Sony closes Lik-Sang

Lik-Sang is a well known Hong Kong company specialising in the import games market. For the last year they have been fighting a legal battle with Sony who were opposed to their importing of PSP’s. Last Friday a judge in the UK found against Lik-Sang and due to the possibility of other legal cases being raised Lik-Sang have decided to close.

Greedy Sony bastards. While I had no intention of buying an import PS3 it’s another example of a huge global player wanting 100% control over everything. Importing wouldn’t be a business if companies:

  • Had simultaneous worldwide hardware and software releases
  • Removed region restrictions – DVD and games follow the same region encoding
  • Sold at a fair price across the globe

Import PSP’s and games could be had cheaper from Hong Kong, including shipment than buying from a UK high street. While Sony is protecting the PSP’s (shrinking) market it also smells of further PS3 delays for Europe and a potentially high cost for games. Rumours are of £60 & £70 price point for PS3 releases which is taking the urine.

Talk about the big boys bullying the small firms! Lik-Sang did have one parting shot, pointing out the Sony exec’s in the UK that had enjoyed their import service.

Furthermore, Sony have failed to disclose to the London High Court that not only the world wide gaming community in more than 100 countries relied on Lik-Sang for their gaming needs, but also Sony Europe’s very own top directors repeatedly got their Sony PSP hard or software imports in nicely packed Lik-Sang parcels with free Lik-Sang Mugs or Lik-Sang Badge Holders, starting just two days after Japan’s official release, as early as 14th of December 2004 (more than nine months earlier than the legal action). The list of PSP related Sony Europe orders reads like the who’s who of the videogames industry, and includes Ray Maguire (Managing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Alan Duncan (UK Marketing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Chris Sorrell (Creative Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Rob Parkin (Development Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited), just to name a few.

Goodbye Lik-Sang – a reliable company providing a good service to the UK and Europe that will be missed. Yet another proud day for Sony.

Nintendo DS Lite

Last year when Sony and Nintendo brought our new handhelds I plumped for the PSP. The system had games I wanted to play (Wipeout Pure, Ridge Racer and in the future Pro Evo and GTA), looked to have great multimedia potential and the hardware looked great. In particular the hardware design in comparison to the DS was night and day. The DS was like a relic from the 90’s – clumsy, flip screen and the touch screen concept just didn’t click with me. No media playing ability either – just games.

Last week I picked up a DS Lite. I had an itch to play something fresh and new, Shakeel was raving about it and at just £99 it sounded a bargain. After a week of use I can only say I wish I had bought a DS sooner although in retrospect the Lite is such a better design/platform it’s a blessing in disguise that I only got one now.

DS Lite

I picked up a white one as I was warned the black one was a grease and fingerprint magnet. Even with the white you can still see the marks. However it looks great – very Apple esque and smaller/neater than the original. More importantly the screen brightness has been much improved and is as good if not better than the PSP. However this was bought for one reason – the games. It also shows that Nintendo still understand the games market better than anyone else.

Mario Kart DS is sublime on the DS. So many tracks that are known and loved with some originals thrown in as well. It’s also the best Mario Kart I’ve played since the SNES original – a real credit to the developers. The online mode is amazing – select from continental, worldwide or friends list to play online with up to three others. Every game so far has been lag free and when you think of who you may be playing with round the world on such a small hand held…fantastic achievement by Nintendo.

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training highlights the unique nature of DS games. Using the touch pad or your voice you play a series of small mind games daily that help stimulate and work the brain. I’m loving this right now and while the actual science behind it maybe questionable it’s so enjoyable that I want to play it each day. This games also highlights one other aspect – how Nintendo get people to play that aren’t your typical gamers. My mother is loving this more than me – I’ve created a game addict. I may have to purchase another DS so I can get a shot.

There are plenty of others games available but these two alone have shown what a great platform this is. In some ways it’s a shame that Nintendo didn’t launch with the DS Lite against the PSP. They would have captured even more sales although it is trouncing the PSP at the moment so it’s not that big a deal. I do wonder about Nintendo designers though. Compare American SNES with Japanese/Euro SNES. There has been so many other bad examples through their history although the Wii doesn’t look like being one of them.

Back to the DS Lite – it’s great fun…and that’s really what games should be about, no? Highly recommended to everyone, not just hardcore gamers.

LocoRoco

Shocking – a new game for the PSP that isn’t a racing game, doesn’t involve killing people with an assortment of weapons and if you didn’t know better you would have thought you were playing a Nintendo console. The game is LocoRoco.
Loco Roco Screenshot 6

The aim of the game is to guide the LocoRoco to the end of the level. The controls are simple, the level designs are great – colourful and imaginative but it’s the animation that really stands out. Amazing. There are also lots of secret areas (think Mario) to explore so it’s not simply about getting to the level end in the quickest time. Music is just right – makes you smile which is pretty much the whole point of this game. I wish there were more like this on the PSP. Games that you can quickly pick up and play for 20 minutes without getting bored or spending most of that time creating characters, going through training modes etc. If you’ve got a PSP try out the demo – well worth it. Full Flickr set here.

Loco Roco Screenshot 7

More PS3 news

More info from the GDC and Phil Harrison on the PS3, PSP and network gaming. Most interesting for me…

  • PS3 software will be region free. Rumoured long ago but still surprising even though it’s been confirmed.
  • Network gaming will be free. Not a surprise as it follows the PS2 model although I expect publishers to start charging to play certain titles online.
  • The boomerang controller is dead. Woo. New one to be unleashed at E3

The more I hear the more I like.

