Historically, I haven’t bothered with handheld/portable gaming – and certainly not since my Atari Lynx was in its heyday. I really did like my Lynx, as bulky and retro as it seems now, despite the fact it sucked up battery power and pretty much confirmed my status as an ultra-geek in the early 90’s.
The more popular Nintendo GameBoy, with it’s plethora of versions and abundance of side–scrolling platform games, left me cold. I’d made my mind up pretty early on that; given the choice of driving racing cars or piloting flying machines, against rescuing princesses as a fat Italian plummer, well, I’d be racing or flying every time. The GameBoy didn’t do those type of games. At least, not with any conviction.
Which meant that, hand held gaming wise, it’s been a bit of a barren spell since the power button on my Lynx stopped latching on and I gave up on it. Then, in September 2005 a PSP fell into my lap, so to speak.
Working in the games industry I’d played one before I owned one, admittedly, and it wasn’t love at first sight, despite how pretty the hardware is. Being someone who prefers practical design over aesthetics, I instantly took a dislike to the sheer disregard for ergonomics in the PSP‘s construction. Hence, in the first ten months of ownership, the only two games I thought worth working my hand into a claw over were Wipeout Pure and GTA Liberty City Stories. As you can imagine, with only two games going for it, my PSP spent a great deal of time gathering dust on the shelf. I figured that maybe handheld gaming just wasn’t for me.
That was until the second wave of PSP games started arriving. In the space of a few weeks back in June I had picked up SOCOM Fireteam Bravo, Worms, and Football Manager Handheld. Those three games alone began to change my gaming habits, with play on the PSP taking the place of my lunchtime PS2 gaming sessions. It’s not that they were ridiculously addictive games – just that they were well suited to the PSP, which in turn made them more playable than some of the early ports.
I’m not going to pretend that SOCOM or GTA on the PSP are as immersive as their PS2 equivalent – that would be silly. However, they’re still SOCOM and GTA, but they’re in the palm of my hand and I can take them where ever I go. That, in itself, is the clincher.
Towards the end of this year another wave of PSP titles arrived; Killzone Liberation, Ace Combat X, and GTA Vice City Stories were three that I got straight away, having waited impatiently for their release. All of them are fantastic titles that really show what the PSP is capable of – it’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Killzone, despite the occasional difficulty spike, has been brilliant fun, and I’m really looking forward to the downloadable content for it that’s still to come. Ace Combat X takes me back to how much I loved Ace Combat 4, although I cant stop tilting my head and the PSP while I’m playing it, so that’s one I have to play without other people around. ;o)
GTA Vice City Stories is a brilliant achievement on the PSP; offering the best of what Grand Theft Auto has to offer in a very polished, and portable, package. The sheer number of music tracks alone is something to be applauded, and the usual high production values associated with the franchise are present and correct, too.
With a healthy collection of games, I’ve now taken to playing my PSP at home as well as during my lunch hours, which is a complete transformation of my gaming habits compared to my PS2 centric gaming of a year ago. This is despite the fact that my favourite gaming franchise, Madden, hasn’t been released for PSP in Europe this year – I reckon my hands would be useless claws if it had come out, but as it stands I go back to the PS2 for my Madden fix.
As the marketing has tried to hammer home (pretty much at the expense of the games), the PSP is more than just a games machine, so for multimedia content I’ve been visiting YourPSP.com maybe once a fortnight, and leeching content from there in the form of movie shorts, music videos, music tracks, and image galleries. Of course, not all of the content is golden, but for now it’s free and relatively easy to download onto the PSP, so it makes for ideal bog/tea break fodder.
I’d also been using PSP Video9 to convert media files into PSP format, with mixed results. It does the conversion and the thumbnail images for you so that you get visual cue on the PSP, but I had trouble getting good results at lower quality settings, and sometimes it would report that it had instantly completed the conversion without actually doing anything. Also, I don’t actually have a great deal of movie files that I want to convert, so as useful as PSP Video 9 is, it’s fairly limited in application.
So, a couple of months back I started to experiment with getting content I own on DVD ripped into PSP format. After trying a bunch of free software with varying degrees of success, the best solution I found was Jesterware’s DVD to PSP, for which I paid a meagre amount. It’s a great little app – you stick your DVD in the drive, select it in DVD to PSP, select the files you want to rip, name them, set your quality settings, and away it goes. It’ll even rip directly to your PSP, although I like to keep the files locally and transfer them over later on. About the only downside of DVD to PSP is that it forgets all the quality settings when you close it down, but since you get free updates for life I’m hoping they’ll fix that at some point in the future.
After equipping myself with some decent conversion software I treated myself to a 4Gb Memory Stick so that I could fit on more than two or three movies at a time. I currently have seven feature films on it, with a lot of other content besides, from media downloaded from YourPSP, to family pictures I’ve sized to fit the PSP screen, and even PSP Wallpaper I’ve made myself.
Ideally, software like DVD to PSP should really be in the box with the PSP, though – that and the media manager software that Sony are charging for. I believe it’s the failure to provide software like this that is hampering the uptake of the platform – can you imagine Apple having had the same kind of success if they’d been selling their popular music players and then charging people for some decent software to make use of it on top of that?
In short; in order to get the most out of it I’ve had to put a little effort in, but the reward has meant that my PSP has gone from novelty gadget into something I take with me everywhere. As I prepare to go away for the christmas holidays, I couldn’t possibly leave it behind.