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GDC: PS3 goes online and real-time

WarHawk, MotorStorm, SingStar, more.

At GDC in San Jose today, Sony Worldwide Studios head Phil Harrison outlined plans for a versatile online gaming service with considerable potential for digital distribution of content, and demonstrated real-time game demos for PlayStation 3.

Production of PS3 hardware will ramp up at a faster speed than either of Sony's previous two home console formats, Harrison said, ahead of the worldwide November launch announced by Sony boss Ken Kutaragi in Tokyo last week - a worldwide launch that includes Australia and areas of Asia outside Japan, Harrison pointedly noted.

The Worldwide Studios boss also talked about Blu-ray and how it will allow publishers to create a single SKU for every market in the world, and promised downloadable games - a mixture of new and PSone content - for PlayStation Portable later this year.

PlayStation 3's online service, known internally as PlayStation Network Platform, allows for the possibility of full digital distribution of games, which can be played directly from the PS3's hard disk drive. Sony is very much focused on digital distribution, Harrison said - something he demonstrated by directing attendees to visit a newly launched "E-Distribution Initiative (EDI) website.

Other features of the online service sound like answers to celebrated elements of Microsoft's Xbox Live user interface, including video chat and email overlays allowing for in-game messaging, pop-up notifications, and in-game shops that allow players to buy new content. MotorStorm and F1 games featuring fully integrated shop-fronts were demonstrated - and this is obviously a different approach to the centralised "Marketplace" Microsoft uses.

Game demos shown during Harrison's keynote included a couple from last year's E3 show reel, WarHawk and MotorStorm. Both will feature at E3, with WarHawk at least being playable, while there'll also be a place at E3 for Insomniac Games' new first-person shooter Resistance: Fall of Man, previously known as I-8.

In terms of proven franchises, the sight of what may well be a new Ratchet & Clank title running on PlayStation 3 is likely to cause a stir, while Harrison rounded off his keynote talking about the next generation of Singstar, with downloadable songs, and a GUI allowing users to share videos and photos and customise backdrops.

Harrison also showed off several tech demos, including one featuring a car getting shot to pieces that attendees were told is based on an unannounced game from Sony's London Studio.

All were shown in high resolution. Like Microsoft, Sony is keen to stress the importance of HDTV to the next generation of consoles, and Harrison promised full 1080p support in both NTSC and PAL regions.

He also talked about how the PSP and PS3 would connect wirelessly, allowing the handheld to view stored PS3 content on the go.

And while the focus of the speech was undoubtedly the PlayStation 3 revelations, Harrison insisted that PlayStation 2 would be a viable platform for years to come - with God of War 2 headlining next year's content line-up, and set to be playable at E3.

For more specific details, check out our semi-live text commentary, and we'll have more on today's events in the near future.