Welcome to the hundred and third edition of RPGamer's Currents Column!
Well, it has been a little while since the last currents column has shown up on the site. The last author who filled in for me is gone, and I, Emanuel, am back in action. I haven't written one of these things in a month or two, but I feel like I can get back on the horse quickly. So I'm going to dive right in and pick up where I left off.
Since the last currents column two months ago, there is a fair bit of Pre-E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) news and lots of backlog floating around. This week, I'll try to break down a few rumors and even throw in some bits of news you all might have missed with this recent flood of information.
So enough talk, it's time for the NEWS!
PSP Go! to Debut at E3 2009
These rumors keep getting more and more credible...
The big news of the week for me had to be the leak of a new PSP at E3, the PSP Go!. There have been several rumors throughout the year that have mentioned a possible upgrade to the current PSP line, and now, 1up.com is reporting one. According to the 1up article, citing several Sony inside sources, Sony will reveal the PSP Go! during its E3 press conference on June 2. The new system will remove the UMD drive in favor of internal flash memory and move to a download-only format. It will also have a sliding screen that will reduce the system to about the size of a Blackberry. It is said to borrow heavily from Sony's now defunct Mylo 2 handheld internet device, and it will come in two models, an 8GB and 16GB one. This portable system will also be on the market sooner than expected with a Japanese release this summer, and a North American release this fall. Along with the release, Sony will also have a store of over a hundred classic and new PSP games ready for download.
The fact that it has no UMD drive means that games will load a lot faster, the battery life will be much longer, and it will reduce the size of the system. Also, a download-only console would mean that a lot of games would be readily available to download relatively cheaply. Sony has a giant library of classic Playstation 1 games, Playstation Network original games, and some exciting new games in 2009, like a new SoulCalibur game, a portable version of LittleBigPlanet, and even the long delayed Grand Turismo Mobile. With a strong line-up of cheap and easy to download games, Sony can easily renew excitement and life into the stagnating PSP.
Of course, it's not all good news. First off, it looks like there will not be a second analog nub on this new model. This is something PSP owners have been asking for since the system first launched back in 2005. The inclusion of a second analog stick alone would have been enough to convince many gamers to pick up a new model, but its exclusion could easily turn off just as many. Another important and very legitimate concern is the issue of backwards compatibility. With no UMD drive, early PSP adopters will find that their UMD libraries are now obsolete. Several blogs, on the other hand, hear rumors and are speculating that there might be in-store kiosks that would allow people to rip their UMD libraries to a memory stick or to the system's internal memory. To me, it seems like wishful thinking, but I would be happy to be proven wrong. The last real concern about a UMD-less PSP is an issue shared by all digital stores: are people willing to give up owning physical copies in favor of digital copies, and what happens to the people that don't have access to high speed internet? The latter could easily be rectified by offering consumers in-store kiosks with Wi-Fi access where you could easily download games. The former on the other hand is really a personal issue that each gamer will have to tackle themselves.
As for me, I won't be missing UMDs. I always hated carrying around those little, poorly-made plastic shells, with the open slot perfect for trapping dust inside or worse yet, scratching the disk. Also, loading a game from the disc was painfully slow, noisy, and drained the battery life. Playing Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories on the PSP was proof enough of that, I could only play for a couple of hours before I would have to charge the system since the disc was alway spinning and loading Liberty City's world. A digital store, like Steam, would also offer a wide assortment of great content on-demand. It would be great to download and play classic Playstation games like Final Fantasy VII, new and old PSP games like Resistance Retribution, and fun, little downloadable arcade games like Everyday Shooter any time I wanted. Best yet, according to Playstation Rep. John Koller, more than 50% of the PSP's line up for 2009 has yet to be announced. I don't know about you, but a PSP with enough internal storage to carry a sizeable library of games with me anywhere on a small system with a long battery life sounds very enticing. Either way you won't have to wait long since E3 is only a month away and all will be revealed.
Update: Interestingly enough, the PSP rumors keep on coming with more "inside sources" hinting that the new PSP will support Sony's brand new Memory Stick HG Micro format. The new sticks feature a higher transfer rate at approximately 40 MB/s faster than the original Memory Stick Duos and are about half the size. If true, this would improve read/write speeds and improve streaming from the stick. PCWorld.com is even hinting that with such small high storage capacity sticks, these will offer the base of the PSP's onboard storage. All I know is that if they are not the same price as the current Memory Stick Duos or cheaper, it won't fly with consumers. Once again, E3 will reveal all.
Enticing New Xbox SKUs
It's always a good idea to include free stuff...
