PlayStation 4: The SK View

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A good portion of the Splitkick crew was attached to their computers Wednesday night, watching the livestream of Sony’s press conference announcing the Playstation 4. Naturally, with anything as important as the launch of a brand-new gaming platform, we’re going to have thoughts – and varied ones. The event focused a lot on the overall experience, features, and games (hopefully) arriving at or shortly after launch. Since pricing was not announced, there’s only so much judgment we can offer, since there are very few bad gaming devices, but good devices at bad prices.

Jim Hunter, Editor-in-Chief

Last night, SCEA’s Nick Suttner tweeted the following:

@nsuttner: Btw, indie devs: we’re open, friendly, and we want you making games on ALL of our platforms. Hit me up and we’ll get you started.

While maybe not a completely new idea for Sony as Suttner’s job is to help bring indie to PlayStation, just the simple fact that this appears to be a large focus of the PlayStation 4 makes me smile wider than I have in a long time. Instead of shuffling small and independent development to some tiny menu, it appears that the PS4 will stand alongside those willing to put in the effort and release games. It is the exact mindset that I’m looking for this next generation.

ps4-1The PS4 appears to be able to house some serious hardware (8GB of RAM in a console?) and will be putting out some sweet high-fidelity games, but we kind of already knew that would all be possible. It would have been foolish to not expect more polys and particles and physics. What we didn’t expect though was the clear focus on games instead of an entertainment device. I’m sure it will still run Netflix and Hulu, but as a longtime gamer, continuing to put the focus on what people originally used these platforms for is refreshing.

My biggest problem is with the lack of PSN compatibility. I don’t find it a huge deal that disc-based, current gen games won’t be able to be played, but there are a ton of people that have lots of cash tied up with digital releases. While Sony has stated that they hope to use Gaikai to bridge the PS3/4 gap, that will likely come with a cost. I personally have a lot less money invested in PSN than Xbox Live, but it’s a very rough precedent to set moving forward. PlayStation Plus as we know it will likely undergo drastic changes.

Lastly, I’m excited that Sony will allow all PS4 games to played on the Vita. Instead of making a second screen the focus of their platform, it’s an ancillary feature that benefits those of us who bought into their handheld system. Sony has taken the single feature that everyone in the games press lauded with the Wii U, and spotlighted it.

I just wish they weren’t still calling Gaikai, Gaikai.

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David Hughes, Editor

I’ll admit that my reactions during the event consistently oscillated between snark and “LOL PC Gaming FTW.” I am who I am. Reading through some posts after the event, thinking some more, and I can see some promise.

First and foremost, it’s about the games, and there were some interesting things showed off. If Sony can nab exclusivity, or at least console exclusivity, the PS4 will be instantly compelling. We’ve seen Beyond and Watch Dogs before, but they’re still intriguing. The new Killzone goes in a bizarre new art direction, so different that I don’t quite understand why it’s still using that brand. So on and so forth.

The video sharing features sound really interesting, but are most people’s Internet connections ready for this? Upstream connections of the average consumer are abysmal, taking many hours to upload twenty minutes of even badly compressed 1080p video. Remote play with the Vita sounds great, but it sounded great when the PS3 launched and we were supposed to see integration with the PSP. Third time’s the charm?

I’ll be honest, the social feature of letting a friend “take over” your game is just bizarre. And more than a little creepy. Hopefully there will be an appropriate set of filters to keep the trolls away.

ps4-6And then there’s the tech. It’s impossible to adequately judge badly compressed video streams for Image Quality (IQ), but the generational leap is a little stronger than many were expecting. On the CPU front, current and previous gen PCs are already at parity with the eight-core Jaguar-core AMD part used here, but games are increasingly bottlenecked on the GPU side of the equation. Most were expecting a GPU based on the Radeon 7800M series, but based on the quoted 1.8 Teraflops theoretical compute power, we’re looking at a derivative of the 7970M, AMD’s most powerful mobile GPU.

Combine this with a massive 8GB of high-speed GDDR5 (shared for the entire system) and PS4 titles should look quite impressive at 1080p, especially since couch distance is already more forgiving than desk distance. High-end PC setups above $1,000 already have parity, if not superiority, but console owners will finally see the equivalent of our “HD texture packs”. Lighting and other rendering techniques will improve IQ substantially with the extra throughput, particularly since console developers typically have very low-level access to the hardware for optimizing.

If enough games come at launch or in Q1 2014, PS4 could gain some massive momentum. I remain skeptical about the “value add” features like Remote Play and video sharing. If the “instant” suspend and resume function works as advertised, it sounds fantastic. Used games are still a thing, which is also great. Tell me price and whether we’ll have to pay for online multiplayer, then we might have a deal Sony.

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Jett Landicho, Editor

The PlayStation 4, at this early juncture, appears to be the product of lessons learned. Many of the system’s selling points aim to directly address the deficiencies of the PlayStation 3, from its difficult-to-develop-for hardware, to the lack of a headphone jack on the controller. For a brand that just a generation ago turned a blind eye to the needs of developers and consumers in favor of maximum horsepower, this represents a welcome shift in philosophy.

