PlayStation 4: The System of Vague Ideas, Literally Nothing Solid

dualshock4So many people were interested in the announcement of the newest PlayStation – interesting called the PlayStation 4 (hey, the name ‘aint broke; don’t fix it) – that it actually broke Sony’s livestream of the presentation. Naturally, that led to a lot of snarky comments about the system using the same technology as the stream, as if anyone could be prepared for millions upon millions of concurrent streaming connections requesting high definition video, but during the parts of the show that people could watch, Sony brought about some great ideas that they state their system will perform. It’ll be easier to develop for with an x86-based architecture! There will be social sharing! Jonathan Blow made a game! You can share things socially! Look, it’s Diablo and Killzone1! Did we mention social!? There’s also game suspension, multiple downloads at a time, and other goodies! Our shareholders will electroshock us if we don’t say social! Social! Social! SOCIAL!!!

Most of these were good ideas, and some are even great ones. Wonderful ideas.

Unfortunately, I don’t deal well in ideas. I deal well in facts. And here are the facts we have so far:

* No form factor of physical box. Not even a prototype?
* No solid release date (just “2013”. OK, that probably means the holiday, but give me something to work with here).
* No actual gameplay. Didn’t Aliens: Colonial Marines teach us about tech demos?
* No price.

So right now, we have some ideas of what the system can do, and even that’s incomplete as more information – a lot of it good (no blocking used games), some of it not (so far, PS3 PSN purchases won’t fly on the PS4) – is coming out even as I write this. I’m also willing to bet Sony’s saving some things for E3. But going off of what I know now, I just don’t know a lot. In terms of features, I actually like a lot of what I hear – I described some of them to a friend as “my wish list if I was developing a consoles” – but until we have solid details about anything, this is all smoke and mirrors. I don’t think E3 will help that, either; game companies have been adamant about showing as little as possible about their big names until they absolutely have to, or preferably upon release, and that won’t change at an event that is historically about hushed whispers followed by supposed games journalists cheering like teenage girls at a Bieber concert.

With that said, I do have some thoughts about what occurred yesterday, and since.

* The specs of the console are sneaky-sexy. An eight-core x86 64 bit AMD Jaguar processor running a Radeon graphics engine, running 8GB of GDDR5 RAM is nicer than the layman thinks. The big deal is the RAM, which is *FAST*. People are going to look at 8GB of RAM and go “big deal, I have a laptop that runs 16GB”, but it’s the speed that matters.

* In terms of tech demos, David Cage’s demo of his facial technology had a bit of the Uncanny Valley, but it’s still impressive in terms of potentially telling a story. Even in games that have really good facial emotions like Spec-Ops: The Line, it’s still a static emotion, like the 3D equivalent of different static faces in a JRPG. If we can get someone better at making video games with this technology than David Cage, we’ll be in good shape.

* Remember that it’s going to take two to three years for any of this technology to mature. While not a graphical step-up like the PS3 was from the PS2, it’s still different programming altogether. What we saw in February of 2013 is going to look heavily antiquated by the middle of 2015.

* What the hell was Square Enix doing? They basically just went on stage, said “E3, bitches!” and left. That’s it? A new Final Fantasy, maybe, kinda, pay attention at E3? I’d be surprised if this was anyone else other than Squeenix, but considering the source, all I can do shake my head.

* Blizzard announcing that Diablo III is coming to PS3 and PS4 would have been truly exciting a year or two ago. As it stands now, how are we going to play it? Diablo is the epitome of a mouse-and-keyboard game. How are they going to emulate that on a console that doesn’t support a mouse? Also, is it just me, or are a lot of people really, really down on Diablo III since Blizzard never fixed major outstanding issues with the PC game? Maybe they should work on not pissing off their PC customers before moving in on pissing off their console customers.

* We bitch about a lack of original IP, but those teases of Destiny and The Witness had me excited for one reason: Sony’s been making great pains to be more friendly towards independent developers for some time, embracing Steam, allowing games to be free for PlayStation Plus subscribers, allowing self-publishing, publishing Journey, etc. It’s not quite to the level of Steam, but it’s leagues beyond the clusterfuck that the 360 is in terms of being accessible for indies or even smaller A-level pubs. Jonathan Blow even had a speaking spot to announce his timed exclusivity; this makes sense to savvy gamers, but if someone would have told me that an essentially one man studio would have been speaking during a console announcement along with people from Blizzard and Square-Enix, I’d have thought that person highly speculative at the least.

