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When I was a lad and cheery of smile I was promised a future where we’d all be flying around in our own personal transporters, walking electric dogs on floating treadmils, and eating our fourteen course calorie-free banquets with mints and a cigar follow-up in one convenient little white pill.

Judging by the number of hookers and dealers standing beneath my window of an evening I am forced to conclude that kerb crawlers will favour the earth bound contrivances for some time to come. ‘Dogs’ doesn’t always mean ‘canine’, and if I should ever request certain individuals move from my building again, I shall have the chance to eat all of my meals in liquid form through a straw.

And even though this hospital is nice and clean and has that unique odour to the ward which I have always suspected is used to cover up the smell of the bodies, I find myself looking at my PSP with a swollen eye of apathy. I always had a handheld console of some sort back when I was starting out on my journey of sacrificing my life, one level at a time, for that ultimate accolade of writing ‘ASS’ on the high score screen. And as I slowly turned every game I owned into a interactive reference guide to schoolboy rude words with characters called Brown-Stanes and Smells my choice of handheld to play them on didn’t really change.

Only the brave and the foolish have attempted to break into the portable gaming scene, the few who tried inevitably disappearing from sight behind the enormous shadow of the Gameboy. Some, like SNK’s Neo Geo Portable and Bandai’s Wonderswan, never even made it out of Japan. Whereas others, like Sega’s GameGear and Atari’s Lynx handhelds, managed to break free from their homelands with all the exuberance of a petulant child deciding to home. And, just like said child, got completely beaten down by a world not prepared to put up with their shit,  issues with batteries and useless screens being cited on the  coroners official report.

Since its Japanese launch back in 1989 the Gameboy and GB Color have managed to shift 118 million units between them, and along the Pocket, Advance, Collectors Editions, DS and recently the DSi, that number is only set to get higher.  Despite reservations over the new features on the DSi, I would never argue the credibility of the machine itself as a gaming platform, now being as ‘normal’ a thing to find in the home as a television set. And as Sony make television sets, I suppose there’s a joke there somewhere.

But I’m slowly starting to think the joke’s on me, only it isn’t Nintendo who have delivered the ‘down, down-right punch’ -line.

The PSP is the recent contender to fight for the handheld Kingdom Of Shiny, but Sony appear to have turned up in Armani suits and bowlers, nothing but balloon animals and card tricks with which to defend themselves. A console will always stand and die by its games, and having features to integrate other aspects of your life is an interesting twist I don’t think many would have predicted, even believed, back in the days of ‘The Brick’.

I find the option to play movies a novel idea, and in times when the other half wants to waste my licence fee on imported soaps about terrible acting it plays host to many a great name and fantastic story. So if I could just take a moment to extend a hand to Sony, raise my middle finger skywards whilst keeping the remaining three and thumb clasped shut, and say ‘THAT to you, Sony, for everything you’ve put me through since owning a PSP!’

Being an alternative to a singular choice is the normal way of technological evolution, each offering similar experiences but differing on several features. The PSP birthed the notion of complete on the go possibilities, every second of your life covered by a feature found on a machine that also plays games. And you can also use Skype to make calls and there’s a web browser to look at stuff and back there; that’s where the games go. And ‘here’ is something we’re going to launch soon so you can download games DIRECTLY onto your memory card! Yes, isn’t it amazing; it plays games, as well!

It’s fairly safe to say Sony have been struggling to shift the behemoth that is the PS3, leaving many to question just what the hell Sony think they’re up to? Developing a machine that’s prohibitively expensive to the majority of your market didn’t seem to be quite enough for Sony, and in between making people feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back with every update that bricks the machine or shoulder buttons that brake, they managed to find time to screw around with their handheld market, too.

Much like the ill-fated and oft-ignored Gizmondo, the PSP is an almost real-life Hitchhikers Guide, but with none of the charms and even fewer of the benefits. As advanced a handheld as there has almost never been the heads at Sony seem reluctant to acknowledge it is in fact a games machine, to whit; a thing on which to manipulate an artificial landscape with direct digital input for the purpose of having fun and killing hookers.

It is not a thing on which I wish to spend countless hours deleting emails about lengthening cream, nor checking Facebook every two minutes to see what I’m currently up to. Maybe once I have completed the mammoth struggle of man versus bio-weapon in the latest Resi game I might want to crow about it on Twitter via the handy medium of my handheld. But what if I should wish to take that experience on the move, rent to the skies the sound of Ashley’s distress, forcing the local constabulary to explain why a fifteen man guns unit was deployed in full riot gear to a bus stop in Chiswick on the local evening news…for example…

I don’t really understand what Sony are up to with the PSP, and it’s weird to see them effectively trying to market and promote the console. They go ape-shit over telling us it’s available in a billion new colours, but seem reticent about saying what games we can play. I get the impression that every new game  they release is marred by an unspoken agreement that as long as you don’t ask about GT PSP then they’ll eventually make it for you. Maybe. One day. If they remember. And it’s not pointless remakes of existing games but smaller and more pixelly I want; it’s for Sony to get some direction for this machine. Yes, we have a new Ratchett and Clank, and I can’t put Resistance; Retribution down. So why are Sony standing there, scratching at their heads as they stare blankly around at the

landscape, trying to figure out where the hell the world went? Millions spent on getting it to work with the PS3 means nothing if we still can’t do anything more than use the PSP as a rear view mirror in one game. Navigate the home screen menu with the titular console? And how is that better than using the pad that comes bundled with the home console?

And the constant updates to enhance my experience and will let me watch flash video on my PSP? Ooh, why thanks, yes; because heaven forbid I’d want to spend any time playing games with the damn thing. And whoever signed off on the design on the UMD should either be shot in the face or given a Jim’ll Fix It Badge. Universal Media Disc. Like a mini-dvd, if you will. A small disc. A ‘mini-disc’ even. Who said an appallingly bad idea couldn’t be made worse with a few millions dollars, eh?

With custom firmware as a lone island of calm in this sea of uncertainty the hacker scene offers up many ways for you to fully enjoy your PSP, from the basic ability to convert and play your original Playstation collection, right up to the other end of the high-tech with a program that helps blind people navigate using the camera, their PSP, and a downloadable free program. Sony have always seemed open to people using their console to see what it and they can do; the Net Yaroze was a programmable PS1 console, and even the PS2 could be programmed for with the addition of a hard-drive.

But with the PSP Sony have used the veil of ‘updates’ to close the back-doors exploited by hackers, and a charitable thought would be because of the great grey area of emulation. That, and because the PSP can read straight from its memory card, and a sufficient sized memory card would be able to hold a UMD’s worth of game. Several UMD’s worth of games, in fact.

With rumours the second PSP won’t have a UMD, and the PSN network allowing you to download demo’s and PS1 games directly onto your memory card, it seems someone behind the doors of Sony HQ is thinking the landmines might be live. But really these are very little steps forward to addressing the issue of what they actually want the PSP to be to its consumers. It has the potential to be so much more than ‘just’ a games machine, but with the Orwellian handling of the Playstation brand and God-like omnipotence in trying to control what people use it for Sony have missed the most important fact inherent to any console; it’s ALWAYS about the games.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but give that man a gun and he’ll eat whatever and whenever he pleases. And if you replace P-S-P with G-O-D we see that not only are conspiracies as cheap as an unconscious hooker with a tramp stamp, but  that morphine is a really good pain killer and a rather feeble fobble poot…

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  1. I honestly wish more work was going into the PSP to make it better, it’s not a bad little system in its own right. Look at God of War: Chains of Olympus and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, these are great games and we could feasibly have more of them. Perhaps it was the UMD’s fault. Either way, nice read.

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