The Sony Conference: A Play-by-Play
Over the course of the two hour even a parade of big names from the game industry took the stage discussing one aspect or another of the PlayStation 4, and/or demonstrated a new title for the upcoming 2013 holiday launch (window). While discussing how Sony is planning on being the “leading authority of play,” Sony repeatedly struck home several keywords concerning their strategy regarding the next generation of consoles: elegant, immediate, integrated, and personal.
Sony did not announce many specifics, which isn’t exactly surprising, but they did bring up the fact that the PS4 will be using the x86 architecture and will include 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM. This is accomplished because both the eight core CPU and GPU will be on the same die which implies they will be running AMD hardware with their relatively new line of APUs (Accelerated Processing Unit). During the presentation, they mentioned the PlayStation 4′s processing power at approximately 2 teraFLOPs. While it was important for them to start demonstrating the power of the PlayStation 4, these numbers and tech buzzwords hardly mean anything to the general consumer.
It is also important to note that the PlayStation 4 will not be backwards compatible, but it will support used games. Then, the first tease showed itself — the new DualShock 4 controller. While, as the name would imply, the new DualShock looks very similar to its predecessors, there are some obvious changes. Mark Cerny, the lead system architect, mentioned that Sony spent their time reducing the latency of the wireless, improving the rumble, and altering the R2/L2 triggers and analog sticks. In addition to those improvements on the old design, Sony has also implemented a lightbar to work as a Move controller, a microphone jack, and the center of the controller is now home to a touchpad and a new “share” button. This button was emphasized throughout the presentation as the PlayStation 4 will be integrated with various social networks, Facebook and Ustream being specifically mentioned, with Sony trying to focus on building a strong game-centric community. Another important note is that players will be able to access the PlayStation community through their choice of smartphone, tablet, or computer.
With the basics of what Sony intends to do with the PlayStation 4 covered, Sony started showing off several games sprinkled in between their descriptions of features: some were new IP’s, while others were previously announced titles which were hardly surprising to see running on the next generation system. I’m looking at you Watch Dogs.
The first game that was announced was the new IP, Knack. During this announcement, Mark Cerny, the lead system architect who also happens to be directing Knack, showed a trailer covering basic plot points: a robot named Knack, who can change size/shape and fights on behalf of the human race, is in a war against goblins. After the trailer, Cerny stressed the ability for PlayStation players to immediately jump into a game without the need for boot up or download times. PC users may be accustomed to the ability to start playing a game while it is downloading, courtesy of Steam, but this is a new jump in console technology. Cerny used Knack as a method to demonstrate the ability of being able to stream games to the PlayStation Vita, via remote play, which allows other people in the room to use the main television screen without interrupting play.
Following Cerny, the CEO of Gaikai, David Perry, took the stage and shared the role Gaikai will fill in PlayStation 4–being able to stream games from the PlayStation Network to the PlayStation 4 and the Vita. Players will now have their own customizable profile easily connecting with real-world friends as well as their virtual friends. The PlayStation 4 will include a secondary processor that will focus on providing the console the ability to constantly record gaming sessions and instantly upload those clips. Not only that, but friends will be able to become spectators, and watch you play while talking on the headset. Should a player get stuck on a particular section of a game, the player can ask for help from their spectators or other friends playing online. This can either be something as simple as dropping a health pack, or something similar, to the ability for players to allow other people to take control of their character and actually play for them–as if they had merely passed the controller to their friend sitting on the (virtual) couch next to them.
Afterwards, Hermen Hulst, the managing director of Guerilla Games, announced Killzone: Shadow Fall, and proceeded to use the new Share button to post the live demo to the official Killzone Facebook page. Not much was shared concerning what Killzone: Shadow Fall will entail, but it was certainly exciting and surprisingly colorful considering the previous games being notoriously lacking of anything other than browns and grays.
Following the Killzone: Shadow Fall announcement, Evolution Studios announced a new racing IP called Drive Club. According to Matt Southern, Drive Club will emphasize multiplayer and will offer the PlayStation faithful the ability to connect to their, well, club from smartphones, tablets, and computers. This is an unprecedented level of connectivity for PlayStation. Players will be able to create challenges of varying scope, from individual time-trials to massive tournaments. Of course, Drive Club looks gorgeous, and I am sure that I am not the only person that was thrown off and thinking it was an announcement for Gran Turismo since Polyphony Digital is a first-party Sony developer. Southern claims they have gone “borderline insane” in order to capture and model every little detail: from metallic flakes in the paint to individual carbon fibers or the kaleidoscopic swirls of light from the headlights.
