Sony has unleashed lots of new information regarding Playstation Vita’s online modes Near, Party, LiveArea and Activity.
Near is like the Nintendo 3DS’ SpotPass. It’s “a location-based gifting system”, which allows users to gift each other and find out more about games.
“What Near does is it allows users to discover each other, leave gifts for each other and essentially find out more about games,” said Phil Rogers, SCEE’s research and development boss, at Develop last week.
“You can see where people are in relation to your location, their five most recently played games and also gifts that they’ve registered.
“This is fairly cool because it exposes users to games they might not have heard of and you can see how popular those games are and how people are rating them.
Another interesting feature is that “unlike another platform”, Near’s gifts don’t settle down in one place, following you around as you “go about your daily life”. Near allots you with one 100KB gift box per game. You can store multiple gifts per box but can’t exceed the 100KB data limit imposed.
Rogers went on to illustrate a verbal picture of such a scenario:
“Imagine user A visits locations one to ten through that day, and they get home and sync with the server and it uploads to the Near server your ten locations that you’ve been to.
“User B comes along, does the same thing, but at some point in User B’s day they passed User A’s location five, which means they’re now able to collect gifts that that user’s dropped. That comes into the Near application and then in-game they pick up those gifts.”
Players will be able to specify how many times a gift can be collected, its availability from your daily locations in terms of relative distance, how long a gift lasts for, access to the gift, and other players chances of finding it. Rare items might only be discovered by one lucky person out of 100 people.
“You could have a rare ship and you could drop that and someone could collect that by using Near.”
Rogers also revealed that gifts can be more than just service-specific items: you can also gift challenges and even in-game gear. He also confirmed that Near will come with a feature which will allow players to write a gift note to your gift-giver in order to thank him.
Rogers then went on to discuss that Party feature of Vita.
Party is “really good for having friends together to discuss games, chat about them and get into them”, Rogers said.
Similar to Xbox Live’s, Vita’s Party is “platform-wide” and allows you and three friends to form a party that sticks together irrespective of what you do on the handheld. “You can chat across games through text and voice,”Rogers revealed.
Rogers put particular emphasis on Vita’s cross-game voice chat feature. “Cross-game voice chat, it’s there and it’s on Vita.”
Rogers explained that you’ll also be able to launch Vita games from within Party and your friend will be able to click and button and join in the action.
“You can have different Party groups for different games or genres,” expanded Rogers. “Maybe you’ve got a first-person shooter group that you can all chat and go into.
“The voice chat part you can override,” he added, “so if in-game you’ve got your own teams for audio then you can override the Party chat and turn that off.”
He concluded by saying that Party is integrated with friends lists but isn’t mandatory and developers can opt out of including it in their games. “Games can choose not to,” said Rogers.
He then went on to explain the LiveArea and Activity features:
“The LiveArea is essentially where you go to launch your PlayStation Vita day,” Rogers quipped.
There are three modes in LiveArea: Index, Live and Game. The top area you’ll see is the content information zone, which is the “landing point for when you start any game on PS Vita”. The communication zone is where you “comment on people’s activities within the game as well as publish your messages”.
“Activity is a way for players to discuss progress,” explained Rogers. “The system automatically puts a few activities in there,” he added, such as Trophies and ratings. “That encourages people to then comment similar to Facebook style.”
“Publishers: it’s important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly.”
Developers and publishers will be able to update LiveArea.
“When you ship the game it’s got the standard LiveArea that you bake into the game card,” said Rogers. But through updates “you can even customise it to the user” by pushing out different data.
Publishers can also “push data to users” by putting images on the LiveArea frontpage as well as announcements on the bottom part of the logo. “It’s a good way to push DLC,” said Rogers. “So there’s new levels out, click, go to the Store.” It’s also a good way to push news about the game. But Rogers offered a word of warning to publishers that “it’s important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly”.
LiveArea also has location features and allows pubs/devs to track Vita owners “either by GPS on the 3G model or triangulation of mobile phone cells”.
“As well as that we work with Skyhook and they provide wireless access points around to keep a general idea of where you are,” elaborated Rogers. “So even with the Wi-Fi-only SKU you can still have a vague concept of where the user is.”
He concluded by admitting that Sony doesn’t have a concrete idea about the utilization of these features by developers. “We’re generally open to innovation.”