I’m what you might call a late adopter. You won’t find me first in line for new software or gadgets, and I don’t typically buy into hype-fueled trailers or buzzword-laden press conferences. Typically, my eyes start rolling as soon as phrases like “epic, open world” or “interactive experiences gamers have never seen before” start being vomited onto a stage.
So when I casually flicked on Sony’s Playstation 4 announcement stream yesterday (having it running at low volume while I did things I actually wanted to focus on), it’s not an exaggeration to say I couldn’t have cared less.
But around half an hour into the Playstation 4 announcement, after the typical, masturbatory “history of our company” segment and the expected but unexciting “we still sell stuff other than Playstation bullet points,” Sony execs began talking about the actual capabilities of the Playstation 4. All of a sudden, the little gears in the interest-generating lobe of my brain (the back part) started turning. The Playstation 4 actually started sounding good. Could it be true?
No terrifying motion control gimmicks
Sony’s belly flop of a follow-up to the Wii and Kinect, the Move controller system, demonstrated that the Playstation 3 team was willing to chase after the latest gimmicks, no matter late in the game or how poorly integrated that system could be. We watched behind internet-shielded cringes as PR reps danced around with glowing orbs in their hands, continually touting the revolutionary nature of the technology they basically copied.* Sony’s Move ultimately fell far short of the market penetration for Wii consoles and Kinect devices, but there was always the threat of another gimmick-geared comeback.
With the official reveal of the Playstation 4 controller, the ingeniously named Dual Shock 4, Sony has assuaged my fears. Yes, the Dual Shock 4 uses the Eye Motion camera to carry over 3D positioning technology pioneered with the Move, but it’s been integrated into the controller in a non-obtrusive manner. 3D movement will certainly be an option for devs, but you won’t have to whip out a colored wand in order to interact with new games in novel ways.
The rest of the controller is equally reassuring, with the solid-looking d-pad, analog sticks, and buttons we’ve come to expect since the first Playstation. A tiny touchscreen offers some of the functionality of the Wii U without becoming a needlessly all-consuming tablet, but it’s really the Share button that caught my attention.
Social sharing is a game changer
I never thought being on the supporting side of interconnect social media would be the devil’s advocate position, but by the end of Sony’s conference, sites like Reddit and Gamespot were already filled with bitter, sarcastic comments about the stupidity of the Share button.
Overreaction much? I’d like to think I’m not the only person with friends who play videogames, or that I’m not the only person who uses games as a way to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while (separated by distance or schedules). When Sony says I can do more than just chat with friends, I can see their screen or possibly interact directly in their current game session at the touch of a button, I dunno, that sounds kind of cool. Perhaps I’m not antisocial enough to spitefully sneer at the idea of interacting with other human beings, but I like the concept of making games more interpersonal than before.
Of course, the Share button is also upping the ante in another direction – media creation. Up until now, game videos have been limited to users with high-end PC rigs or expensive, difficult-to-wire PVR capture devices. With the Playstation 4′s background capture feature and one-button recording/uploading capabilities, the internet is about to be opened up to a metric shit-ton of new gaming footage.
Will a lot of it be terrible? Sure it will. But we’re also going to discover new gaming prodigies and hilarious little moments that could never be recorded before, either because players didn’t have the money, the time, or the technological know-how to make it happen. Yes, players like RaininStormwake are good at Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, but you only know that because he’s put the energy into overcoming technological obstacles to sharing his gameplay. Once every player can upload footage, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.
And hey – it’s not reserved for pros. If you can quickly record a funny segment of a game and send it to a friend, all the better. It’s just another layer of social interaction that will keep the Playstation Network a more lively place.
Insane cloud computing
I won’t go into all the details, but Sony’s announcement of highly integrated, cloud-based services could be ushering in a new era of always-on gaming. The capability to auto-resume games and videos just by turning on the console is already impressive, but streaming the experience directly to the PS Vita is another. If the capability exists to then take that game on the go, outside of the home, the Wii U has just been officially trumped.
Not only that, Sony went out of its way to explain that Playstation 4 experiences will continue beyond its hardware, with Android and iOS apps (no surprise console competitor Microsoft’s Windows 8 phones are excluded) to provide additional on-the-go entertainment. Imagine playing a single player game on PS4, taking it with you on the train via your PS Vita, then managing your character’s outfits and inventory during midday downtime on your mobile phone. This is exactly the kind of all-encompassing media experience I’ve hoped for, and it looks like Sony will deliver it… they’ll try, at least.
Sony also announced that the Playstation 4 will be able to stream downloadable titles, loading necessary game files first so players can begin their adventures before the process is entirely complete. And with insinuations that the libraries of all previous Playstation games might be available for streaming play, this console could, for the first time, offer a digital library service that rivals Steam’s for versatility and speed.
The gauntlet has been thrown
I never thought I’d say this going into Sony’s conference, but Microsoft, Nintendo, and even Valve are on notice. Completely contrary to my previous, cynical expectations, Sony has revealed that it’s not just playing catch-up with shiny graphics and gimmicks, it understands what the next generation of console gaming can actually be. Gaming anywhere on the go, transferring experiences between devices and players, sharing footage and screenshots without extra hardware, and of course, impressive graphical capabilities.
Nintendo’s already played its hand with the Wii U, which is looking significantly less relevant as of right now. Microsoft has kept mum about its exact reveal window for the next Xbox, but suffice it to say, they’ve got their work cut out for them. That said, the American company has recently been on a hardware roll, with award-winning smartphones and tablets, so anything’s possible… including a now overlyoptimistic blogger being hugely let down and resuming his jaded view of the gaming world.
*Don’t get me wrong – other companies were just as much at fault as Sony was, but the Japanese giant wasn’t exactly helping the situation.