFi-enabled portable gaming system is eschewing the less-flexible UMD media in favour of downloadable games and a new Flash-based memory card format exclusive for the NGP.
Also, PlayStation games developed for Android will be compatible with the NGP, as Sony's planning on a lot of connection between the two sister systems.
The NGP is slated for release during the 2011 holiday season, but alas, further confirmed details are scarce.
We're still eagerly waiting to find out the NGP's pricing as well as the list of launch titles, but for now Sony's just happy enough to just tease us with the general concepts for its Next Generation Portable.
On the plus side, it looks like we already know what to ask Santa for Christmas.
Any way you look at it, the surprises revealed at Sony's PlayStation Meeting holds a lot of promise for the future of portable gaming. Having a feature-laden successor to the PSP is always a welcome thing among gamers, but it's the PlayStation-Android collaboration that's even more exciting as it has the potential to cause a big change in the world of mobile gaming.
Sony's new portable gaming platforms look to be very attractive prospects for game developers, but frankly it's the gamers that would benefit the most from the potentially large library of games that could be developed. The only thing we as gamers need to do is to wait and see if those games live up to our now high expectations.
Until the next time Sony shares more details with us, we're going to keep on wondering and anticipating what the next generation of portable gaming has in store.