February 24, 2013

PlayStation 4: The Good, The Bad, The Wut

Never in my life have I seen a console reveal that doesn't actually reveal the console. It was weird, to be sure. Instead, Sony took a significantly different approach from the usual "here's the box and some tech demos". I wasn't blown away, but now that the whole thing's had time to stew, I feel better about it.

GOOD: It's about the gamer, not the living room
Need some ointment for that burn, Microsoft? Obviously this is a jab at the current vision for the Xbox, which is not games. Sony was very clear that the PS4 is about games. Sure, it does other stuff, but they've taken a more Nintendo-focused approach this time. For once, I can't complain about them copying Nintendo.

GOOD: It's developer friendly
The PS3 was impossible to develop for. They brought in some new blood to design the system this time, and it's now based on a PC architecture (x86) which is apparently the most common and recognized development format. What does this mean? It means the PS3 versions won't suck any more. It means it won't take six years for developers to unleash the system's power. It means the PS4 might be the lead development platform next generation. The PS4 will also let companies self-publish digitally.

GOOD: RAM up the wazoo
Eight gigs of DDR5 of unified RAM. What does this mean in normal people terms? Well for one thing, DDR5 is some pretty damn advanced stuff. Your computer probably runs DDR3 unless you've got a fancy gaming rig. This type of RAM is usually GPU only. 

Here's a little more perspective on the RAM: The PS3 has 256MB for system and 256MB for graphics. That's not even a leap. That's warp speed to another universe. What this means is that the system can do a ridiculous amount of crap. It's what makes many of the other system's features possible. If you're curious, the 360 has 512MB of shared RAM and the Wii U has 2GB of RAM split between the games and the system os.

GOOD: Streaming technology
Last year, Sony bought streaming tech company Gaikai. Now they've laid out their plans for what they can do with it. There was a lot of potential thrown around, but Sony was quick to point out it won't be hitting all at once, and a lot of this will be down the line. A good move. This way, they won't be seen as giving empty promises if things don't work out. Realistically, this tech will allow the PS4 to be able to stream games and demos. Streaming games will come in handy for a reason I'll get to in a bit, but streaming demos is just plain awesome. Imagine you want to try out a game. Just find the demo and start playing it. That's it. No downloading anything. Theoretically, this would mean developers don't actually have to spend resources to build a demo or cut a chunk out of their game to make into demo form. They can place a time limit on the full game and let you play till it runs out. Awesome. 

On the future tech end of things, this will allow you to stream PS4 games to any device, apparently. This includes the Vita, of course, because they want to outdo Nintendo at every turn. They also mentioned being able to remotely control your friend's game to, for example, beat a particularly challenging part for your friend.

GOOD: A new controller
Maybe I'm weird, but the Dualshock was a deal breaker for me this generation. I can't stand that damn thing. I never liked it to begin with on the PS or PS2, but they actually made it worse for the third iteration when they added those awful triggers. It seems that all of my complaints have been addressed with this new controller (still called the Dualshock for some reason). My two main issues were the shape and the sticks. This time, they seem to have given the controller more girth, some (actual) grips, and more width. It actually looks nice to hold. They've redesigned the sticks, though the major cosmetic changes are not why I'm excited. Obviously, they've given the sticks a concavity. I actually prefer convex sticks (like Nintendo's), but have always hated the PlayStation's. Why? Because they're big and goofy. The mushroom tops are way too large, the sticks are too lose, and they're too close together. I don't want to be bumping my thumbs why playing a shooter. They seem to be smaller and set further apart now, and I've heard they have a new feeling, too. Excellent. The dpad looks improved as well, and the overall thing has a nice high-end look to it. I can get used to the stick placement if everything else feels good.

Now, of course, that's not all about this new pad. They've combined start and select into one button to make room for a share button, added a speaker, headphone jack, Move capabilities, and a speaker. Finally, there's that touchpad that seems completely useless but gives the controller some much needed width. I wonder what the battery life on this thing will be.

GOOD: It's still got all those exclusives
The biggest difference (and advantage) the PS3 has over the Xbox 360 is the amount of exclusive games (as long as we're counting retail only). That doesn't seem to have changed at all with the PS4. Sony's exclusive franchises are all still there in force, and there's a brand new one called Knack. Now, this event didn't reveal a bunch of new IPs, but they've got to save something for E3, right? And let's not forget that this system is friendly to 3rd party developers, too. It could be the perfect marriage of cross-platform and exclusives.