* Sony didn’t break the controller, which is fine; it didn’t need fixing. The touchscreen in the middle is our best compromise, as it isn’t overbearing when it’s needed, and can be easily ignored when it’s not. I like anything that allows me to play a game the way I’ve been playing them for the past thirty years.

* I mock the social sharing aspects of the device, which is easy, but there are some very keen benefits to all of this: the opportunity to instantly share gameplay videos and screenshots for anyone, via Sony’s own network or potentially Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, or whatever the hell Pinterest is. As it is, if I want to put the things I do in a video game on Youtube, I have to have my PS3 connected to my Happauge PVR (a $200 piece of hardware), where I have to be recording, and then I have to edit the video and put it online. The PS4 might be able to do that all in one, much the same way an EA Sports game allows people to save replays and put them on their own sites. This type of thing is already being seen in the Steam Community, but it’s a great addition to the console space.

* The bad side of this is that, between the video uploading, the streaming games, and the streaming everything else, Sony, and by extension virtually every console maker out there, are seriously forgetting the broadband situation in America and Canada. Specifically, I personally have a 250GB per month cap on my bandwidth, and two options in terms of where I get my internet: I can either go to Comcast, or I can go fuck myself. A lot of people in America are in similar straits, and in Canada, the situation is worse. A lot of games and services are bandwidth-intensive; where are we going to find that bandwidth? The ISPs have consumers by the short hairs, and they *WILL* get their pound of flesh.

* Speaking of streaming, the report that PSN items bought on the PS3 will not transfer over to the PS4 is a *major* bugbear. Reports seem to indicate that that’s a difference between the Cell processor and the new system’s x86 setup, which would lead one to believe that the problem would be addressed by Gaikai. That’s cute, and a wonderful use of the technology to get reportedly “every” game from the PlayStation era onto the PS4, but need I remind everyone that Sony spent $380m on Gaikai? Sony *WILL* find a way to monetize our older games; it’s just a matter of how. For a cash-strapped company, it would actually be irresponsible not to.

* Real name profiles seem to be a thing. This, combined with a statement during the stream that the PS4 will “know (me) better than (I know myself)” scares the SHIT out of me. I value my privacy, and I especially value it when it comes to things that I’m *already paying for*. That value – the value of me paying money for things, and the people I buy from not forcing me with a hard sell during my time of using it – is a large part of the reason I no longer play much XBox, where they have been thanking me for my $60 yearly Gold outlay with forced video ads. From what Sony is saying, they’re about to make Facebook’s notorious lack of respect for my privacy look like the genetic love child of Cory Doctorow and Glenn Greenwald, with the difference being that I’m going to be spending thousands for that privilege. This is the closest thing I’ve seen to a deal-breaker for the new console. This is notwithstanding the seemingly forced use of my real name on the system; I’m a public figure who writes about video games, so having my real name out there isn’t just something I’m used to, it’s potentially advantageous for name recognition. The average gamer, who doesn’t want to be bothered online outside of a handle, won’t agree.

* Sony is “borrowing” (read: stealing like bandits) the idea of remote play from the Wii U. That’s notable. Perhaps it’d be more notable if they didn’t require a separate, $250 system to pull that off?

* Speaking of price, the PS4 really needs to fall into the $350/$400 price range to even have a *chance* of denting the consumer market. Anything more, and the system might as well be dead on arrival. This can’t be stated enough, or forcefully enough: consoles are a dying breed. Yes, the PlayStation 4 is – by idea – a nice console. Hell, I look at the feature list and figure that a lot of it is great. But tablets and phones are taking over, either in reality or via perception, and in an increasingly stock market-oriented games industry where public ownership affects virtually every AAA published game, perception is reality. The shadow of Apple looms over the casual space, and the ever-fluctuating shadow of PC gaming and Steam looms over the “core” audience. As nice as this feature list is, it’s still inferior to everything Steam gives me on literally every computer I already own now that the Linux version’s been launched. Console gaming in general is being attacked on two sides, and for it to succeed to the point of making it sustainable for anything outside of a few major releases per year, it has to defend those fronts or get run over as shareholders seek answers.

1 – As for Killzone… well, we can’t just say it’s a drab, gray shooter anymore. It’s now a drab, COLOURFUL shooter~

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Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.