Jack Tretton, the president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, wasted no time addressing what he called the “elephant in the room” — the PlayStation Network’s month-long outage after a hacker breached the service and gained access to personal information for 77 million accounts. “You are the lifeblood of the company,” Tretton told the 6,000 folks in attendance at Sony’s E3 press conference, held Monday evening in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. “I want to apologize personally and on behalf of the company for causing any anxiety.” Tretton also joked about the public-relations nightmare, noting that the media cherish scandals like the PSN outage. “To all of our esteemed members of the press, I say, ‘You’re welcome,'” Tretton quipped.
But there was another elephant in the room — what would be Sony’s successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) system? And, perhaps more importantly, what would it cost and when could we get our greedy hands on it? The answers: PlayStation Vita, $250 or $300 depending on the model, and this holiday season. The Vita is Sony’s attempt to remain competitive in a portable gaming market that has increasingly welcomed mobile devices like the iPhone. In appearance, the Vita looks like the PSP’s more attractive younger sibling. It features two analog sticks, a D-pad, two cameras (for augmented-reality gaming), your standard PlayStation buttons, and a five-inch OLED touch screen. In other words, it’s a more powerful iPhone with buttons. Most intriguingly, it sports a rear touch-pad that lets you access special moves while playing a game. An immediate concern I had was whether gamers would accidentally press this rear touch-pad while holding the device — I’ll report back once I get my hands on a Vita later this week.
The Vita will cost $249.99 for the Wi-Fi model, and $299.99 for the 3G plus Wi-Fi model. Sony executive deputy president Kazuo Hirai also announced that the company would be relying on the “nation’s fastest mobile broadband network” to handle the device’s network features: AT&T. This announcement sucked the energy out of the room, as the audience groaned and laughed at the idea that we should excited about an AT&T partnership. Good luck with that, Sony.
But while the Vita probably won’t revolutionize the portable gaming industry, the device does promise a level of gaming performance that’d make your current iPhone or Nintendo 3DS collapse from exhaustion. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, a new Nathan Drake adventure designed specifically for the Vita, looked rather stunning, and Irrational Games hinted at an upcoming BioShock title for the handheld system. Plus, the Vita integrates with your PlayStation 3 is interesting ways. For instance, during a demo of the action RPG Ruin, the player was able to save his progress on the Vita’s “cloud” network and then resume playing right where he left off on the PS3.
Here are a few other highlights from Sony’s conference:
— Sony’s still pushing 3-D hard. So hard in fact that the company is introducing a PlayStation-branded 3-D TV. The 24-inch LED display will include one pair of new 3-D glasses, an HDMI cable, and a copy of Resistance 3 for $499, and is due to be released this fall. (An extra pair of glasses costs $69.99) The display’s most impressive feature is its Two Player Mode, which allows two gamers to see two distinct full-screen images at the same time. The TV overlays the two images while each pair of 3-D glasses picks up an individual layer, thereby allowing you and your friend to play a co-op game without the need for an annoying split screen.
— The most impressive game shown during the event was, unsurprisingly, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, due in stores Nov. 1, 2011 (with a beta multiplayer mode available June 20). The live demo showed treasure-hunter Nathan Drake sneaking around a luxury cruise ship that’s soon tipped over and filling up with water. That water! At one point we got a nice, long look at the game’s rendering of the ocean, and those water effects would feel right at home in any modern Hollywood blockbuster. And in the strangest of promotional decisions, Sony is teaming up with Subway — yes, the sandwich chain — to release Uncharted 3‘s multiplayer mode a full month early. The game’s entire multiplayer mode will be available in October to those who purchase certain items at Subway. Who knew Nathan Drake and Jared Fogle had so much in common?
— Sony continued to tout the PlayStation Move, its Wii-esque motion controller, by promising 200 Move-compatible games by the year’s end. During a demo of NBA 2K12, Sony brought out none other than Kobe Bryant to show how easy it was to play the game with the Move controller. However, the demo wasn’t too convincing, as Bryant unintentionally made his digital doppelgänger run straight out of bounds. Then again, the Lakers were playing the Miami Heat in the demo, and those guys are awfully intimidating. Also announced: the 2012 shooter BioShock Infinite will now support the Move, and LittleBigPlanet 2 will be adding enhanced Move functionality in September.
— Nowhere to be seen: Sony’s fictional vice president Kevin Butler. Sony likely felt it’d be inappropriate to feature the boastful Butler in light of the PlayStation Network fiasco. That’s understandable, but still, the guy’s energetic gaming proclamations were very much missed.
PopWatchers, do you envision putting down Angry Birds to play the PlayStation Vita? Are you on board with 3-D gaming? And, PlayStation Network addicts, do you accept Sony’s apology?