Sony just wrapped up its PlayStation 4 launch event and the Internet (mixed) reactions have been fun to read. I want to start my thoughts on the presser by talking about how it ended — new hardware wasn’t shown and price points weren’t announced. A lot of Twitter gamers are pissed about this, but I kind of like what Sony did. In pro-wrestling terms, tonight’s event was an episode of Monday Night Raw; there was no need to send the crowd home happy and it was important to keep fans wanting more. The big announcements will be at E3 2013, which is the videogame business’ WrestleMania; that’s when you make sure the fans go home happy. At the very least, it was a controversial ploy. At best, it’ll have people talking and thinking about the PlayStation 4 for months to come.
Now here are some scattered thoughts based on the notes I took during the press conference. Naturally, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the PlayStation 4 and the games/demos shown when you have a chance.
Our House: The show was led by Sony Computer Entertainment group CEO Andrew House. It was interesting to hear him refer to the PlayStation 4 as a “place” or an entertainment hub, rather than a new piece of hardware. It’s indicative of what today’s consumer electronics have become. They’re not just about hardware. As Apple has shown, people want and will buy an experience fueled by a combination of hardware, software, and services.
The Cerny Method: I was thrilled that Mark Cerny had a prominent role in the show and was announced as the lead system architect for PlayStation 4. I also loved that Cerny acknowledged that the ambitious CELL processor in the PlayStation 3 wasn’t the most developer-friendly and said that the PlayStation 4 architecture will be more accessible: “Our goal was to develop an ecosystem that would facilitate the expression of their ideas.”
Cerny also showed his upcoming game Knack. It’s a platformer featuring a cartoon art style and an adorable — but hugely powerful — robot as the protagonist. A few years ago, he told me that he was working on a new project and I’m thrilled that it has been unveiled. The Twitter reaction to the game was overwhelmingly positive, but keep in mind that most of the people I follow are in the gaming business and many are aware of the awesomely awesomeness that is Mark Cerny.
Having someone like Cerny was really refreshing. He’s crazy smart, but also sincere and real.
Controller: The Dual Shock 4 rumors were on the money. In addition to what was already revealed, the new controller will sport a microphone input for chat, a speaker, and a light bar to easily identify different players. Cerny said that the analog sticks and trigger buttons have been improved and are tighter.
Social: Cerny said that the PS4 will have always-on hardware for video compression and decompression. Gamers can record and share clips through Sony’s new social network. In addition to watching your friends play, “famous” people can share their videogame exploits, allowing for an all-new form of stalking. In addition to accessing the network on a console, gamers can catch up with their gamer friends on the PlayStation Vita, smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Expect a flood of companion apps that extend the gaming experience.
Tech Demos: Visually impressive demos using Unreal Engine 4 and Havok were shown to illustrate the power of the new CPU and GPU. While they were very impressive, it wasn’t surprising. New hardware is supposed to have better graphics and tech demos rarely represent what actual games will be like. I was more interested in the new social features and cloud services (more below).
PlayStation Cloud: Dave Perry took the stage to talk about what Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai would bring to the company’s upcoming cloud services. PlayStation Cloud’s mantra is, “Everything Everywhere.” There are two huge goals for the service. First is to have the majority of every PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 game available through the cloud. Second is to have every PlayStation 4 game available on the PlayStation Vita through Remote Play.
One of the neat things about PlayStation 4 is background downloading. You’ll be able to start playing a game shortly after the download starts. The early portion of the game hits your system first, while the rest downloads as you play.
Cerny mentioned that the PlayStation 4 will monitor your game choices and pre-download games that it’ll think you like. The recommendation engine will check out what genres you play and what developers you enjoy. This is a nice touch that will help many gamers connect with new games in a more convenient way.
Perry mentioned that developers will be able to find “expert” players on the cloud and grant them special in-game privileges. This caused my Twitter feed to explode with snarky comments about the PlayStation 4 watching you.
