Cat-and-mouse: Arguing the case for Vita homebrew

Coders are looking for exploits that will enable homebrew on the Vita. But is it worth it? We look at the latest attempt to bring homebrew on Sony's successor to the piracy-laden PSP.

A week ago, headlines hit the web claiming that the Vita was hacked--thereby restarting the devastating cycle of piracy that had plagued Sony's last handheld, the PSP. Of course, that wasn't exactly true. Yifan Lu claims to have discovered an exploit--one that would allow homebrewers to run native code on the system. (Vita currently can run PSP homebrew.) However, while Lu has discovered the exploit, much more work will need to be done to enable bootloaders and the like. Lu says that it will be "physically impossible" to run backups using his exploit, admitting his own hatred of piracy. Some on the web consider this a naive position, pointing out that it only took months before UMDs could be dumped and played using PSP's original exploits. Although Sony has repeatedly attempted to counter the exploits through numerous security updates, it was clear that the fight was for naught. Sony later admitted to a significant piracy rate on the platform. The cat-and-mouse game between Sony and the hacking community has had some interesting repercussions. For example, Sony's first significant firmware update (2.0) not only included security updates, but added features like an internet browser to entice more users to upgrade. However, software upgrades solely for security purposes became increasingly common--much to the frustration of legitimate users of the PSP. Sony's losing battle with the PSP altered significant aspects of Vita's design. For example, gone was the ability to use Vita as a USB drive. Instead of continuing to use PSP's more widely used Memory Stick, Vita now uses an expensive proprietary memory card instead. Certain legacy games, like digital PSP games and PSone classics must undergo a re-certification process to appear on the Vita store--likely as the company attempts to secure all the content that appears on the device.

Do you blame pirates or Sony for Vita's proprietary memory cards?

Whereas Sony has introduced a few nuisances in the name of security, it has attempted to counter homebrew development by introducing the PlayStation Mobile developer program. Currently in open beta, it offers an SDK that allows cross-platform development across Vita and select Android devices. Surely, that should appease coders that want to create content for Vita? While a working hack could take "half a year" for release, many are debating if hacking the Vita is the "moral" thing to do. Some argue that Vita's lackluster library is reason enough to encourage homebrew. While it's true that Vita doesn't have many originals or exclusives at this time, there is certainly no dearth of content, with Vita having access to a growing selection of PSP games, Minis, PSone classics (and eventually the aforementioned PlayStation Mobile games). Perhaps the biggest reason people are awaiting homebrew on Vita is the potential to load emulators. Emulating classic systems was one of the biggest draws on PSP, and it appears many want the ability to play the same ol' 16-bit games on a system with a 5" OLED touchscreen. However, is the potential of opening the doors to piracy worth it, when these systems can already be emulated on a number of devices, from phones to tablets and the PSP? Lu says that while he has no intent on opening the doors to piracy on the Vita, he does note that he cannot guarantee others from using his work for foul play. "What can I do about what others may possibly do in the future?," he asked. Perhaps developers will be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the current exploit could be rendered useless before it even finds release. "At any point Sony could close it," Lu explained. And then the cat-and-mouse game would continue anew.
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From The Chatty
  • reply
    September 11, 2012 1:30 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Cat-and-mouse: Arguing the case for Vita homebrew.

    Coders are looking for exploits that will enable homebrew on the Vita. But is it worth it? We look at the latest attempt to bring homebrew on Sony's successor to the piracy-laden PSP.

    • reply
      September 11, 2012 2:27 PM

      Really hope homebrew of some sort takes off on this - at this point I see it as one of the only things that could partially revive the just about dead platform :(

      The hardware is awesome, it's a shame - I love my Vita, but the lack of new and original content is unforgivable.

    • reply
      September 11, 2012 2:36 PM

      I won't jump on the hate bandwagon (against hackers), mainly because I've found many legitimate uses for homebrew and playing backups. With PSP I mainly turned my UMDs into digital copies so I can save battery use, reduce noise and not have to switch UMDs to play something different. I also used it to play undubs of games I already own (eg. Valkyria Chronicles 2, and soon a fan translation of VC3). I've also used emulators on my PSP as well.

      It's certainly not a black and white topic, clearly people are abusing that functionality and not paying for their games. However I wouldn't blame hackers for that problem. I think there are other problems with portable systems. It's clear they aren't taken as seriously as consoles by publishers and developers alike - less exclusives, less money, less marketing.. at least in NA.

      With publishers and developers not taking the platform seriously, consumers won't either.

      As a thought, I'd be curious to see how a Steam-like approach to the platform would work out. Android and iPhone app stores have proven that lax requirements for releasing content means your platform will just get blasted with clones and incomplete products. A steam-like store might perform really well - support from indie and small developers could bring in more money, which in turn may bring in bigger names as well.

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      September 11, 2012 5:22 PM

      Homebrew saved the PSP and it will save the Vita. It's the reason I bought a psp in the first place.

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      September 11, 2012 11:13 PM

      Considering Sony already offers a legitimate avenue for homebrew with PS Mobile on Vita and the only argument left is to enable emulation which will primarily be used to play pirated ROMs, it's harder and harder to take these "anti-piracy" hackers seriously. Even if Sony wouldn't publish those emulators on the PS Mobile store, the SDK is freely available and sharing source code will be very easy. Full access to the hardware that will be used by 99.9999% of people exclusively to steal games is the only real end game for this kind of exploit research.

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        September 12, 2012 7:04 AM

        Considering Sony closed up the one legitimate avenue open to homebrew on the PS3 after openly offering it to the public for years, it's harder and harder to take Sony seriously, especially with a scenario such as the open emulators you provided.

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          September 12, 2012 11:27 PM

          You mean the one literally no one used unless they were building a supercomputer cluster on Sony's dime until some guy came along and figured out he could crack the system's protections using it? Considering Net Yaroze, PS2 Linux and PS Mobile, the PS3 Linux situation is the anomaly, not the rule.

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        September 12, 2012 9:15 AM

        So basically you're calling anyone who wants homebrew on the vita a pirater?

        • reply
          September 12, 2012 11:24 PM

          Only the ones who keep inventing new reasons not to use the authorized methods of homebrew development.

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