PlayStation 4 Announced!

So the currently least well kept secret in the gaming industry has been unleashed, the Sony announced the PlayStation 4 this evening. You know what? I’m not completely blown away. I’m satisfied, mind you, and I’m looking forward to owning a PS4, but I’m not blown away by anything that was demoed tonight. Well… Maybe Killzone: Shadow Fall… but then, I’m a Killzone addict.

Frankly, I liked what I saw for the most part, and I think this is going to be a fun and interesting system to own. I have little to complain about the PS4 itself. It’s using an x86 processor, in all likelihood, one of AMD’s Trinity APUs since the term APU was thrown around repeatedly and they, frankly, are about the only game in town when it comes to an APU. Connected with that, by extension, will be an AMD Radeon based GPU in all likelihood, which will allow graphics performance to be improved via Radeon’s hybrid Crossfire X technology. Undoubtedly these will be customized processors, designed specifically for the PS4 and not commercially available, but ultimately, as Sony stated, this will be basically a PC machine. I’m both pleased and disappointed by that… The Cell architecture was really advanced and I think another generation of it in a game system probably have blown us all away with its processing capability, but then as was pointed out several times this evening, the complexity of developing for it has been getting in the way of PS3 development. Similarly, it’s an acknowledgment that at some point, I could put together a machine with similar or better specs, and perhaps find a way to get PS4 titles to run on my desktop… Not what they want, obviously, but possible… However, by using mostly off the shelf components, it’ll drive the cost of the machine down tremendously; I paid $500 for my PS3, and I don’t regret it, but if I can pay $300 or less for my PS4, I’ll be hysterically happy…

Of course, the long standing rumor is that the next Xbox will also be based around an x86 processor, and has even been rumored to use Radeon GPUs as well… I suppose you could say that the day of the consoles is over, despite the constant proclamations that PC gaming is dead [thanks to the consoles]. Even with Valve’s upcoming Steam box, it’s little more than a PC running Linux… Ultimately, it’s very interesting to see that the PS4 and Xbox could literally be kissing cousins, and I wonder how long it’ll take the hacker community to figure out how to get a PS4 up and running on a next generation Xbox’s OS and vice versa, possibly to multi-boot the operating systems and have one console to rule them all… The advantage of exotic hardware is difficulty in bootstrapping it and then getting a compatible OS to run on it, or developing such an OS… PC hardware… well, let’s just say that the hardware is extraordinarily well known, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone running Linux on the PS4 or next-gen Xbox on release day.

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As for the rest of the announced specs for the PS4, they’re interesting… Though it’s also interesting what wasn’t announced in those specs. So we know we’re getting 8 GB GDDR5 RAM, which should give developers lots of memory to play with. A constant criticism of Sony’s consoles over the last 13 years has been the limited amount of memory they have. 8 GB goes well past the rumors I heard just today; this morning I read that it would have 4 GB RAM. Still, 8 GB seems like a lot, and it might be enough to last a long time, but one of the complaints I’ve seen about x86 hardware is that it typically requires more RAM for some things, not to mention that there’s still that legacy memory hole between 640k and 1 MB. Not that that’s very big or important these days, but it may have been more advantageous to include 16 GB RAM rather than just 8. Back in the days of the PowerPC Macintoshes, many applications running on the Mac required and used less RAM than the PC version of the same application. Maybe it was MacOS versus Windows, or big-endian versus little-endian. I don’t know. But this may be an issue.

As I mentioned, it’s curious what wasn’t mentioned in the specs of the PS4, though there may be good reason for that. We can assume it will have a Blu-Ray player, but it wasn’t discussed. There was no mention of network connectivity besides the fact that we know it will connect to the internet. Will it still have an traditional ethernet port? Or will it be wifi only? What wifi standards will it support with 802.11AC coming up soon? We know the current PS Move controller will work with it, but will Dual Shock 3 controllers? Does it even have Bluetooth, or did it go with a proprietary wireless technology like Microsoft did with the Xbox 360? It has a hard drive, but what size? Will the hard drive be removable and user upgradable? Will it have USB ports, and if so how many? Will games be encouraged to allow keyboard and mouse where applicable, such as in a MMORPG or certain FPS games that have a history on the PC? It’s not going to be directly backwards compatible with the PS3, but they stated that you would some how be able to play PS3 (and earlier) games eventually, possibly through Gaikai technology… Will that be free? Will I have to mail in my PS3 games to play them on the PS4?

