Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sony's PS4 Announcement

The PS4 was announced last night. Here's what we know so far.

The PS4 will not block used games. This is very welcome news, and a wise move by Sony.

After the security problems and early price problems with the PS3, Sony couldn't afford another PR debacle. It wouldn't surprise me if locking out used games was on the table in the early planning stages of the PS4 but got scrapped at some point.

Sony has a distinct advantage over Microsoft, which may have led to this decision: Sony has a rather robust stable of franchises to draw from. Like Nintendo, Sony can control a lot more revenue streams. They still have to rely heavily on third parties, but even if the third parties abandon them, they'll still have franchises like God of War and Uncharted to draw in players.

As we've said before, Microsoft doesn't have this advantage, so they're more beholden to the third parties. Honestly, what franchises does Microsoft have? Halo, Forza Motorsport, and... Kinect Sports? Viva Pinata? Crackdown? Is Crackdown still a thing?

Here's something that wouldn't surprise me in the least: What if Sony started this furor over used games to trick Microsoft into coming up with their own used games "solution?" Microsoft implements their solution, Sony backs out, now Microsoft has to either forge ahead with it or hastily scrap it. Since Microsoft leans on the third parties to prop up their library, they may not be able to back out.

If that was Sony's plan all along, that's positively delicious.

It appears that the PS4 will be x86-based. For the uninitiated, that means that the PS4 will be, more or less, like any other computer out there, like the 360 and the Wii U. I mean, not exactly, because there's a lot of technical stuff behind the scenes that I don't understand, but closer in architecture to a typical PC.

This is absolutely huge for developers. The backstory: The PS2 had kind of a weird architecture that offloaded instructions to the PS1 chip, but people still developed for it because it was popular. The PS3 used the Cell architecture which was a gigantic mess. For example, Bethesda refused to put out their Skyrim DLC on the PS3 for the longest time because it was so hard to develop for the PS3. Valve avoided patching up The Orange Box because they hated the PS3.

By switching to the x86 architecture, that means that the PS4 is going to be easier to make games for, leading to better ports and better utilization of the raw power of the system itself. We never got to see how powerful the PS3 really was because of the screwed-up architecture, so this is really exciting.

The controller has a touchscreen. Meh. It seems like it'll get used more like a cosmetic thing than anything else. Either Sony needed to go big, like Nintendo did with the GamePad, or ignore the touchscreen entirely.

The PS4 will support Remote Play with the Vita.

The PS4 will not have downwards compatibility, but will instead stream PS1, PS2 and PS3 games using Gaikai.

That's a tough one to judge. On the one hand, kudos to Sony for hopefully coming up with a solution for a tough problem. This should help keep the price of the system low, since they don't have to implement the PS3's messed-up Cell architecture on the PS4 or try and hack in a software fix for PS2 and PS1 games.

One the other several hands, here are some questions that need to be answered:
  1. If I have the disc of a PS2 game, does that mean I have to buy the game again using Gaikai?
  2. Do I have to pay a subscription fee for this service?
  3. Will every game in their library be represented? That sounds almost impossible.
  4. How well will Gaikai work in a real-world situation?
Finally, we don't know how the PS4 will look yet. They didn't show us that, weirdly enough. They also didn't tell us any prices, which wasn't unexpected but still annoying. Rumors place the system at about $429, but that's very unconfirmed.

However, based on this little information that we have, we're raising the ceiling of the PS4. The ceiling is now at Wii/PS2 levels and the basement is at PS3 levels, which were mighty respectable.

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