Sony’s PS4 Announcement

PS4 Announcement

After watching a huge two-hour press conference from New York with a group of students and instructors, where Sony announced the PS4 for release this Holiday season, I decided to share a few of my thoughts on the new console (but remember, nobody has actually played it or seen the actual unit yet).

The production value behind this event was very high, even being described by some as extravagant. The call went out to a lot of well-known industry personalities, who were there to help support the cause. Sony clearly wanted to show that they had addressed development issues and that world class developers were on board with the product. We all like the idea of consoles still being relevant. It already feels a bit nostalgic, though.

Game Controller

Present were Mark Cerny, David Perry, Tim Schafer and Jonathan Blow. Mark Cerny did Marble Madness …in 1984. David Perry did Earthworm Jim in 1994. That’s almost twenty years ago. It was nice to see the focus that Sony put on developers. It’s a bit funny that these guys made games for the Sega Genesis and Sony even took a stab at the marketing weakness of “Blast Processing” which was used by Sega on the very same console that made Perry famous.

Here are the top features in descending interest, from my viewpoint:

  1. The specs on the machine are very impressive, most notably 8Gb of GDDR5 RAM. Sixteen times the ram of the PS3 and it’s much faster.
  2. The new controller has a Share button to allow effortless video uploads of gameplay, touch pad, headphone jack. Select and Start are being phased out. Share may also enable easier spectating, and even the handing off of tough gameplay sequences to an online friend.
  3. A two-lens stereo camera that could add some features similar to what is provided by Kinect.
  4. Improved background loading, with the ability to start playing them while they continue to download in the background.
  5. A better environment for developers to work with. It was also very interesting to see Destiny announced for PS3 and PS4 from Bungie. Can Destiny be the Halo killer? Sort of a strange position for Bungie, since they are the originators of the Halo franchise. John Carmack of id Software fame has posted his approval of the Console saying the engineers made some “wise choices.”

Are any of these console-selling features? No single feature by itself is strong enough to warrant purchasing the PS4, in my opinion. However, when you consider all of the features together, it’s a very promising long-term platform worthy of being called “Next Gen”.

Biggest disappointment? — No women were involved in the launch. Come on Sony, time to disband the “boys only” club. It would have been great to see Amy Hennig, the game director of Uncharted, get a well-deserved spotlight.

Streaming, enabled by the company Gaikai, could hopefully create the possibility of the entire Playstation catalogue being played through cloud access, (including that neat feature of handing off the control to a friend to help you through a difficult part of a game).

Ubisoft's Watchdog

We haven’t seen metrics on the consumer response to the press show, but we can gleam a little from Google — the Watch Dogs demo has 8.6 million views since June 2012. The Watch Dogs PS4 Youtube demo has a very healthy 465 thousand views in 6 days, which seems to indicate a high level of enthusiasm for this title on PS4.

Sony’s January Youtube video, announcing the announcement (!) received over 7 million views. That is a very significant indication that there is a lot of interest in this console. (I think it’s hilarious that  millions of people watched an announcement ABOUT an announcement!)

It was slipped into the conference that the PS4 would not be backwards compatible with the PS3. Bad news for PS3 owners, but it’s a necessary evil as they switched chip architecture. (Yes, Peter Walsh, our senior tech instructor, correctly predicted that it would be an Intel-based processor, proving my prediction of something much closer to the Playstation 3 Cell Processor to be incorrect.) And, it should be noted that after the original shipment of PS3s were sold, it’s backwards compatibility with the PS2 was also removed.

There is a marked improvement in the graphics, as displayed by many in-development titles. But whether all these features, even if they all work as advertised, is enough to move units into PS3 owners homes, remains to be seen. Games are about the actual experience, and you simply do not get that information by watching a press conference. We watched a two-hour commercial, but didn’t get to experience the system itself.

Next stop: E3 in June, where Sony will undoubtedly swing for the bleachers. Let’s hope the price point is under $500. In the meantime, my advice is to enjoy your current console or gaming devices. I personally have some Blast Processing to attend to!

Andrew Laing teaches Game Mechanics, Presentation Skills, Game Design and Post Mortem