Sony’s Playstation 4: What We Know And Why It’s Important

Have to cancel today’s post. Look forward to a Metal Gear Rising review on Tuesday.

Last night, Sony had it’s much awaited conference and, like everybody thought, they used it to reveal the Playstation 4. For a reveal conference, it was certainly lengthy, topping out at two hours, but it needed to be. Sony’s recent financial troubles means that they really have to hammer home everything they do to restore confidence. The conference was tightly focused on the PS4. As such, there were no Playstation Vita announcements or Playstation 3 announcements to be found. This was a smart move on Sony’s behalf, as they managed to maintain a far more coherent focus, instead of bouncing all over the place. We got game announcements, hardware specs, developer reports, big picture ideas, and talk on social integration, but all of these announcements were firmly railed back to be entirely about the PS4. Of course, just because the conference was tight, doesn’t mean it was good. So today, we’re going to be looking over Sony’s conference and trying to parse out all of the information we can.

I’m not convinced by the controller. It’s pretty, but I’d rather a start button than options, and who knows what the touch pad will do.

First let’s talk about the social integration in Sony’s newest console. As expected, this will be a major focus for Sony, and, likely, Microsoft as well. This could be seen coming because of Nintendo’s focus on the Miiverse for the Wii U, and there was no way that technology impaired Nintendo was going to be the leader in social integration. This part of the conference was largely a big picture announcement, not dealing with all of the tiny details, which is fine because that would likely have stalled the conference. What we do know is that Sony will be pushing social integration in a very huge way, including having a Playstation app for mobile devices. The PS4 controller has a share button built into it, allowing you to record and post videos and pictures of your play sessions in a way that is more seamless and easy than ever before. As a blogger, this is especially exciting for me, as I’ll be able to provide videos in the future. For the average gamer, it means a lot more than anything Nintendo’s Miiverse has shown us so far. Look at Youtube. It’s full of tutorials and play videos. With the share button, Sony might be able to completely cut out the middle man and provide an incredible service nobody else has ever even attempted in a console. It is the equivalent jump of integrated replays in real-time strategy games and fighters, which is very exciting. Even if you don’t ever post anything, everyone else’s posts should be available for you to browse through for hints and tips to play a game at the highest level.

It doesn’t seem like much, but this could be a major game changer in the industry.

The next part of the conference that’s worth mentioning is the Gaikai part. Sony bought the cloud-based streaming service for over three-hundred million dollars, so it was good to see their money being well spent. According to the conference, the PS4 will make major use of Gaikai, with it being a standard part of the Playstation Network. The most exciting aspect of Gaikai was the ability to choose an item you want to download and then immediately start playing it without the need to wait for a cumbersome download to finish. This is unprecedented for consoles, and will make digital downloads even more attractive in the future now that long download times, or pre-installing won’t be necessary. The execs made a mention that they hope to be able to stream all Playstation games through Gaikai. This was one of the most unclear parts of the presentation. How exactly will this streaming work? Will it be pay-per-use, or if you own something already can you make use of it? Of course, since the PS4 is fully not backwards compatible,  your discs aren’t worth anything on the system, but what about PS1 or PS2 classics? Are they part of the Gaikai initiative, or will they remain the same as they are now, or is Sony getting rid of them entirely for Gaikai streaming?

This is a pretty big claim. Now are you going to keep the PSN free?

The biggest announcement from the Gaikai part of the conference was the latest rendition of remote play. It was the only Vita portion of the show, and, if it works, it will be very impressive. The idea is that the PS4 will be able to stream every PS4 game onto the Vita through a local wireless connection. This could, potentially, be amazing and the prospect of being able to play all PS4 games on the Vita while the television is occupied with something else is very interesting. That being said, this is the third time Sony has tried remote play with their handhelds. The first time was with the PSP, and nothing worked at all. The second time was with the Vita on the PS3, and, although, there is more support, it’s still far too limited to be of any real use. The doubter in me wonders if this new remote play feature will be more of the same, but the fact of the matter is, Gaikai is a huge cloud-based streaming service, which is exactly the kind of service able to achieve full remote play, and something Sony never tried before with it’s other attempts. So, I’m on a strict ‘we’ll see’ as far as real remote play is concerned. I’ve been burned too many times before… two times I guess.