GOOD: Video sharing
That share button is pretty controversial, as it was a huge focus. But if there's one thing that can be agreed upon, it's that the video sharing feature is awesome. The PS4 captures video in the background at all times (thanks to all that memory) and allows you to share it by hitting a button on your controller. Both livestreaming and uploading were mentioned. However, the compatible services mentioned weren't too impressive. Instead of Twitch.tv and YouTube, you'll be able to share to (as far as we know right now) Ustream and Facebook. Kind of takes the wind out of the sails, but we'll see when more details are given.

GOOD: It's always on, even when it's off
The PS4 goes into low-power mode when you turn it off, meaning that it can still download and update when you're not using it. More importantly, this means you can suspend your game and pick up exactly where you left off next time you turn your system on.

GOOD: Games
So far, we've got Killzone, Watch_Dogs, and Knack on track for launch day. That's looking pretty good already. Then there's The Witness, which will be a timed exclusive for the PS4 (if other console versions are even made), and Bungie's Destiny with exclusive content for the PS4. The developers are on board!

BAD: Maybe too much social integration
I realize it may be too early to tell, especially with the level of detail we currently have, but it seemed like Sony was making a bit too much emphasis on the social stuff. Sony mentioned something about players using their real name in addition to their PSN IDs. The system will also integrate with Facebook (and probably other services), connect you to your friends at all times, show content from your friends on your dashboard, and let you stalk your friends by seeing what they're playing live, among other things. Of course, they couldn't just jab Microsoft without taking a swing at Nintendo. They called this "the first gaming social network with meaning." Personally, the reason I like Miiverse is because it's isolated. It's just a bunch of gamers getting together to talk about games. My outside life stays uninvolved. Literally nobody ever uses any of those Xbox Facebook services. I'm assuming that this PS4 stuff won't be obtrusive unless you want it to be, but it's to early to tell which way it's going to go.

BAD: No backwards compatibility at all
The PS4 will not be able to play PS3 games because the innards are too different and they don't want to take up system resources to throw in an emulator. It also can't play or transfer any digital games from the PS3 because fuck you. This upsets me as someone who doesn't own a PS3. I can only imagine how PS3 owners feel. If you're a PS Plus subscriber, you're out of luck with all that free stuff you got. 

However, there is a possibility of streaming PS3 games in the future. But will you have to buy them again? Personally, I don't like paying for things I can't physically own, even if it's just data. Cloud streaming entitles you to own nothing.

BAD: The user interface
You like the current Xbox 360 interface, right? How about Windows 8? No? Well, that's too bad, because Sony also seems to think that everybody likes grids of squares. Guess what the dashboard looks like.

A few weeks ago, a supposed leaked version the the PS4 controller leaked which contained a rumored touchpad on the face of the controller. Those rumors turned out to be true. Sony didn't go as far as adding a screen on the controller, but we've all seen how well the Vita's touch surface turned out. This will either be completely ignored by developers, shoehorned in, or scare devs away. In the first case, Sony didn't actually say anything about it except for pointing out that it existed. They don't seem to have added it for any other reason than to cover their bases. In the second case, developers will feel the need to add stupid features to make use of the thing–and nobody likes that. In the third case, they'll come down with "Wii U fever" and think that, because they come up with a way to use the touchpad that will revolutionize games forever, they'd rather make no game at all. It could turn out terrible for the PS4, or it could be ignored and used as a trackpad. Who knows.

HMMM: It "plays" used games
We know it won't have some kind of always-online DRM like people were fearing, but how will it handle used games? It won't block them, like the rumors stated, but that's all we know. It will "play" them. But that doesn't mean Sony can't still charge you a fee to make them work by requiring all games to have a key, or something. They were pretty dodgy about this question.

WUT: Background downloads
By that I mean you can download one game while playing another. The Xbox has always been able to do this. Why the PS3 can't is beyond me. It also doesn't do party chat. Probably a RAM thing. Anyway, that's a thing of the past. The PS4 can also, because of a secondary processor, allow you to play partially downloaded games. Cool, I guess? Not sure how much I care about that.

WOW: Killzone Shadow Fall
Killzone has never interested me in the least. It always looked bland and generic. But this? This game? You might have just sold a PS4 to me, Sony. Nice work.

Overall, after thinking it over, the good far outweighs the bad so far, although the bad stuff has the potential to be really bad. I'm now pretty optimistic, though, and very curious to see what Microsoft's got. If they keep on the same path they're on for the current Xbox, I may just (reluctantly) jump ship to Sony. We'll see what happens this fall.

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