There are lots of unanswered questions, though I think a lot of them were deliberately left nebulous for two reasons. The first and most important reason is so that Sony has some flexibility in adjusting the final specs before the console goes into mass production, in order to maximize profit (or at least minimize initial loss), without being accused of scaling back the features and power prior to release. That’s why we didn’t hear an official gigahertz speed being bandied about, and I, personally, didn’t hear anything about an 8 core processor being used even though that’s the top raging rumor at this point. As hard drive prices fluctuate, APU and GPU processor production yields vary, and whether or not 802.11AC gets made into an official standard or not, Sony can take its time and evaluate which combination of technologies will go into the final production version of the PS4, and they can determine a suggested retail price for when the release actually occurs, all without taking fire. Well, any more fire than they probably already will for moving away from Cell. (I should note, however, that IBM, the primary producer of the Cell processor in collaboration with Sony pretty much stopped active development of the technology some time ago, so the best we’d have gotten would have been perhaps a multi Cell processor game system or one with a souped up clock speed; not necessarily a better processor or better technology.)  I suspect the second major reason that we haven’t gotten an official announcement about all those things left unsaid about the PS4 is that Sony didn’t want to reveal any more information than necessary considering that we all know Microsoft’s Xbox division was sitting there watching this announcement (despite their proclamations that no one cared what was happening tonight).

I’d say there’s about an 80% chance that there was a product development meeting going on at Microsoft at the same time as and extending for several hours after the PS4 announcement this evening. Microsoft wants to make people think that it doesn’t care. Microsoft needs to believe that they know their new console will be so much better than Sony’s that they don’t need to lose any sleep over it. The fact of the matter is that they are losing sleep over it, just like Sony’s been losing sleep over theirs. It’s been a game of one-upmanship; always has been, always will be. Except that Sony didn’t quite do as good a job in the last generation as they should have. In my opinion, the PS3 was and still is superior to the Xbox 360, however it’s not as superior as it should’ve been for a console that came out a year later. They lost the initiative and as a result trailed the 360 for pretty much the entirety of the life-cycle of the generation. I still think that PS3 exclusive games look and play better than Xbox 360 exclusive games, but with the added development complexity and the fact the cross/multi platform games consistently look and play worse on the PS3 than the 360, I have to concede that Sony lost out. I also think that Sony failed to deliver in that generation with some of the features they promised would come along… Take cross-game chat, for instance… It was mentioned as coming soon as far back as 2008.  When PlayStation+ came along, it was stated that you’d be able to initiate a cross game chat as a subscriber, but it still hasn’t come to pass. Hell, the option to take screenshots was added to the PS3 firmware years ago, but most games don’t support that at all… And it’s things like that gave and gives the 360 the momentum and Microsoft the bragging rights in terms of popularity. As owner of both a 360 and a PS3, I’ll tell you that my 360 is extremely dusty and rarely used. I’ve never experienced a red ring of death because I haven’t used it sufficiently for it to happen. I hated the crappy headset that came with it, and the cable broke, forcing me to buy the crappy wireless headset that will only work with my 360. I HATE having to pay a subscription fee to play games with my friends online… But at least it came with a headset, my PS3 didn’t. I initially used a USB one I already had, then got the official PS3 Bluetooth headset which I’m currently also using with my cellphone. On the other hand, I had to buy a battery for the 360’s controller in order to use it wirelessly; at least the PS3 controllers have built-in rechargeable batteries which don’t get a memory nearly as fast as the expensive 360 batteries do. (The one and only battery I bought for the 360 became useless within months of buying the system. My PS3 controllers’ batteries are still going strong, and I’ve had them longer.) Yes, my PS3 is a little more dusty than it used to be, but that’s because I’ve been doing a hefty amount of writing, PC gaming, and reading as of late, but whenever I get the Netflix urge, or the desire to blow something away, it gets powered up immediately.

I love my PS3, and in the Sony-Microsoft war, I favor Sony. But in the last generation, they came second. PS3 was considered second for development of titles, and inferior products were often produced. I have to admit that.  I think that Sony announcing the PS3 so far ahead of even E3 is an attempt to gain the upper-hand this time around, and despite Microsoft’s outward indifference, they’re probably very concerned about what they saw tonight. Of course, Microsoft as a long history of assimilation that Sony probably didn’t take into consideration… Microsoft many times in the past has either bought out rival technologies and incorporated them into their own product, or just incorporated the features claiming to have had them all along. I think the only time they didn’t follow that pattern was with the Xbox 360 with the HD-DVD technology versus Blu-Ray. Now, I’m not going to reopen old wounds, but Microsoft had a huge stake in that fight and lost, and though they phased out the HD-DVD external drive for the 360, they never admitted defeat by producing a Blu-Ray drive for it. They would claim that the Xbox didn’t need it, or it didn’t fit within their platform design, personally, I think they were just holding a grudge and refused to swallow their pride. At the very least, I think they have to include it with the next Xbox just to stay relevant… After all, Nintendo didn’t and their Wii-U is looked upon as even more of a toy than the original Wii was now; they put themselves out of contention for the dominant next generation platforms.

