Playstation 4: What Did We Learn?

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.

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  • Ziggy

    This was Sony’s best
    press conference in years. They focused on what the core gamers are looking for
    games! The new controller looks beautiful and added everything gamers wanted;
    headphone jack, improved grip, sticks, d-pad, and triggers. (Aside from the share
    and options buttons [seriously bring back start and select])

    In fact the only thing that most
    people I’ve talked to were disappointed in, was in regard’s to 3 games:

    Agent

    Final Fantasy Versus XIII

    The Last Guardian

  • Massacred

    After talking with many of my “Hardcore PlayStation Gamer” friends
    and post seeing the PlayStation 4 announcement, we have come up with a list of
    concerns we have. It would be greatly appreciated it you could pass this
    list on to the proper channels.

    1. Removal of the Start and Select buttons – While we all agree that
    the new controller is stunning and beautifully designed, one of the smaller
    problems we had with it was the lack of start and select.
    “Options” is not sufficient in attempting to play any old game on the
    console. Playing older games threw Gaikai or otherwise might prove to be
    impossible without these buttons. Strongly recommend you change
    “options” back to Start and Select.

    2. Backward Compatibility – We cannot fathom why this was not
    important to Sony, as it was a major issue with the PS3 launch. (Most of
    us have kept the original PlayStation 3 for that reason) If you cannot
    include the hardware to run PS1, PS2, and PS3 games please allow the PS4 to
    obtain the software emulate them. With 8 GB of memory, this should not be
    a problem. Gaikai is nice, but with large collections of PS1, PS2 and PS3
    games, we would like to use them on the new system.

    Or if nothing else, release a high end SKU of the PS4 with backwards
    compatibility, we are sure many of your loyal fans would appreciate (and
    purchase) this.

    2.5 Along with the “backwards compatibility” section,
    we believe it would be a smart move for Sony to allow the Dualshock 3
    controllers to connect with the PS4 as well. This would be great for
    anyone converting from a PlayStation 3 to a PlayStation 4 and does not have the
    money to purchase extras as well as a sign of good faith from the PlayStation
    brand.

    3. Social Features – While posting your trophies or connecting to Facebook
    and various other social mediums through PlayStation are good ideas, please
    make all of these optional. Many of the core gamers have no interest in
    these features and many, myself included do not use social networking at all.
    Therefore if it were mandatory we could not play games.

    4. New Friends Methodology – While we found the idea of expanding
    upon the friends page interesting, we appreciated the privacy that PS3
    provided. DO NOT FORCE users to create accounts with their picture and
    name. Once again, we stress, please make this optional.

    5. New Operating System – The XMB was perfect. Logically laid out with
    every application categorized into a sub category. Because of this, it
    was both intuitive and easy to use. While we only received a quick glimpse,
    the new operating system, seems to make far less sense. Please allow
    customization so the more logically minded among us can use the new system with
    ease as well. Perhaps an optional interface, closer to the PSVITA’s?

    6. Camera – While this new Camera could be used for some interesting
    moments and ideas in gaming. DO NOT make it mandatory. Many of us
    do not nor have we ever liked motion or camera based games. Please DO NOT
    require a camera to use the new controllers.

    7. Intuitive Downloads – Many of us, like to select games with no
    pattern or complete randomness, and in doing so do not like games to be
    downloaded for us. This idea is a good one, but once again it should be
    optional.

    8. Ideas – With 8 Gigs of memory the PlayStation 4 is the perfect time
    for cross game voice chat, PSN ID tagged controllers, and a system that allows
    users to play music at all time along with the game they are playing.
    Doing this would help PlayStation, to also become a hub for entertainment.

    P.S. it would be really cool if the “PS” button on the center of
    the Dualshock 4 light up red. This would make it more iconic.

    In conclusion, we have come to the consensus that while we enjoy many of the
    new PlayStation features we hope that you will consider adding some more and
    that you leave some optional. Aside from that you should know: keep up the
    great work! The specs are spectacular, we couldn’t have asked for a better
    controller (almost) and the game line up looks awesome.

    Also I would like to change my PSN user name this time around and want unmitigated backwards compatibility and region locked free PS4’s


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