Rumors have been floating around for a while, but earlier today at a two-hour press event in New York City, Sony made the rumors official. The PlayStation 4 exists, and it is coming to retail in time for the 2013 holiday season. Although the company failed to show the physical box, it did showcase the new controller as well as announce the core hardware specs in a press release.
Andrew House, president and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, kicked off the event by talking about how the company viewed connectivity as the centerpiece of the future of gaming.
"The living room is no longer the center of the PlayStation ecosystem," said House. "The gamer is. Connectivity between devices … has been essential."
According to House, Sony's plan is to bring the gaming experience to every Sony device, so that play doesn't end when the console is shut off. He commented that Sony sees potential in expanding the PlayStation Vita's presence in the living room but offered few details, instead focusing on the importance of social media for the current generation of players.
"It is simple and adaptive, socially enriched content," said House. "This is the foundation of our next-generation platform, PlayStation 4."
Next, Mark Cerny, the lead system architect on the PlayStation 4, took the stage to describe the hardware and show off the Dual Shock 4. Cerny highlighted the PlayStation 4's similarity to high-end gaming PCs and focused on the fact that a common platform would make software development an easier process.
"Our goal was to create an architecture that would facilitate the expression of their ideas," said Cerny, referring to video game developers. "The architecture we chose is like a PC in many ways."
The specs highlighted during the presentation were an x86 CPU, an enhanced PC GPU, 8 GB of DDR5 RAM, and a hard drive. The CPU and GPU are on the same die, with the CPU having eight cores. The unified system RAM will allow developers to allocate it as needed for their games. Cerny commented that converting games between the PlayStation 4 and a standard PC would be straightforward and showed off a real-time demo of Unreal Engine 4 running on the PlayStation 4 hardware.
The DualShock 4 looks a lot like the current DualShock 3 with some minor adjustments. The dual analog sticks feature concave tops like the original PSone Dual Analog controller, rather than the convex tops that have been standard on all the previous Dual Shocks. The Start and Select buttons have been removed, with Share and Options buttons taking their place. A touchpad (similar to that on the back of the PlayStation Vita) sits in the center of the controller, between the Share and Options buttons. A small speaker and the PlayStation button also appear on the face.
Both the digital d-pad and the four Sony action buttons also appear on the controller. L1 and R1 are present, as are the L2 and R2 triggers. A light-up section on the top part of the controller is there for feedback, sitting right next to a USB charging port.
Cerny took the time to show off a demo of Knack, a cartoonish action game he is directing that featured goblin and human armies fighting. Technology in this virtual world appeared to be current, with the main character a robot-type creature that can take different forms.
Speaking more about what players expect from a console, Cerny said that simplicity and immediacy were core drivers of the PlayStation 4 system design. Sony wanted all functionality to be just a button press away, and it wanted to get rid of the boot time. As a result, the PlayStation 4 features a Vita-like suspend feature. Rather than shutting down the system, players will be able to suspend it in a low-power state and immediately resume where they left off.
Interestingly, Sony has included a specific chip in the PlayStation 4 just for downloading software. The idea is that the system will track everything you see and do on it and use that information to create a personalized interest profile. Sony then plans on preemptively downloading software to your system, so if you decide to purchase it, the whole thing is already there and ready to go. It also plans on supporting progressive downloading for games, so if you purchase something that needs to be downloaded, you can start playing as soon as the first chunk is on your system. The remainder of the game will download in the background.
"Personalization is a key design principle of the PlayStation 4 interface. You'll discover content pre-loaded and ready to go on your console," said Cerny. "If we know enough about you to predict the next game you'll purchase, that game can be loaded and ready to go before you even click a button."
After Cerny finished highlighting the hardware features, David Perry took the stage to talk about Sony's network plans. Perry is the founder of Gaikai, the cloud gaming software company that Sony purchased last year. As soon as Perry starts talking, his emphasis is on delivering "a connected experience."
"Every decision we're making for the network is scrutinized," said Perry. "What we're creating is the fastest, most powerful network for gaming in the world."
According to Perry, Sony wants you to be able to try any game in the store at any time — and not just a cut-down, vertical-slice demo. His goal is to have you select a game and be able to instantly start playing. As far as the social aspect is concerned, Perry said the PlayStation 4 is integrating Facebook and Ustream. Friends will be able to post comments to your screen in real time. The Share button on the DualShock 4 controller is a real-time broadcast button. Press the Share button, and you'll start streaming your gameplay, direct from the console.
If sharing wasn't enough, Perry claims that the PlayStation 4 will also support shared gaming sessions. If you are having trouble getting past a difficult part in a game, you can send a help request to a friend. Your friend can accept the request and remotely take control of your game.
