Pretentious, opinionated language

Games, technology, music, silliness. Oh and ninjas. Lots of ninjas.

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Location: Oslo, Norway

I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

PSP first impression

As a super cool gesture, everyone at work got a PSP for christmas. I wouldn't have gotten one otherwise, since Sony pricing in norway is prohibitively high (we're talking $90 USD for a PSP game), but now that i have the hardware there's really no excuse not to get involved.

I've previously stated that i totally dig the DS. I've also stated that i'm not a fan of the PSP. Now that i've spent extended time with it, i'm slightly warmer, but the hardware has a few very serious issues that are directly detrimental to gameplay. These issues are so severe, i expect Sony to adress them in a future update to the PSP, hopefully soon.

First of all, analog control on the PSP is clever but awkward and not as smooth as it needs to be, leading to oversteer in Burnout and Wipeout. A LOT of oversteer, even after lots of practise.

Actually it leeds to oversteer in everything not expecting you to ram hard in a direction. It needs a larger range of movement sorely, and a surface with more friction. It's tempting to tape something to the analog pad to make my thumb stick better.

Second, the analog pad is placed so low on the device (lower left corner) that there are two choices for operating it: Keeping your wrists to the sides of the device, letting you "push" the pad with your thumb rather than drag it, and thus forcing you to keep the device at arm's length for it to be comfy (making the gorgeous screen super tiny), or holding it like a joypad, bending your thumb painfully to reach down.
Either way, something suffers, be it the gameplay, your eyes or your thumb.

The worst offender by far is the dpad. I'm in NO way adverse to the PS/PS2 dual shock style digital pad, which i have considered the best dpad on the market for fighting games for a long long time. On the PS2, the dpad is placed in such a way as to hide the majority of the pad under a plastic covering, leaving the four cardinal directions protuding from the controller, giving an impression of 4 buttons rather than one rocker.

The PSP mimics this design, but the dpad's profile is very low, making the impression of 4 buttons more of a reality. Hitting diagonals becomes a huge issue, even with my pancake thumbs. Simple things like scrolling the map diagonally in Metal Gear Acid becomes an exercise, because you have to place the knuckle on left and the tip of the thumb on up. You can't just rock between directions. So far i haven't faced this issue full on, because most games tend to support the analog pad and the pad is at the very least servicable, but for every action that requires digital motion there's a moment of arrgh.

When i first realised this issue it was with disbelief. I have no idea how Sony could jump for an unconventional control device like the analog pad (which is more like a sliding plate) without putting proper care into designing their dpad solution. For a developer of a system known for its bad ass fighting games, how on earth are Sony expecting a Tekken or Soul Calibur to work on a handheld that can't even scroll a static map diagonally without causing anguish?

Capcom are pretty aware of the issue, and probably have been ever since Darkstalkers chronicles.
It's a solution,
but i'd rather have a PSP sans problem.

There's a ton of good to be said for the PSP's hardware, but something is seriously wrong when the control input mechanisms of a games console from a seasoned developer are so completely and utterly overlooked.. Perhaps i'm jaded, owning every Gameboy system to date and the DS, but i love the games i own for my PSP (especially Burnout Legends, which is just amazing multiplayer), and being denied their full awesomeness because someone at Sony failed to do their homework is less than outstanding.

So Sony, fix your controls, THEN try justifying a $90 game price for me, because right now every single purchase actually makes me feel stupid.


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