Remote play has always been a good idea, if it works…

Let’s take a break from the conference to talk about backwards compatibility. It’s a knee jerk reaction to be upset that Sony will not allow PS1, PS2, or even PS3 backwards compatibility on their system. I’m disappointed that I’m going to still need to hang on the my PS2 and PS3, but the announcement doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom. Firstly, by scrapping all of the hardware and software required for emulation, Sony likely made the PS4 much cheaper, the same way that they were able to cut costs with the PS3 by removing PS2 backwards compatibility. A cheaper system is definitely preferable to another six-hundred dollar debacle. Secondly, there is the Gaikai service. Sony announced this lack of backwards compatibility though their Gaikai presentation as part of their initiative to stream games, including the boast that the entire library would be streamable. In a perfect world, all PS1, PS2, and PS3 games would be available day one and could be streamed for a nominal cost based on the generation/licensing costs. Unfortunately, we will likely see a smattering of releases throughout the PS4’s life cycle like with the PS1 classics. If the ambition is there, backwards compatibility may not be necessary, but the full extent of how the streaming is going to work is still one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the PS4, and it isn’t clear if gamers should be celebrating the removal of backwards compatibility or condemning it. It is easy to say it’s bad straight out, but a better price point and this new service might end up making it a negligible issue.

You’re still going to want this until Gaikai proves it’s worth.

Now let’s talk about games. Killzone: Shadow Fall was the first PS4 game to be announced. Surprise, surprise, the game looked and played like a Killzone game, but that’s not a bad thing. Due to the weakness of streaming the conference, many gamers were left underwhelmed by the graphical power required to push the game. However, it is certainly above anything we could see this generation. The key is looking at the lighting and particle effects, as well as the draw distances. It’s graphically pretty, but it’s easy to lose track of that when the dirt and mud start coming down and you’re busy being distracted by the damage notifications on the HUD. While not confirmed to be a launch title, this game looks like it could be far enough along to actually be on the system for the launch. In this way, it could act as the Resistance: Fall of Man for the system, which was the only major release on the PS3 for months. Either way, it looks like Killzone: Shadow Fall will be the first next-gen shooter, which means it will likely make Guerrilla a lot of money. The second game announced was Drive Club, and I’m not impressed. Social integration is fundamental to the game, with players being able to create their own challenges and join player-made clubs. It doesn’t sound like anything new to me, more like an updated driving game version of MAG. The game is certainly pretty, but most driving games are fairly attractive, and I didn’t see anything here that didn’t make me feel like Drive Club would be anything more than a tech demo, to hold you over until the bigger driving games come out.

It’s a shooter, and it looks like a shooter, but look deeper and you’ll see some amazing effects.

Sony then showed off Sucker Punch’s new InFAMOUS game: InFAMOUS Second Son. It seems like this might be more of a reboot than a sequel, but it was still nice to see more from the series. From what I could see, Second Son looks incredibly similar to the most recent Devil May Cry game, with lots of big brother vibes, and a rebellious black-haired teen ‘sticking it to man.’ Sucker Punch makes good games and this will undoubtably be good, but it was far from an impressive reveal. All we got was a cinematic trailer after a speech about security run amok. This was nothing we hadn’t seen before, and lack of gameplay made this announcement fall flat. The final bit from Sony’s first and second parties was a demo from Media Molecule, the creators of Little Big Planet. Their part was just awful, truthfully and was the lowest point of the conference. I had no idea if they were trying to sell a game or a concept, nor did I have any idea how the concept they seemed to be selling would work in a game environment. It all hit the bottom, when they revealed that they had “fallen in love with the Playstation Move”. So, not only was their part of the conference unclear, but they announced that the PS4 would continue to utilize the awful PS Move. This all culminated with a concert with PS Move that brought everyone’s mind back to the botched announcement of Wii Music, which was Nintendo’s worst E3 in memory.


Next up on the plate, we had Sony’s commitment to indie gaming. This is critical, as indie gaming has exploded thanks to the distribution networks such as the PSN and Xbox Arcade. Sony has always been a little more invested in promoting indie development, with fewer incredibly harsh rules than Microsoft, who seems keen on taking indie games, but giving nothing back to the creators. It is really good to hear they will be pushing development in this field as this is where a lot of the innovation in the industry is going to come from. As part of that, Sony brought on Jonathan Blow, the creator of the mega-hit indie game Braid, to reveal his newest game which was said to be a timed PS4 exclusive. The Witness looks to be the spiritual successor to the old Myst games, but infinitely more accessible. It’s a first person puzzle game that takes place on an island, and Blow claims that there are over twenty-four hours worth of unique puzzles in the game. Graphically, the game is stylized and, likely, underpowered; however, this game’s purpose wasn’t to show of the power of the PS4, but instead to show hat Sony was working with one of the biggest indie game creators and that he was excited to be working on the PS4. It was half showing off a game we want to play, and half advertising to other indie developers that Sony’s the place to be. In both respects, the Witness proved effective.

