PlayStation 4 thoughts

Console launches are quite exciting, and also quite stressful. As someone who enjoys the industry, and wants to see it progress in meaningful ways, as someone that may think about being a part of it in some way or another in the future, I do want  those with influence in the industry (such as platform holders) not to mess it up.

Sony's conference the 20th was alright. The presentation, looking back at it, wasn't the best use of time. They had some very important details out there at the beginning and I enjoyed what they were telling me at the start, but the game demos and then engine demos were mostly a waste of time. As it is difficult to actually see if they've done anything wrong at this point with the platform, I'll just filter through what I like and why.

I'm looking at this based on what Sony is telling us, there is of course plenty of room for Sony to mess this up.(continued)

System specifications

x86

x86! I was hearing these rumours about a "PC-like" architecture but I don't think I ever took them that literally, I didn't know what it was supposed to mean, but I really wasn't expecting them to go with x86. But, I suppose it makes sense, the powerful x86 CPUs are now also very power efficient and smaller, and of course it is the most familiar architecture for developers. I'm happy about this for the same reason I imagine game developers will be happy about this, the ease of development and the ease of crossover between the PC and PS4 (and hopefully the Next Xbox).

We shouldn't have to deal with the same problems the PS3 faced in regards to bad ports, and the PC will likely see a boost in terms of port quality because of this too.

Memory

8GB of GDDR5 unified memory. The amount didn't surprise me too much, but 8GB of GDDR5? I have to say that is a little surprising. The upside is self explanatory, developers not only have a lot of very fast memory, but Sony should also have a lot to play with for their system.

Secondary chip for background tasks

This got me very excited, not just for the functional purposes of it, but because I think it represents a product developed by people who seem to value a good user experience, and that is not something the PS3 was known for. Having a dedicated secondary chip manage background updates, uploads, downloads, recording, encoding, decoding, etc, is perfect and it leaves a lot of room for even more applications of it, too.

Software features and services

Interface

Based on what we have seen so far, it looks clean, it looks smooth, it looks well thought out and consistent. That is based off tightly controlled glimpses we have had, so there is still plenty of room for Sony to mess this one up, but fantastic first impression.

Social features

This isn't something that is particularly prevalent in the console industry at the moment, so we have seen a lot of console only gamers being a little confused by the idea of streaming your game for others to watch. "Why would you want to do that? I don't want to watch other people play games!"

Alright, then don't. It is however quite a big thing at the moment in PC gaming, with people gaining significant popularity and audience numbers from streaming. There are dedicated competition channels, people who just stream their regular play sessions with interactions with an audience, or just people who stream to a small group of friends. Streaming is of course most popular among the competitive games, something that perhaps isn't taken as seriously in the console industry yet (I'm talking Starcraft II, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, DoTA, etc).

Sony announced the ability to stream your game live, to upload gameplay footage directly from your console (as it should be always recording the last 15 minutes of play), allow other players to take control of your game and play it for you (to "help you"). The way Sony have explained all this, with small demonstrations (they uploaded the footage of their Killzone: Shadow Fall live demo on stage), I like it. I may not use all of it, but I like it because again, it shows a competency and understanding that Sony have perhaps failed on in the past generation.

Gaikai

Some of the above seems to be assisted by Sony's acquisition of Gaikai, but we're also seeing a fair bit more. When we first learned of the acquisition, I was expecting a simple streaming service with Sony just writing a client for their PlayStation console, but no, we're seemingly seeing the core of the technology both server and client make it into the console, they're suggesting some expansion of the basic feature set, including the ability to start playing a game you're downloading straight away.

We're not talking about traditional streaming here, the game is still downloaded and once it has finished downloading you'll be able to play it natively on your machine. But whilst the game is being downloaded, you will be able to play it, the game will stream in real time to your machine, just like it would off a blu-ray disc. We are also seeing it utilised for game demos, no need to download them, just instantly start and play them.

PSVita & mobile integration

This sort of follows on from the previous topic. They've said they're using the Gaikai tech to improve remote play, suggesting that they should be able to run all PS4 games on your Vita. The concept in itself isn't particularly new, the PSVita can already technically do all that. The idea that all PS4 games will support it is, however, is the exciting thing as currently only a handful of PS3 games support remote play.

and...

Sony's answer to smartglass. They have announced they will have iOS and Android apps for your tablet and phone to interact with your PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation network at large, suggesting again, it may be possible to stream certain "experiences" to whatever device you please.

The question

This all seems very nice, Sony seemed to have learned a lot from the last generation just based on what they are saying. But how will these features be implemented? Have they planned ahead and implemented these features at a system level, developers should only be able to interact with these system level features in a way that enhances it with functionality/changes for a specific game, ideally, a developer should not be able to disable them.

Sony: Enforce some standards. 

If you want to publish a game on our system, players will be able to:

  • Broadcast their games live to a specified streaming service

  • Upload video clips of their games

  • Upload screenshots of their games

  • Be able to stream it to devices such as the PSVita for remote play

  • Be able to use all those other social features mentioned.

This isn't "Oh, we have this feature if you want to implement it!" - That isn't how it works. Developers just will not use it, you need not look further than the PlayStation 3 for evidence of this. Developers don't want to do extra work to enhance the functionality of your system, you do that.

Thankfully, this conference gave me a little more faith that Sony knows this. The Sony that made the PlayStation 3 is not the Sony that has been working on the PlayStation 4, you can see that in who they've hired to work on it, you can see that in who they chose to present it, and you can see that with the distinct lack of Sony Japan at the conference, it was dominated by SCE Europe with bits of SCE America.