Sony pulled back the curtain on its grand plan for the future of PlayStation last night in New York and aside from the expected generational improvements regarding improved technical specs for the console itself, the major mantra for the PlayStation 4 involves social networking, connectivity, and playing games everywhere. It's a modern approach for what our connected society has become since the PlayStation 3 launched in 2006 in which your friends have a stake in your gaming environment. We heard a lot of rumors about how the PS4 would require an Internet connection and need to be online all the time, but unless Sony is still holding some DRM cards close to its chest, it seems that the always-online requirement is more of a suggestion and has more to do with the console's persistent connectivity features. Your friends will be able to peek into your game session live and even take control of your game to provide some assistance if you desire. It's the 21st century equivalent to passing the controller to your pal sitting beside you to help you beat that really tough boss or irritating stage. Built-in video capture hardware will allow you to retroactively choose greatest gaming moments in screenshot or video format and upload those moments to social sites like Facebook and Ustream (that's where the controller's new Share button comes into play). Interacting with friends in new ways is key to the PS4 experience.
I'm primarily a solitary gamer. I love the core single-player experiences of traditional Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, inFamous, Sly Cooper, Red Dead Redemption, Street Fighter, and all of my other favorites that allow me to escape into rich stories and enjoyable action, but I also enjoy multiplayer gaming. Local multiplayer is best, but I'll take online multiplayer when it's advantageous. The challenge is finding time to play online games when my friends are also available. Schedules don't often sync up. However, with the new Share button on the controller, I'll be able to show off my best gaming moments with ease and see their accomplishments just as simply even if we can't play at the same time. If you've been a PTB reader for a while I'm sure you've seen my video series of Just Cause 2 greatest hits. Recording those clips was made possible by Cause's built-in video capture software. It's a great addition to the game, but its long-term performance has been a bit lackluster. It only captures 480p quality video and the YouTube auto-uploader doesn't always work. By adding video capture abilities to the PS4 at the system level, Sony has made it so much easier for me and others online who maintain gaming-related web presences to share video content. I expect you'll see a lot more original video once I acquire a PS4 and no longer have to drag out my video capture box and rely on an older PC to edit high definition video (which it really cannot do reliably).
Speaking of system functions, Sony boasts that the PlayStation 4 will be able to suspend play at a moment's notice and then resume later without the neat to boot up the console and navigate through menus and wait on load times. If you've spent time with the PS Vita, you know how convenient it is to pick up the device and be back into a game within about three seconds. No rebooting. No load times. If the PS4 can replicate that experience, then we may be back to the days of turning the power on a console and dropping right into a game not seen since the era of video game cartridges. While I'm captivated by the Share button and the increased system power of the PS4, this suspend option definitely has me excited.
This brings me to the PlayStation 4's new DualShock 4 controller. While Sony did not show off the physical console, the company did hold up the new input device and use it for live demos during the presentation. The biggest addition to the DS4 is the new touch pad centered where the Start and Select buttons on the DualShock 3 reside. A light bar on the top of the controller adds PS Move-type functionality to the experience. A headphone jack is included, and of course there's that aforementioned Share button. The basic DualShock form factor is intact, thankfully. I've been satisfied with the touch panel experience on the PS Vita which performs in a similar capacity, so I'm not concerned about the DS4's new addition. Unfortunately, I'm positive that the PS4 launch titles will use the pad as a pointless gimmick, but I'm also confident that developers will find more natural and innovative ways to include it by the time the second generation of software is ready. All new technology seems to begin as a marketing distraction, sadly.
A console is only as strong as its game library (despite the push to make the PS4 a general entertainment box with streaming video and music services, etc.), and Sony did its best to show some engaging titles. There's a new property entitled Knack that seems to exist just to show off how many unique objects the PS4 can seamless juggle, a new Killzone, Jonathan Blow's next indie project, a social racing game called Driveclub, new game engines from Capcom and Square-Enix, and a new creator tool from LittleBigPlanet's Media Molecule among other projects like Activision/Bungie's Destiny. That's all well and good, but I really need to see an Uncharted or Ratchet & Clank before I'm ready to jump into the new generation. The one game announced that really grabbed my interest is Sucker Punch's next project, an inFamous sequel subtitled Second Son. Cole MacGrath's story seems to be over as of inFamous 2, but the world that the franchise has introduced is too rich to be dominated by just one protagonist. Adding a dose of Watch Dogs-type paranoia to the mix, Second Son is on my radar like no other game announced at the show.
No discussion of the PlayStation 4 reveal is complete without mentioning the system's cloud functions. Thanks to last year's purchase of the Gaikai streaming game service, Sony is poised to use the power of the cloud to augment the PS4's abilities. While it's still in the works, Sony has plans to take backwards compatibility into the cloud by streaming classic PS1, PS2, and PS3 games to the PS4 and Vita (and perhaps beyond to smartphones and tablets). Unfortunately, this means that the PS4 is making a clean break with traditional disc-based legacy titles. Moreover, the company plans to allow players to use their other connected devices to access the PlayStation Store and arrange for downloads and other system business when away from the PS4 console. Cloud technology will also allow players to start playing new digital purchases without completely downloading gigabytes of data first. I think the potential of the cloud and game streaming is very interesting, but so much of it seems to be Sony wishlisting at this point. This was the portion of the presentation where there was little to actually show. Most of this was explanation and admissions that it's not working just yet, but will at some point if all goes to plan.
There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the PlayStation 4 and Sony certainly wasn't going to spotlight any bad news at the show. The news that existing PSN titles will not be playable on the PS4 is one issue that needs more detail, as does any plan to restrict used games. Will Sony charge for access to its online services in the next generation? Will PlayStation Plus arrive on the console at some point? When will the console go on sale? Most importantly, how much will it cost? There's still plenty of time for Sony to answer these questions and others like them (and E3 is coming, of course), but for now I'd say that I'm interested in what the PS4 has to offer and as my favorite gaming franchises expand to the platform, I'm sure I'll feel swayed to upgrade to play the new adventures of Nathan Drake, Ratchet, Sly Cooper, and their contemporaries. I would say that I'm cautiously optimistic and will start socking away spare change earmarked for a future purchase. Before I commit to anything though, I want to see more.