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January 2011

Ladies, Here's Your Chance To Touch Nathan Drake

UnhchartedIt seems that the big show piece for the new Sony Next Generation Portable (we're not calling it a PlayStation Portable 2, see) is a new Uncharted game under development by Sony's Bend Studio (you might remember them from the PSP iterations of Resistance and Syphon Filter) with supervision from Naughty Dog (who are presumably very busy with Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception for the PlayStation 3).  Thanks to the NGP's touch screen and rear touch panel, this Uncharted adventure offers an alternate control scheme that allows hero Nathan Drake to be controlled with touch controls.  Game Informer's Phil Kollar explains how it all works:

It began with some simple platforming, climbing up some small ledges and over a downed tree. When using the regular game controls, Drake steers exactly like one of the PS3 Uncharted games, jumping, rolling, and shooting in basically the same manner. If you'd rather use touch controls, you can tap or swipe at certain areas on the screen to make Drake move accordingly. For example, tapping a nearby ledge will cause him to automatically climb up, while swiping across a ledge will make him shimmy in the direction that you swiped.

When I reached a vine, Yoshida showed me something that I hadn't noticed during the on-stage presentation: You can swing across the vine by actually physically rocking the PSP back and forth. It was a little difficult to get the motion right, but it's a cool idea.

If any of this motion or touch stuff sounds annoying to you, I have good news. As I had hoped when I saw it shown on stage, these alternate control methods are just that: alternate. If you want to swipe up and down on the rear touch pad to climb up a vine, you can, and it feels unique and kind of cool. But if you'd rather just stick to using the analog sticks and pressing X to pull yourself up a ledge, that works as well. As far as I was able to tell, that's the case for all of the touch and motion functionality in the game, though that could change before it's finished. Here's hoping it doesn't.

Thank goodness Sony isn't going the Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass route and demanding that players adapt their traditional control skills to match the latest control method.  Sure, Phantom Hourglass was fun and I eventually found a happy medium with that game's touchscreen maneuvers, but some games just demand a proper control stick and buttons as opposed to aimless swipes.  Just because the NGP has plenty of toys built into it that doesn't mean that every NGP game has to use all of them all of the time.

This Is The PSP2

NGP Sony has finally revealed the successor to its PlayStation Portable and it looks like a sharp little machine.  It's packed with technical horsepower and seems to be trying to combine the best aspects of the original PSP, the Nintendo DSi, and Apple's iPhone 4.  It sports dual analog control sticks, a touch panel on the front and the back of the system, 3G antenna, built-in GPS, motion control, and a vivid OLED screen that boasts four times the resolution of the original PSP's screen.  They're making Uncharted, Killzone, and LittleBigPlanet for it, among other things.  Games come via download or at retail on special unidentified flash memory cards.  The NGP (short for Next Generation Portable; no PSP branding on this one at the moment) will be out in stores this holiday season in Japan.  What's the cost?  If you have to ask, you'll never know.  How does it feel to play it?  Let's check in with Game Informer's Phil Kollar:

Here's a word I promised myself I would never use to describe an electronic device: sexy. Nevertheless, the second I had the NGP in my hands, this is the first adjective that flashed across my mind. It's skinny, sleek, and feels great. I wasn't able to get a hard number for the weight of the device, but it was definitely lighter than my first-gen PSP, much more in line with the feathery feel of the PSPgo. I guess not having a bulky UMD drive will do that.

Since the controls are laid out almost exactly like a PS3 controller, I was able to jump into Uncharted with almost no learning curve, using the controls just as I would on the console. (NOTE: stay tuned for further impressions of Uncharted on the NGP.) One kind of surprising but important difference is the analog sticks. Rather than being pulled over directly from the PS3 controller, the analog sticks on the NGP have been redesigned and feel a little more like the analog sticks on an Xbox 360 pad -- concave rather than rounded. I only spent a short amount of time with the device, but I think there's a good chance that the analog sticks on this could feel better than the analog sticks on the regular PlayStation 3 controller.

The rear touch pad on the system has a cool PlayStation logo design but is smooth, so swiping your fingers across it feels approximately the same as doing so on the screen itself. The PlayStation button used to bring up menus is placed underneath the left analog stick rather than in the middle, which seems like it leaves some room for accidentally pulling up the menu when you're really pulled into a game. That said, I didn't run into that problem during my short playtime, so I could be worrying over nothing.

