Leftover E3 Thoughts: Sony’s Show

Sony, among the big three console makers, appears to have had the most interesting show at this year’s E3, at least in terms of making promises that will actually interest gaming enthusiasts.

And this happened even though I’m not sure I can say Sony had a stellar E3. Keep in mind the company did not reveal anything about a PlayStation 4 (wait until next year’s show, I guess) and its big hardware reveal was for something called Wonderbook, which is something that I still don’t understand except for the fact that it appears to be aimed at small children.

Sony succeeded because aside from Wonderbook – which I count as a potential success – they focused on big-time exclusive games. If Twitter feeds are any reflection on reality, anyone who owns a PlayStation 3 and is following E3 is excited about the post-apocalyptic “The Last of Us.”

Sony’s other big reveal, “Beyond: Two Souls,” is surely not the kind of game one expects to jump to the top of sales list but Sony’s willingness to give the E3 spotlight to what should be a highly-narrative game featuring voice work by actress Ellen Page shows the company wants to be taken seriously by gamers.

Microsoft, by contrast, spent so much of its energy explaining their plans to use the XBox 360 as just about anything other than a gaming console. Nintendo, who I have yet to praise or complain about, turned in a mediocre performance (everybody says so!)  and I doubt Nintendo really knows how to market their next console, the Wii U.

More on that later. This is Sony’s turn.
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Sony unveils PlayStation Vita launch games

The PlayStation Vita will have 25 games available for sale on its release date, Sony revealed today.

The Vita, Sony’s next handheld, is scheduled for a Feb. 22 release date in the United States. Sony revealed in a blog post today that the following titles will also be for sale at that time in stores or via download:

First Party Games:

  • Escape Plan (PlayStation Network only)
  • Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational
  • Hustle Kings (PSN only)
  • Little Deviants
  • ModNation Racers: Road Trip
  • Super StarDust Delta (PSN only)
  • Uncharted: Golden Abyss
  • wipEout 2048
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E3: Sony’s Press Conference

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Sony held their press conference at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with over 6000 attendees waiting to see what they had to offer up this year, especially in light of the PSN outage. Though they didn’t drop too many bombshells, Sony did their best to get people excited for the Move and their new handheld, the PS Vita. 

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PSN Returns

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It’s not a joke. It’s really happening. The official Playstation Blog writes that PSN was phased back into service inside the United States and Canada in the last several hours.

The official Playstation Twitter had even given a play-by-play on which regions were coming up first, apparently starting in the northeastern states and then jumping to California after that. An updating map was also provided and was colored in as PSN came back to life.

PSN will also prompt PS3s to update with newest firmware which was made available several hours prior to the network relaunch on the official site. If you didn’t download it from there, it will prompt you for the update when you try to get back on PSN. It will also prompt you to change your password, so be sure to think of something creative.

I’ll admit, I didn’t feel as affected as some that had gone as far as to trade in their PS3s for Xbox 360s. After updating my PS3 and changing my password, there wasn’t much fanfare after that. Granted, people will finally be able to blast each other in the face in online match ups now that it’s back, but with the Store still down, it’s still a mixed blessing for some that can’t redeem certain codes for DLC through it.

But for PSN’s team of engineers, I’m sure that it has been a long and stressful road to get to even this point. Despite the bad press and further threats against the network, they had pushed on. A lot of the new improvements that Sony promised will be transparent against the backdrop of Fatalities and co-op. There won’t be a virtual ticker tape parade here, other than in watching players sign back in. Yet for Sony and its team, that might be reward enough.

Sony to offer AllClearID Plus protection against ID theft

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Identity theft has been on quite a few people’s minds especially in the wake of the downtime that PSN and SOE have suffered after having personal information put at risk in hack intrusions. Now Sony has the details on an ID protection enrollment program that they are providing as a complimentary offer, free of charge, to Playstation Network and Qriocity members.

