Michael Denny, senior vice-president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Worldwide Studios, couldn’t give us any more specifics of the PlayStation 4’s release, but he did give us a more detailed view of Sony’s vision for the next-generation console.
“Since we launched the PlayStation 3, the landscape has changed a lot and players, gamers, consumers are used to consuming content and enjoying it in a number of different ways,” Denny began.
“We have to provide content that consumers are looking for,” he added.
Denny believes that, first and fundamentally, the PlayStation 4 needs not just the best games, but the most unique games. “It’s incumbent on us to try and differentiate, to try and give the platform some exclusive titles that show something different about PlayStation.” He pointed to games like Heavy Rain and Journey as genre-defining titles that have tried, and succeeded, to do something new with the PlayStation platform, and this innovation is set to continue with the PlayStation 4.
Daring to be different
“Because we want the best content, and we want differentiated content, and that’s something we’re always happy to support,” he added. This was evident in Wednesday night’s presentations, demonstrating all manner of PS4 gaming from blockbuster games and first-person shooters to quirky creativity and puzzle games.
One of the most exciting demos came from David Cage of Quantic Media, who showed us how they have used the technology available to create characters whose emotions can be read in their facial expressions. Denny pointed out how innovation such as this can help to declutter the game interface, as players won’t need to be told what a character thinks or is feeling, as this will be conveyed in their eyes.
“Ultimately, gamers crave new things,” said Denny. “They love the experiences they know and they want to see them get better, but now and again we need a disruptor to come in and bring a new experience.”
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Designed to be developer-friendly, the PlayStation 4 looks to be a great platform to design and create on, offering more creative freedom than ever before, according to Denny. But the PS4 also focuses on the player, giving gamers the simplicity and immediacy that they crave.
“We don’t want any lag between a gamer getting to his content now,” stated Denny. Coupled with this is an element of social play and a system that learns about its user. “The design philosophy is all centred around the player and enjoying the content that we can produce for it,” said Denny.
Incorporating the second screen
“Smartphones and tablets, though competitive, are also a massive opportunity to bring lots of new gamers in to then be part of the PlayStation ecosystem,” Denny continued. “We want all PlayStation devices to be compatible with and to bring the second screen in with the PlayStation app.”
Unsurprisingly, the PlayStation Vita is being pivoted as the perfect partner for this, but this doesn’t mark its end of days as a standalone handheld console. “The thing you have to remember about the PS Vita is it’s only had one Christmas so far,” Denny explained. “If you look at any good platform that’s launched in the last couple of decades, you really start to see the true killer content, the platform-defining content, coming in years two and three.” And we certainly have an exciting line-up set to debut on PS Vita this year, from Media Molecule’s Tearaway to Killzone: Mercenary from Guerrilla Cambridge.
But apart from its PS Vita-made titles, the handheld device and other mobile devices will be capable of remote play with the PlayStation 4. The aim, according to Denny, is to have as many PS4 titles as possible enabled for remote play over Wi-Fi out of the box, though what this will mean for gameplay will vary from title to title.
“It’s not an edict that any game has to use second screen at all, but it’s a design option for a lot of games,” explained Denny, who assured us that all titles from Worldwide Studios will certainly be taking that route.
PlayStation 4 Eye camera
There’s also the possibility of more peripherals down the line to take advantage of the capabilities of the new console. Already announced is the new PlayStation Eye camera, a HD stereo camera that will be better at tracking depth and producing feeds for an augmented reality experience.
Streaming and sharing
In terms of Gaikai’s cloud streaming platform, Denny assured us that the plan is to have this service rolled out as widely as possible, though he remained tight-lipped on how this will be achieved and when. When asked if this would be available in all territories at launch, Denny replied, “I assume that would be difficult. In the same way that any system that rolls out, to promise worldwide coverage would be a bit rash.”
The ambition is there, however, to create the world’s best gaming network service, and though Denny says that the team are mindful of all the technical challenges that have to be overcome to make sure that can happen, they are working on making this experience the best it can be based on the available infrastructure.
On a whole, the streaming service will be fuelled by Gaikai, and the team has looked at a variety of technologies to exploit the new ‘Share’ button on the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 controller. Even Denny believes they have only scratched the surface of the possibilities of the share button, conceding that there are “a number of services that could be available” but wouldn’t confirm anything other than the Ustream and Facebook connections already announced at the event.
DualShock 4 wireless controller
Denny did however clear up the matter of real names on the revamped PlayStation network, explaining, “I don’t think we’re going to force people to do anything.” This decision is merely a response to how social media has changed how we interact with others online, and Denny assured us that players who just want to keep their anonymity can choose to do that.
Long live the PlayStation
Some really good news for gamers is the fact that the new console has been built to last. “I think the main thing with PlayStation 4 is that when you look at the way it’s been architected you feel it is something that has long life, real longevity there,” said Denny.
And Denny isn’t quick to dismiss earlier consoles in favour of the next generation, either. The PS Vita is still just finding its feet in the handheld market and seven years after the launch of the PlayStation 3 it’s still an exciting console with more to offer in the coming year.
“Look at the games coming out on the PlayStation 3 like The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, GT6, and then on the third-party side of things another fantastic Assassin’s Creed, GTA,” Denny listed. “It’s important for our content to have that kind of longevity because, as I was saying [about the PS Vita], the games that come through are going to get better and better over time.”
Unfortunately, none of these releases will be playable on the new console (unless a PS4 edition is also released, of course). “There’s a lot of expense in [backwards compatibility] and you have to make decisions as to what’s really important to the gaming community,” was Denny’s explanation, though many in that community might not agree with his reasoning.
But what PlayStation 4 is doing, according to Denny, is adding to the PlayStation ecosystem so that there’s something for everyone. Denny also let us know that cross-play between the PS4 and PS3 is technically possible, just as cross-play between PS Vita and PS3 is possible, and the long-term plan is to have a full catalogue of PlayStation games accessible on the consoles via the Gaikai streaming service.
Other features Denny touched on (but only lightly) were the inclusion of entertainment services for consuming film and music, 4K stills images, and even the possibility of viewing 4K content. Free-to-play MMO gaming was also discussed – something that Denny is personally excited about. However, he explained, “If you’re going into those realms you need to design games that fit those models.”
In the end, we’ll have to wait until later in the year to find out more about the new PlayStation 4 hardware but, in terms of development possibilities, the new console is pulling no punches. “It feels we’ve got to a place where we’ve taken all the shackles off and now we want to see what can be done,” said Denny.