It certainly sounds impressive and my interest is piqued.  We still need to hear about the price and the launch library before being able to debate how well the NGP will do in the market, but for a product announcement, I think Sony nailed this one.  I bet we won't see the NGP outside of Japan until next year as the company launches in Japan first where the original PSP is still a viable platform compared to the rest of the world.  They should launch at home first, build up the hype, and get the international audience drooling over what they can't have just yet.  Once that frenzy is at its peak, release the system and let the early international adopters talk up the experience to those on the fence.  Then the fence-sitters buy into it, and the rest is a done deal.  Of course, this all assumes a reasonable price, dependable battery life, and that the Nintendo 3DS will not have gained an impenetrable foothold in foreign markets by that time.

Power Button - Episode 35: Deep Thoughts About Deep Characterization

Power ButtonPopular characters can be the lifeblood of a video game.  From Mario to Ratchet to Master Chief and beyond, players want to connect with larger than life heroes when exploring large worlds.  This week on Power Button we set out to establish what makes for solid characters, then rank several popular virtual men, women, and talking animals to see which are the best examples of deep characterization.  Does it matter that Link never speaks for himself?  Do the best characters come in playable pairs?  Is Nintendo falling behind when it comes to creating modern heroes?  Can Microsoft's stable of heroes break free of the action-packed stereotype?  Are Ratchet and Clank the deepest characters that the Sony world has to offer?  We raise these questions, answer some of them, and dismiss others during a spirited discussion that runs just under eighty minutes (we do go on sometimes, don't we?).  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons,@aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Power Button - Episode 35: Deep Thoughts About Deep Characterization

Batman/Joker Team-Up Too Good To Be True

Video gaming features plenty of memorable character duos: Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Banjo & Kazooie, and Mario & Yoshi, but one of the most unexpected combinations has to be Batman and the Joker.  Ever wonder what would happen if the bat and the clown had to team up to take out goons and work as a team?  This video clip made with assets from Batman: Arkham Asylum makes it happen.  Some say that this is a Batman: Arkham City clip, but I just don't see it.  There's nothing new happening in this clip when it comes to character models, environments, or voice acting, and I sincerely doubt that the Arkham sequel would so blatantly reuse so many elements from the first game.  Still, it's a fun bit of animation and a solid vote for a brief alliance between the two characters.

Explodemon Rises At Games Are Evil


Duke Nukem Forever is basically the poster child of games that experience long development periods, but Explodemon from Curve Studios for the Sony PlayStation 3 is no slouch in that department having spent five years in the works.  Originally slated to appear on Nintendo's WiiWare service in addition to the PlayStation Network, the character platformer is now due exclusively on the latter service the week of February 7 in North America and Europe.  I'm slated to review the game for Games Are Evil, and in advance of that I was asked to write up a little promotional blurb featuring the trailer, some images, price information, and all of that good stuff, so you should check that out for all of the relevant information.  Explodemon looks like a fun little throwback to the Super NES era style of charismatic character platformers and I'm looking forward to checking it out.

This Could Be The PSP2


UPDATE: It's not.  This is.

With Sony's announcement and reveal of the new PlayStation Portable 2 apparently just days away, it shouldn't be so surprising that images of the new device are starting to leak out.  At least, that's the word on the street.  This image of an alleged PSP2 is making the rounds today, although whether it's a snapshot of an official Sony document or someone's detailed hypothetical creation remains to be seen.  Let's have Joey Davidson break it all down for us over at TechnoBuffalo:

Notice the top of the text that runs along the bottom. Not that this confirms a whole heap of anything, but that appears to be a copyright stamp next to the year 2011. Either this Photoshopper has gone through a lot of trouble, or this is legitimately a piece of some physical press packet destined to be handed out on Thursday. That certainly adds some credence to the notion that Sony is leaking the material themselves, though we know for sure they’d never own up to it.

The PSP2 has been rumored to be dropping UMD support, the software mediums above prove that notion. The touch screen interface has also been heard of, thus the stylus. One does have to worry, however, about the location of the two thumbsticks here. Many users have complained about a similar positioning of the single thumbstick on the Go.

If this is the real deal, I could see myself owning one.  Then again, when it comes to hardware like this, in the end it's all really about the software.  I'll need to see a list of launch titles and a price tag before deciding to climb aboard this one on the first day.  I've already made plans to pick up a Nintendo 3DS in the near future and really can't spring for two pricey handheld systems in the same timeframe.  So, basically, I'm saying that I need to be wowed before I can commit.  Show me a PlayStation 3-caliber Ratchet & Clank title or that often-wished Mega Man 2: Powered Up, however, and all bets are off.

