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TGS 2011 Vita Showcase: AR, Remote Play, PS Suite, more

The Tokyo Game Show is Japan's first hands-on with its new star: PS Vita, which Sony credibly described as "an unprecedented interactive entertainment world".

During this morning's TGS 2011 address, Sony reiterated the launch details given at yesterday's presser, saying again that Vita pre-orders open in Japan on October 15 for the December 17 release, and that western release is in preparation for early 2012.

Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida opened the Tokyo Game Show's second major keynote by presenting Sony's latest baby to a packed audience.

"I want to show you what kind of new game world we are going to propose with PS Vita," he said. "Its hardware, software, and some of its new technologies."

This last teasing comment proved the most eye-opening of the three streams within the presentation, as Yoshida casually showed off some previously unseen features.

Augmented reality
After briefly glancing back at Sony's long history with AR gaming - EyeToy, PlayStation Eye, and Move are all examples - Sony finally made the consumer debut of new AR tech, previously restricted to technology conferences.

Wide Area AR works in a similar way to the 3DS's AR cards, but can keep track of multiple AR cards spread over an area. This allows the Vita's camera to keep track of the area and maintain an appropriate virtual surface even when the console is moved and tilted.

A demo video showed four markers scattered around a kitchen table, making an arena for virtual characters to inhabit, and, more excitingly, a race track being constructed with curves centred on the marker cards.

Not only did this allow for the straights and the angles of approach to be rearranged, but by positioning the cards on objects of different heights, three dimensional editing in real-time is enabled.

Markerless AR, another debut, showed the Vita's ability to use ordinary objects as scaffolding for AR planes. PlayStation's famous T-Rex - used in tech demos as far back as the PSOne - was shown in a video, full size in a city square, without any kind of special marker.

Yoshida-san then provided a live demonstration, using the TGS brochure on the podium as a base for an Ape Escape character.

Yoshida warned that both techs are still in development and expected to be delivered to developers in the near future.

PS3 Connectivity
The presentation then focused on Vita's capacity to hook up to PlayStation 3. After discussing a number of already detailed capacities - cloud saving, cross play, and data compatibility for user-generated content - Yoshida showed off Vita's Remote Play.

Like PSP, Vita can connect to PlayStation 3 by direct WiFi or via the internet - meaning you can sign in and access content on the console from elsewhere in the world. Unlike PSP, Vita can do a lot more than just stream your videos and photos - it can play PlayStation 3 games.

Again warning that the tech is still in development and soon to be extended to other developers, Yoshida gave a live demonstration of Killzone 3, streamed from a PS3.

The missing DualShock controls - lower shoulder buttons and under-analog stick keys - were compensated for on the rear touch pad.

The stream was shown via a camera over Yoshida's shoulder, and apart from one instance of slowdown or jittering, seemed very smooth. The audience was noticeably impressed and a buzz accompanied the demo.

Finally, Yoshida showed off Vita's ability to stand in as a specialised PS3 control pad. Joined on stage by a SCEI project leader for a King Kong-themed level of LittleBigPlanet 2, Yoshida used the Vita to pilot a plane, triggering various level events to clear a path for his DualShock-wielding partner, whose Sackboy climbed the inside of a skyscraper. Again, the technology is said to be under development.

PlayStation Suite
Sony's sudden decision to add the PlayStation brand to its S-series of tablets was made clear as Yoshida talked up the cross-platform development environment, PlayStation Suite.

This software platform, currently restricted to the Xperia Play, allows for developers to program using C as well as a variety of GUI tools, directly on and for supported devices.

Sony intends to certify further Android platforms, potentially third party ones, but will launch the full service for the S-series tablets, Xperia Play, and Vita.

Yoshida said the 3D graphics capabilities of the SDK, along with its ease of use and low price, will allow developers to get more casual content to consumers.

The PlayStation Store is expected to update in northern spring to support sales of Suite products, and Yoshida invited developers to view Sony's website for updates on when the SDK beta will become available. The service will become available in nine countries initially, with 20 titles expected at launch.

As well as showing off an animation tool, one game was demoed - a simple side-scrolling shm'up called Zero Gravity. The shooter was cited as an example of the high-quality but casual titles expected to appear on the platform, and Yoshida noted that all titles will pass through a certification process before hitting the PS Store.

System software integration
The presentation actually kicked off with a discussion of two interwoven topics - the Vita's launch line up, and its system software.

The reason for combining these two streams into one, in which third-party support was mentioned alongside the Vita's support of apps for Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and Foursquare, was obvious as soon as we saw a live demonstration.

After reiterating its plans to launch Vita in Japan with 26 titles, name-dropping 100 games in development and showing a sizzle reel highlighting some of the 40 games playable on the show floor, Yoshida turned to Resistance: Burning Skies.

Selecting the game's icon from Vita's home screen, Yoshida opened Live Area. Each Vita game has its own integrated Live Area, collecting all pertinent information into one launch screen.

On Resistance 3's Live Area, we were presented with a link to the game's DLC, a PS Store icon for a sale on the PSP Resistance game, and, more interestingly, a direct link to a persistent Resistance franchise online identity and a live tournament.

Scrolling down, Yoshida showed the game's Activity stream, which lists Trophies, comments, and other activity on the same title from the user's PSN Friends, and allows users to leave their own comments in a threaded conversation.

Vita comes pre-loaded with 15 system software applications including LiveArea, Near, and Party.

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