GDC: Sony shows NGP augmented reality

Sony showed off an impressive augmented reality demo running on its Next Generation Portable (NGP) at GDC 2011. David Coombs, platform research manager for the NGP, introduced the augmented reality demo by discussing what he called "natural marker technology." This capability allows the NGP to use ordinary items as the anchors for creating the in-screen virtual world. Tsutomu Horikawa, director of SCEI Software Solution Developement Dept, then took over to show a live demo.

An ape virtually escapes

Horikawa started by aiming the NGP camera at a PS3 game box for Ape Escape. When he did, the game's iconic mascot--an ape wearing a safety helmet with a flashing light attached--popped up out of the box in the augmented view. A clever demo, but aside from not needing a special card, it looked fairly similar to what its competitor, the 3DS, has also shown it can do. Then Horikawa showed the 1994 "Dinosaur Demo" video that Sony used to showoff the capabilities of the original PlayStation. He then stood, stepped down from the stage into the crowd, and aimed the NGP cameras at a large image of dinosaur that had been laid down in one of the aisle. In his screen, an enormous T-Rex then stood there, towering over the crowd. He was able to move the NGP around and use it like a looking glass to check out the giant dinosaur, with the system's gyroscopes and accelerometers calculating what he was trying to look at.

T-Rex virtually towers over GDC attendees

During the rest of the panel, Coombs for the most part reviewed the NGP technical details as revealed last month in Tokyo. No specifics were given as to the way models will be configured outside Japan, though he did state that only the 3G models will include GPS functionality. Wi-Fi only models will rely on "Skyhook" positioning services, which Coombs noted as often being more accurate in enclosed spaces like shopping malls where one would find wi-fi. Coombs also briefly addressed how developers should approach making games for the system. He cautioned that despite speculation, it will not be as powerful as the PS3 or running at 2Ghz. Battery life and the inability to use large enough heat sinks in the small frame limit the performance. It does, though, have "a lot of memory compared to a PS3." He also suggested, as expected, that assets should be able to be easily brought over from PS3 and 360 versions of games with some simplification of models, shaders, and textures.