Any how, getting back to tonight’s announcements, I think the biggest disappointment for me was the Square Enix “announcement.” They basically got on stage, got screen time, and showed a demo that I swear they were showing a couple years ago. The Luminous game engine demo they showed was showcased at a prior time… It may have been last year’s E3, it might have been earlier, as I believe it was. I know it’s old, because I recognized it as soon as it started playing, and as an industry outsider, it’s impossible for me to have seen it running on the PS4 before tonight. But it was not something that was cooked up to demonstrate the PS4’s power, and I don’t know why they were allowed to claim as much. Unless, of course, when it debuted previously it was running on a PS4, but some how I doubt that. As a result I thought their announcement was pathetic and sad, especially when they then teased a Final Fantasy announcement at E3. As a friend of mine said during the presentation, “If it’s not a FF VII remake, I doubt if I will care.” Square Enix can spend all the money they want on new engines and developing new technologies, but the fact of the matter is they’ve lost their way with the Final Fantasy franchise. They are, like so many newer game developers, are showcasing pretty graphics and perhaps some interesting game play rather than telling a good story through their games. That’s why Final Fantasy 12-14 aren’t doing all that well… They forgot how to tell a story in their games. That’s why everyone wants Final Fantasy 7 to be remade. It was probably their last game that seemed to have heart and soul; the only think it needs is to be updated graphically. Square Enix claims it would be impossible, that it would cost too much to do, and take too much time, yet they want to waste their time on inventing new game engines and claim performance break-throughs that they aren’t actually demonstrating. Frankly, considering they’re sitting on the code to FF VII, I don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, a lot of it would probably need to be reimplemented to take into account the higher memory requirements of the high definition graphics, and yes they could use all sorts of more modern graphical techniques to accomplish some of the things they did in the original, but we’re ultimately not talking about developing a whole new game mechanic. We players were fine and happy with the old school game mechanics, and Square Enix’s own purported technology demonstration shows us that they have the time and techniques to update this classic game. So why not do it? I wish I had an answer. All I can say is that of all the things I saw at this announcement, I was most disappointed by their segment.

So…  That’s where I stand on things. The PS4’s hardware, at least as announced, isn’t exactly mind blowing, but I concede and acknowledge why they’ve taken the direction that they did. I’m more curious than ever about Quantic Dream’s Beyond, and although I knew that Killzone would eventually be represented on the PS4, I was fully expecting it to be a version of Killzone: Mercenary, not a completely new title. I nearly peed my pants when I saw Shadow Fall. I’m not kidding. But the one thing that was missing that I really, really, really wish had been present was an announcement from Insomniac Games stating that the Resistance franchise would be present on the new console.

The Resistance series really didn’t get the recognition it deserved. As one of the PS3 launch titles, it (Resistance: Fall of Man) was frequently compared to Gears of War, which it really shouldn’t have been. Yes, it was the launch shooter game just like Gears was, but it was a first person shooter versus a third person shooter, set in the past rather than the future on some unknown planet, and had a really deep storyline. And the multiplayer on all three games, though different in each case, was amazing in each case. I still love playing the first one and dropping air-gas grenades on my friends. I absolutely love the teamwork based co-op on Resistance 2 that involved several basic missions spruced up randomly by changing starting locations, events, and objectives. And the competitive multiplayer in R2 was exceeded only by M.A.G. (by the now defunct Zipper) in terms of simultaneous players! Resistance 3‘s story and multiplayer modes were even more fun, frankly, though the game definitely seemed to be Insomniac’s way of saying goodbye to the franchise… The end of the game seemed to say it all, and sadly I don’t foresee a new entry to the franchise on the PS4, but I strongly urge Sony and Insomniac to reconsider!

Similarly, since I mentioned M.A.G., I fear that it will not see a follow-up, nor will we see a new SOCOM on this generation now that Sony has closed the studio formerly known as Zipper. M.A.G. was flawed, big time, but it was and is a fun game. I think the concept is great, but I think it never got the polish it really needed, though Zipper was working towards accomplishing it. I think it’s sad, however, that the M.A.G. website and apparently development went quiet once SOCOM 4 got announced. Those the game is still playable, and I fully intend to pick-up my 2+:1 KDR as a sniper at some point, the game is practically abandoned. It’s parent is no more, and Sony doesn’t seem the least bit interested in continuing it. And once Unit 13 was shipped out the door for the Vita, the future of the SOCOM franchise became uncertain as Zipper was promptly dissolved. Will we see these games revived on the PS4 at some point? Seven years is a long time, so maybe we will see it happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath…

Finally, as far as wishful thinking goes, I want a sequel to Heavenly Sword on PS4. As nice as God of War is, I don’t want another God of War game. I want to breathe new life into Heavenly Sword, another PS3 launch title that has long since been dormant. There’s no reason that Noriko should continue to be ignored; the game was beautiful, the game play was beautiful, and the story was amazing. I would sell my car today to pre-order the PS4 if I knew that a new Heavenly Sword game was coming, But alas…

So, there you have it. Everything that’s on my mind regarding the PS4, the next Xbox, a few kick ass games, the laments and concerns I have for a few franchises,  and one brain dead presentation. Take it as you will, and discuss freely.