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Mini musings

Again for those who don’t care about me writing about proprietary anything (games, cellphones, dishwashers, microwaves, clocks, radios, …) you can just skip over this post.

I’ve already slightly ranted about Sony’s Minis initiative as they have some silly business practises in my opinion, tied to a very good idea. The minis are simply “smaller” (in term of space logical space used) games, initially releases for Sony’s handheld (PSP) and, since last December, playable on the PlayStation 3 through software emulation.

The idea was pretty interesting: games that occupy less than 100MB in size can be store aplenty on a MemoryStick card (or on the failure debatable PSP Go), and they are generally better suited for idly situations, like a four hours train travel (that I’m expecting next month) or waiting at the doctor’s office. The pricing, around or even less than €5 is also not too bad, especially for those games as they don’t have “story”, and are rather pastimes, that aren’t just discarded once completed. Adding the option of playing them on the PS3, while not a kind of tipping point, is also a decent additions (a little more for your money).

What is the problem then? Well, as I said in my older post, even though the 3.15 firmware update for PlayStation3 (recently made a mandatory update, rather than an optional one) added the minis emulator, Sony has not forced the publisher to publish minis to work on both systems, so the number of minis playable on the PlayStation 3 is still much lower than that of those available for the PSP. Not a huge problem by itself, to be honest, as running them on the PS3 is definitely just “a nice extra” but it shows the way Sony always lack the strength of a common environment for their games (some are published in 5-languages-in-1 discs, other are published region-coded, some are distributed through both PSN and physically via UMD, others only through UMD, and so on).

But beside these problems with Sony’s corporate strategy, that might well be much more complex than I can think of at all, there are some interesting technicalities around the minis. The most obvious one, apparent to anybody who played a couple of them, with or without technical skills to appreciate it, is that the “quality” (in sense of polish used on the game) is varying widely. Tetris (released as a PSP-only mini, for the first time on PSP, as they even state in the store description) is definitely very well polished: no rough edges anywhere, fast, with good music, and altogether well calibrated. The mahjong solitaire one (I forgot the full name) already sounds a little rougher: while it doesn’t have blatant bugs, there are times where reaching a given tile is very difficult as the cursor jumps around it; but even more importantly, you can see the framerate drop drastically (which should be a rare event on a console, as they have stable resource limits) when playing endless mode. And a similar slow-down happens on another mini, Bubble Trubble (which has nothing to do with Puzzle Bubble but sounds a lot more like Puyo Puyo meets a lot of soap), which is even rougher: while the gameplay look quite interesting, and the physics involved is definitely not too trivial, the menus look like something coming out of Commodore 64 (or SNES) era.

In particular, the two slow-downs seem to disappear on the PS3; while you could argue that the sheer power of the PS3 is a few times higher than that of the PSP, the idea is that they are currently emulated on the PS3, and most emulators, even on much more powerful system have problems of slowing down, rather than going too fast, especially because it’s usually trivial to limit the speed at which the code is executed. So: the minis are either bugged (or designed) without caring of the performance limit of the PSP, and Sony’s emulator on the PS3 does not cap its speed to the equivalent speed of the PSP.

This doesn’t really bring us any news, but mark my: that if Sony brings up a new device to run the minis, I wouldn’t be surprised. Given they are now trying to extend their PlayStation Network outside of the boundaries of PS3 and PSP, it sounds quite plausible to me. Or it might be another software to play them on the PC. Who knows, but it still is something interesting to look at.

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