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E3 '09: Sony media conference Q&A with Matt Levitan

One of the worst-kept secrets of E3 2009 (alongside Microsoft's Project Natal control system) was Sony's revamped PlayStation Portable, the PSP Go!. Not surprisingly, it took centre stage at the company's press conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The new handheld gaming device has a 16 GB solid state drive, no UMD slot, and will rely solely on downloadable content. It's also lighter, slimmer, and features slick slide-out controls. As I speculated earlier, it's not so much PSP 2.0 as PSP 1.5.

The system's fall release will be followed by a steady stream of impressive looking software, starting with a PSP version of Sony's Gran Turismo driving simulator at launch, with entries in popular franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, MotorStorm, and LittleBigPlanet coming later.

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Sony also used their time in the spotlight to showcase more than a dozen exclusive titles coming to the PlayStation 3 over the next two years, including known games-such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, MAG, and Heavy Rain-as well as previously unannounced titles, like Rockstar Games' Agent, Final Fantasy XIV Online, and ModNation Racers, a kart racing game with user-generated content features similar to those found in LittleBigPlanet.

In the midst of all the software announcements came a brief tech demo for a new kind of interface employing a camera and a wand to facilitate precise game control. Alas, few details were provided; there was no word on price, availability, or even an official name.

The event was capped with footage from the highly anticipated action game God of War III, as well as the announcement that it would be shipping to stores next March.

I connected with Sony Computer Entertainment Canada's Matt Levitan shortly after the event.

So, it sounds like Sony is renewing its efforts in the handheld market with the PSP Go! What are some of the system's features?

It's certainly a bit of a resurgence of our efforts in the handheld market. The [$249]PSP Go! is for someone who wants to have the very best in handheld entertainment. It's set to be more of a tech-savvy, early adopter handheld, as opposed to the original PSP, which now, at its $169 price point, is more for the casual gamer.

It's also designed more for digital distribution than the existing PSP, which uses UMD media. It has 16 gigs of hard drive space, built-in wireless and Bluetooth, and it has an M2 Memory Stick slot for transferring files.

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It's also got a sliding screen, so it makes a great movie watching device. The moment you slide the screen up it reveals the analog stick, the iconic buttons, and the digital pad.

Can you elaborate on the PSP Go!'s digitally distributed content?

The PSP Go! Doesn't have a UMD slot, so any content you buy will be off of the PlayStation Store. With the average game clocking in between 300 MB and a 1 GB, you should have plenty of room. And even if you delete a game off your drive, you still have the ability to download it again because it's tied to your PlayStation Network ID name.

So there are sort of two different schools of distribution going on at the same time. We will continue to support UMD. That's not going away for all of the PSP-1000, -2000, and -3000 users. So a game like LittleBigPlanet will still be available on UMD. But then there will also be a digital file that will be on the PlayStation Store for PSP Go! users.

And can PSP Go! consumers be confident that all future PSP games will be released digitally through the PlayStation Store as well as on UMD?

Yes, that's the goal. I can't tell you today that it will be 100 per cent [of all PSP games] but we want to make that same content available both digitally and on UMD. All of the big titles we've talked about for the fall are available both digitally and on UMD.

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Let's talk about those titles. The new software line-up for PSP looks impressive. Will most of the recognizable games mentioned at the press event be available shortly after the PSP Go! launches?

Gran Turismo for PSP will be releasing October 1st, which is the same date as the PSP Go! If you want a killer app to launch a console with, you can't do much better than GT. It's our best selling franchise internally.

LittleBigPlanet is coming out this holiday. I think the transition from PlayStation 3 to PSP will be quite seamless for that franchise. And there are a lot of other big games for PSP this fall, like the Tekken and Soul Calibur fighting games, SOCOM: Fire Team Bravo, and MotorStorm: Arctic Edge.

So whereas last year we suffered a little bit, didn't have as much software as we wanted to, we've really righted that ship and are coming out with killer apps for the PSP this year.

And Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker will be 2010, as will be the Resident Evil PSP game.

Now about the motion controller that was shown. A little more information please...

Today we wanted to show it more as a tech demo than an actual product that we can talk about with release dates and prices. We have a bit of a history with this with the Eye Toy for PlayStation 2, and we've been working over the last five years or so on the next iteration, which is the motion controller that we showed today.

I think it's important for us to try to distinguish our motion control technology from the competing versions out there. I think the possibilities are certainly the strongest with the PS3 platform, based on the specs of the console itself. Everything that makes the PS3 what it is is what helps make our motion controller device a little bit different.

