February 20, 2013, 11:18 PM —
So the good news is that Sony did in fact announce the Playstation 4 and not a new Walkman model in last night's event. The bad news is I don't think they hit it out of the park. There's still time for them to do that at E3 and other shows, but the 2 hour presentation left this Sony fanboy a little bit excited, and a little bit let down.
We never saw the hardware, and we only got vague specs. It's running on an x86 CPU with a "PC GPU" but they didn't say which one, and 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM (that 8 gigs is shared memory). Basically Sony is playing it safe with the hardware this time around, not spending huge money on custom chips and making sure it's easy for PC developers to port to the PS4 (and vice versa). That's not super exciting but it's probably good business sense.
The leaked controller was spot on. The PS4 controller looked a little wider than the current one, and it has a touchpad between the analog sticks. There's a share button that'll let you share video gameplay at any time (it's always being recorded so when something crazy happens just hit the share button and upload the chunk of play you want). There's a headset jack for, well, headsets for voice chat, and there's a light bar designed to work with a vaguely Kinect-looking stereo camera that'll be watching you play.
There's a secondary CPU that'll always be on and can handle background downloading and uploading/downloading while the PS4 is in its sleep mode. That's a nice feature. Also nice is a Suspend & Restore feature. If you're in the middle of a game and it's time for dinner, hit the power button and your game state is saved. When you come back, turn the PS4 back on and pick up right where you left off.
Gaikai's David Perry talked a lot about streaming and the Playstation ecosystem. Rumors said that Gaikai would allow access to PS3 games via streaming and that'd be the PS4's backwards compatibility. While Perry didn't pitch it like that, it's the direction they're heading. They want you to be able to play PS1-3 games on both the PS4 and many other devices such as tablets, smartphones or your Vita. Perry was quick to add that this service, that he was referring to as "Everything, everywhere", will roll out in phases.
Another way they'll use Gaikai is to let you demo games in the Playstation Store without downloading them first. And if you buy a game digitally you'll have have to download a small part of it before you can start playing, and Gaikai will stream the rest down as you play. Another consumer friendly feature.
Sony is putting a lot of emphasis on spectating with the PS4, again thanks to Gaikai's technology. You can drop in and watch what a friend is playing, and give him advice (or a good ribbing) as he's playing, for instance. There was even some odd mention of handing over control of your game to someone else but I think Perry was going off on tangents at that point!
Things were going well until we hit the game demos. Sony led off with Guerilla Game's Killzone: Shadow Fall and they really missed their mark. It's another Killzone game. Maybe it looks better (it was hard to tell since I was watching via Ustream) but otherwise it seemed like any other Killzone game. In fact the demo felt like every other Killzone demo...you could count the beats before everything went to hell.
When the demo ended (and it was live gameplay) the audience was dead silent. Very uncomfortable.
Next we saw Drive Club from Evolution Studios. It's a team-based driving game and the attention to detail on the car models is "nearly insane" as Evolution's Matt Southern put it. Drive Club was in a tough place following that Killzone demo, but the presenter really talked up the social part of it. You're expected to form a club with your friends and challenge other clubs, and you can check in via mobile device, PC, or of course on your Playstation hardware.
Drive Club got some polite applause, but I'm not sure it got a fair shake.
Then came Nate Fox from Sucker Punch, who did a wonderful pitch for Infamous: Second Son, drawing parallels between how much freedom we give up in exchange for security in our real lives, to how much worse it'd be if there were people with super powers among us. It was a solid trailer and when it was over, finally, there was genuine applause.
Thus far, though, nothing I'd seen had really screamed "next generation" and that might be Sony's ultimate challenge. It seemed like these were probably launch, or at least first generation, titles for the PS4. Prior to these demos Sony was really focusing on social and connectivity and convenience features and less on the capabilities of the hardware, but these three titles didn't really support those features. Nor did they look truly 'next gen' to me.
The last section of the event was about tech demos and teaser trailers, and this is where we started to get a glimpse of what the PS4 can do. One that stood out for me is the animated vision of an old man's head. Quantic Dreams' David Cage is always pushing for emotion in video games, and his claim is that the PS4 can finally provide the power he needs in order to animate characters so that you can see what they're feeling when you look into their eyes. The demo was pretty convincing. Of course animating a floating head and animating a whole person in a complex scene are two different things.
As the show wound down Sony brought out their remaining big guns. The first was Blizzard's Chris Henson who announced "a strategic partnership with Sony." What does that mean? It means Diablo III is coming to the PS3 and PS4. And they're giving us direct control of our characters (as opposed to 'click to move') which excites me. What I didn't hear Henson say was that Diablo III will be a Playstation exclusive, though it's possible I missed that bit.
Ubisoft showed off Watch Dogs again and it still looks pretty good, and Activision was on-hand to tell us that Bungie's Destiny is coming to the PS3 (which we already knew) and the PS4 (which I think most of us assumed). It's good to know that the PS3 will continue to get support after the PS4 launched (Destiny is a 2014 title).
Those were the highlights that caught my attention though there was much more. Sony streamed the event via Ustream and last time I checked, they were looping it, so you can have a look for yourself.
The PS4 will launch "Holiday 2013" and no price was mentioned yet. We'll learn more over the months to come and hopefully they can pump up the hype a bit. I didn't feel it was a super-strong event, but I think a lot of what Sony was pushing doesn't demo well. I'm talking about convenience features and connectivity and just advances in their 'ecosystem.' By the time E3 rolls around we should get a better idea of what the games are really going to look like, and hopefully we'll get a price then to.
I did appreciate they were focused on games and fun during this event; I'm sure we'll hear more about the PS4 as a streaming hub at a later date.
My biggest disappointments? No mention of a Playstation Vita price cut. And no Jack Tretton! C'mon Sony, where was Jack? We love that guy!
If you watched the event, what did you think? Is Sony coming out strong or have they left Microsoft with an opportunity cement their (in the US anyway) lead?
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.