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Coded Arms defragged

We chat to the producer of Konami's new PSP game to find out if an FPS really can work on a handheld system

Hovercars. The Spice Girls reunion. A kebab after nine pints of Stella. All these things are good ideas in theory, but in practice they aren't much cop at all.

First-person shooters on handheld game consoles could also be put in that list. Up until now the handheld FPS has been a fairly lacklustre breed. But all of a sudden the floodgates have opened. Metroid Prime Hunters and Goldeneye: Rogue Agent are spitting bullets on DS, and Konami's Coded Arms is prepping its weapons for an assault on PSP.

Coded Arms puts you in the shoes of a VR trooper sent into a virus-infested mainframe with the express purpose of defragging the little nasties - you're Norton Antivirus with a gun, if you like.

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But is putting an FPS on PSP a good idea in practice? We grabbed an interview with Coded Arms' producer, Yasuo Daikai, to find out...

Coded Arms is a first-person shooter - not exactly the ideal handheld game. What kind of problems has developing an FPS on the PSP thrown up?

Yasuo Daikai: Yes, it's certainly an interesting style of game to put onto a handheld console. When we sat down to start working on Coded Arms I said to the team, "look, let's just try and lay down the fundamentals of the FPS genre on the PSP and see how it works out." So we built a demo version for the Tokyo Game Show last fall and it came into shape quite nicely. It played like an FPS, so that was our first obstacle overcome, and we went from strength to strength after that. But it was definitely a challenge to build an FPS for PSP from scratch.

Was the control system the most important consideration when you were designing Coded Arms?

Yasuo Daikai: Yes. Right from the beginning we were expecting people to question how FPS controls would work on the PSP - after all, it only has one analogue stick. The dev team was definitely very concerned about the control method and we put a lot of thought into it. We initially thought of using the old N64 FPS control method [where the analogue stick controlled all movement of the character] because the N64 controller also only had one analogue stick, and we've actually left that control method in there.

But we decided that our final, default control method would be to use the analogue stick to look and the four face buttons to move. That's much closer to current-gen FPS controls.

When you were working on the game during the early days were you aware the PSP would only have one analogue stick?

Yasuo Daikai: Funnily enough, initially we didn't know. The earliest PSP dev kits were huge and they actually used the DualShock controller, so we weren't sure whether there would be two sticks or one for a long time. Eventually we got an updated version of the dev kit and suddenly realised that there would only be one analogue stick!

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Was that a worrying moment, or did you see it as just another challenge to overcome?

Yasuo Daikai: Yes, our first thought was "woah! There's only one stick!" And worse still, there was only one shoulder button on each side. For a moment we genuinely thought that we wouldn't have enough buttons! For example, we wanted to put a crouch in there, but we just didn't have enough buttons and we had to take it out.

So did the constraints on the control method influence the design and direction of the game?

Yasuo Daikai: In a way. We really geared our game design towards ensuring that the user was comfortable at all times. Then we had to make sure that controlling the character was as fluid as possible, because that's very important in an FPS game. Movement has to be responsive, otherwise the player gets annoyed. Similarly, the way we approached the aiming system was crucial. Because the face buttons aren't as accurate as an analogue stick we had to use auto-aiming, but then we couldn't use it too much or the game would just play itself. Getting the balance right was very important.

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