jump to navigation

The Video Game Handheld War Part 5 August 26, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Histories, Video Game Handheld War.

The Nokia N-Gage was by all intents and purposes a complete failure.  By the time the next generation of the Video Game Handheld War started to kick into gear, Nokia was nowhere to be found.  Instead, the cell phone company decided to incorporate N-Gage branding into several of their new cell phone models, offering customers the chance to download games through their carrier.  This new N-Gage store didn’t last very long, as by this point, more cell phone companies and providers were offering these services.

On the dedicated game handheld front, Nintendo was firing up development of the successor to the Game Boy Advance, which would be in a lot of ways, the first true successor to the Game Boy line that started fifteen years earlier.  Taking a page from Gunpai Yokoi’s original Game & Watch designs, Nintendo designed a truly revolutionary new type of handheld system that the West had never seen before, a dual screen system.  It would fold in two just like a Game Boy Advance SP would, but in a fit of genius, the new handheld would feature two backlit screens with one screen being touch capable.  You wouldn’t need a System Link cable anymore, as it would have internal wireless support that could connect the handheld to either another handheld locally or a wireless hotspot for online access.  Even with having to render two screens and touch inputs, the system’s graphics would be comparable to a Nintendo 64.  It would also have a Game Boy Advance slot so gamers would not need to choose between Nintendo’s systems when on the go.  The new system became known as the Nintendo DS, a fitting name as only something this completely different in design could put an end to the Game Boy’s lifecycle.

However, Nintendo would not be fighting this battle alone.  Technology company Sony had won the previous two console generations with the highly-successful Playstation and Playstation 2 gaming systems, and now Sony wanted to dominate the handheld market Nintendo had controlled unilaterally.  Sony believed the time was right to offer an alternative device to a market that was growing up.  Nintendo, and their properties like Super Mario Bros and Pokémon still had a kid-friendly image attached to them, and like the N-Gage before them, Sony believed that there was a market who had not decided to enter the handheld race quite yet, who had previously chosen to purchase Playstation systems.  Sony planned to manufacture a multi-purpose portable system which would have slightly more power than an original Playstation, but slightly less power than a PS2.  Like the DS, it would use WiFi for local and online multiplayer, but more than that, it could receive system updates with new features down the line.  As this device epitomized everything about Sony’s Playstation mantra on a handheld format, what better name for it than the Playstation Portable?

Sony developed a new proprietary disc format for the system’s games called UMD for Universal Media Disc, which was based on DVD technology and could offer much more storage than Nintendo’s previous game carts could.  In fact the UMD format could also store more than just games, it could hold movies or music in a pinch, and offered some interesting possibilities for the PSP down the road.  The problem was the UMD format was read-only memory, the PSP would need some other storage medium for save games and downloadable content.  To solve this problem, Sony included a slot for their Memory Stick Pro Duo storage device, the exact same popular storage used by Sony’s cameras, and if a customer had used the Memory Stick on multiple Sony devices, it would be able to display the photos on it.   The device’s screen would not be able to support touch controls, but it was pretty big and supported widescreen gameplay.  In all, this was a Sony branded device through and through.

The Nintendo DS launched first at a suggested price of $149 US and started to sell like mad.  The system’s graphical capabilities were ever apparent right off the bat as a launch title for the DS would be a port of Super Mario 64, one of the greatest games released for that platform.  A demo version of Metroid Prime: Hunters, the first handheld game of the highly successful Metroid Prime series, was bundled with every launch model of the Nintendo DS, and although the final version of Metroid Prime: Hunters would be delayed a bit the Nintendo DS sold like hotcakes.  Nintendo made some great decisions with the platform and people were totally loving the device’s touch capable second screen.  As the DS lacked any analog stick, some developers chose to use the second screen to simulate analog control, similar to how a game developer simulates a control stick on a touch-screen smartphone nowadays.

The PSP launched a few months after the Nintendo DS with what has been described as one of the best launch lineups since the launch of the Sega Dreamcast.  Sony did a mega marketing campaign featuring the latest hit from Franz Ferdinand, “Take Me Out”.  A brand new system would launch at the price of $249 US and include a whopping 32MB Memory Stick Pro Duo, a set of earbud headphones with remote control, and a protective sleeve.  Ridge Racer, Metal Gear Ac!d, and ports of popular EA Sports titles all launched alongside the platform, and other games like Mercury and Infected were in development and were promised to be coming later.  In North America, a UMD copy of Spider-Man 2, one of the highest rated movies of the year, was bundled with every launch model of the PSP.  The PSP may have come with only one analog stick, but the system’s games would make you forget you even needed one.

After launch, the PSP saw immediate sales to die-hard Sony fans, gamers who were looking for a more mature handheld than what Nintendo would offer, and gamers interested in the platform’s exclusive titles.  However, The PSP was still $100 US more than the Nintendo DS, and Nintendo’s flawless handheld track record spoke volumes about their experience.  While the PSP had its loyalists, the Nintendo DS continued to outsell the PSP.  Everything about the DS was designed from the ground up to be for games, wheras the PSP tried to be a multi-purpose device for portable electronic use that just so happened to be really good at playing games.  However, this was just the beginning of the story, and Sony wasn’t out for the count just yet.  On top of that, Nintendo wasn’t going to rest on their success as Sony started to gather momentum.  What happened next?  That is a story for next time.


No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: