Wednesday, February 27, 2013

1UP's PlayStation 4 Roundtable: Opinions, Analysis, and Community Reactions

Jose Otero: At the PlayStation event, Sony showed some of the best and worst kept secrets in the gaming industry. We all got our first peek at the PlayStation 4's controller and the rumored social features, like the ability to allow other users to spectate the games you're currently playing. I went into this thing unsure of how social features would help boost this upcoming generation of hardware, but I walked away impressed by all of the possibilities. Today's Internet thrives on a socially connected culture where people share pictures, video, and information at a rapid pace. It only makes sense that games would go in the same direction. The next gen doesn't appear driven by graphics and polygons like the previous one's that came before. If Sony placed their bets properly, it's more about the social features and what they bring to the table.
Marty Sliva: Yeah, one of the biggest things I took aware from the conference was Sony's push to make the PS4 the first social network with "meaning," their words, not mine. Strange verbiage aside, they said all of the right things to make me believe that this could be the first console to succeed in connecting gamers on the same level that a platform like Facebook does. The idea of being able to watch what my buddies are playing on the fly, or upload something amazing that just happened in whatever game I might be playing is promising to say the least. If "Let's Plays" seem popular now, just wait until any kid with a PS4 can record commentary without ever leaving their living room.
But while everything sounded great on paper, whether or not it all ends up panning out is a different story. These promises reminded me a lot of what Microsoft showcased at the 360 unveiling back in May of 2005 -- remember Surfer Girl and the strange, ephemeral ideas of selling your virtual goods via Xbox Live?
JO: Oh man. It's true. I don't think anyone at Microsoft knows what happened to Xbox Live Anywhere, but I feel like the expectations of social networks have changed a lot since then. When Live Anywhere was a thing, most of us were still using MySpace and just switching to Facebook. Sharable user-created videos weren't a big thing on the Internet.
Of course, all of Sony's promises on stage could end up the same as Microsoft's vision of the future, but they appeared to have their act together this time. This wasn't the same Sony that showed a bunch of tech demos with unwavering confidence in 2005. Back then they thought they would remain the industry's top dog. Sony made some major mistakes with the PlayStation 3, and it looks like their next console could correct a lot of them. When they revealed that Mark Cerny was the Lead System Architect, it made a major statement: Here's a guy who's worked on a lot of important games in his long career. Someone who understands the needs of developers and could help Sony get away from creating an unfriendly system architecture. A guy who could help them design a console based around the need of developers.
There was no Cell processor equivalent announced for the PS4. Instead, Cerny went over a lot of big picture ideas during his time on stage. He divulged a few tech specs and then continued to talk about the community features of the PS4. And if they come together, this could be a big thing for Sony.
MS: It's no surprise that one of the PS3's biggest missteps was the intense barrier to entry needed in order to learn and understand the hardware. Cerny's time on stage really pointed at the fact that Sony is focused on making the PS4 a more accommodating device to both developers and gamers alike. But aside from these broader social promises of the PS4, the other big non-software talking point came in the form of Sony's Cloud initiative.
One of the worst kept secrets of the conference was Sony's partnership with Gaikai, a Cloud gaming platform. A lot of time at this event was spent highlighting some of the really cool features that Gaikai is bringing to the PS4, including quick and easy game trials, video sharing, and the promise to eventually stream the entire Sony backlog from PS1 to PS3. But again, while this is great on a conceptual level, I'm still woefully skeptical of the fidelity of streaming media across a bulk of the world. I have hiccups trying to stream an HD episode of House of Cards on Netflix via my PS3. I can only imagine what it's going to be like trying to zap a PS4 game like Knack onto my Vita. I mean, how many of us on Twitter were complaining during the event itself that our stream was crapping out? And we live in San Francisco, a much more tech-savvy city compared to most. I don't I overreacting, or is this a legitimate hurdle that cloud-based gaming has to overcome?
JO: So you're not really excited for this Gaikai thing?
MS: I wouldn't say I'm not excited. I'm all for the idea of streaming media, especially if they can really deliver the entire back catalogue of PS1, PS2, and PS3 games. What I am is skeptical that our current technological infrastructure can handle that much data flying through the air without having to degrade its quality. Let me put it this way -- I have never been able to stream a movie and have it look as good as any given physical Blu-ray that I own.
JO: I think the ability to play games before they're done downloading -- sort of the same way you can watch movies that are partially downloaded over Xbox Live and iTunes -- could be a big win. But integration with Gaikai means people need a stronger bandwidth to work with, so I guess I agree with you. Some 1UP community members expressed similar concerns about the speed of their Internet. Downloading anything off of PSN today -- including system updates -- takes way too long. That means Sony has a lot of work to do to deliver on these promises. If it's as smooth as the quick transition between the end of the Killzone: Shadow Fall demo, that's great. But there's no way to know that right now.
Anyway, how about that controller? The DualShock 4 was another terribly kept secret shown at this event. Rumors already indicated it would feature a share button. I didn't expect to see something that looked like a sensor bar with it. And that touch screen? It's just so... small. I don't know how that's going to work out for them. I mean, what could I possibly trace with it? How will developers get around using such a small surface as a means for player input? It looks like the analogs have a bit more space between them too -- which I think is a good thing. It also has a speaker?! What are your thoughts?
MS: The DualShock 3 is my favorite controller of all time, no question. It's the perfect evolution of what Nintendo started with the SNES.
JO: I don't totally agree with that. I liked the design on PS2, back when I played less shooters. Why do you feel this way?
MS: I love the way it contours to my grip, and would honestly be fine having it in my hand for the rest of my gaming life. But while I'm glad that the design of the DualShock 4 maintains the same general philosophy as its predecessor, I can't figure out how that fun-sized touch screen is going to be implemented in a meaningful way. One of the big things I'm looking for out of Sony come E3 2013 is proving that the tiny screen isn't just a way of saying, "Hey guys, we have touch-functionality too!" I'm still not sold on the implementation of Move or that speaker either. That being said, those things are certainly not deal-breakers for me. If developers are able to think of clever and organic ways to use these facets of the controller, then more power to them. But until we see those, it just feels like the end of late-night infomercial where the over-caffeinated narrator shouts out, "But that's not all it does!"
JO: I like something that one of our community members, Retro Redemption, pointed out on twitter. Will developers be encouraged to use the motion and touch features for games on the PS4? So far that's a trend on a lot of Vita titles, and it's a major problem. I really hope Sony has learned their lesson, but it's hard to tell.
So what about the games? I think Knack and the Media Molecule demo looked cool. I didn't notice a huge leap visually over what we're playing today, but I did see this on a live-stream. Maybe Jeremy has more to say on the visual quality. In any case, both of those games showed ideas that didn't involve using a gun. Then again, I am excited for Bungie's Destiny, but we still don't have a clear image of what that is yet.
I hate to sound like an old man, but I hope the next generation of video games tones presents interesting game ideas that don't always involve aiming down a set of iron sights. Give me games like Dark Souls and Catherine. Watch Dogs could be interesting, but I'm still not impressed. The new Capcom IP could be interesting, but there's not enough in that demo to really speculate one. Did any of these game announcements catch your eye?

MS: Your stream was a few seconds ahead of mine, and when Jonathan Blow came on stage, you turned around and told me to get excited. Braid is one of my favorite games of this past generation, and The Witness has been my single most anticipated title for the past few years. Every time I see the Myst-inspired puzzler, it looks better and better. I've been playing a bit of Proteus every night for the past week, and The Witness looks like it's going to hit me in the exact same way. The one thing I have to say is that a lot of sites are misinterpreting what Blow said regarding the game's exclusivity. He specifically said "console," which leads me to believe that the title will still hit PC and possibly tablets at the same time.
As far as the other games go, I pretty much agree with you. Killzone looked gorgeous, but seems like it's built upon the exact same, and honestly tired, foundations as the original. Blizzard releasingDiablo III on PS3 and PS4 is huge to console-only gamers, despite the fact that PC enthusiasts were laughing their collective asses off at the excitement. And I've learned a long time ago to curb my enthusiasm towards any and all tech demos, because they only exist to cause eventual booze-fueled disappointment when the finished product doesn't quite match up with the hype.
I'm honestly surprised that Sony showed as much as they did. Going into the event, a lot of us predicted a heavy emphasis on PS3 and Vita, with only a few minutes at the end dedicated to a tease of the next generation. The fact that we had multiple looks at PS4 titles was a wise move on their part, but they still have a lot to prove on the way to E3.
JO: Well there's still a lot left to talk about. But we'll have more coming in the next few days. Stay tuned to 1UP, as we piece together more articles, editorials, information from the Sony event. In the meantime, please let us know what you think about today's event in the comments below.

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