Sony’s recent unveiling of the PlayStation 4 at the PS4 Press Conference in NYC caused the Internet to explode with glee, grief, anger, confusion and shock. It also left me with sore legs due to its length (It finished in just over 2 hours). Now, you can watch the press conference on your own or catch play-by-plays somewhere else. I’m more interested in breaking it down and analyzing what we saw and what was said – along with everything not shown or unsaid.
First is the PS4 itself. The X86 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 8 cores leaves a fantastic architecture for developers to work off of. Sony must really have wanted to shrug off the mantel that developing for the PlayStation was “too hard” and it’s “never the original development platform.” In this section of the press conference, lead architect Mark Cerny answered the questions on both the consumers’ and the developers’ minds. To the consumers, “Yes this is powerful.” To the developers, “Yes, it will be easy to bring your games to us.”
What they sort of blew by were some of the most interesting things to me: multi-tasking and suspend-resume. The PS4 will have a separate chip for downloading in the background in order to relieve the CPU from doing it. It’s a simple design change that you won’t notice, but it will make a difference. The suspend-resume feature is a perfect addition from the Vita to the PlayStation 4. If I’m playing a game and my wife walks into the room looking to watch Netflix with me, why couldn’t I just minimize the game and begin watching our movie?
They brought out the Dual Shock 4 controller. With more buttons, a headphones jack, a touch pad, light bar and a share button, the DS4 looks like it will do it all, but comes with a slew of questions. Will the light pad remove the need for a Move controller? What non-gimmicky use can there be for the touchpad? How deep are the functions of the Share button? And what the heck is “enhanced rumble capabilities?!?” Seriously, does it rumble…more?
Next on stage was David Perry, CEO of Gaikai to talk about console’s social features, remote play and cloud-based activities. There were some really great ideas brought forth during this part of the presentation. Being able to share photos and videos is great, but where are these multimedia being stored? Do I own my works? The concept of spectating and virtually passing control of your game to someone to help you out are fantastic, but are they fantastical? When will we see these concepts in action? This isn’t exactly science fiction; I can share my desktop and pass control to another person through any number of software applications, but the lack of “how” makes me curious as to when we’ll see this come to fruition.
Okay, let’s just get this out there, folks. No, there will not be backwards compatibility as you would expect it to occur. You will likely be unable to stick a PS3 disc into the PS4 and just play. You really shouldn’t be surprised. The likely scenario is that no one at Sony has any idea what they are going to do to make the consumers who are upgrading from a PS3 to a PS4 happy. I hate to break it to you, it’s probably going to be a solution that makes no one happy. Remember what happened with the PSPGo? Before the Go’s launch, Sony said that they were working on a solution for those PSP owners who upgrade to Go that still have UMDs. What happened then? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They just dropped the ball entirely. Set your expectations for that to happen here as well.
Out of the Gaikai portion of the presentation, it was the concept of Remote Play. My PS Vita will become a portal through which I can play my PS4 to my heart’s content. I love it. The sky is the limit. Perry said that essentially, the PS4 will become a host/server and my Vita, a client. More than just being able to play anywhere in the house, if my PS4 is connected to my broadband, I should be able to connect to it and play my games anywhere. If they really are building a server/client architecture, that is not a giant leap, though who knows about the latency or how they’re actually developing it.
Then, it was time for the games. If the last three major console-type releases have shown us anything, it doesn’t matter how amazing the tech is, without a software library at launch, you are screwed. Yes, I’m looking at the Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. To avoid this mistake, Sony brought out and showed a Killzone, a racing game (DriveClub) by the Motorstorm team, an inFamous, Destiny, Diablo III, etc. to demonstrate they have the software to back up their launch. Sony also had Jonathan Blow come out to pretentious up the place to show indie developers that the PlayStation 4 is a great place for them to publish.
To me, the real take away were the tech demos by David Cage and his old man, Capcom’s Panta Rhei, Square Enix’s Luminous Engine, Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 and MediaMolecule’s presentation. More than just sweet graphics and mind-blowing physics, this really demonstrated that first and third party developers are taking the PlayStation 4 as a viable platform and are putting their best foot forward to bring the best products to market. And someone please get the MediaMolecule people hooked up with a 3-D printer that Sony brings out as a peripheral for the PS4.
Overall, Sony made a tremendous showing in New York at their unveiling press conference. They gave us enough to sate our need that day, but left so many open-ended questions that will only drive all of us to look expectantly towards E3 2013.Naturally, the first question that needs to be answered is what does the device look like? Sony is known for sleek, beautiful products and this can be no exception. From now until June we can only speculate, and believe me, it’s already begun. The first real shot of the next-generation console wars has been fired. This is plainly a war we, the players, will be the real winners.