This new system also demonstrates their forward thinking, especially when it comes to the platform’s suite of streaming services. They range wildly in scope and ambition, from the obvious ability to stream your action online directly from the console, to the wacky ability to play your friend’s game remotely. If Sony can actually deliver on the promise of all of these proposed services (and if consumer-grade internet can actually run it) then count me in for all of it.

As a believer in the Wii U GamePad, I’m glad to see the concepts of touch control and Off-TV Play make their way into the PS4. The new Dual Shock features a touchpad in the middle of it, while the Vita will supposedly gain the ability to play all PS4 games through Remote Play. Though neither feature completely negates the uniqueness of the Wii U GamePad, it doesn’t really need to until Nintendo can prove its worth themselves. For now, the touchpad and Remote Play (if they finally get it right this time) should more than suffice.

Outside of the bad news of it not supporting any of your digital PS3 content, I came away from that presentation more excited for the PS4 than originally anticipated. Though it remains to be seen whether they can fully deliver on everything they’ve promised thus far, I get the sense that Sony is on the right track this time. I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about the console and its upcoming software lineup in the coming months.

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Daniel Tolin, Video Producer

Like David, I usually jump on the side of the ‘PC Gaming Master Race’ at events like this, but I was honestly quite impressed with what Sony showed.

First and foremost they focused on what is most important at the announcement of a new console, showing off a pretty strong selection of first party games. I personally thought the sheer amount of detail and definition in the trailers for Killzone: Shadow Fall, DriveClub and especially the new ‘Panta Rhei’ engine showcased by Capcom was outstanding, far eclipsing anything on offer in the current generation and even putting current PC titles to shame. The quality of these videos also left me with a fairly large worry that what was on show was not necessarily actual in-game footage of any of these titles. Sony has been known to use footage from FMV video and call it ‘in game’ in the past, specifically with the first showing of Killzone 2 when the Playstation 3 was first announced. Mock footage is something of an issue when it comes to events like these since it’s really easy to put a gun in front of the camera and call it ‘gameplay’.

By far the most interesting and possibly controversial announcement at the event however, was the appearance of Diablo III on consoles. It doesn’t matter what your personal feelings may be on the game, the truth is that Diablo III was an incredibly successful title on PC and the franchise is unmistakably well known to console and computer gamers alike, making this an extremely powerful play by Sony. I can see this game alone being enough to sell both PS3 and PS4 consoles with relative ease if Sony can make some sort of exclusivity deal with Blizzard/Activision. The addition of 4-player couch co-op was an outstanding idea and would be enough even for me to buy the game again just to play it with a few friends at home in the same room.

The streaming/sharing functionality is a great addition to console gaming, finally giving this ability to average gamers who don’t have access to the additional equipment normally required to stream gameplay. My only concern here is both Sony’s ability to moderate what could potentially end up being tens of thousands of concurrent channels and if Sony has a new online service that would actually be capable of handling the streams without much difficulty because Playstation Network in its current form is a slow, awkward mess.

If Sony handles things well, they could really have a winner on their hands this time around. I personally think that if the system can release with an attractive price point, a much better online service and they allow the system the ability to play used titles, Sony really shouldn’t have anything to worry about in the coming generation. I really don’t care that they never showed the console itself, to me it just means they haven’t settled on a design for the machine yet. As long as they keep making good decisions there will be no complaints from me!

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Martin Perry, Reviews Editor

It’s pretty easy for me to sum up my feelings about both the PlayStation 4 and its announcement: It was coherent. Which is a really nice change for Sony.

From the outset, it always appeared to me as though the PlayStation 3 lacked any clear vision. Technical power was important, and you could tell that they were keen on providing people with a machine that felt ideologically connected to the PlayStation heritage. Other than that? Well, it was all really vague. The network was half-baked. The launch releases lacked genre diversity and a number of tentpole titles. The price was mental. The Sixaxis was clearly a rush job marred with patent troubles. The architecture was causing developers headaches. Progressive features were missing, including several that were clearly rising in importance within the industry. The list goes on and on.

With the PlayStation 4, the story feels different. Developer support is exceptionally strong, with positive comments on the development environment coming from people I don’t believe you could bribe to say them. The controller has been given a distinct, yet respectful upgrade. The games are there, with key franchises present from big first-party developers. Most importantly? I get a strong sense of a singular vision. Openness.

From the sharing features, to the instant access to store content, all the way to the friendly welcome being given to independent developers, it feels like the PlayStation 4 is all about being open. They want me to be connected. The want me to be able to share my experience in multiple ways. And they want me to have great fun doing it, with a commitment to simplicity in order to make that as easy for me as possible.

The PlayStation 4, after that presentation, represents a Sony Computer Entertainment division who are all singing the same tune. That makes me feel very good about what they have coming down the pipe, and it should make Microsoft a little nervous if they don’t have an equally extensive and strong offering. Right now, they have me as a day one adopter, and I have a tendency to say pretty negative things about those sort of people.

Fingers crossed they don’t screw it up.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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