Sony’s 2013 conference burst onto the internet last night revealing a whole bunch of fresh, new and exciting entertainmenty things to look forward to.
With rumours rife that the event would feature the announcement and exploration of the PS4 and its capabilities, speculation on the web reached almost fevered pitch as over 2.6 Million tuned in to the stream to watch the presentation. Not only was the next generation behemoth announced but an array of technological, social and interactive elements came together to usher in what could well be the biggest console launch of the next generation.
The show kicked off with an immersive montage that captured the pure essence of Sony and PlayStation’s long history. From Final Fantasy to GTA and Shadow of the Colossus to Heavy Rain, Sony encapsulated the essential interaction between the company and its audience and reinforced this with the tag line ‘PlayStation wants to win the war against reality’. Sony want to offer gamers a truly immersive experience. When the lights went up current president and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment; Andrew House, took to the stage as the master of ceremonies, kicking off the show by drawing attention to the company’s plans for the Vita rather than jumping right in to the news that had the gaming world in frenzy. This could have been more of a tactical move, since the portable console is barley even a year old Sony would want to draw attention to the fact that It will not only be a companion to its larger counter-part, but also an exciting way of interacting with the PS4 itself. This led to an awesome demonstration from Mark Cerney, Director of Knack, the exclusive new title from the acclaimed Studio Japan Team which highlighted the PS4’s remote play capabilities allowing gamers to play a title from the console, via the handheld , in real time. Although supporting titles for this feature were not announced, its exciting to see that plans are definitely underway which will benefit both the Vita and the PS4.
Following the foray into the Vita’s future the show finally took off with the much anticipated console’s announcement. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a glimpse of the actual console itself; although the audience was assured that an engineer’s version of the machine was present in order to show case live tech demos in real-time. Although it is definitely one of the most disappointing parts of the show, overall there was more than enough cool stuff on show to overcome the lack of the console’s physical presence. Cerney went on to note that the ‘Consumer is changing us’ and how the expansive connectivity enabled by the PS3 was one of its key features. Not only has the PlayStation Network been given a revitalizing new structure, where games can be played as they are downloaded, a heavy focus has also been given to the personalization of the console by the gamer. In game footage can be captured in real time and shared to others (via a new ‘Share’ button). This improved network will be made available on a wide variety of devices including apple products, tablets and other smartphones / devices, allowing players to create a social sphere around their gaming experience.
The store also received a more intelligent consumer system, allowing owners to customise and tailor their online shopping experience, by pre-selecting favourite genres or developers and thus being instantly notified about new titles of interest. We will also see the triumphant return of Trophies as standard. Dave Perry of Gaikai soon took to the stage to announce the system’s collaboration with industry giants such as Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Ustream and Hulu to offer a wide range of streaming capabilities. Sony has definitely decided to revitalize and adapt PSN, which they have seriously “pimped”, but whether it will remain a free service is still a big question. Microsoft’s decision to make Xbox Live a subscription based service wasn’t particularly popular but it definitely showed how integral online is to the current console generation and how completely vital it will be to the next.
Apart from the heavy focus on revitalizing PSN, Cerny also went on to give the world its first view of the new Dualshock 4 controller / pad. Although the touch pad interface and light bar were mentioned, very few details were given about how it these featured would be used, indeed more energy was put in to its other functions. After the bitter disappointment of not getting to see the PS4 design, even just conceptually, it was frustrating getting so little out of such a key piece of tech, although it does confirm that Dualshock will be distributed as the standard controller packaged with the machine itself at retail. It must be said that the controller has definitely received its biggest design change ever, with the share button being the biggest attribute discussed at length, allowing gamers to exit games in real time and choose from pre-recorded sections of in-game footage to share, as well as live stream their sessions via PSN to various partners.
From here the show got a little bit technical, as they often do, but this segment did give some more detailed insight in to the PlayStation 4’s future performance. With the promise of 8GB of GDDR5 RAM and an all new (For PlayStation) 64-bit x86 CPU architecture as standard, the raw processing ability of the console will certainly make it by far the most powerful games system on the market, at least until Microsoft unveil the specification of their competitor. Don’t forget with the popularity of universal cloud services this gives Sony a springboard to create a machine with near unlimited storage capacity for the likes of saves, music, videos and more.
The PlayStation Move also had its time in the limelight showcasing a tech demo presented by Alex Evans who raged against ‘The Tyranny of the Polygon’ and encouraged the audience too look forward to further innovation of the peripheral in developing new interfaces and experiences.
