Just recently at Develop, some details about Live Area, Near and Party for the Playstation Vita were delved out for we, the public, to gobble up like morsels before a starving person. It is the Post-E3 news drought after all, so the imagery isn't all that far-off I would say. The article is really in-depth, and I'd recommend a read myself, but I can at least try and cover the big points here.
From everything I've heard, Near has been getting compared to the 3DS' SpotPass, which I unfortunately know next to nothing about, being 3DS-less and not caring to know about the system until it's in my hands. Since, as we know I have to get one eventually. But hearing about Near might push me to break that rule, as Near itself sounds like something that's really interesting if a little, er....not invasive but.....invasive. No more than we've all become used to with Facebook and the like nowadays (If you choose to go around those things, of course), but still. With Near, you'll be able to know where you were/are(?) in relation to other Vita users with Near active, the last five games they played and 'gifts' that they've registered.
The article then moves on to talk about how you can use Near to leave 'Gifts' for others to pick up, which, I'm assuming those things are what you see through Near's information. Gifts look like they're something fairly, up to entirely, customizable, including 'a rare ship' perhaps for, like a....I...dunno, a game with customizable/purchasable ships, to 'in-game challenges or gear', which just brings about the thought of, say, a challenge track for ModNation Racers or a customized costume for your Sackboy in LittleBigPlanet Near. Apparently, people who leave such gifts could even expect to hear from those who receive their gifts to thank them for whatever it was. I'm sure dropping something 'on the street' that'll save someone a few hours in a game will make you a few friends.
Personally, the first thing I thought of when I heard of this system was Phantasy Star Portable 3 (Because I can dream, damnit) or a similar game, and leaving a high-level weapon you don't need anymore around for someone to pick up which, if that's something that could be done, sounds damn cool and would definitely be an incentive for me to walk about with mine active, even though I never really go to really public areas.
The other thing thing with Near, which I touched on already, is that someone will be able to see the last five games you've played on your Vita, which is a great way for games to get exposure. Imagine someone who might not be as 'in-the-know' as we are, but equally enthusiastic still, who's gadding about with his/her Vita and a Near hit shows him some PSP games he never really looked into. (I mean, I would hope Near shows PSP games, since the system will play it.) Imagine selling copies of Valkyria Chronicles 2, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Final Fantasy: War of the Lions, etc. just by playing it and showing off that fact to others. That would be a nice feeling, even though it would just be supposition on your part, I imagine.
Party is explained next, reaffirming that, yes, it is indeed platform-wide and will work exactly as you may (or, well, considering the devices in question, may not) be accustomed to, allowing you to invite up to three people into a Party room for Cross-Game Voice and Text chat. From simply starting up the system, you can join a party and see what the others in it are doing and, should you desire, join them or do your own thing. Maybe Person A's playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss while Person B is playing ModNation Racers Vita, where the other two are just hanging out. "Hey, want to do a quick race?" says Person B and C and D go, "Sure, why not, we like this game for reasons convenient to this explanation". Apparently, so long as they have the game, they will just be able to load the game and join that Person B as simple as that without leaving the party or anything.
I'm sure we, who only have PS3's or primarily play PS3, can openly admit a little jealousy to those among us who primarily game on 360's and have used this functionality and enjoyed it for a long time already. I sure can, so the fact that I'll be able to have this sort of thing now will be fantastic. My only previous exposure to something of the sort being Playstation Text Chat parties, since those are cross-game. While useful and fairly fun, I'm sure they can't measure up to what the 360 Party System, or now the Vita Party System, can offer.
LiveArea is up next, and I'm sure we're all familiar with it by now, even if we're not sure of it just yet. In the above picture, LiveArea is just that - the thing that has replaced the XMB, which I admit to be a little more than wary of. Simply because it doesn't leave a lot of room for a background, and I imagine I could get tired of the Playstation Lines after a while. We'll see how that works out, however, even if it ends up like that, it'll be manageable enough.
I'm going to admit, I'm not quite sure what they're talking about with regards to LiveArea and it's purposes, so I'm just going to quote a few parts here and ponder aloud what it means, hopefully to get it explained a bit better to myself later.
There are three modes in LiveArea: Index, Live and Game. The top area you’ll see is the content information zone, which is the “landing point for when you start any game on PS Vita”.
The communication zone is where you “comment on people’s activities within the game as well as publish your messages”.
“Activity is a way for players to discuss progress,” explained Rogers. “The system automatically puts a few activities in there,” he added, such as Trophies and ratings. “That encourages people to then comment similar to Facebook style.”
“Publishers: it’s important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly.”
Developers and publishers will be able to update LiveArea.
“When you ship the game it’s got the standard LiveArea that you bake into the game card,” said Rogers. But through updates “you can even customise it to the user” by pushing out different data.
Publishers can also “push data to users” by putting images on the LiveArea frontpage as well as announcements on the bottom part of the logo. “It’s a good way to push DLC,” said Rogers.
“So there’s new levels out, click, go to the Store.” It’s also a good way to push news about the game. But Rogers offered a word of warning to publishers that “it’s important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly”.The way I read it, is sort of like, Developers will eventually be able to customize what's on LiveArea depending on what game you've got in/loaded. So as per the example, if you've got new DLC available for a game, you'll be able to broadcast that fact easily. I imagine you'll also be able to 'de-clutter' LiveArea depending on what your game supports more openly than not (Like, say, a single-player game might push Party, Friends, Messages buttons to the 'Main' LiveArea) and/or make room for background images or something of the sort. I could be misrepresenting that completely, of course. Until we see someone popping in a Game Cart, and booting it up, I'm sure this whole LiveArea business will be a little hard to picture, especially from where we're coming from as is, since the PS3/PSP's XMB is fairly standard over both systems in what it offers specific to each game.
I'm sure a lot of developers will find some way to make this all wonderful (I'm really hoping for examples akin to what I mentioned earlier) and at the very least, it's served to make me more and more excited for the Vita which, I'll tell you, becomes more and more difficult as every day passes. Can't wait to see more and more information come out as this baby gets closer to launch.