The moment that everyone has been waiting for is finally upon us. With the release of firmware update 2.40, Sony will finally add features like in-game XrossMediaBar access, custom soundtracks and Trophies to the PlayStation 3.
Greg and I had a chance to see the update in action a few days ago, and based on what we saw, you should be excited. Read on for details, and look for our personal impressions at the end.
Perhaps the biggest part of the update for some folks is the ability to access the XrossMediaBar while playing a game. We're not talking about a scaled-down version of the XMB here - the whole thing pops up when you hit the PS button. A fair number of features will ask you to quit the game to use them, like hitting up the PlayStation Store, starting a movie or changing your display settings, but everything is accessible.
For stuff that does ask you to quit, the PS3 will take you right to the option when you choose to leave the game. So, if you choose to head into the PlayStation Store and do opt to quit the game you're playing, you won't have to scroll back over to the PS Store icon a second time; it'll take you there automatically after quitting.
While that's cool, it's the stuff that does work in-game that's awesome. Your Friends list is fully accessible, be it for seeing who's online, checking or sending messages, adding friends or whatever else. You're also able to change accessory settings while in-game, so if you choose to hop online and want to turn on a headset, you no longer have to quit out of the game to do so.
Note that the in-game XMB access only works for PlayStation 3 titles (both downloadable and disc-based games). You can't do this stuff while playing a PSone or PS2 game, nor while watching a movie. It sounds like you may eventually be able to access the XMB while watching a movie at some point in the future, but this is still pending at this point, and will likely be based on user demand (so start sending letters to your local senator).
Accessing the XMB while in-game is done by tapping the PS button. Holding the button for a couple seconds will bring up the old menu, where you can change controllers or shut down the system. The 2.40 update will add a new option to the Game menu that lets you quit a game, so you'll be able to hop out of a title from either menu once the update hits, which is cool. One thing to note is that tapping the PS button to bring up the XMB doesn't always automatically pause whatever game you're playing. It's technically not a major issue and just requires that you hit Start before the PS button, but it's certainly worth noting as you can't use it to essentially pause cutscenes that otherwise wouldn't allow it.
Along with being able to manipulate your Friends list, possibly the coolest ability with the in-game XMB access is the ability to play your own music. Yes, we're talking custom soundtracks here. Note that this ability has to be added to a game to enable it, so it won't work with existing stuff unless the games are patched, but it's an option that will likely hit many upcoming titles.
You can go in and play any track on your system, obviously. The cool part though is that Sony has added a compact control panel at the top of the Music category that gives you quick access to oft-used functions, like play, pause, skip and whatnot. You can also change the volume with the panel, so you can turn down your music a bit if it overpowers the game's audio effects. While there won't be any games to support this at 2.40's launch, we did see a demo of it working with PixelJunk Monsters Encore, so it's obviously a candidate for a patch down the line.
While all of the in-game XMB stuff is awesome, Trophies are what take the update's cake. Much like Achievements on the Xbox 360, you'll earn Trophies for completing specific tasks in a game (a notification will pop up in the corner of the screen to tell you when you've earned one). The difference though is that instead of being worth a rather arbitrary point total, you'll earn either a Bronze, Silver or Gold Trophy for each accomplishment.
Each Trophy has a behind-the-scenes point value (that you probably won't ever see), with developers allotted a total number of points they can use per game. So devs could pop in only a handful of Gold Trophies, a ton of Bronze Trophies, or mix and match with a few Silver tossed in, up to the point limit for the game.
There will be "large scale" and "small scale" Trophy amounts, likely split between downloadable and retail games. So, like on the 360, full-fledged titles should offer more Trophies than smaller downloadable games.
My first impression of 2.40 was I wanted in game music out of the in game xmb the most and I found out you need a patch for the game in order to do it. Sony needs to fix that right now and have in game music for every game.