After a brief video of self congratulation, which was hardly necessary, Sony started bringing in the major third parties: Capcom, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Activision, and Blizzard. These are the biggest names in the industry, with a notable absence of EA and each demoed and discussed their feelings on the system, which was mostly useless corporate speak. Capcom announced a new IP: Deep Down, a Dragon’s Dogma-looking third person action game, which was one of the most impressive showings of the evening. Not only was there gameplay, but it was really effective in showing how much better the PS4 will be at lighting effects. Square Enix’s part, was one of the most disappointing and infuriating parts of the conference. They showed the old trailer of Agni’s Philosophy, which is still unbelievably impressive (Something I can’t repeat enough), but nothing new. We were told that it was running on the PS4 specs, so we know that the PS4 is able to run that level of graphics in real time, which was definitely the biggest show of graphical muscle that evening, but it still wasn’t new. The biggest problem with Agni’s Philosophy is that it looks amazing, but Square is adamant that it isn’t a game, but a tech demo like the Final Fantasy VII tech demo for the PS3. I want to see more from Agni’s Philosophy, but this may be it. Then we got an announcement that a new Final Fantasy game for the PS4 would be announced at E3 and nothing else. This is especially infuriating for fans who are still looking forward to Versus, which was announced in 2006, or Type-0, which was released on the PSP in Japan two years ago, with no signs of a localization. It also doesn’t bode well that they don’t even have a video they could show us, especially since new Final Fantasy games tend to have a long development cycle, so we have no way of knowing if we’ll actually get our hands on this new game anytime soon.

It’s hard to defend Square Enix when they’ve just been sitting on this for seven years.

Ubisoft showed off Watch Dogs, the biggest announcement from last E3. We now know that it will make it to the PS3, 360, Wii U and the PS4. The downside is that the game isn’t fully next gen because of it, and, truthfully, wasn’t the best game to show off because of that. However, the game still looks incredibly impressive, and PS4 users will probably have the best version. Finally, we get to Sony’s big Blizzard partnership reveal. Diablo 3 is officially coming to both the PS3 and PS4; although, nothing of substance was shown at the conference. This is a huge coup for Sony. Even though Diablo 3 was met with mixed reactions from fans, Blizzard is a major developer, and Sony getting exclusive console rights to their games is a massive blow against Microsoft. That being said, there’s nothing to suggest that Blizzard won’t go and port everything to the new Xbox when it’s revealed. Either way, Blizzard is one of the few remaining major developers who develop entirely for the PC, but that’s over now. Console gamers will now be able to enjoy the massively popular games from one of the industries biggest developers, which is good for everyone, except for maybe PC users, but they can still have the prettiest looking Diablo 3, so they have something to console themselves with.

Pay attention to Deep Down

That’s pretty much it. What we got from the conference was a tightly focused explanation on why the PS4 will be a great console. There wasn’t any major surprises except for maybe the Blizzard reveal, but that’s been heavily rumoured for months now. This lack of a ‘wow’ moment does mean that the conference wasn’t one that is going to keep people talking, but there was certainly a lot of good to be seen here. The actual physical PS4 console wasn’t shown, which has bothered some, but, truthfully, the box is irrelevant. What we have is a powerful console, that isn’t the same major graphical jump as between the PS1-PS2 or PS2-PS3. As many have pointed out, the major selling point next gen seems to be the pushing of social integration. More powerful is good, but convenience and gadgetry are things that appeal to a wide number of users. One thing we should be happy about is, despite the focus on social media, Sony showed the PS4 off as a gaming device, unlike Microsoft, which has abandoned gaming for the past two years in order to focus on motion controls and social media interaction. All in all, Sony provided a surgical, no frills announcement for a very important piece of hardware. There are tons of questions, such as what the system will cost, how will the touchpad be used and so on, but this has definitely given Sony a lot to talk about next E3, so, strategically, the conference was very successful. The lack of a ‘wow’ moment aside, it was a very competently held conference, and definitely has me excited for the next generation.

– Mistranslation for the Modern Gamer


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