Starting May 1st, Microsoft will begin shipping a brand new Xbox 360 SKU in North America. The Game of the Year pack includes a standard Xbox 360 Elite and two top tier games. Those games are Halo 3 and Fable 2. Both games don't add to the cost of the console but are a great place to start for any new Xbox owner. Halo 3 is one of the best First Person Shooters on the console, and it is consistently one of the top played games on Xbox Live month after month. Fable 2 is Lionhead Studio's sandbox Western RPG. It is a really fun and casual RPG experience that won several of the best of '08 awards from many publications and websites. It even got the third best Xbox 360 RPG of 2008 honors from us here at RPGamer. The pack almost sells itself.
That is a lot of quality game time for free. In fact, the deal looked so good, I was actually convinced to pick one up, which I think is pretty funny considering I thought I would never own an Xbox. That's right readers, I was a PS3 guy. Well, at least now I can go back and pick up all of those great JRPGs I missed out on like Star Ocean 4 and Tales of Vesperia. This is as good a time as any to jump in.
Our friends in Canada are also getting an exclusive new Xbox 360 Bundle this May: The Grand Theft Auto IV: Limited Anniversary Edition. This packs in mega hit GTA IV along with the standard Xbox 360 Elite package, just don't expect much in the way of extras. A voucher for the recently released DLC expansion GTA IV: The Lost and Damned is not included. Instead, buyers will find two exclusive stickers packed inside. I'd say any prospective 360 buyers are better off with the Game of the Year bundle since both SKUs cost the standard 399.99 price for 360 Elite consoles. You'll get a lot more value for your money with a fun RPG and a widely popular online shooter than with a couple of stickers and a game you can easily buy for around 20 dollars.
QUICKIES: Some Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories!
Bit Sized Tidbits of Knowledge
This news is a little old, but I still wanted to give all of you new potential 360 buyers some peace of mind. By now everyone is familiar with the red ring of death hardware failure that affects so many 360 consoles. Well aware of this very common hardware failure, Microsoft has given all Xbox 360 owners a 3 year warranty that also covers the E74 errors. These were not included in the warranty before. In case you're curious just what an E74 error is, here is a quote from a Microsoft rep.:
"In some cases there is no difference. As we said, the E74 error message and three flashing red lights can in some cases indicate the same general hardware failure. However, it is not the same failure mode in all cases and there is no single root cause for these malfunctions."
So, short of a flood or fire, your 360 is covered. This kind of info actually convinced me that buying a 360 was a safe bet.
E3 Rumor: Sony to Unveil Another a Motion Sensing Controller
This is strongly in the rumor category, but I thought a little more Pre-E3 news would be fun. According to The Cutscene, Variety.com's gaming blog, Sony is set to reveal a motion sensing controller that uses a small camera to track LEDs on a wand-like controller, similar to a Wii-mote. In fact, according to the report, it would be more precise than a standard Wii-mote and possibly match Nintendo's new add-on peripheral, the Wii Motion Plus.
"Because the camera can read different color lights and the shape and angle of each light, it's much more accurate than the Wii-mote. It can track precise movements, including along the Z axis (pushing toward and away from the TV; something the Wii is really bad at) as well as velocity."
The rumor is based on several inside sources and some patents filed by Sony. If true, this could cheaply turn the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 into a Pseudo-Wii. We won't have to wait long to see if this will actually come to fruition.
E3 Rumor: A Microsoft Motion Sensing Bar?
This story popped up just as I was finishing the story above about a possible Wiimote-like controller from Sony. I'll try to keep this rumor update short. According to Engadget, Microsoft is preparing a motion-sensing bar that uses cameras and microphones to detect full body movement and sound without a controller. It seems like a mix between an Xbox vision camera, the PSEye, and a Wii sensor bar. According to the source, you'll be able to control on-screen objects, interact with characters, and will also function as a webcam for conference calls. If even one of these two motion-sensing rumors turns out to be true, E3 is going to be very interesting indeed.
The PS3 Outsells the Wii Again in Japan.
April is the second month in a row that the Playstation 3 has outsold Nintendo's Wii. Retailers were able to move nearly 147,000 PS3 units, while the Wii only sold around 99,000 units. Although sales of the Wii have been stagnating all over Japan, strong sales of Yakuza 3 and Resident Evil 5 has finally given Sony Computer Entertainment Japan something to smile about. It's nice to see that it is not all doom and gloom with the PS3.
There were a lot of E3 rumors in this weeks column, but I figure E3 is only once a year so why not really engross ourselves in the fun and possibilities that the event may bring. If any of you readers out there have anything specific you want covered about E3, let me know in the comments, I'll do my best to cover what's sure to be a very interesting show this year. Once again it feels good to be back, See you all next week!
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