Just a couple of hours ago, Sony Computer Entertainment began streaming its worldwide presentation being held in New York. In it, the console giant invited dozens of acclaimed game developers to give us brief glimpses of their upcoming titles and to discuss the ethos behind the new console.
Curiously, the company did not give attendees and viewers at home a peek at the console itself – something that we’re sure will disappoint many fans – but in many respects, perhaps this is in line with Sony’s new mission statement as the company focuses less on physical hardware and more on the online interactive experience as a whole. With streaming, remote play and even the ability to watch and remotely operate a pal’s game from thousands of miles away, Sony is promising gamers “the fastest, most powerful network in the world,” and aims to bring gaming and social networks together in a big way.
Heading up the presentation was Mark Cerny, game industry veteran and designer of classics like Marble Madness and Sony’s own Ratchet and Clank series amongst others. Discussing the company’s new approach to gaming, Cerny stated that design of the PlayStation 4 – as it is now officially known – experience was based on four key concepts: Simple, Immediate, Social, and Personalized.
It is the second and third elements, however, that are clearly the main driving forces behind Sony’s new toy. Partnering with the likes of Ustream and Facebook, the company aims to offer personalized gaming experiences that focus on “real life friendships” rather than just lists of people on your PlayStation Network user list. Hardcore gamers will likely be thrilled to know that Sony plans to fully embrace the social network, but there are many out there – myself included – who prefer not to share their gaming habits with all of their Facebook contacts. Fingers crossed Sony makes this an opt-in feature rather than a compulsory one.
▼ Sony is hoping that remote play will revolutionize our gaming experiences.
On the theme of immediacy, Sony aims to offer near instantaneous gameplay experiences, accessible from a variety of devices, removing the need for libraries of physical copies of games or to be tethered to just once piece of hardware. Since its purchase of Gaikai – a cloud-based gaming service that renders high-end video games and streams them to, potentially, any device regardless of its technical prowess – industry pundits correctly speculated that Sony would be launching an online offensive with its next console. During today’s presentation it became clear that Sony aims to utilize this service to provide gamers with as much potential content as possible regardless of geographical location or the piece of hardware that rests in their hands. Content will allegedly be available to users from the moment they hit the download button in the online PlayStation Store, with games being playable before the download itself has completed, and a try-before-you buy service would allow gamers to give games a spin seconds after locating them online, rather than having to wait for enormous downloads to complete.
One of the most intriguing concepts that both Cerny and Dave Perry (of Earthworm Jim and co-founder of Gaikai) touched upon during the conference was of the ability to watch, comment and even participate in friends’ gaming experiences. Giving the example of being able to share your live gaming experience online, Cerny described how one might log in to a friend’s live stream and comment during their play. If they get stuck, we could even jump in and take control remotely, regardless of the fact that we are not running the game on our own console.
▼ Sony was keen to boast its numerous partners for the new console.
The console will learn from your purchases and the games you play and watch online, offering content that might appeal as well tailoring lists and search results not unlike Google’s own intelligent search engine. Don’t care for dungeon crawlers? The console won’t bother showing them to you. If you’re a big puzzle fan, meanwhile, you’ll receive plenty of news and recommendations on that theme. There are some concerns that this filtering of information may have an adverse effect in that gamers who are wont to play just one particular genre will become even more immersed in it and miss out on potential gaming gems, but from a money-making perspective, Sony is clearly hoping to make the most of the social data it will gather about our playing habits.
Although comparatively little was shown of the new machine’s games, attendees were given a few glimpses of both technical demos and forthcoming titles, with both familiar faces and new IPs showing up during the videos.
▼ Watch_Dogs, a game set in the near future, was confirmed as coming to PS4
▼ The new game from the indie smash Braid also made an appearance.
▼ Super human powers meet Nineteen Eighty-Four paranoia in Second Son
▼ KillZone: Shadowfall brings the FPS action
▼ And Drive Club offers fully social high-speed racing experiences.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was the appearance of both Blizzard (World of Warcraft, Diablo) and Bungie, a studio whose name was once synonymous with Sony’s rival Microsoft thanks to its hugely successful first-person shooter Halo, who are producing new titles and bringing PC classics to the new console. It would seem that Sony is really pulling out the big guns with its new console and, learning from past experiences, is doing its best to make programming for the machine an altogether less stressful experience.
Although Sony neglected to show us was the console itself, we were given a quick look at the console’s new “DualShock 4″ controller, which comes complete – as was previously rumoured – with a touch panel in place of the traditional start and select buttons.
▼ Rather than a screen, the controller features a front-mounted touch pad.
Gamers across the globe have long been divided over Sony’s controller. Some love its compact design and button placement while others find the dual analogue sticks too loose for comfort. In his presentation, Cerny stated that the new controller offered “tighter control” with “enhanced joysticks and rumble.” Whether this will be enough to win over Xbox 360 fans, many of whom abhor the very idea of having both analogue sticks in line with each other, is another matter entirely, but it’s nice to see Sony responding to its critics and subtly altering its controller design.
The controller also features a “light strip” on its top edge that communicates with a stereo camera sensor bar for use with Sony’s Wii-alike PlayStation Move controller, and a “share” button that provides quick access to the console’s online social features- proof that Sony is really aiming to cover all of its bases this console generation and draw in as many new players as possible.
But what of the millions of PlayStation 3 games sitting in bedrooms and living rooms around the world? Will they be playable on the machine? Gaikai’s Dave Perry suggested during his speech that PS3 games will not be natively supported by the machine, though it was inferred that Sony plans to open its entire games library – as in everything from PS1 to PS4 – up to consumers via the cloud service, something that will no doubt both excite and irk gamers at once. Instant, anywhere access to millions of games is indeed a wonderful concept, but we’re sure that Sony will have a tough job on its hands breaking it to PlayStation 3 owners that the physical copies of games cannot be used on the new machine.
The console is due to be released at the end of this year, though no specific dates have been given for Japan or the rest of the world at present. We’ll have more on Sony’s new console as soon as it comes in. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a couple of shots from tech demos presented during the show. Whether we’ll ever actually see anything as pretty as these on the console remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a tantalizing prospect. Happy gaming, boys and girls!
Images taken from Sony’s live stream via Game Informer