Perry also confirmed Remote Play for all PlayStation 4 titles on the Vita. This is a feature that was previously promised on the PlayStation 3, but one that Sony failed to deliver except in limited circumstances.
Unlike the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4 will not be backward compatible with any current software. This is likely due to the difference in architecture. Perry said that he wanted to be able to stream all the older games via the cloud "someday," but no specific time frame was given.
With the core hardware features detailed, it was time to move on to the games. The first one shown off was Killzone: Shadowfall by Guerrilla Games. Once again featuring the Helghast as opponents, the new Killzone features detailed graphics and vibrant colors. Gameplay appears to be fairly standard first-person shooter mechanics, and little story details were revealed.
The second game on the list was Drive Club by Evolution Studios. Building on the social features of the PlayStation 4 hardware, Drive Club is focused on competing against other players. Rather than racing against the AI, the entire game is said to encourage players to form racing clubs and challenge other clubs to races. Much of the demo focused on the detail in the car models, though some racing was shown at the end.
Sucker Punch demoed Infamous: Second Son, the latest installment in the Infamous series. Set in a police state, the underlying design concept centers around the question of the freedoms a society would give up to ensure security. Much like the previous games, Second Son should feature questions of morality, offering two different paths to explore as you develop your powers. The game is a new story and features a new character, Delsin Rowe, as the lead.
Sony chose the next game as an example of its commitment to indie developers, inviting Jonathan Blow (creator of Braid) on stage to demo his new game, The Witness. Blow described his game as a compact, open-world puzzle game.
"We worked very, very hard to cut anything that is redundant," said Blow. "There is no filler. Everything is where it is for a reason."
He went on to explain that every item in the game has a specific purpose, and while it's an open world, the intention was that the player is only seconds away from any destination. He doesn't want players to waste time trying to get from point A to point B. Blow also confirmed that The Witness would be a timed exclusive on the PlayStation 4 during its release window.
The presentation then shifted gears from games to technology demos. David Cage of Quantic Dream took the stage to show off the company's newest facial modeling techniques. He said that Quantic Dream's focus was on conveying emotion and drawing players into the virtual worlds, just like a good film.
"We don't want players to just watch something," said Cage. "We want them to believe it and suspend their disbelief."
Alex Evans of Media Molecule was up next, presenting a different point of view. Whereas Cage said the focus should be on extra detail provided by more polygons and extra horsepower, Evans said Media Molecule wanted to move away from the tyranny of the polygon.
"With the power of the PlayStation 4, we're going to revolutionize making," said Evans.
He then proceeded to show a demo video of a 3-D sculpting program running on the PlayStation 4 and using the PS Move as a controller. After showing off a number of models, three different screens lit up, with four different players. Each was controlling a cartoon-like puppet as they played in a virtual band. All of the characters were created in the software.
Yoshinori Ono of Capcom took the stage, not to talk about Street Fighter, but rather to show off Panta Rhei, a new engine for the PlayStation 4. After going through some of the engine features, Ono played a video of Deep Down, a game concept currently in development and running on the Panta Rhei engine. The video showed a knight and a monk around a campfire, before the knight went into a cave to battle a dragon. It was oddly reminiscent of the movie "Dragonslayer." The game's tag line is "Conquer your fear or die a coward." Of all the software shown off at the event, this was the most impressive. Ono wrapped up the demo when a message from one of his online friends, Blanka, messaged him asking for help.
"The power and technology behind PlayStation 4 will bring us all sorts of brand-new experiences," said Ono.
Square Enix was up next, with the Luminous Engine demo. It looked like the same demo we've seen previously, though this was said to be running on PlayStation 4 hardware. Square also confirmed a new Final Fantasy title was in the works but gave no details other than it would be announced at E3.
Ubisoft showed a real-time demo of Watch Dogs, the game that made a splash when it was first announced at last year's E3. The idea behind Watch Dogs is that everything is connected. All of the surveillance capabilities of a major city are at your disposal. It's up to you to use this power to solve complex problems.
The demo looked very intriguing, though both the concept and the gameplay looked as if it was lifted directly from the CBS TV show "Person of Interest." If the game is engaging as the show, it should do well.
Chris Metzen, the senior VP of story and franchise developer for Blizzard, took the stage to announce that Diablo III was coming to both the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation 4. The console versions will be exclusive to Sony platforms and will feature four player co-op.
Wrapping up the game presentations was a team from Bungie, who showed off a Destiny video. Destiny was confirmed as a PlayStation 4 title, along with the promise of exclusive content.
Sony closed the presentation with a confirmation that the PlayStation 4 would ship for during holiday 2013, though it didn't give a specific month. More details are likely forthcoming during next month's Game Developer Conference in San Francisco and later this summer at E3 in Los Angeles.
Editor's Note: Be sure to check out our detailed impressions of the PlayStation 4 hardware.
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