Thursday, February 28, 2013

Live In Your World, Play in Ours

Sony unveiled their latest console, the Playstation 4 a week ago at a New York City event. So far the competitors for this console generation are the Wii U, Ouya, Gamestick and Steambox and Microsoft’s next Xbox console. The Sony event released some information on the technical specifications of the Playstation 4 along with some ways that Sony will innovate the home consoles market.

Playstation 4’s technical specifications are what I would expect of a new Sony console. It has eight CPU cores, a much stronger GPU and has 8GB of RAM. The Playstation 4 has 16 times more RAM than an Xbox 360 (512MB) and 4 times as much as the Wii U (2 GB). Obviously the Xbox 360 is going to be outdated since the console has been out for about 6 years but its shows you how behind the Wii U will be when Playstation 4 is released. Sony is gearing their Playstation 4 towards the traditional gamers and I believe that is the right step for them to stay viable in this industry.

Playstation 4 is much more developer friendly then its predecessor. The unique Cell processor that Sony boasted about at the release of Playstation 3 was harder to program for and thus made it some what more difficult for developers. However Sony has learned from the past and decided to work with developers in creating a new console that would be easier to create games. A great third party support will help Sony capture a larger market share of traditional gamers (very reminiscent of Playstation 2 era). Bungie’s Destiny was announced to appear on the Playstation 4 which is not too surprising since they have been recruiting Playstation experienced programmers. A new Final Fantasy made by Square Enix is also not very surprising since it is generally expected to have a new numbered Final Fantasy game. However these two announcements indicate that two top developers are already working towards creating games that could be released early on in the Playstation 4’s life helping Sony capture the interest of more gamers.

Sony recently acquired the cloud gaming service Gaikai and is planning on using the knowledge from Gaikai to incorporate streaming into the Playstation 4. Media streaming from your favorite provider such as Netflix and Hulu will still be a part of the Playstation 4 experience however the Gaikai merger allows for games to become integrated into this streaming framework. Playstation 1, 2 and 3 games will work on a cloud service to allow for maximum compatibility but will not be available at the launch of Playstation 4. Gamers will also be able to download and instantly play the game while it continues to download because of a specific processor working in the background. Sony has even stated that they are working on a way to identify which games you would be most likely to purchase next and then have it automatically download before you even purchase it so you have immediate access.

Sony stated early on that they wanted the Playstation 4 to become a much more social console. I was mistaken in believing that they wanted to become similar to the Wii U’s socially driven hardware choices. However Sony’s view of a more social console is one that I especially looking forward to. The Playstation 4 controller has a “share” button that allows users to stream their current gameplay on to the internet. Other gamers will be able to watch this stream and partake in helping the person out by giving items, helpful hints on where to go and even joining the session. This is actually a feature I’ve been hoping for since a lot of my friends enjoy taking turns at a playing a single player game or like to back seat play while one person is playing. The Playstation 4 will also connect to various social media networks and allow your friends to come join your game sessions. Sony has also stated that players will be able to turn off the social features and play offline. The live video game streams will also be available on other devices through a Playstation App so that friends who don’t own a Playstation 4 can still watch you play on their Apple or Android devices.

So far the Playstation 4 announcement seems to have no flaws but under close inspection there seems to be a few minor details. Obviously the Playstation 3 Dual Shock 3 will not be supported since the new controller utilizes a touch pad and a Playstation Move light sensor. It would have been nice to be allowed the use of the Dual Shock 3 for older games on the cloud service but the Playstation 4 controller does not deviate to far from the original design. It is a bit more rounded then the Dual Shock 3 so I would need to actually hold the controller to see if that ends up becoming a problem. We also did not see any pictures of a prototype or final image of the physical console. While this is not really crucial at the moment, it would have been nice to see maybe a design or concept of the Playstation 4. Something that I noticed looking back at the list of games becoming available on Sony’s latest console was the lack of first party games. I’m sure Sony is working on those games as I write this but it would have been great to see some of those games in action since Sony should be furthest along in developing games compared to third party developers.

The major flaw that I see so far is the lack of any physical backwards compatibility. While you will be able to stream all the original games, any physical copy that you own will be useless on the Playstation 4. This also means that any digital purchases of Playstation 1, 2 and 3 games will not work natively. Hopefully Sony will be able to transfer your purchases from the Playstation Network into the streaming service so you won’t have to buy these games again but only time will tell. However this streaming service is a long term solution for Sony. If Sony tried to create emulators for all the Playstation 1, 2 and 3 games, it would raises costs for every system after the Playstation 4 since they would need to adapt those emulators for each of the new structures. However adapting a cloud based streaming service is much easier and will reduce costs that hopefully will be transferred over to the customers.

Playstation 4 seems to be an incredible system aimed towards the traditional gaming audience. Their utilization of the cloud gaming service Gaikai and creating a much more sociable console will certainly help them create a great gaming experience. I believe that Sony’s Playstation 4 is moving the video game industry in the right direction towards a brighter future. I’m looking forward to seeing what Microsoft and Valve will have to offer for this generation.

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