During a presentation to around 20 UK developers at its headquarters in London yesterday, Sony shared a wide range of information about its new handheld platform, revealing significant new details on launch plans, hardware specifications, networking features and more.
One attendee, speaking to our sister site Eurogamer.net this morning under condition of anonymity, said: "NGP is a developer's dream – Sony is finally doing the things developers have been crying out for for years".
Studios had been expecting to collect development kits at the event, but were told "late shipments from Japan" meant SCEE would now be "prioritising". According to the source, for a kit to be delivered before April a studio must supply a "20-page concept document on a game they want to release at launch".
Eurogamer understands that key UK studios have had early kits for almost a year. But the source claimed the new shipment of kits would be "the first to have the final GPU in them".
Sony has not yet dated the system beyond plans to begin rollout worldwide by the end of 2011. But during yesterday's presentation, Sony listed the wi-fi only edition of NGP as "2011", while the wi-fi plus 3G version was listed as "Holiday Season 2011", implying that the 3G-enabled console would not be available day one.
SCEE did not share any solid information on date or price, only adding that details would be revealed "very soon".
Sony staff demoed a handful of upcoming first-party NGP titles, including Uncharted, Little Deviants and WipEout. The source said the latter was "the WipEout HD PS3 engine running on PS3 with no changes to the art platform. That means full resolution, full 60fps. It looks exactly the same as it does on PS3 – all the shader effects are in there".
With Sony urging developers to create releases that work across PS3 and NGP, the implications of this are significant. "They want us to do cross-platform," said the source, explaining that the submission process has been streamlined, with only a single submission required for a title on PSN and NGP.
And developers were told: "All games at launch available on flash [the physical storage medium] would also be on PSN."
However, Sony is also insisting that it "does not want exactly the same game" on NGP and PS3 – there "has to be a reason for the NGP title". "They want at least some kind of interactivity between the two versions with NGP-only extras," the source added.
The rumoured addition of 'cloud saving' – seen as key for enabling gamers to switch easily between a game on PS3 and NGP – was raised by developers, but SCEE would not officially confirm it.
The publisher also moved to reassure developers that the technical hurdles of cross-platform development were being kept as low as possible.
"Any shaders for PS3 stuff will just work," said the source. "We won't have to rewrite. What would have taken two-to-three months before looks like it could take just one-to-two weeks now. The architecture is obviously different, but it's the same development environment".
Elsewhere with the hardware, it was confirmed that NGP features three gyroscopes, compared with one in PS3's controller, allowing for more accurate movement. And the front and rear touch panels are both capable of six-point multi-touch.
"The touch pad on the back is fantastic," the source said. "It does feel second nature, like you're having a real impact on the world". As an example of the potential, SCEE described squeezing an object in-game by pinching the front and the back simultaneously.
SCEE further outlined its vision for the first five years of the platform and its target audience, with year one focused on "hardcore" and year two on "hardcore and teens", with the expectation that the audience will expand younger and older after that.
Social networking and location-based features were also highlighted for their gaming potential. SCEE suggested, for instance, that "clues could be put on the social networking side" that could lead to "virtual gifts", that could in turn make use of the camera and augmented reality capabilities to distribute "new skins and avatars".
"Sony has made it completely developer-centric this time," the source added. "[the development kit] is really simple to plug in and use. It opens direct in Windows Explorer and you can see all systems on a network – so you could, for example, update the firmware of multiple NGPs at once.
"A PS3 dev station can take three hours to set-up. This looks like it will take under 20 mins. It just makes everything easier – they've really thought about it this time".