PlayStation 3 Preview: Gamers Get A Test Drive, Luda’s Left Out

Sony reveals several new titles and features at Ludacris-boosted event.

SAN FRANCISCO — How do you get 200 game journalists to attend a private Ludacris concert on the ground floor of a studio space?

Turn off the PlayStation 3s they’re playing on the two floors above.

Sony representatives let the press run wild with near-final PS3s and PS3 games at San Francisco’s Dog Patch Studios for three hours on Thursday, before flicking the power switches and moving to the musical-entertainment portion of the program. That was the capper of a day designed, in the words of Kaz Hirai — the company’s top PlayStation executive in the U.S. — “to tell you everything you want to know about the launch of the most advanced computer entertainment system ever created.”

Sony has doled out information on its new system in small handfuls this year. At E3 in May, the company revealed the machine’s November 17 launch date and $500-600 price tags for the system’s two models. At Tokyo Game Show in September, the company showed many of its PS3 games in public for the first time but ran a keynote that left attendees stifling yawns (see “PS3 Rocks Tokyo Game Show — And The Price Is Coming Down (In Japan)” ).

For the San Francisco event, the company revealed a whole lot more, confirming 20 titles for launch between November 17 and the end of the year, including Sony-published exclusives “Genji: Day of the Blade,” “NBA 07,” and the first-person shooter “Resistance: Fall of Man” (see “GameFile: ‘Resistance’ Pushes PS3 To The Edge, ‘Dead Rising’ Redefines Death & More” ). During a one-hour midday presentation, Hirai and other Sony executives confirmed that games would cost $60 and extra controllers $50.

Later, after a quick set of some of his top hits — and some call-and-response with the audience to confirm, of all things, that there were more Democrats than Republicans in the audience, Ludacris headed for his bus. Here’s a man who knows something about dazzle. What did he think of the PS3 he kept shouting out between songs? Well, Ludacris is not one of those celebrities who will blather on about something he doesn’t know much about. Sony PR didn’t think they could get him access to a PS3 without him getting mobbed, and without that experience, his handlers told MTV News, he would pass on delivering a verdict.

For Luda’s information, here’s more of what he missed:

During the opening presentation Hirai and They demonstrated the power of the PS3 to run several web pages side-by-side using its built-in Web browser. They demonstrated a feature that depicted a user’s digital photos as physical objects, fluttering and even bending a little as they floated to an imaginary onscreen table. They showed the PS3 running a half-dozen thumbnail movie trailers at once and debuted a feature called Remote Play that allows the movies and music stored on a PS3 to play — on the fly, without downloading — on any nearby PSP. That last feature currently only works within the short range of a person’s home, though eventually the company plans to make it work over the Internet. When asked if that function would ever allow gamers to play their PS3 games from a distance via a PSP, Hirai told MTV News, “It’s possible.”

Hirai also confirmed to MTV News that online multiplayer modes of PS3 games will cost money only if developers choose to charge for it. Sony won’t charge for their games. Multiplayer modes of “Resistance,” which supports up to 40 gamers online, will be free. By contrast, all multiplayer games on the Xbox 360 require a paid membership to Xbox Live for online play.

The sharks have been circling Sony all year, sensing the PS3 as a console in jeopardy. Some of that has been hype, but the company saw its E3 presence muffled by the strong showing of Nintendo’s Wii and the shock at Sony’s steep price tags. The PS3 promotional machine then lurched through the next six months, souring many in the gaming scene with the slow reveal of information about the machine’s online service and a pre-launch manufacturing bungle that knocked the European launch to 2007 and halved the number of systems shipping to North America (see “Good Luck Snagging A PS3 — Sony Cuts Console’s U.S. Shipment In Half “ ). Hirai confirming the slimmed totals on Thursday: “We’re shipping upwards of a million units by the end of 2006.”

Sony also demonstrated the PS3′s online store, which, much like Xbox Live, will allow gamers to purchase and download trailers, demos, and add-ons for already-owned games. Debuting at the event were the first complete games created for that store and downloadable onto PS3. They include the grad-school-thesis-turned-PS3-2006-game “flOw” and “Blast Factor,” an aquatic, bird’s-eye-view shoot ‘em up reminiscent of Xbox 360′s downloadable game “Mutant Storm,” but with what’s literally an added twist: Waves of enemies floating toward the player can be sloshed to one side with a tilted jerk of the PS3′s motion-sensitive controller.

After the presentation, Sony opened the upper floors to gameplay, hors d’oeuvres and free drinks. Dog Patch’s rooms were warmed with bodies and a few dozen high-def TVs running games off of PS3s. Playable titles included the downloadable games, Sony’s launch trio, the 2007 dragon-combat game “Lair,” a giant-robot-combat Gundam game and PS3 versions of the next “Tony Hawk,” “Call of Duty” and “Fight Night” games.

Subtle surprises were revealed, like the sound of the orchestra tuning that hums when a PS3 is turned on. Also unexpected was a feature in “Genji” to install the game, committing 4GB of data from the game’s Blu-Ray disc to the PS3′s hard drive — a three-minute one-time-only procedure available from the game’s start menu that a Sony rep said cuts down in-game load times from about 15 seconds to four seconds. That’s something Sony can offer, given that both versions of its console include a hard drive — 20GB and 60GB, respectively. “Genji” also happens to be done. The game is ready to be manufactured, one of the PS3′s first finished works.

At least half a dozen reporters squeezing through Dog Patch voiced a similar reaction to the day’s demonstrations and play sessions: Sony has righted their ship, even if it’s not quite steaming away. Questions have been answered. Weak spots have been fortified. The PS3 is real, however limited in supply it’s about to be. What would Ludacris have to say about all this? Someone needs to give the man some space so he can take the PS3 for a swing.