The Playstation 4 is coming. Say what you will about the Wii U, but last evening’s Sony presser unequivocally declared the advent of the next generation of console gaming. So, amidst all of the tech demos and marketing speak and terribly dressed developers delivering awkward presentations, what did we really learn about the Playstation 4?
It’s about the developers. Simplifying the architecture with an x86-based processor, a PC-based graphics card, and enough RAM to choke a COG (forgive the terrible cross-console pun) is a step in the right direction when it comes to ease of development. Sony’s giving us a big-time gaming rig in the shape of a console; it’s a beast, but there’s nothing too strange about it. Couple that with what’s surely going to be a PC-ish offering from Microsoft with the next generation Xbox and you’ve got a device that eliminates the barriers to cross-platform gaming that slowed the arrival of franchises like Mass Effect to the Playstation 3.
Social has replaced motion controls as the new killer app. Or the new silly trend, depending on your point of view. Want to show Grandma what you made in Little Big Planet today so she gives you a few bucks more the next time you come to visit? No problem! A button in the center of the new Dualshock 4 allows for easy sharing of gameplay to various social networks. The system includes features to easily spectate on other players’ games and even to help those in need of an expert. Sony’s obviously been paying attention to the proliferation of social networks and has grand plans for cashing in on their popularity.
The games are going to look amazing. That tech demo featuring Vigo the Carpathian’s head made me want to give up my first born. The Killzone demo featured one of the most magnificent science fiction views I’ve seen in any media. That planet looked alive, and when it all went to hell, it looked like absolute hell. The gaming cognoscenti might decry pretty graphics as the unnecessary opiate of the Call of Duty masses, but don’t underestimate the power of polygons when it comes to conveying emotions and telling a story.
Sony is really trying to make you buy a Vita. Being able to play PS4 games remotely on the Vita is a great way to repurpose existing hardware for a legitimately useful function, but I worry that Sony is still whiffing badly when it comes to their snazzy handheld. You know that focus on developers I previously mentioned? Where’s that when it comes to the Vita? If I’m a developer, why do I want to program a game for Sony’s handheld? What’s the benefit to me? I’m glad that Sony’s trying something to breathe some life into the Vita–I personally think it’s the bee’s knees–but I worry that they’re missing what seems to me to be an obvious point: it’s about the games, stupid. So where are the Vita games?
The Dualshock 4 includes a touchpad. Great. What’s it for? Is it just to make it easier to collect signatures when you make a credit card purchase in the PSN store, or does it have a practical use?
It isn’t about games anymore–it’s about experiences. I feel a bit prophetic, but not in a good way. Had I included the word “experience” in my Playstation 4 drinking game rules, there wouldn’t be a single gamer in North America going to work tomorrow. This might seem silly to many of you, but to me, the distinction between a game and an experience is glaring, jarring, and concerning. A game implies difficulty and a chance at failure; an experience does not necessarily involve any of those things. Personally, I’m a gamer. I want a challenge. I want to overcome the odds and win. I want something that might legitimately beat me so that I might know the joy of kicking its ass. If I want an experience, I’ll get in line for a roller coaster or take my chances in a no-tell motel with the local hooker. When it’s time to game, I want a fucking game.
It’s also about the gamer. The Playstation 4 will try to learn which types of games you like and recommend similar games to you. Although this sounds damn convenient, I worry about the effect this will have on the indie world and on the work of smaller publishers that aren’t afraid to push the envelope. I worry people will miss those types of games because their PS4’s only offer them certain things. If all someone plays is military shooters, the front page of the PSN store will never present them something like Journey or Braid. The thought of that makes me itch, because I’m sure it means I’ll miss something good, too, despite how diverse I like to think my tastes are.
The big Sony franchises may not be ready for launch. Where was Sack Boy? Or Kratos? Or Nathan Drake? Something’s not right here.
I’m not the Playstation 4’s target audience. I suppose the realization that you’re no longer the main demographic of an industry you hold dear occurs to all of us at some point as we age, but it really hit me last night. I could care less about social features. I’m skeptical of the convenience of digital purchases because I don’t trust Big Content not to try to bilk us for all it thinks we’re worth. Touchpads? No thanks. I like traditional controls, and I prefer to play epic single-player games all by my lonesome. Where’s the focus on improved AI? We’ve got dedicated processors for graphics and physics, so why not enemy intelligence? I’d like to play a cover shooter that’s more of a bullet-fueled chess match and less of a glorified edition of Hogan’s Alley. I’d like to play a version of MLB The Show that laughs in my face when I offer Garret Jones straight up in trade for Carlos Gonzalez rather than blindly letting itself get taken for a ride. I’d like my games to be smarter and more logical; I’d like them to be more like real life. Instead, I get the option to share my fake gaming life with my even faker online social life. I’m not the Playstation 4’s target audience, and I feel old.
We should take all of this with a grain of salt. Let’s face it: we consumers like to think we’re the only ones that matter to content producers, but last night’s event was aimed primarily at the press and current and potential investors. That dog and pony show wasn’t to sell us on the Playstation 4; it happened to produce a few useful quotes and soundbites and to make rich people who don’t know squat about gaming send a few investment bucks Sony’s way. We won’t know for sure what the system’s going to deliver until launch. But, you know, the opinions I previously expressed in this article are still good.
Check out episode 129 of the D Pad D Bags podcast, featuring Aliens: Colonial Marines, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Red Dead Redemption.