This isn’t the round table entry that I thought I was going to write. This isn’t even a topic that I would have been interested in touching on a few days ago. Things change just like that. Sony perhaps knows that best; they’ve had a hard year. Just a few short months ago they were videogame heroes, valiantly fighting for the future against the evil MS Empire™ and the clueless Nintendo Wtf. That all changed rather suddenly, right around the time of E3.
Suddenly Sony was experiencing nothing but bad press, from all sides and all walks of gamer. An over-priced system. Mandatory Blu-Ray. A rip-off controller idea. Missing HDMI support. The list goes on, and that was just for their future console. In other news, their handheld continued to be over-priced, with a poor selection of innovative games. Beyond that, their proprietary movie format (the infamous UMD) continued to not sell.
Ignoring Sony’s gross incompetence (which really goes much further back than any of this recent news), I always had a soft spot for the PSP. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for slick looking technology. Admit it, the PSP looks like tech should. Compared to the original DS, the PSP was a shoe-in for first prize in the sexiest handheld pageant. It had a lot of multimedia functionality, and launched with an impressive set of games. It was supposed to be a knockout.
I’ve since lost that doe-eyed, optimistic outlook. The PSP has been slowly strangled by Sony. It started, and finishes, with homebrew. Hacking your gadgets (be it PSP, DS, iPod, Xbox, or Router) to extend its base functionality is second nature to all true geeks. Even if you don’t do it (or want to do it), you want to know how it is done. That’s just geek instinct; understand your technology. Furthermore, you want to know that it can be done. Knowing that it is possible is comforting. It reinforces our belief that the masses are still stronger than The Man; any oppression can be circumvented.
I wasn’t interested in the homebrew scene initially. Then I started learning about the indie game scene. Scratchware Auteurs, lone wolf developers, small companies striving for innovation on the outskirts of gaming. All these people have been relegated to the PC for a long time. It is hard work, and expensive, to develop a game for a console of any stripe. There are licenses to be obtained, developer’s kits to purchase, and an expectation of budget. This is not something to be attempted as an after-work hobby. Most indie developers are hoping that the internet will save them, and perhaps it will. But we can’t ignore that more people are beginning their gaming careers on consoles and handhelds.
Microsoft has begun to realize this, perhaps as a secondary effect to realizing that casual games have become a viable (and booming) market. The Xbox Live Arcade is actively seeking new games, regardless of origin, and indies are making the scene. But where are the handhelds? These little systems, with the expectation of lighter gaming, are finally coming online. You can easily get content to them from the Internet.
But home grown games are still not permitted. At least not by Sony. Sony has consistently updated the PSP firmware to prevent hacking. Homebrewers are constantly frustrated in their efforts to run their own programs (and subsequently, their own games) on the hardware. The communities have called out for homebrew support, only to be silenced.
I say that the PSP is dead to us, and there is no reason to look back. This little goody just came out for the Nintendo DS. It supports media of all sorts: music, video, and the best of all… homebrew apps. Think of what we could do on a system that welcomes innovation!