Let's talk about some of the PlayStation 3 titles that were shown. ModNation Racers was one of the big reveals. My impression was that it's sort of like LittleBigPlanet in kart racer form. Is that about right?

Yes, I'd say that's a pretty fair description. Certainly it has the same sort of user-generated content and a really easy-to-use tool set.

Much in the same way you could take anywhere from five minutes to five hours to design a LittleBigPlanet level, the same holds true with the ModNation Racers track editor. As the demo showed today, you can put together a really cool little track in five minutes, or spend hours and hours and build out an awesome, expansive track that many people would want to play and share online.

It's really about designing the track and your characters, sharing them with your friends, and the individuality that comes with being able to author your own content.

And I think that's a much-needed thing in kart racing games. That's one genre we're starting to see become a little stale, and I think the gamer population as a whole probably has a lot of really good ideas about how to breathe new life into it.

Another reveal was Agent. What can you tell us about that title?

[Laughs]I wish I could tell you more. I know it's a Rockstar North game. There's been some speculation over the last few months that something new was coming from Rockstar that would be PS3-exclusive. We now know the name and we know the logo, but besides that there hasn't been much that's been shared. We know it's a game that probably won't be launching this calendar year, so I think there will be a few instance over the next six months or so to get some new information. It's just great to have a PS3-exclusive from Rockstar.

Sony showcased several other exclusives as well, including Uncharted 2, MAG, Gran Turismo 5, and others. Is Sony looking at a blockbuster holiday line-up?

The holiday line-up this year looks great.

For me it starts with Uncharted 2. I had a chance to play three-on-three co-op in an internal demo, and I was blown away. That's probably the number one pick for me.

But there's also MAG, and Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time coming this holiday as well.

As for Gran Turismo 5, we haven't released an official date, but we're trying to get that out this calendar year, so it could be a holiday game as well.

Some of the other ones are a little further off. God of War III, which was really wowing the audience, has been slated for March 2010.

Last Guardian hasn't been given a date, but that might be my most anticipated game because Shadow of the Colossus [which was made by the same studio, Team Ico]was maybe my favourite PS2 game of all time. I had a chance to see the video we showed here a few months ago, and it was really tough to keep it a secret. It just looks like an incredible gameplay experience.

And then there's Final Fantasy XIV: Online, which is coming to PS3 exclusively. I only learned about that one a week or two ago, but I'm jazzed. I played Final Fantasy XI for about a year and a half.

So there are tons of great exclusives, four or five of which are set for this holiday season. But we wanted to show some of what will be coming out in 2010 and 2011, and I think we did a great job of that as well.

How big a role does exclusive content play? Will people buy a PS3 this fall because they want to play Uncharted 2, or are they buying it because of brand loyalty, multimedia features, or its Blu-ray capabilities?

I think games are still the primary driver for console sales. And price, obviously. I watch a lot of Blu-ray movies, and I enjoy the photo modes and watching slideshows with music, but first and foremost you need to establish good software for a console, that it's a gaming machine first.

That was what we wanted to show today more than anything else. We have the most and the best exclusive software. And we've been able to do that by developing our own internal software teams. Gone are the days where you can go and write big cheques to third parties and make every game exclusive to one console or the other. A lot more stuff is multiplatform now because the cost to develop games is so much higher. You have to develop those internal teams. Whether it's Polyphony working on the Gran Turismo series or Santa Monica Studios working on God of War, when you're developing these games internally you know that they will be exclusive--and only possible on the PS3.

Could you provide a summary of Sony's strategy for the rest of this year and moving into 2010?

We are the only console manufacturer out there with three viable platforms working at the same time.

With the PS2, the strategy is to keep it rolling. It's in its ninth year, we've got 100 games coming out, it's priced at $109 in Canada. There's so much software for it and it's such an affordable price. If you're not a hardcore gamer, and you don't need a next-gen system, it's a great option.

With the PSP, we showed today that we have a couple of different options: the existing PSP-3000 SKU, and then also the PSP Go!, a handheld option built completely around digital distribution. The goal for these systems this year is to finally bring forward some killer apps. I think we missed that a bit last year.

And then the goal for PS3 is to set a benchmark for software, and to show that these games are only available for PS3 and that they can only be done on PS3, whether that's because these games need a dedicated hard drive or have built-in Blu-ray functionality. We think that's a good differentiator for consumers.

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