Nate Fox and Sucker Punch were up next, and revealed a trailer of their upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusive title Infamous: Second Son after a short, paranoia-inducing introduction. There was not much information about this new title, but with both Infamous 1 and its sequel Infamous 2 being excellent titles, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine this being a great game as well.
A surprising announcement came with Jonathan Blow, of Braid fame, stepping up on stage to announce his new PlayStation 4 exclusive title, The Witness. Blow describes it as an open-world puzzle game. The player is given the freedom to explore, but the intent is to capture the essence of an epiphany. Setting out such a lofty and abstract goal is certain romantic to a degree, but the execution of such an idea is what should be impressive.
David Cage took the stage next on behalf of Quantic Dreams. After a short graph showing how many more polygons characters can have in their next game (Jodie Holmes from Beyond: Two Souls will have twice as many as the characters from Heavy Rain with ~30,000), he proceeded with another technical demonstration. This one, however, focused on the details and graphical fidelity we can expect in the future, albeit in an uncomfortable manner reminiscent of Heavy Rain. Quantic Dreams showed an elderly man from the neck up being rendered in real time. It was a simple demonstration, but powerful in showing how … powerful, the PlayStation 4 is.
Cage then proceeded to pass the spotlight to Alex Evans from Media Molecule. Media Molecule is most well known for their LittleBigPlanet games and, by extension, community creation. Evans started talking about how Media Molecule had fully embraced the Move with this latest iteration. With four microphones and the lightbar on the new controller, the Move will be able to track movements and sounds much more accurately than previous iterations. The demonstration really proved how accurate the controller can be as, also in real time, 3D models were being built, refined, and completely changed. The grand finale of Media Molecule’s presentation was a short scene poetically describing a recording of someone’s dream. The animation seemed to be generated by overlaying characters over the Move controllers before playing a short musical number. Neither Cage nor Evans actually announced new titles, but they certainly have projects in the works, presumably being held to be released over the months to come.
Yoshinori Ono of Capcom fame took the stage with a translator, and he described two things: a new engine, and a new game. The game engine, code named Panta Rhei, is concurrently being refined as their new IP, Deep Down (working title). Panta Rhei is a continuation of their MT Framework engine which was used to create games like Devil May Cry 4, Resident Evil 5, and Lost Planet. Again, not much is known about it, but the demonstration of Deep Down is rather impressive and ominous.
Square Enix followed Capcom as Yoshihisa Hashimoto showed a demonstration of their new Luminos Studio engine running on the PlayStation 4. For those of you who remember last year’s E3, Square Enix showed the same trailer known as Agni’s Philosophy. Following Yoshihisa, Shinji Hashimoto, the brand director for Final Fantasy, announced that there will be a reveal of the next Final Fantasy at the upcoming E3 conference. All-in-all, nothing unexpected or new from Square Enix, but they did specifically reference Final Fantasy VII. Based on the reaction from the livestream chat, people expected a high-definition remake of Final Fantasy VII to be announced, but it is all speculation at the moment.
Ubisoft followed Square Enix. Yves Guillemot and Jonathan Moran confirmed Watch Dogs as a next-generation title, and showed a playable demonstration of the game in action. Watch Dogs had somewhat fallen off the radar since its first announcement at last year’s E3, but the demo certain reclaimed a lot of that lost attention.
The last two to claim the stage were Eric Hirshberg with Activision and, wait for it … Chris Metson from Blizzard Entertainment. Hirshberg announced that Bungie would be releasing their upcoming game Destiny to the PlayStation 4 with exclusive content, and Metson revealed Diablo 3 coming to both PS3 and PS4. Destiny certainly is riding a wave of excitement and hype, but Diablo 3 is … less so. Either way, the future opportunities of having these two names tied to PS4 will certainly increase the appeal to many a gamer.
Sony left several questions still filling the minds of many viewers. What does the console look like? How much will it cost? What is the release date? As much as people want these answers, unfortunately for us, Sony has almost a year to continue revealing information and building hype, so only time will tell.
Look forward to the upcoming episode of Giant Fire Breathing Robot’s video game podcast, Pyronauts, for a more skeptical, speculative, and opinionated take on the PlayStation 4.
All images via the official PlayStation Blog.