Initial Playstation 4 Thoughts

It’s running some decent AMD silicon, has 8 GB’s of GDDR5 ram and will have a huge hard drive. Sweet, it’s the new Commodore 64 except potentially more limited if it doesn’t run a desktop operating system. At the very least, this is a system worth hacking to place another OS on it. It would be too frigging sweet to be able to run Ubuntu or Windows 8 on this machine in the future.

Audience: What about the games, stop talking specs!

Technology

Ah, sorry crowd. Unreal Engine 4 was demoed, in the words of Epic’s Cliff Bleszinski, I got to see Unreal Engine 4 and “…I want to rub my balls on it.” No, not literally. Figuratively… YES! I’m not normally one to go crazy over tech demo‘s but this one was pretty brilliant. It definitely is deserving of the Unreal Engine 4 moniker and it finally brings a product that may blow away their middleware competitors like Unigine.

This is “Elemental”, the Unreal Engine 4 tech showcase.

This is the “Unigine Valley” benchmark.

Both are very impressive but the Unreal Engine 4 display is for the Playstation 4, it’s going to continue to be optimized for that singular piece of hardware. Unigine will most definitely follow Unreal in that regard since the platform is using x86 hardware but for now, I’m still drooling. Unreal Engine 3 did not impress me at its’ announcement but 4 has. Bravo.

Audience: THE GAMES, THE ACTUAL GAMES!

Games

Fine. Many titles weren’t revealed today, it’s mostly just par for the course in the world of Playstation. Knack is a visually interesting platformer but much wasn’t shown on it today. Killzone: Shadowfall is just another first-person shooter, yawn. Visually it is impressive but I doubt the world was truly clamoring for another war-based fps. It does at least appear to be using a combination of increased graphical fidelity and world expansion – that has to be thanks to that 8 gig pile of ram. Driveclub looks like it may be a team racing version of Gran Turismo. InFamous: Second Son, another title in the InFamous series looks to have punched up the graphics but still tells the same old tale.

The Witness will be a timed blowjob, er exclusive, for the PS4. It looks like it may be an adventure game in the same vein as titles like Myst and Riven. No characters were shown, just the world and some creepily, enchanting music that would be right at home in a Tale of Tales game. Capcom showed off some nice tech called Panta Rhei that will be powering Deep Down and other PS4 games from the publisher. Deep Down honestly look like it may be thrilling but it’s too early to tell, not many details were given.

Squared showed off their Luminous Studio Engine again with the same tech demo from E3 last year, why did they even bother showing? Oh yea, blah blah said “wait for E3”! Blizzard announced that Diablo 3 would be coming to the PS3 and the PS4, there was no mention of whether the title would require a continuous online connection but the answer is probably a very expected but disappointing “yes”. Watch Dogs is still a beautifully awesome Ubisoft game but it’s not exclusive to the PS4 in any form. Personally, I buy cross platform games for the PC whenever possible – games should be divorced from hardware as much as possible.

Can Games Look “Too” Good?

Realistic character models were mostly avoided in real-time gameplay demonstrations but Sony did not shy away from showing off the old guy below. There were some other feeds that showed people. They all looked very real but seemed to noticeably be unreal in motion. It was less of an issue for models that had more artistic work performed on characters faces and bodies but it brings to the fore a potential issue for a more powerful system like the Playstation 4 – The Uncanny Valley.

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To simplify it, the Uncanny Valley is a theory that the more realistic a humanoid looks, the creepier it seems to humans until you get super close to perfection. I fully expect to see some amount of regression across the industry in regards to immersion due to issues with the uncanny valley and video game companies struggles with it. The Uncanny Valley is not limited to visuals, the entire presentation needs to be tuned properly. That will include a.i., animation, lighting, etc. These things will need to be very balanced, else you end up with something that just doesn’t feel right despite all of the technological gains of newer hardware and optimizations. Below is a diagram of the Uncanny Valley. To be more precise, it’s an extended form of the diagram normally used to depict it, it’s called the “Second Uncanny Valley”. It doesn’t just stop at the center to show how humanoid things can become more acceptable, it shows a theory on how overdoing it may result in diminishing returns and even destroying the hard work of escaping the first valley. second uncanny valley
L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain are two good, recent examples of games that either went just a bit too far or not far enough. They definitely were not balanced enough, Noire, moreso than Heavy Rain, was unbalanced. Check out those NPC’s on your second playthrough (first playthrough’s are notorious for the new input overloading your senses, your imagination can make grand exceptions), you may not be able to stand them.

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Game developers have a few ways of combating this, I’m only posting the solutions that I can think of off of the top of my head.

1. They can work hard as heck to beat that first dip and come out of the valley as champions.

2. You can get graphics that will resemble super/hyper-realistic versions of 360/PS3 games and larger game worlds. Think Shenmue but with the scope of expanding it from a tiny village to maybe 15 GTA: San Andreas sized worlds but at the graphical fidelity of Yakuza 3 (being wishful).

Even the PS4’s specs wouldn’t be able to hit GTA IV with that type of scope unless the world was constantly being streamed, there’s nothing that states that the entire game world needs to be loaded all at once but for the sake of argument we’re going to imagine keeping an expansive, detailed,  San Andreas sized world loaded at all times with the graphical fidelity of Yakuza 3, the game below.

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 That’s a lot of data to crunch but the feeling of a living, breathing world can be kept (at overkill) by practically killing load times, pop-in, frame rate stutters and many other graphical issues that plague ambitious products. I can’t think think of a practical reason to need such a larger area in memory unless you were going to make a Sonic game that actually has the blue guy moving at the speeds that he does in his lore.

3. Cartoony/Unrealistic styles. Think Okami, Windwaker HD, Jet Set Radio, The art from GTA loading screens, Beyond Good & Evil, etc. With the type of crowd the Playstation attracts and wants, this style on a Killzone type game will not work.

Gungrave Overdose would look pretty sweet with a Wind Waker HD style makeover.

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4. Realistic styles but exaggerated/played-down animations. It actually looked like the new Killzone is doing this. Don’t expect anything to greatly surpass Uncharted’s realistic animation work and Killzone: Shadowfall like visuals unless the entire experience is designed to be artistic, ala Final Fantasy X vids/XIII QTE’s. Of course, this is just my poorly informed guess based upon the few specs that have been announced. I’m likely underestimating the true potential of the PS4 but I’d rather be more cautious than optimistic at the moment.

5. Just do whatever the heck they want, give you a demo that’s better than the game and laugh all the way to the bank after you buy the game. 😛

What Else?

Based upon what is currently known, the PS4 does not seem like it will sell well outside of early adopters if it has a price tag that doesn’t equal the Wii U’s. Even then, the current economy may demand it to be lower.

Unless Sony’s streaming solution is live at launch (Gaikai), say goodbye to your PS3 games if you plan to sell your PS3 to subsidize your PS4 purchase. PS1 backward’s compatibility is practically a given but the PS2 is probably the biggest mystery. The PS4 will probably still be using a blu-ray drive that can read dvd’s so there shouldn’t be a reason to not accept PS2 discs except to minimize development overhead on emulator development while reselling ps2 games to us digitally.

It’s still too early to call this race but at the very least the PS4 is in a better position at this point in its’ life than the PS3 was in comparison. We have real-time gameplay footage, more commodity hardware in the console and a more humbled Sony leading it.

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Gaming is not inherently a superior form of entertainment. It is inherently one of the most empowering forms of entertainment in the world. Not video games alone but all games.

If books, movies, plays, etc are the pedagogic form of entertainment than games are androgogic.
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I hate this guy.

I should beat him up next time he comes outside.

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