- If any of you have ever been on any PlayStation-related blog at any point in time since the PS3's release (and let's be frank, that'll be a fair few of you) you'll have noticed that the demands for an in-game Xross Media Bar have been ever-ongoing.
Every single post on the the PlayStation.blog (still not understanding the need for that dot) has received streams of comments from the rabid PS3 owners complaining about a lack of service and a lack of respect for the consumer base who've splashed out several hundred dollars/pounds/Euros/et cetera on their shiny black behemoth.
The thing is, I'm wondering why, as a collective, they don't seem to have a single brain cell between them to share some sort of common sense when it comes to developing features such as the in-game-XMB, which we've just received after months and months of demand. Even after we've picked that up, we're still baying for more. My ultimate slating of PlayStation fanboys continues after the hop, skip, leap, jump.
What people don't realize, and I really wish they would, is that Sony aren't a bunch of technological wizards. They can't just magic up an in-game XMB out of thin air, or pull it out of a hat. I don't want to sound like some sort of extremist fanboy here leaping to Sony's defense as if I'm taking a bullet for the President. I'm trying to look at this situation from a relatively neutral viewpoint. I too have felt a teeny-weeny bit aggravated by the slow rate at which Sony have given us updates but very slowly I started to grow a brain and realized that it's not as easy as everybody thinks.
There have been many developers who have voiced their opinions about the Cell processor, which powers the PS3 console. Many have said the chip is very hard to work with at first because it's quite unique in its structure, with 8 micro-processors backing up the main unit allowing tasks to be passed off to each chip such as physics, AI and other features such as audio processing. Some games may only use one or two of these micro-processors (and indeed two of them are locked off from games to be used by the PS3 system software exclusively) whereas others may use as much power as is made available to them.
The PS3 also has a very limited amount of memory available for use; totaling only 256MB, which is half of the memory I have in this computer, itself a rather old model. Granted, a gaming console wont need as much memory as a home computer (of course, it's not running Windows, so it wont need the power of the Earth's molten core to run at an acceptable speed) but even then 256MB can be very limited.
When it comes to developing firmware updates such as 2.40, the development team at Sony will need to consider how much memory they can allocate to the system software while still leaving enough for video games to use. This is, I'm guessing, why features such as the in-game Xross Media Bar take so long to develop and eventually deploy into the public domain; it's not as easy as simply mapping the XMB to the PS button mid-game so that players can access all of their PS3's features in the middle of PixelJunk Monsters, or (as many had hoped) while watching I Am Legend on Blu-Ray. A lot of work will have gone into working out which features would be possible to insert into an in-game version of the PS3's menu without compromising the game you're playing and causing it to crash, and without swamping the system's resources completely.
I believe this is why the features that accompany 2.40's in-game menu additions are very limited; very much aware of their consumer base's want for such a feature in their system software, Sony have released the closest thing they can get to a complete in-game menu for the time being with as many features as they could cram in. Although this has meant no in-game XMB while watching movies, no voice chat or video reconfiguration and limited custom soundtrack support, the fans who have begged for the inclusion of this feature should be relatively happy since they've finally got what they wanted, right?
The answer is, of course, no. A look at the latest post on the PlayStation.blog (I'm getting close to just refusing to insert that dot because it is a waste of my time) with regards to 2.40 reveals close enough to 1000 comments begging for RSS features and expanded video options and cross-game invites and voice chat and XMB support while watching a movie and an updated Flash player in the internet browser and this and that and the next thing and I just wonder why these rabid fanboys just aren't happy. It's comparable to keeping a crowd of angry pit bull terriers in your backyard who'll bark and bark for bones, getting angrier all the time, then when you give them what they want they decide they want a bigger bone to chew. It's unbearable and frankly stupid; that's really the only word for it.
Unfortunately, what these rabid dogs don't realize is that firmware updates take a huge amount of planning and programming skill to design, create and perfect, and this can take weeks if not months or even years - I have a feeling Sony have been working on an in-game Xross Media Bar for a very long time and have only just perfected the software. In fact, one of the walkthrough videos released very recently declared that not everything was exactly as we were going to see it come release day, meaning work was being done until the very last minute.
My utter respect goes to Sony for listening to their consumer base and giving them exactly what it is they've wanted for a long time; as much as I complain about their treatment of Europe (which sucks by the way, we're only just getting the Dual Shock 3 now and our variety of Store content is downright offensive) I can understand how hard it must be to co-ordinate a global franchise to please as many fans as possible, especially when it comes to updates such as this. I must also praise their generosity; as much as Sony are still making some losses on every PlayStation 3 console sold they are prepared to give us these system software updates, completed with months of hard graft by a skilled team of developers, for absolutely nothing, and I think that's bordering on bonkers.
To summarize and conclude this unnecessarily long rant (and it's generally unwanted, because nobody is allowed to praise Sony if the blogosphere is anything to go by; we're only allowed to complain and moan about how rubbish they are) it's probably a lot harder than it appears to create the firmware updates that Sony are delivering to our consoles.
What's more, they're delivering them free of charge, in an indirect way of saying "thanks for buying our console and supporting us, here are some really cool features you're gonna love in return". My gratitude goes out to Sony for delivering what is, to all intents and purposes, an utterly kick ass gaming console and entertainment system, and for constantly expanding the features list and making the system even better than it was at the start.
I would happily put my money on the in-game XMB's feature list also being expanded in the coming months with further firmware updates. It's inevitable that Sony will iron out the kinks and work out efficient ways of including new features alongside ones the PS3 has already, but until then I'm pretty happy with 2.40. Cheers Sony: everyone else might hate you but you've got a grateful friend for life right here.