News, Views, and Reviews
Even with the rumors and leaked info spoiling most of the mystery ahead of time, Sony’s PlayStation 4 show still had plenty of surprises yesterday. Yes, the PlayStation 4 is coming this holiday, and with it, a new course for gaming is being set by Sony. The key word I took from the show is “integration”, which refers as much to the literal connectivity of various devices as it does to the virtual connection of gamers around the world. The “share” button, for example, is a reality. With a press of a button, players will be able to upload videos of their experiences to social media, like Facebook. People will also be able to watch their friends play games, as they play them, and even join in and help them. Games will extend beyond the console, giving us new ways to interact with them, and with other gamers, on our smart phones and tablets.
Sure, Microsoft has already come up with a software solution, called Smartglass, that allows some interaction between the Xbox and smart phones and tablets. Nintendo is also encouraging new Wii U owners to participate in the “Mii-verse”, a shared social network that lets players chat with or leave messages for other gamers. But it seems that Sony is taking those ideas even further, and building them directly into the PS4 console. As I mentioned in another blog, the simple act of packaging a headset with every Xbox contributed to the success of the Xbox Live community over the PlayStation Network. By building these features into the PS4, and including the new stereo camera with every system, Sony will make sure that everything is available to every person that owns a PS4. That will also give game developers confidence; they can come up with new experiences that take advantage of the hardware and social connectivity, knowing that every person that owns a PS4 will be able to participate.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at what was revealed and, for fun, see which of my predictions were confirmed, denied, or are still pending.
PlayStation 4 confirmed, coming out this holiday season. I said they wouldn’t call it “4” so I got that wrong.
Sony did announce the heavy integration of their newly acquired GaiKai streaming technology. This confirmed some of my predictions, and gave me a few surprises. They are calling it the “PlayStation Cloud” and it will: provide backwards compatibility (broke down in phases, so we’re not getting the entire PlayStation library all at once), stream your PS4 game directly to your PSVita (other hand held devices still a possibility, but they only demonstrated this with the Vita), let you “share” videos of your gaming experience, and let you watch other players as they play games. I’ll say those predictions were confirmed. The PS Cloud does allow game streaming, but it sounds like they are pushing people to download the games, at least at first. I’ll come back to this issue, but for now, I’ll just say I sort of got it right. The PS4 will have special technology that, when paired with the Cloud, “predicts” what games you might like to try and lets you watch videos of other players, watch other players in real time, and either stream or download a demo. By predicting what you like, the PS4 can pre-download enough material that you can start playing the game instantly, without having to wait for the download to finish. That was a cool surprise. Another surprise was being able to actually interact with other players, even if you are just watching them play in real time. The level of interaction may vary, based on what game developers decide to include in each game, but since that ability is built in to the hardware, I think that it’s pretty amazing. You might be watching your friend play a game, for example, and he might ask for help on a difficult stage. So maybe you can drop off bonus health or even control his character. That was a really cool surprise.
Unfortunately, there was no mention of Google as I predicted. Perhaps the PlayStation Cloud will be so strong, they aren’t worried about making a deal with Google. Also, it seems that the ability to stream games to hand held devices, like the PS Vita, comes from the PS4 itself. So I think I got that wrong, too. At least, I exaggerated the ability to play any PlayStation game on any device, based on some sort of 1GB internet connection. Now that I think of it, Sony’s plans are stronger, more immediately available, and can still be future proof. As internet connections improve, for example, they could roll out more streaming capabilities from the Cloud itself, increase the size of the game library available, and even include non-PS games if there is demand for them. This is a good place to mention that many gamers are still apprehensive of a digital-only future, so it’s smart for Sony to slowly introduce the technology over time. When I said Sony is “pushing people to download” earlier, I meant that as an alternative to streaming the entire game. More gamers are apprehensive of THAT, and as discussed, the internet connections just aren’t consistent enough for those kinds of expectations. In other words, I think it’s a great compromise from Sony to say “Here are some games you might like; try a demo instantly, and don’t worry about internet speeds or streaming connection speeds or even download speeds, we’ll worry about that for you.” So, even though my predictions missed the mark, I’m pretty happy with what Sony came up with.
I did predict Android and indie games, and even though the presentation didn’t mention Google or Android, they DID bring up indie games. In some surprising ways. They even brought David Blow, the critically acclaimed indie developer of “Braid” out on stage to show off his next big game, “the Witness”, and revealed that it would be released on the PS4 first. The host of the show, Andrew House, actually used the phrase “self-publish” when referring to the access indie developers will have with PS4. That was a BIG surprise. Imagine how robust the PS4 community will be, with the integration of devices and social interactions, trying demos of indie games, watching other players in real time, and even playing with them!
From all this info about streaming and interaction and indie titles, there was no mention of the non-PS titles already available on GaiKai. So I’m just going to say that prediction is still pending.
As for the hardware itself, we have some new specifics: the PlayStation 4 will be powered by a custom 8-core AMD “Jaguar” x86-64 with integrated graphics APU and “next-generation” AMD Radeon graphics processor” which makes it “like a PC, but supercharged.” Multi-tasking IS a prominent feature, so I’ll say I got that prediction right. The “background chip” that allows uploading and downloading in the background is a nice surprise. The controller looks great (compared to those prototype photos) and it does include the Move light on top, the touch-pad in the middle, and the headset jack on the bottom. I can’t take credit for the leaked photos, but I’ll say my prediction that an Eye Toy camera will have to be packaged with every console was correct. Ah, but what about that “Eye Toy” camera? Well, I was surprised to see an updated version that looks more like the Xbox Kinect. I think they’re just calling it the “Eye”. It’s also been said that a separate headset will be included with every console.
Finally, it turns out that my fifth big prediction was way off. Sony is positioning the PS4 as not just a next-gen system, but as an industry leader. It was a mistake for me to think that this sort of technology; device integration, social interaction, sharing clips, streaming games, etc. would be available without the console itself. I will say, however, that such a prediction may come true in the future. In other words, this might be the last “generation” of consoles as we know it. By integrating a lot of this technology into the PS4, Sony is preparing to lead us into the next generation. But, by developing the PlayStation Cloud, Sony is future-proofing themselves beyond consoles. Five or six years from now, when a console generation would normally be showing its age, Sony will be able to shake off those hardware limitations and move completely to the Cloud. In the mean time, I can’t wait to get my hands on the PlayStation 4!
The rest of the surprises came from games being revealed. It should be pretty well known that Sony has been working on the PS4 for years, and that game developers have been getting ready, in secret, waiting for this moment. But I didn’t expect them to show any games at this time, rather, that they’d wait for E3 in June. But there they were! New Killzone and Infamous trailers and a new live demo of Watchdogs were fun to watch. Square Enix announced they are working on a new Final Fantasy game. I was not expecting Blizzard to “crash the party” and announce that Diablo 3 was headed not just to the PS4, but the PS3 as well. Similarly, Activision took the stage – and then gave up that stage to Bungie – and announced their new “Destiny” game would be cross-platform enabled for PS3 and PS4. During Bungie’s own special Destiny video they released on Sunday, they mentioned the game would extend beyond consoles, and briefly teased images of people getting game invites on their smart phones. That seems a good fit for the integration promised for the PS4. If a third-party developer like Bungie is preparing cross-device support for their game, it’s a good sign that Sony has its finger on the pulse of where the industry is headed. Building those features directly into the console, and developing the PlayStation Cloud, gives me a lot of confidence in Sony’s Next Generation.