I love where Sony is going with digital downloads and streaming. I’m also going to enjoy watching the flame wars about the PS4 not having backwards compatibility with PS3 discs. Flame on!
First-Party Games: Sony trotted out a bunch of first-party games and demos.
Killzone Shadow Fall — While I respect the Killzone series and this demo looked great, it’s not really my thing. I was a little bored.
Driveclub — This is a team-based racing game, which the developer equated with squad-based shooters. My initial thought was to combine the two in a game called Drive-by Club. It looked sweet and team-based driving should make for a fresh racing experience.
inFamous Second Son — Sucker Punch showed a pretty slick demo of its upcoming action game, but I was laughing at my snarky Twitter friends making comparisons to Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
The Witness — From the makers of the critically acclaimed Braid comes a bright and colorful puzzle game. While I was charmed by what was shown, the big deal here is that Sony is being very open and friendly to independent developers that want to self-publish. Making a powerful system that millions of people will own accessible is a marvelous thing that should lead to all kinds of creative games hitting the PS4. I love that Sony is continuing down the road it paved with games like Flower, Journey, and The Unfinished Swan.
David Cage — The head of Quantic Dream showed a tech demo of a very detailed and emotive decapitated head. Again, I’m not big on tech demos. As a Quantic Dream mark, I was disappointed that Cage didn’t have something more tangible to show.
Alex Evans — Media Molecule’s co-founder took the stage to show how the PlayStation Move can be used as a 3D modeling tool. My Twitter feed dogged this demo because it involved Move, but I like what was shown here. Giving gamers powerful and easy-to-use tools to make user-created content is a wonderful thing.
Third-Party Games: Sony had several third-party publishing partners show off games and demos too.
Capcom — Yoshinori Ono showed the Panta Rhei engine and a sweet-looking Medieval game called Deep Down (working title). It was pretty impressive, but my Twitter feed flooded with jokes about Deep Down Panty Raid. A few people assumed that this is the next Dragon’s Dogma game.
Square Enix — CTO Yoshihisa Hashimoto showed an impressive tech demo that used the company’s Luminous engine. It would have been way more impressive if the company hadn’t already shown the demo in June 2012. Final Fantasy brand director Shinji Hashimoto promised that a new Final Fantasy game for PlayStation 4 will be announced at E3 2013. My Twitter feed exploded with hate for the old demo and the announcement of a future announcement.
Ubisoft — Yves Guillemot showed a demo of Watch Dogs, which many people are really high on, but I still don’t get. The visuals are cool, but I have yet to see anything that looks fun to play.
Blizzard — Chris Metzen announced that Diablo III is coming to the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. It will have full-screen four-player cooperative-play. My Twitter feed’s rage meter redlined, but I have no doubt that this “port” of Diablo III will do huge numbers.
Activision — Eric Hirshberg announced that Bungie’s Destiny will be available for PlayStation, which would have been a far bigger deal if it wasn’t already known three days ago.
Final Thoughts: As far as the games go, I’m really psyched for Knack. I’m also intrigued by inFamous: Second Son and Deep Down. That said, I wasn’t terribly excited for most of the announcements. I also would have liked to have seen more new IPs and less tech demos. Really though, this presser was more about the ecosystem. I love that Sony is using an x86 architecture for PlayStation 4, which will make things much easier for developers. I love that Sony is making a big effort with self-publishing for indie devs. I love that Sony found ways to make the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation Move more interesting. As someone that wants to eradicate all the physical media in his apartment, I’m excited for PlayStation Cloud too.
A lot of people are bagging on this presser for not being “Apple” enough, but I can’t think of another consumer electronics company that pulls off press conferences are well as Apple does. I undertand why people are upset — super upset if they didn’t care for the videogames shown — about not seeing the new box and not hearing about the price, but I also understand why Sony didn’t lay all its cards on the table. While it wasn’t perfect, the PlayStation 4 presser has given me a lot to think about. As a verbal entertainer, I have lots of new material to work with.
Now what’s your story? What did you think of the PlayStation 4 press conference?