Posed here on their official blog, the service is described as good for 12 months and will inform those who subscribe to it of any unusual activity pertaining to their information and put them in touch with a staff of “licensed private investigators and identity restoration specialists”. A special enrollment code will go out to members from Sony that will be good up until June 18th.

I looked the company up (Debix, Inc.) to see who they were. In addition to researching solutions to security breaches, they offer an on-call ID protection service for $9.95 per month. If someone attempts to sign up for credit under your name, an alert contacts your phone allowing you to indicate whether it is fraud or not.

Debix also offers the AllClearID service which is what Sony mentions in their release above. AllClearID has a free service plan that you can sign up for immediately, but Playstation.Blog notes that customers will be getting the AllClearID Plus service which normally costs $9.95 a month – all of which will be covered by Sony for twelve months of monitoring. As of this writing, Sony hasn’t yet emailed the activation codes needed to sign up for it yet, but AllClearID has already made itself ready.

It’s a big, and potentially expensive, step for Sony to make, but it also makes a point on what they are willing to do to rebuild the trust of their customers. As their team begin the “final stages” on the improvements they’ve made to the system, all we can do is wait and see what they do next.

Sony Online Entertainment taken Offline

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Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) has gone offline for “maintenance” according to the statement at their site located here which has temporarily replaced their homepage. According to the message:

“Customers outside the United States should be advised that we further
discovered evidence that information from an outdated database from
2007 containing approximately 12,700 non-US customer credit or debit
card numbers and expiration dates (but not credit card security codes)
and about 10,700 direct debit records listing bank account numbers of
certain customers in Germany, Austria, Netherlands and Spain may have
also been obtained. We will be notifying each of those customers
promptly.”

They also go on to state that their main credit card database was not at risk as it is located in a “completely separate and secured environment.” SOE and PSN (Playstation Network)  provide separate entertainment services for Sony. SOE is probably better known among PC users for the MMOs they have focused on that platform, such as Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies.

However, perhaps as many as 24.6 million user accounts were also affected by the attack with personal information compromised in the same way that they had been on PSN with names, addresses, and hashed passwords placed at risk. Whether or not the two incidents are related is anyone’s guess. Since SOE is down, that also means anyone hoping to squeeze in a little time on any of its games are going to have to wait.

To say that Sony has had the worst few days in their life is probably something of an understatement at this point. With PSN’s forced downtime and now SOE’s over security, I can only imagine the IT specialists working in the trenches at the company praying for some light at the end of the tunnel.

Sony’s PSN Press Conference – What was said

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Sony held a press conference at 2PM (Japan time) to answer questions on the PSN breach. Kazuo Hirai, CEO of Sony, headed the panel with two other officers from the company: Senior VP, Shiro Kambe, and CIO, Shinji Hasejima. Together, they answered questions and provided some explanation for what has been happening. After a short introduction and an opening statement, all three then deeply bowed in a formal demonstration of sincere apology.

Much of what was said was already generally known such as the involvement of the FBI and Homeland Security. However, it was mentioned that the passwords were hashed (giving them some protection) and that Sony reiterated their ongoing efforts to strengthen the network along with their deepest apologies for the inconvenience that this has caused everyone.

They also covered a timeline detailing events from when the intrusion was made between April 17 – 19th and when they shut PSN down on the 20th once detecting it, finally engaging an unnamed “top” security firm in the United States on the 24th to help with their investigations.

Shinji Hasejima, Sony’s CIO, explained that the exploit had gone in appearing as a normal transaction and left the system in the same way, avoiding the conventional security measures they had in place. As with Kazuo Hirai, he promises that stronger measures will be implemented. SNEI (Sony Network Entertainment International) manages the PSN servers’ data center located at an AT&T facility in California.

Kazuo Hirai had also stated they they are not certain that Anonymous is to blame for this breach, referencing only the problems that they have had with the hacktivist group in the past. They still have not determined who the actual perpetrators are. To that end, they are working with law enforcement officials in various countries as the investigation expands.

