Sony unveiled their newest game system today, but the PlayStation 4 console itself was absent from the entire presentation. Sony reps talked up specs (HD-Report’s Sam Jordan goes in depth) and showed off an update to their DualShock controller– DualShock 4 features a trackpad and “Share” button, as Sony’s betting on a more dynamic social gaming experience to woo players who already are busy shooting up enemies and talking smack about it via headsets, but whatever –social gaming was the biggest deal at the PlayStation event, with Sony’s beloved game developers getting a chance to showcase their newest creations. In fact, touting the PS4’s robust gaming engine and upgraded developer tools was pretty much the event’s raison d’être. If you LOVE seeing trailers of games that look like ace cinematographer Roger Deakins lensed an all-too convincing (and engrossing) virtual reality movie, then this two-hour gathering of developers and the people who love them was all about you.
The PS4 is meant to blow gamers away with breathtaking graphics, more detailed environments, and more nuance in actual gameplay. Some of the titles presented, particularly the paranoid gameplay of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs and Capcom’s Deep Down, were visually impressive, but there was nothing remarkable about the type of games presented (first-person shooters, hidden object games that owe a debt to Myst, cute/cartoon-type offerings, medieval adventures are typical of the games sneaked to the event audience). Though other features of the eventual console have yet to be announced (no word on Blu-ray upgrade, or if 4K resolution can be handled, but the video standards known thus far indicate the PS4 will be able to present 1280 x 800 video at up to 60fps, 640 x 400 at up to 120fps and 320 x 192 at up to 240fps), and there was no discussion of new apps of the non-gaming variety that may have been added like, er, um… a Pandora app perhaps, but nahhhhh, not if it would compete with Sony’s own Music Unlimited (formerly Qriocity) service I gather… Rather, the PS4 event highlighted streaming games, with all PS native games from the past expected to be playable on PS devices at some point in the future (PS4, Vita: the PS Ecosystem as Sony reps referred to it), though something tells me that the fine details are still being worked out on this.
A games-on-demand system of every PS native title is enticing, but Sony reps really mentioned it as a matter of their bigger plans for the PlayStation Cloud Service that is being built (as Sony has recently given the project the greenlight). The cloud service will be rolled out slowly, but may become the most important feature of the PS4 as the marketplace becomes crowded by casual/mobile gaming, if anything it will keep gamers playing longer in the PS ecosystem (or walled garden, as it were).
The most important aspect of the PS4 for gamers is that the relationship between the gamers themselves and the developers who craft the worlds they love to play in will be broken down considerably allowing for greater interaction between the players and the world-builders at UbiSoft, Square Enix, Blizzard (having that developer move from games exclusively for PCs and MMORPGs and come back to game development for consoles via the PS4 is a big win for Sony), Bungie, Capcom, etc.
Though the “always-on” sharing function of the PS4 will allow players to interact with greater nuance and share aspects of the games not previously open to viewing (spectating by non-playing users, sharing of private play information, settings, awards/achievements, etc., the ability to have friends take over your spot in a game, and other ways to broadcast your playtime), the big take-away from Sony is that developers will also have access to the way gamers are actually playing the games and can even reach out to top-gamers as “directors” of virtual worlds. Whether this means hiring players at the game companies, or simply allowing their hacks to be incorporated for other users to access remains to be seen, but it will definitely mean developers will be listening and reacting to players in order to make games and virtual worlds even better.
Sony did not announce the price of the missing console (with DualShock4 controller it’s likely to be in the $400 range initially per the rumors), nor did it mention if the console would be backward compatible (since they talked up the cloud, it’s doubtful your old PS1/PS2 or PS3 discs will work with the gaming system), but it did indicate that PS4 games would largely be downloadable for storage onto the 8GB hard-drive in the unit, and instantly playable as they loaded (more than likely, PS4 games will be available on disc as usual, but Sony is pushing the online purchasing process for serious gamers). The Vita was also on Sony’s mind as it continues to move into mobile gaming, but also highlighted the fact that the Vita will act as a second screen to the PS4 and allow remote play (from PS4 as a server to Vita as the actual gaming unit on-the-go). As for a release date… well, here’s what Sony reps left us with as the event came to a close: