PS4 Launch Event
I’m always a little excited when new console season rolls around, and avidly watch the press conferences with excitement. These events are usually the first chance I have to decide which console(s) I’m going to pick up.
So, I sat through Sony’s livestream of their launch event last night. Maybe this is all you need by way of summary. Rather than excitedly devouring every morsel of information thrown my way and internalising it, I instead “sat-through” over two hours of tedious drivel. Like it was a chore.
Was there anything worthwhile there? A little. Here’s a summary:
SONY’S CONSOLE IS INVISIBLE
The most observed thing about the event was that Sony didn’t give much detail about the console itself, no box, no price, no firm date. I’m not too upset about this as such conferences are becoming more and more common these days, and you don’t want to tie yourselves down to such details when your opponents haven’t tipped their hands yet. However, it’s hard to become excited about statements like “it will have a powerful GPU.” Really? I thought they were moving to the “real time pictures drawn by leprechauns” system for the PS4.
SONY THINKS WE WANT GAMING TO TAKE OVER OUR LIVES
The most vaunted new features were “social features”. A bunch of menus that let you tune into your friend’s consoles and watch them play, or take over their game and do stuff for them. They also want to have your games output information to various other streams, so “your gaming experience can extend to other parts of your life.” Sony talked of gamers sitting in their private towers engaging in a solitary activity (or maybe with friends on a sofa) and how they wanted to change this.
Thing is: I like that my gaming is a close personal thing. I can’t think of any reason I’d want to sit down and tune my TV in to watch a friend playing videogames. I really have better things to do. I don’t have enough time to play through my own games, let alone watch someone else play through theirs. When I’m out and about, I don’t want to be checking auction houses, and I don’t want to be getting facebook updates from Lara Croft.
There was one neat feature I liked in all of this, a diamond in the rough. The PS4 records the last few minutes of your game, and at any time you can pause the game and easily pull out a video clip of what happened and “upload it to the web”. My gut feeling is that this will be some kind of locked propriety format, or maybe limited to only going onto youtube/facebook/twitter or something – but if the console lets you save your video replays into a private dropbox as avi files, I can see myself having quite a bit of fun with this.
Of course, what this will actually accomplish, is millions of banal “let’s play” videos of every new game cluttering up youtube – but I see a small potential sideline in building a Icanhascheezburger style blog of funny videogame bug videos. here’s hoping.
SONY ARE GOING TO HAVE TECHNICAL PROBLEMS
You’d think a large tech company livecasting a console launch for a console that’s supposed to be always connected to everything could get this right – but large portions of the show were lost to me while I waited for the video to buffer. Again and again. There was an entire section on “PS4, the creative console” that I just missed, because the video didn’t work.
This is the same problem that Blizzard had with Diablo 3, the game might have been fun to play, perhaps even worth your time – if it had been playable at all. We are simply not yet ready for the stage where our games are required to be permanently tethered to the web. Perhaps when the PS4 is reaching the end of its lifespan we’ll have the infrastructure, but right now it’s still not ready. If Sony and developers start to rely on this as a fundamental part of their design ethos, then gaming with Playstation is going to be come a very frustrating unhappy place.
THE GRAPHICS ARE PRETTY
“BY DEVELOPERS FOR DEVELOPERS”
Sony made a big thing of how they had “consulted loads of game studios to see what they wanted.” From their videos, it seems that every game developer wants a different thing, and it was unclear if they took any of the advice on board. They did invite lots of developers to speak about games, and while most of them used the platform simply to stand on stage and look smug about being all important, a few of them did impart some useful ideas and wisdom. Not many though.
While there was lots of mention of “for developers” there was no mention of “for gamers.” – at a guess, there’ll be a lot of irritating DRM. Sony do love DRM.
THE HOMESCREEN IS FULL OF CRAP
The message Sony sent was that they wanted gamers to access the stuff they want “immediately” and yet Sony have abandoned their old streamlined frontpage for a Microsoft style advertising smorgasbord of little square tiles telling me I want netflix, or wrestling games. I don’t. Get out of my television.
Seriously Sony. Go and boot Steam, and take some design notes from the Library tab.
They did mention that you can now suspend play and have the console go to a low power state when you turn it off, allowing you to turn it back on and resume play “instantly”. I’m not really sure how this functionally differs from my pause button on my current console, other than in power consumption. If the console boots up quickly to this point, it’ll be a very small, but welcome addition.
DOWNLOADING GAMES FROM THE CLOUD MIGHT ACTUALLY BE GOOD
From the looks of it, if I buy a PS4 game online, I can start playing it the moment I buy it, as the console downloads the game in the background. Pretty clever actually.
NEARLY ALL THE GAMES ARE TEDIOUS.
Sony showed a lot of launch games. This is a good sign, because you want a healthy catalogue of games when you launch a console (Especially a console that won’t take PS3 disks. Grr.) While these games were very pretty graphically the majority of them were overwhelmingly dull in terms of innovation. Killzone featured lots of crouching behind chest-high walls. Driveclub seemed to entirely be composed of graphics of the dashboard and ceiling of a sportscar, Capcom decided they wanted to make Skyrim, yaddah yaddah.
There were two brief moments of hope during the endless parade of developers that were cruelly dashed:
The first was when Squaresoft showed up to make a big announcement about Final Fantasy. Big dramatic pause. The announcement was that there will be an announcement at E3.
The second was when Blizzard popped up to announce a partnership with Sony. Interesting! Blizzard going back to console? What new exciting IP have they been working on for this momentous occasion? Diablo 3.
NOT ALL THE GAMES ARE TEDIOUS
There were two actual games shown that I liked the look of.
The first was “Witness” – from the same minds that developed Braid. That’s enough to take my money right away. The philosophy thrown out for this really clicked with me – finally someone who understands what makes a game good! Phrases like “It’s an open world, but we think walking around a massive open world just pads gameplay, and is really boring, so we put all the interesting places you might want right now within 20s walk of where you currently are” are a welcome relief amongst the thousands of games that are full of vast empty rolling fields. The trailer didn’t really look too exciting though. A bit like Myst would look if all the puzzles were mazes. Still, it’ll be interesting to pit this one against Antichamber.
The second game shown was “Watchdogs.” This remains the most exciting AAA game in development, although the new video didn’t show of anything that wasn’t in the first videos.
In a word?