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Ties?

While this comic book is not a real issue, it really should be.  Created by Dean Kotz, this grand match-up between Batman and Donkey Kong would truly be one for the ages.  Sadly for Nintendo fans, it's assured that Batman would win the fight.  There's the fact that Batman always wins because he's crazy-prepared, yes, but taking on a giant gorilla isn't unheard of for the caped crusader.  After all, Batman has taken down Gorilla Grodd before, and I suspect that defeating one large gorilla is pretty much like defeating any other.  Come to think of it, I say to skip the dramatic fight and instead go the other way with it: Batman and Donkey Kong should team up!  They could foil King K. Rool and the Joker.  I think we'd all pay good money to see that. 

(via The Bow on Birdo)

Weekly Poll: I Made This

Weekly Poll for 1-17-2011Most of you have already played Mass Effect 2, so there's no need to revisit it for the Sony PlayStation 3.  I had wanted to play it (it comes highly recommended from trustworthy sources), but considering that the in-game Cerberus Network requires one of those Online Pass-type codes from Electronic Arts (so renting it is out) and I just have too many other games I've already purchased or rented that need attention, I'm going to have to pass on this one for now.  Down the line when it's a PS3 Greatest Hits release on deep discount I'll reconsider, but right now I'm not made of time or $60 increments.

Moving on, I rented Sony's new LittleBigPlanet 2 (which is rental friendly) and have enjoyed the Story mode, but what I really wanted to explore are the community-created levels.  Sackboy's latest adventure provides a full suite of level editors and other creation tools (that's basically the whole point of the franchise, after all) and I saw some truly inspired creations during the game's beta period.  So I fired up the Community mode in the final version of the game expecting greatness and guess what I see?  Lazy levels meant to award as many in-game pins and Trophies as possible in a single bound.  Half-assed level descriptions written in txt speak.  Pitiful begging for other players to "heart" the level's creator.  It's junk!  All junk!  We hear so much that community-created content is important to video gaming as a whole, and yet here we see the lackluster result when players are given the keys to the kingdom.  Do you believe that user-driven material is important to the art form?  Or is it all flash and little substance?  Let's hear your thoughts.  Better yet, recommend some quality user-created LBP2 levels for me to try.  So far I'm depressingly underwhelmed.

Press The Buttons - Episode 6: Live At Otronicon

PTB Episode 5

It's always nice to get out of the studio, and on this episode of the Press The Buttons show we venture out to the Orlando Science Center to check out Otronicon.  What's an Otronicon?  Why, it's just a celebration of interactive technology using video games to demonstrate the future of how we live, learn, work and play.  That's the official way of saying that my co-host Robert Alsbrook and I took on two challengers for a Super Smash Bros. Melee match, encountered some augmented reality with the help of the team at EA Sports, visited some old friends in the classic arcade expo, and took to the stage to perform Billy Joel's classic 1989 hit "We Didn't Start The Fire" on Rock Band 3 in front of a live audience.  Join us over at for this week's episode!

Power Button - Episode 36: AJ LoCascio Takes Us Back To The Future! (Plus A Discussion On Time Travel Games)

Power ButtonThis week's episode of Power Button is heavy, Doc.  The voice behind Marty McFly from the new Back To the Future: The Game from Telltale Games, AJ LoCascio, joins Brad Hilderbrand and me - Matthew Green - to talk about the exciting world of, yes, Back to the Future.  We cover AJ's background, how he landed the McFly role, the process behind recording his dialog, and much more (and, of course, AJ drops the McFly voice on us a few times).  We even get him to answer some questions sent in by the audience and tease what happens in the episodic game's next installment.  Near the end of the conversation the topic turns to Mystery Science Theater 3000 after AJ pays me the ultimate compliment.  After a break, AJ departs as Joey Davidson joins us to discuss effective uses of time travel in video games.  All of your favorites are covered including The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Chrono Trigger, Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time, EarthBound, and, er, the abysmal Back To The Future Parts II and III from the Nintendo Entertainment System era.  It's approximately 88 minutes of discussion that will flux your capacitor!  Great Scott!  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons,@aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. Next Week: We shatter the space-time continuum to bring you Episode 35 in which we discuss the deepest, most interesting characterizations in video gaming. Join us, won't you?

Power Button - Episode 36: AJ LoCascio Takes Us Back To The Future! (Plus A Discussion On Time Travel Games)