From here the focus of the show moved swiftly on to the biggest draw of any game conference, one that can make or break a console’s initial pre-release popularity, the announcement of a wide array of fresh, new releases that will herald the PlayStation 4’s arrival in to our living rooms. It started out strong, with Herman Hulst taking the stage to announce “Killzone: Shadow Fall” an intense FPS title full of new weaponry, holographic assassins and an engaging first section that quickly introduced viewers to the PS4’s processing power. Although perhaps not refined, it’s a promising start to what we can expect in future, which leads on to the next question. Where would a launch be if we didn’t also have a strong racing title to show us the beauty of the engines that are so lovingly created to immerse us into these engaging worlds? Unfortunately this wasn’t Grand Turismo, but the new franchise “Drive Club”; a game that not only beautifully recreates stunning cars, but also pays attention to the little details, like the sunlight gleaming off polished chrome. From here we were swiftly ushered in to one of the darkest game introductions imaginable, the announcement of “Infamous: Second Son” by Sucker Punch. Although lacking the ‘3’ and introducing what seems to be a new protagonist, it looks like a strong successor to one of the PS3’s most popular titles. An altogether more mellow title; “The Witness”, a stylish puzzle game, served to lighten the mood following its decidedly more serious predecessors.
At this point, over an hour in, things slowed down a bit as tech demos took the stage by storm, after an excellent presentation from Quantic Dreams’ David Cage the conference seemed to get bogged down a bit, with Media Molecule showing off a sculpting demo and a decidedly underwhelming announcement from Capcom concerning the working titled “Deep Down”. Square Enix showed of a previously seen piece of pre-rendered footage that was only marginally saved by revealing a new Final Fantasy title was in the works. By this time the phrase ‘more to come’ had made way for many appearances and the lack of Final Fantasy footage definitely felt frustrating. However, the moment was saved when Blizzard revealed that Diablo 3 would be made available for both PS3 and PS4, possibly laying the foundation for some more MMORPGy type games? Only time will tell.
Bungie also made a surprise appearance to announce “Destiny”, their new first person shooter, following on from their excellent work on the Halo series. Ubisoft’s live demonstration of “Watchdogs” was one of the most exciting and innovative of all the games at the conference, graphically demonstrating how much interaction with the environment will be available to players, whether it be stealing someone’s bank details using your mobile phone in order to hack their account or forcibly stopping a train to facilitate a getaway, it’s definitely going to be an action game to keep on the calendar.
To me one of the most important area’s all of the key speakers focused on was the interaction between the developer, Sony and the players. With this in mind Andrew House noted that critically acclaimed indie games such as “Journey” and “The Unfinished Swan” were essential in bridging the gap between small time developers and the consumer. With this drive to put excellent and creative independent games at the forefront of the new console’s capability, the support that PlayStation 4 will hopefully provide for up and coming studios will allow gamers to experience original and innovative titles that will benefit the industry as a whole.
Overall the conference was a success, although we didn’t get to see a physical version of the PlayStation 4, or even any concept art, Sony has definitely come out fighting with its next generation console. Despite a bit of padding to flesh out the heavy focus on social aspects of the machine, the presence of a good variety of titles accompanied by strong graphics and a reinvigorated PSN definitely makes the PlayStation not only the current front runner for the next generation of consoles, but the standard that both Nintendo and Microsoft must now contend with in 2013 and beyond.
WHAT WE SAW
- The new Dualshock 4 controller, with touchpad, light bar and ‘Share’ button and headphone jack
- The official confirmation of 8GB onboard RAM and an X86-64 CPU architecture
- Plans for interaction with the PlayStation Vita
- Innovation for PSN, with a strong focus on “social” and “personalization”
- Impressive line-up new game engines, particulalarly Epic’s Unreal 4 Engine
- Suspend/Resume games in real time
- Streamlined downloads, download while playing
- Stream your gameplay and upload it
- Connect other devices to the service, including; Smartphones, Tablets, iPad etc
- Classic PS1 and PS2 titles available to download
- Connect to services such as Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc
- PlayStation Cloud service
- Independent titles & New IP in development
- A lot of montages!
WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE
- The actual PlayStation 4
- Any official footage from strong PlayStation titles such as; Grand Turismo, God of War, Metal Gear, Resistance, or anything from Quantic Dream
- An appearance by Kaz Hirai
- Anything extensive about PSN, will it be free to play or subscription based?
- More specific information about backwards media / game compatibility?
- Will existing peripherals like the PlayStation Move be compatible?