At the Game Developers Conference in San Jose today, Sony hosted a "Developing for the PSP Platform" presentation with Sony engineers David Coombs and Peter Young. Though this presentation was very "tech heavy" and didn't reveal too much about the PlayStation Portable platform, but there were some few choice nuggets of hardware details.
As we've known for months, the system will feature 480x272 widescreen, high quality TFT LCD for the image; the unit will not have any sort of video output beyond the LCD screen. The widescreen, according to Coombs, will affect gameplay and development since it enables players to see more of the action around them. The system will, of course, play its own games, but the unit will also have what's called the "Media Engine" that will give the PSP the ability to easily play back video and audio files from either the 1.8GB UMD disc or a memory stick.
Coombs confirmed the 802.11 protocol compatibility of the PSP, mentioning that it will have the ability to talk peer-to-peer locally as well as through Client/Server via 802.11 hotspots. Which means that PSP players will have the ability to challenge each other all over the world, wirelessly. The PSP will also have USB connectivity so that players can hook up peripherals such as digital cameras to the system. Coombs specifically mentioned that Sony is very interested in a GPS device for the handheld so that the system can recognize where it is in the world at all times.
Since Sony doesn't want piracy to run rampant on the PSP, there will not be any commercially or developer-available UMD writer. Developers will have to submit their final code to Sony via rewritable CD or DVD. Unfortunately, it sounds like sending preview code for PSP games to publications may be out of the question, if developers are unable to burn their own disks.
The tech-heavy features expanded the second half of the presentation. In a nutshell, the PSP will feature power that's comparable, and sometimes even greater than the PlayStation 2 thanks to some of the inherent abilities in the hardware. Developers won't be able to program the system "to the metal" like on the PlayStation 2, though; programmers must program through Sony-developed APIs. This limits the system abilities and what developers can do with it, but it will streamline the development process considerably.
Some of the system abilities include better clipping management (choosing when and where to drop polygons from view), morphing between as many as eight objects per model, the ability to do surfacing, like bezier, on polygonal objects, alpha blending, light mapping (as many as four different light sources), and transparencies.
All this will most likely be costly for a development team to put into effect in a game design, and Peter Young made mention that publishers and development studios may have to allocate more time, resources, and budgets into a PSP project; the current handheld plan just wouldn't work for the higher capable PlayStation Portable. But, on the upside, the handheld and console teams could potentially work together on the same IP, sharing resources like sound, video, and 3D models from console development and reducing them for play on PSP.
The duo did reiterate several times that the specs are based upon the emulation of the platform, and that implementing these features in actual, physical hardware may either hurt or help performance. It's just currently unknown how these included functions will affect performance when they're on solidified hardware specs.
Developers have had the beta versions of PSP emulation since late last year, with the final emulations currently in-hand. The hardware development kits should be available immediately following Game Developers Conference this spring. Sony will show off the first real demos of the PSP at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, and first game software on display at the Tokyo Game Show. The system will launch at the end of the year in Japan, and by March 2005 in the US and Europe.
The two capped off the presentation with a couple of videos from PSP tech demos, which we've made available by hitting the media link. Be warned, however, that due to the front projection system and lighting, the video is on the dark side. But you'll still get a good idea of the water, for example.
IGN & Playfrance