What Hardware Developers Can Learn From the Vita

Although the Playstation Vita is not a dead system yet, a lot of negativity is associated with it, especially when perusing internet forums. As such, I am the lone defender of the Playstation Vita even in my circle of friends. A lot of what I hear about why it is a failure is not entirely true, and some of it has even been rectified through software updates. Although Sony still boxes to check to make this a perfect handheld, it does have a lot to give praise about.

The hardware itself is remarkable. Sporting a 2 GHz Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore and a Quad-Core SGX543MP4+, the PSV is nothing short of a powerhouse. Include the 512mb of RAM and you have enough power to do some nice multitasking along with your gaming. While the 5’ OLED screen may not be the latest thing out there, some smartphones have AMOLED screens now, games and videos still looks amazingly crisp. The dual analog stick setup is integral for creating a console experience on the go and it does an exceptional job. The touch screen is pretty much a requirement set by the Nintendo DS and smartphones but the rear touch pad is an interesting, yet drastically underused, input device. While I can’t think of any title that has really displayed a strong use of the rear touch pad, I could see a lot of really good uses for it. But other than the rear touch pad the Vita doesn’t have much innovation in the hardware department. The software is where this system shines.

Moving on to the software side of things, this is where I think developers can draw inspiration from. Sony did a lot of things right with the Vita’s software and app progression. Let’s start with the most important feature for a portable device, sleep mode. Vita takes that one step further and let’s you put any game or app to sleep at any time. Just hit the PS button and the game is practically put into a save state. While this is pretty much a requirement for portable gaming, I can’t think of how many times I wished I could pause a cutscene on my PS3 or PC. Any future console without this feature would be at a complete loss in my eyes. When I was younger it wasn’t that much of a problem(though most of my NES and Genesis games could be paused whenever due to a lack of cutscenes), but now that I am older I find that I cannot play games without distractions for long periods of time anymore, especially with having a 4 month old daughter. Upon hitting the PS button, you are taken back to the LiveScreen firmware and can launch some other apps. Not every app can be run while a game is running in the background and another game can definitely not run. The list of apps can be updated though as Sony has recently updated the web browser to run while a game is running. This is my second piece of advice: multitasking. I can push a game to the background, check my Facebook/twitter/email(as of LiveScreen 2.0) or read a website to help with a boss or show where that next collectable is, and then get right back into my game. Another feature which I love is screen capture. Holding the PS button and the Start button for a couple of seconds will take a screenshot of your game or app. While this may not be a defining feature for all, it is simple enough to program and I don’t see why any future device shouldn’t have it. For those of you that love Autolog and any other social media mixed into your gaming the Vita does this in spades, and it’s optional as well. While being a double bladed sword, Sony has placed all social media apps in the PSN Store to be downloaded instead of forcing them on consumers. Combining this with a previous feature I have uploaded high score screenshots and funny easter eggs to Facebook all within my Vita. Near is an interesting concept, and while I can’t figure out a really good use for it I’m sure someone will. At its core, it finds your GPS and “checks you in” to your exact location and then finds others you have “checked in” near you. Checking in is not the best term as Near basically just takes a snapshot of your location. When you use Near in a new location your “check in” for the last location disappears. Also, Near will not update your location until you tell it to. Regardless, you can see the last 5 games played by those around you and you can drop gifts for others to find if they look at your last 5 games. These gifts range from collectables(Uncharted), new loadouts(COD Black Ops), new skins(MvC3), or new maps(LittleBigPlanet). While interesting, none of this radically changes things but I hope to see some interesting developments in the future. The last feature is more of a portable specific feature, but I find remote play to be extremely useful. While the game list that makes use of this is significantly small, it is still an astounding system that even nVidia is using for its Project SHIELD. Having just found out the ICO & Shadow of the Colossus is a feature title I had to try it. Playing ICO on my Vita felt extremely natural. The Vita lacks DLNA media capabilities but the PS3 does not. I have streamed content to the Vita from my PC through my PS3 and it works flawlessly. This is a cumbersome setup but until the Vita gains DLNA abilities this is the only way to stream video to the Vita if the TV is in use already. There was very minimal input lag and absolutely zero video lag. I was playing this over the same network though. I have not tried it on separate networks unfortunately. But, again, being able to play some games while the TV is being used is a huge draw. This is something the WiiU has done right and I hope Sony sees this and makes the relationship between the Vita and the PS4 more interconnected than the Vita to the PS3.

The final success of the Vita’s software happens to be in Sony’s marketing. Recently they have made great strides in digital distribution, something I am a huge backer of. This allows for much easier backwards compatibility for a system. As of today, the Vita is capable of playing Vita, PSP, PS1, PS Mobile, and PS Mini titles. While none of these offerings have complete libraries, Sony tries to get both popular and rare titles into the PSN store. There are several collections that can be played entirely on the Vita though they debuted across different platforms. Metal Gear 1 and 2 as well as MGS 1, 2, 3, and Peace Walker are all playable on the Vita. All 4 Persona titles are also available. Final Fantasy, arguably one of the most prolific Japanese RPG series, has an astounding 10 titles available spanning 4 consoles. The first 9 are all available, although 3 is a PSP titles that has not come stateside and 5 is a PSX title that for some reason is not playable on NA Vitas but is compatible on EUR and JAP Vitas, FF Tactics is available as the original PSX or the PSP update, and there are 2.5 versions of FF Disidia available. Seeing as how the Vita is capable of PS2 level graphics at least, Square-Enix has already announced plans for FFX to be ported to the Vita. With that in tow, it shouldn’t be too long before XII gets ported as well, especially with the recent success of another JRPG Persona 4 getting the vita update treatment.

Just a little side note, the Vita would have been perfect for Final Fantasy’s 25th Anniversary this week. They created a huge game bundle with all 13 of the main games…on disks for their original system, minus FF3 which is the PSP update(Source: Examiner). According to SE, either every FF fan still owns their PS2 even though they have their PS3 or every FF fan has a backwards compatible PS3. They should have taken this opportunity to create a limited edition PSVita with an 8-16GB memory card and PSN codes for FF1-9. This would have bolstered the Vita sales and made a more unified experience for their 25th Anniversary collectors set.

Back on topic: There are a lot of things that Sony did right with the Vita’s software. Although I am still not fond of their firmware it has grown better since the initial inception. It did, after all, take them 7 months to add face button and D-Pad support to the primary UI and there is still zero save data management unless you are a PS+ member, but things are getting better. Sony has a trend of making powerful systems but lackluster software that slowly becomes usable. Still, Sony has a lot of forward thinking ideas with the Vita and I hope they catch on.

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