fall-down comic

Amid minor news frenzies regarding Sony’s planned invasion launch date for the next PlayStation, something else slipped under the radar: the announcement that the PSP digicomic service will be coming to an end.

Personally, I’m surprised it took them this long to kill it. I don’t know a single person, even the most hardcore of PSP fans, who actually uses the device to read anything besides the occasional webpage. This is a wide-format 4.3″ screen, after all–it’s not exactly an ereader, and neither should it be used as one. I’ve read a few comics on my PSP, all of them promos issued with games I bought. I was never able to read more than a few pages, as it’s easily the most inelegant software experience of my life.
The first problem is the screen itself. It’s designed for playing games and watching movies, not reading. The wide aspect ratio doesn’t lend itself to reading comics that are designed to be printed on an 8.5×11 page. To reach a point where text is readable, the image must be zoomed in considerably. At this level, it then becomes necessary to use the analog nub to scroll around and read the entire page. Think about it. Scroll right, then scroll back left and down, scroll right, then scroll back left and down–who wants to do this for more than a minute or two at a time? This can be avoided by fitting the page width to the screen width, and thus only needing to scroll vertically…if the comic’s resolution allows this, which isn’t likely.
But this is a minor gripe, really, as it leads to my next complaint…
The designers. Why? Why are the people making these comics designing them for the printed page and then awkwardly forcing readers to view them on a screen not meant for it? Why did Sony allow this to happen on a device that was so loudly trumpeted as a portable multimedia machine? Apparently it didn’t occur to anyone to produce the comics as a set of images sized to fit the screen as one or two panels at a time. This might actually lead to an improvement–the different aspect ratio allows for visual and cinematic effects that otherwise would not work on the conventional page.
All said, I won’t miss the comic service. I doubt anyone will. But who knows, they might relaunch it with the PS Vita. At least scrolling around a page with a touchpad is fairly intuitive, even if it is on the wrong side of the product.


I’ve been playing some Alan Wake lately. I’m inclined to say that, yes, it is a very good game. The horror aspect is normally something I’m not into, but in this case it is exceptionally well-executed. Making the game dark and shadowy binds the player to the flashlight and makes it a lifeline both in and out of combat. In true horror fashion, the game is more about the fear of physical harm than the physical harm itself. As I wandered through a forest, fighting occasional Taken, I saw the bright light of a safe haven in the distance. I proceeded to move at a crawl through the next 200 feet of forest, constantly turning in circles to check around me in what was now a hard-coded paranoid habit. When I reached the haven without encountering a single Taken, I had the distinct feeling that I had just been trolled by the developers.

One problem I have with the game is its camera placement. I realize this is a third person shooter, but damn. The camera floats around a point that looks to be almost five feet away from Wake, making aiming a bit skewed. Walking around imparts a feeling like peering through a fisheye lens, because everything is at such a high angle to the camera. It looks as if Wake is going to fall over at any moment, or perhaps the Earth will suddenly fling itself out of its orbit.

The autoaim is graciously forgiving, which is a definite bonus considering the skewed angle. More than once, I’ve managed to die particularly gruesome deaths in combat because I couldn’t get the angle of my shot right, and was somehow managing to miss constantly. The shotgun, of course, remedies this well, but shells are preciously few and far between.

There is one thing that annoys me too much to look past: the tearing. Apparently the game isn’t properly v-synced, which is something I’ve noticed of late in console games. It doesn’t make sense to me, as TVs pretty much all have the same refresh rate (can you say “NTSC“?). Granted, the move to LCDs kind of throws a wrench in this as LCDs don’t have a “refresh rate” in the conventional sense, but sticking to 60Hz shouldn’t create any issues regardless.

This is an issue I see with PC games almost all the time, as well. Most any PC game features a v-sync option in its video settings, but this option is apparently a placebo, because it has absolutely no effect. It’s because of this that I have v-sync forced on at all times via my nVidia drivers. I don’t know why the games themselves can’t do it, but it seems to me something that should have been worked out many years ago.