At one point, it had been mentioned that Sony will cover the fees associated
with the re-issuance of credit cards (presumably such as those a card company may charge for a replacement). When pressed for further details by the press, it was then explained that while there is no clear evidence of leaked credit card info or improper use, if there is illegal usage and the customer suffers damage, then Sony will deal with it on a case by case basis. According to a statement earlier in the conference, there are approximately 10 million
credit cards registered on PSN (out of an estimated 77 million accounts).

A “Welcome Back” program was also mentioned for when PSN returns which includes a thirty day trial period of  PS Plus along with a number of other incentives from their Marketplace as an apology to all affected users.

Update (5.01.11): Playstation Blog has updated with a review of what was stated in the conference as well as noting that PSN and Qriocity services will be rolling out worldwide in phases. Also updated the original article above to reflect that the passwords were actually hashed. If you want to watch the whole thing (which is more than an hour and a half), it’s located here.

PSN still down. Skynet not to blame (yet).

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According to the TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Skynet was supposed to become self-aware and launch its attack on humanity on April 21st of this year. It’s come and gone, but to members of Sony’s Playstation Network, it’s as if it’s actually happening.

PSN, the free service linking PS3 users together in multiplayer as well as providing the virtual space for Sony’s marketplace, has been down for the past few days. Also affected in the past week was Amazon’s cloud service hurting anything out there riding on top of it, such as certain websites. It’s back in business, though the same can’t be said for PSN which is still down as of this writing.

You might have also heard about a hacktivist group called Anonymous upset over Sony’s heavy-handed handling over PS3 hacker, George Hotz, whose case was settled before going to court. At this point, they haven’t taken responsibility for it and have gone so far as to issue a denial appropriately titled “For Once We Didn’t Do It“. And it’s not like they’re the only ones gunning for Sony nowadays.

All we do know is that Sony has finally admitted to an “external intrusion” of their systems and have taken them offline in order to investigate the issue. As for when they’re coming back, or what that entails exactly, your guess is as good as mine keeping everyone that bought Mortal Kombat and anything else with multiplayer in the past week for the PS3 raging for awhile longer.

Personally, I’d bet on the rogue AI installing itself on everything with a CPU causing this mess. But that’s just me…and anyone named John Connor.

Sony High-Definition 3D camcorder

Sony’s featured the new 3D High-Definition Flash Memory Handycam Camcorder.  Home movies of the child’s soccer games will never be the same again.  The camera is expected to be out in April for about $1500.

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Here are the specs for the Sony HDT-TD10 3D curtesy of Sony.
                     World’s first “Double Full HD” 3D consumer camcorder w/ Integrated Dual Camera System - two        Sony G Lenses, Exmor R CMOS sensors, BIONZ processors

         3D or 2D HD recording with double full HD 1920×1080 video recording and 7-megapixel still image capture in photo mode (2D) 

         View contents in 3D on the 3.5″ WIDE 3D/2D Xtra Fine with TruBlack technology LCD (1229K) without needing 3D glasses

  • 64GB of internal flash memory, for 60p/24p recording capability in 2D
  • Optical SteadyShot w/ Active Mode and iAuto even in 3D
  • 10x optical zoom in 3D (12x in 2D), 17x Extended Zoom
  • Event Browse for automatic grouping of content by events and Highlight Playback & Highlight Share (2D only) to create highlight reels automatically
  • Built-in mic w/ 5.1ch surround system, Clear Phase stereo speakers with S-Master technology, wind noise reduction, mic/HP jack, and audio level meter

E3: A look back on Day Three

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Day Three was a relaxed day for us. Only a handful of appointments and the crowds were a little thinner as quite a few people decided to head home once they’ve gotten their fill of news. I don’t blame them. My feet at this point were turning to mush from all of the standing and walking, but the end was in sight. Almost. Today was a catch up day for anything interesting that I wanted to see for myself so we weren’t under any pressure to run from one booth to the other.

Then again, the Lakers were defending their title at the Staples Center that evening making getting out early something of a priority. When Angelinos tell you to go home instead of hanging around to see burning taxis win or lose, it’s probably good advice.
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