GTA Liberty City Stories - Custom Soundtracks

Picked up GTA:Liberty City Stories for the PSP today. Great game – if you liked any of the other GTA games you’ll love this. One warning – it gets of to a very slow start but then the missions start to pick up. Another warning – the soundtracks included in the game are mince which is something of a letdown as the GTA games have become renowned for their use of music.

However Rockstar have included a custom soundtrack feature which allows you to play your own tracks from the PSP’s memory disk. Way! The problem is this feature won’t play mp3’s from the memory stick – you need to use Rockstar’s software (download from IGN) to convert music to their format and transfer that to the PSP. An added twist is that the utility will not covert mp3’s to their own format – only music ripped from a bought music CD using their utility can be used. Boo! There is another way…

Codemasters also had a custom soundtrack feature for their Toca game on the PSP. They also used a utility to convert music to a PSP format – the difference is that their utility allowed you to convert mp3’s from your hard disk as well as music CD’s. Therefore:

1) Download the Codemasters utility – ftp://downloads.codemasters.com/upgrade/Codemasters_EACSetup.zip

2) Make sure you have a game save for GTA on your PSP memory disk

3) Install the Codemasters utility on your PC

4) Connect the PSP to your PC in USB mode.

5) Goto the folder PSP and then SAVEDATA – look for the name of your GTA gamesave folder. For me it was ULES00151S0

6) Now you need to create a new folder in SAVEDATA that holds the custom soundtracks. Using the name of the game save folder remove the final S0 and add CUSTOMTRACKS – create a folder using this name. So for me my GTA music folder is called ULES00151CUSTOMTRACKS. Note that is a new folder – NOT the game folder renamed. For Vice City name the folder ULES00502CUSTOMTRACKS.

7) Fire up the Codemasters utility on the PC, select mp3’s from the hard disk or a music CD, select the custom tracks folder created above and convert your music.

8) Once converted, goto the custom tracks folder and rename all the files from *.toc to *.gta

9) Fire up GTA, select custom soundtrack in audio options and enjoy your own music.

It’s ironic that Rockstar, a company who have made money out of glamorizing drug trafficing, prostitution, stabbing, shooting, car theft, killing of innocents and now gang violence, have taken the moral high ground and limited their software to bought music only. You really have got to laugh.

PSP Homebrew Update

Feeling brave?

Fed up with having a version 2.0 firmware and missing out on all the homebrew, emulators and piracy that could be down with 1.5 firmware?

Visit PSP Updates and follow the instructions in how to downgrade your PSP from 2.0 to 1.5. Over 500 comments with nearly 100% working. Need to download some files and there are torrents available to help spread the load. I’ll stick to 2.0 for the time being. If your up for it a guide with pictures is probably of more use.

PSP Web Browser

Sony have brought out an updated firmware that will stop warez and hacks from working but also adds a web browser, updates to wireless protocols, swapping of pics from PSP to PSP and also theme and background picture support. As I wasn’t using much of the hacks and warez I installed the update and also purchased a wireless router – the KCorp KLG-575 – which although isn’t an ADSL router adds fast wireless connectivity in my house (for £47 at Amazon). The verdict – pretty good.

The PSP can connect anywhere in the house to the router – outside it really slows down but I’ve not really though to much about positioning of the router. If outside browsing becomes a must then I’ll add an aerial to boost the range. The browser is pretty feature rich for such a small device. It can display style sheets, entry forms, tables, frames, and many other web features although Flash and other video formats aren’t supported. The browser also supports tabs although there is a limit of three tabs opened at once. The screen display is good although being a small size you do have to scroll around the screen quite a bit. I’ve put some sample pics on Flickr. Bookmarks are supported although text entry can be a drag even though common entries like http:// and .com are easily added. Even secure connections can be accessed.

Files can be downloaded and played back on the PSP. For example, I visited Graham’s site, downloaded his new song and played it back on the PSP. Nice. Podcasts can also be grabbed this way. From about 10 metres away I grabbed the 3 meg file in under a minute which I think is pretty good for a wireless connection. I’m not looking for massive bandwidth – just speed that allows me to browse and chat. With that in mind a cheap, small laptop will be purchased soon.

One of the other drawbacks is that the PSP only has 32Meg of ram. This means certain websites are too big to display which is a shame – only found two out of twenty today that failed. Ultimately this is a great upgrade and really makes it a multimedia device. While laptops can already do everything a PSP can, nothing comes close when considering cost, size and functionality. The Video iPod (September?) has it’s work cut out.

PSP Warez

A couple of months ago I posted that UMD’s (Universal Media Disc that games are supplied on for the PSP) had been cracked. Two months down the line not only can all UMD ISO’s be downloaded from the net – they can now be played from a memory stick – PSP Warez is alive and kicking. The hacks that allow this only work on firmware 1.50. Sony has released two firmware patched since 1.50 but they are not compulsory so if you want to play warez, home-brew software and emulated games on the PSP stick to version 1.5. Some games will not play unless the firmware is at the latest version. What’s the betting that GTA:Liberty City Stories will be one of them? But then again – who’ll buy the original if they can download it from the internet and play it for free from a memory stick.

Dead Pixel Fixer

For all PSP and TFT owners that have dead pixels there’s reports that a video which flashes red, green and blue over and over (to force the pixels to constantly change) can ‘fix’ the dead pixels. Not 100% fix but if you’ve got a problem it’s worthwhile giving it a go. The video can be grabbed for PSP Vault. It’s also worth pointing out this is more for stuck pixels rather than dead ones.