Wednesday night Sony Computer Entertainment unveiled what many had speculated, the PlayStation 4. Only they didn’t actually show the console. During the 2-hour presentation the console maker, alongside a range of developers, spoke at length about the next-gen console whilst never actually addressing the giant elephant in the room.
What the suits did show-off, during a rather wooden performance, was their vision; a console that meets five simple pillars: Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated and Personalised.
Instead of showing off the actual console, SCE decided to only show off the new Dual Shock 4 controller, a re-design of the current controller. Improvements have been made to the 3D sticks and triggers, alongside the addition of a touchpad on the front of the controller, clearly inspired by the PS Vita’s touchpad.
Sony waxed lyrical about how the console had been designed by developers, for developers – essentially that means the console is loosely based on PC architecture; a double-edged sword if we’ve ever seen one. It’s clear it’s going to be a lot easier to make games for it, but backwards compatibility has been kicked into the long grass with the possibility that users will be able to eventually, one day, stream the entire PlayStation back catalogue via Sony’s acquisition of cloud gaming company Gaikai.
Some of the clever touches Sony did show-off is the ability to suspend and reload play sessions instantly. The console also has a secondary chip for uploading and downloading content in the background, and even more far-fetched was the ability to download digital games whilst you actually play them.
Another big feature was the consoles share button – the system has been designed from the ground-up to allow gamers to share gaming footage directly from the controller via a new share button – Sony is promising it will be seamless and will herald a new era of collaborative gaming, where you’d be able remotely take control of a friends console to help them complete a difficult level or boss – or just watch them play whilst you offer tips and advice.
Hardware-wise Sony confirmed the console would be packing 8GB of GDR RAM, usually only found on high-end graphics cards. 8GB is an interesting number as it’s twice as much leaksters had predicted during the lead up to the unveil. Underlying the new hardware will be a custom chip that contains eight AMD x86-64 cores. The GPU, as previously speculated, will contain 18 compute units which can generate 1.84 teraflops of processing power. This can be freely applied to graphics, simulation tasks or a mixture of the two.
Once Sony has got all that out the way it was time to invite a load of developers on stage to show off their games, and to be fair to Sony – there were quite a lot.
Journalists were treated to trailers running in real-time from Epic Games, though this was just a tech demo; Guerilla games wowed the audience with a new Kill Zone, Evolution studios, the maker of Motorstorm, showed Driveclub; Jack And Daxter creator showed off Knack; and there was a new Infamous game.
Third party developers were there too – Bungie showcased Destiny, there new FPS MMO; Ubisoft blew peoples minds with their hacker-eqsue GTA clone Watch Dogs; and Capcom and Square Enix showed off rather lackluster tech demos of games that didn’t even really exist.
So while Sony did reveal a lot, it did leave many with many unanswered questions. Why was the console not shown, will it require an always-on internet connection, and will the console block second-hand games?
Some of the gaming pressed called Sony out on some of these concerns, and to be fair to Sony they answered almost everything apart from price, release date and what the console actually looks like.
Polygon: “But there was one glaring omission: The PS4’s debut was missing the PS4.”
“I ran into Shuhei Yoshida, president of Worldwide Studios at Sony Computer Entertainment, after the show and asked him why the console wasn’t shown during the presentation or after.
“We need something to show off later,” he said, half kidding.
Will it be shown at E3, I asked.
“We’re still trying to decide that,” he said.
Yoshida then went on to explain the thinking behind Sony’s decision to have the controller at the event but not the console that uses it.
“The console is just a box,” he said. “The controller was very important to show because it has the share button, but the console is just a console.
The point of this week’s show, Yoshida said, was to get across the philosophy of its new console, those five pillars detailed by executives and developers throughout the night.
IGN: “As I fight through the torrent of meaningless words, the ad-agency horsesh*t about ‘wars against reality’ I can also see glimpses of really nice looking games.”
In fact, the glimpses of games went on for like an hour, which is seriously impressive in the world of console first-looks.
It dawned on me, even as I sat enjoying the games, that PlayStation 4 is going be just as neat as we’d all hoped. But also that the incredible PS1-PS2 jump is never going to come again. Nor the enormous PS2-PS3 leap.
The astonishing visual fidelity being shown in New York, is quite a bit nicer than the gorgeous fidelity I can find on my PS3 at home. These are lovely-looking games. But they are not so much greater than PS3 that my tongue is lolling around my curly chest-hair.
This PS3-PS4 leap requires something extra. And that something extra is services, connectivity, ease-of-use, social thingamajigs. Important things. Useful things.
We found out when the console is coming, but there were words missing too. Words like ‘PlayStation 4 will be priced at….” and “look at the pretty box you’ll be putting by your TV soon”.
Eurogamer: “Does the PlayStation 4 always need to be connected to the internet, I asked Yoshida?
“You can play offline, but you may want to keep it connected,” he suggested. “The system has the low-power mode – I don’t know the official term – that the main system is shut down but the subsystem is awake. Downloading or updating or you can wake it up using either the tablet, smartphone or PS Vita.”
Are all of those things optional, though? For people who have broadband data limits, for example? They can customise everything?
“Oh yes, yes, you can go offline totally. Social is big for us, but we understand there are some people who are anti-social! So if you don’t want to connect to anyone else, you can do that.”
Watch the stream of the event here: