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Everything You Need to Know About the PS4

by on February 20, 2013

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“PlayStation wants to win the war against reality.”

- opening cinematic of the PS4 Launch Event

Choo-choo! All aboard the PS4 Hype Train! Next stop – Holiday 2013! Sony’s much anticipated February 20th mystery event is finally here and, like the entire Internet speculated, it was all about their next-gen system, the PlayStation 4!

Sony Computer Entertainment president Andrew House took the stage in New York City earlier today, announcing, “Today marks a moment of truth and bold step forward for PlayStation as a company.” He remarked on the company’s history, noting that the “living room is no longer the center of the PlayStation ecosystem; the gamer is.” Sony is looking to strengthen that ecosystem through mobility, ease of access, and shareability of content. All of this is well and good, but where’s the system? That’s right – we never got to see the system itself, which gave the event a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” kind of vibe. That being said, the event covered everything from tech specs to launch titles, and we’ve got it all right here for you.

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The PS4′s Design Philosophy

PlayStation 4 lead system architect Mark Cerny informed us that next-gen platform development began about five years ago out of a desire to “look at how console architecture could free developers from painful technical limitations” and “let the player take a dynamic preference-driven path through the world of content.” In 2008, the question was posed to developers: “What do you want to see from a next generation console?”

From the advent of the Atari 2600 through the PS2, game consoles were single-purpose devices, but the world is more connected now, and people expect more from their devices. As a console designed before connectivity revolution hit, PS3 has certain limitations inherent to the platform. The PS4′s design pillars are straightforward: Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated and Personalized. Mobility, multi-platform gameplay, social media integration and more are central to design tenets of the PS4.

A premium has been placed on simplicity, functionality, speed of response and ease of use. Immediate access is no longer a luxury; it’s a consumer expectation. To suspend or resume play sessions, you simply hit the power button, which puts the system into a low-power sleep state. This should reduce the frequency of “holy fuck I can’t pause” moments, to which anyone who has a doorbell can relate. A secondary custom chip permits background downloads and processing even when the power is off. Digital titles are also playable even as they’re being downloaded, similar to certain PC games like Planetside 2 or StarCraft II.

The newly redesigned DualShock controller boasts enhanced rumble, a touchpad, share button, headphone jack, and a lightbar as a simple way to identify players. The controller was designed in tandem with stereo camera that can sense environmental depth and 3D position of controller relative to the lightbar (a la Kinect). For system memory, they’re using 8GB of GDDR5 unified memory, the type typically reserved for top-of-the-line graphics cards. Apparently, increased RAM was the number one request among developers, so hopefully this will put some pep in their digital steps.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oez_gvMxOF0?rel=0]

Cerny then flexed the PS4′s muscles a bit by showing us an Unreal 4 engine tech demo with demons doing righteous HD battle, then he gave us a sneak preview of Knackthe PS4 title he’s directing. Set against the backdrop of a modern-day human vs. goblin war, you control a tiny robot called Knack, a character composed of hundreds of separate floating pieces who seems to absorb his surroundings. Admittedly, he looks like Donkey Kong boned Ganondorf, but it seems to be a platformer packed full of personality, and it was impressive to see all the separately rendered floating pieces that comprised our tiny hero. Cerny then showed us a Havok engine physics demo in which one million different elements were rendered simultaneously. Considering that it used “only a fraction of the PS4′s processing power,” we’re excited to see what developers can do with the new hardware.

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Tech Specs

While we didn’t know much going into the event, we did have our fair share of suspicions and a trail of breadcrumbs courtesy of digital supersleuths and the mysterious PS Deep Throats out there. Luckily, Cerny was able to confirm most of them:

  • Name: The PlayStation 4The system is codenamed “Orbis,” at least internally and amongst developers. Orbis is derived from the Latin term for “circle” or “ring,” which when combined with their handheld system the “Vita” makes the “circle of life.” Go ahead, Dan Brown, curse the heavens that you didn’t think of this first.
  • Ports: 4x USB 3.0, 2x Ethernet
  • Audio Outputs: HDMI & Optical, 2.0, 5.1 and 7.1 channel audio outputs,
  • Drive: Blu-ray drive. Sorry, HD-DVD fans, but it’s over.
  • GPU: It features 4x dual core AMD64 Bulldozer GPUs, giving it a total of 8x cores.
  • CPU: AMD R10xx
  • HDD: 160GB
  • RAM: 8GB GDDR5 unified system memory
  • Controller: Destructoid first revealed images of the updated DualShock 4 controller, which appears to have a touchscreen in the middle and a mysterious LED strip on top, the purpose of which NeoGAF user Farrow illustrates here.
  • Price: According to Kotaku, the system should drop this November and the price point is $350 – $400

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Cloud Gaming, Social Media and Integration

Cloud gaming company Gaikai’s CEO David Perry was on hand to explain how the PS4 will approach cloud gaming, social media integration and the future of the PlayStation Network. ”The gamer is at the center of the network,” so optimizing user experience is the M.O. for Gaikai as they work with Sony to create a seamless user experience.

The PSN as we know it will change – the friends network is transitioning to a network based on real-world friends. They will keep usernames and avatars, but there’s an emphasis based on info seeded from existing social networks. Applications on smartphones, tablets, web, Vita and browsers will let you take the experience out of the living room and provide complementary experiences. Additionally, they’ve partnered with Facebook and Ustream to bring your friends into the fold in order to create a social network with meaning, dedicated to gaming. The system will adapt to your likes and dislikes to attempt to cater experience to you. As Perry said, “If we know enough about you to predict the next game you’ll purchase, we can preload the game for you.” While this could result in some hilarious preloads if you’re not careful, the goal is to reduce download time to zero. They are trying to create “the fastest network in the world which will enhance gameplay based on user preferences.” With Gaikai in the PS Store, you can instantly experience anything you want. Perry put it best with Gaikai’s maxim: “Try it for free, share it if you like it and buy only the games you fall in love with.” We can definitely get behind that.

He also noted that “spectating has become very popular in industry” thanks to the rise of things like Let’s Play videos and e-sports. The share button on the controller lets you broadcast real-time video to your friends, something that hasn’t been possible before. Friends can look over your shoulder virtually and post comments (if you allow them to). You can even let friend remotely access your controller to assist you in difficult areas. There will be dedicated, always-on video compression/decompression systems. The PS4 interface has been totally redesigned to make the sharing of videos as simple as sharing screenshots. You can even browse your friends’ live game video and comment on it. We’re predicting that a robust profanity filter is in order…

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Remote Play has also been built into the PS4′s architecture. The PS Vita is the companion device to the PS4; you can transfer the game from your PS4 to the PS Vita instantly, which they demonstrated as Mark Cerny took his game of Knack from the PS4 to his handheld Vita without any noticeable lag or framerate loss. This is achieved by essentially turning the PS4 into a dedicated server with Vita acting as a client. PS3 titles aren’t natively supported on PS4, but Gaikai’s technology could eventually put the entire PS1 – PS3 catalog online on any platform. The long-term goal is to make every PS4 title playable on PS Vita. It’s no longer just another platform; it’s connected. ”Everything everywhere is the challenge PlayStation has put before our teams,” said Perry. He continued, “The project has been fully greenlit by Sony; it’s an investment in the gamers who want their past, present and future games at their fingertips. Cloud services will be rolled out in phases.” In short, not all of what Perry mentioned will be available at launch; some of it is ambition for the future and will be rolled out in phases down the line.

Michael Denny of PlayStation Worldwide Studios Shows Us Some Games

Rob Lowe’s body double, a.k.a. PlayStation Worldwide Studios’ Michael Denny, boasted that the PS4 will offer “a synergy between hardware and software like we’ve never seen before.” Luckily, he left the stage right quick so we could get to the meat of the presentation: the games. Guerilla Games’ managing director/co-founder Herman Hulst took the stage to kick things off with Killzone: Shadow Fall.

Guerilla Games - Killzone: Shadow Fall

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuRwp6aCWRw?rel=0]

There was a guy on stage actually playing, so we’re fairly certain that it’s real gameplay footage. The explosions, environment and particle effects all look amazing, but the characters look current-gen. Perhaps that will change as development continues. And it wouldn’t be a FPS demo without stabbing one bad guy in the jugular. So much for diplomacy…

The LED on controller changed from white/yellow to green, which it remained for a while, according to Kotaku. No evidence of touchscreen use yet; standard twin-stick shooter layout. Zoom out on our protagonist about to get lit the fuck up. And here’s a bit of a fun fact: the gameplay video was uploaded directly to Killzone’s Facebook page via the Share button. It’s nice to see the new “instant access” functionality already in action (even if we have no idea what the console looks like).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INNS-zhmFZI?rel=0]

Evolution Studios - Drive Club

Evolution Studios’ game director Matt Southern was maybe the most excitable character to take the stage all night. He unveiled Drive Club, a super realistic team-based racing game which he referred to as “the game they’ve always wanted to make.” Drive Club has been in development for ten years (9 years with that trademarked name), but they’ve waited for the tech to be available to deliver their vision. They went “borderline insane with real-world details and subtleties,” covering everything from how paint looks in different lights to how tire treads are affected by various terrains to the euphoric feeling you (well, Southern, at least) get when you buckle up behind the wheel. We’re crossing our fingers for the “AAA Roadside Assistance” DLC.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaqN7aBVXcE?rel=0]

Sucker Punch - inFamous: Second Son

Nate Fox from Sucker Punch gave one of the creepiest game introductions of the evening, starting with a stirring anecdote about that one time he was in a riot: “In 1999, I took part in a political rally and got tear-gassed by the cops. I thought they were there to protect me, but they didn’t. We all want to feel safe, but it’s hard to put your finger on what that sense of security is worth.” He continued with some terrifying stats about the state of governmental monitoring of its citizenry: “There is one camera for every 14 citizens in Great Britain…and 1.3 million citizens had their personal cell phone records monitored by the American government” Is this Loose Change: The Game? Nope, it’s inFamous: Second Son, a sequel to the popular electricity-manipulating PS3 franchise. This police state version of Seattle looks pretty sweet and the inFamous franchise only stands to benefit from enhanced graphical capabilities and a better physics engine. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for this one.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk-RsawGjPY?rel=0]

Jonathan Blow - The Witness

Self-publishing will be possible on PSN, which should come as welcome news to indie publishers. Also in welcome news, Jonathan Blow (Braid) showed up to give us a sneak peek of his new game, The Witness. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do to follow up after all those explosions,” he quipped. The Witness is a PS4 exclusive where you are solving puzzles on an island. Sounds kind of like Myst, but it looked pretty gorgeous, so we’ll hear him out. Blow recounted how other games try to pad their playtime to seem longer, but in The Witness they tried to excise any filler to make a lean, mean experience. The result: 25 hours of unique puzzle-based gameplay. Replete with desert, forest, and swamp environments, fields with cherry blossoms and some fanciful-ass pan flute with a children’s chorus, The Witness demo showed many puzzles involving drawing simple lines, a weird but surprisingly addictive concept. Apparently, they have real architects working on the game and it shows in the design.

Quantic Dream – One Hell of a Tech Demo

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Quantic Dream’s David Cage wants to get players emotionally involved in gameplay, the ultimate goal for game designers. He hit me right in the feels for Heavy Rain, so I’d say he’s on the right track. Games have reached the stage that puts them on the level with filmic experiences thanks to PS4. Cage then proceeded to show us a truly incredible facial animation demo with quality that we’ve only seen in CG films. The engine built by Quantic Dream displayed an incredibly detailed old man’s face. We have started reaching a point where you can see subtle emotions on character’s faces.  ”You can see his soul just by looking into his eyes.” They’re not limited by horsepower; now ”we are now only limited by our imaginations.”

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Media Molecule – An Even Cooler Tech Demo!

Alex Evans from Media Molecule (LittleBigPlanet) wants to let you record your dreams. He proudly declared that they have freed themselves from the “tyranny of the polygon.” They fell in love with the Move controller, and they’ll marry that with the power of the PS4, which will be the “creative console.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYY-J3ckeSI?rel=0]

Evans described the demo as being similar to cloudwatching, but you can reach in and reshape it at any time. You are able to put down your ideas as fast as you can think of them. You can use other people’s sculptures and creations to create a dreamscape. It really does look dreamy. Four sculpted character rocking out on stage as people with Move controllers puppeteer them. It looks goofy, but fun, which is ultimately what the console is all about.

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The Worldwide Studios team and indie studios are pushing the boundaries into how games look, feel and interact, but longstanding relationships with iconic devs are intact too. Virtually every major 3rd-party partner is on board and we got to see quite a few examples of what’s coming down the pipeline.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drGkHlrPuOM?rel=0]

Capcom - Deep Down

Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono unveiled the oddly named Panta Rhei, Capcom’s brand new graphics engine, geared specifically for the PS4. He then showed us Deep Down (working title), a Skyrim-esque action-RPG that opens with a medieval soldier steeling himself before running into flames. It was difficult to tell if this was a true gameplay demo or a tech demo, but everything looked incredible from the fire effects to the insanely detailed character models. Based on the name, the game seems like a dragon-fighting dungeon crawler. The trailer ends with a message: “Conquer your fear or die a coward,” followed by  a knight shielding himself from an unrelenting barrage of flames. Oh, it cut to a weird message from Blanka too, but let’s just ignore that and focus on how impossibly awesome this game looked.

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Square Enix – Tech Demos and Teases

The Square Enix segment was a bit disappointing, as they trotted out the same Agni’s Philosophy tech demo we saw at E3 this past year. Granted, the demo looks terrific, but it would have been nice to see something new. At the end of the segment, they brought out Shinji Hashimoto, brand director for Final Fantasy at Square Enix, who had an important message for us. He wanted to tell us that they’re making a final Fantasy game… that will debut at E3. So, basically, we got blue balled by Square Enix, but that’s okay because they are the Walter White to my crippling meth addiction. (In this metaphor, meth is JRPGs.)

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Ubisoft - Watch Dogs

CEO Yves Guillmot and Jonathan Moran arrived to talk about Watch Dogs. “Everything about me and the ones I love is on this phone. What’s the next step? Smart cities where everything is connected.” Much like at E3, the game looks freakin’ gorgeous. The open world is populous and vibrant with visual markers reminiscent of the Assassin’s Creed interface, which makes sense because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p16OgsvHEf0?rel=0]

Hacking ATMs, security cameras and cell phones are all within Aiden Pearce’s purview. After hacking a woman’s cell phone, he follows her down an alley where her abusive ex-husband threatens her with a knife. He stops him from attacking her in time, then hacks a power grid to electrocute the perp while he’s in pursuit. To stop a cop car, he raises anti-vehicle posts from the ground. Looks like bullet time will be a part of the mix too. Using parkour and technical prowess, Aiden slows down a train then hops on top to evade capture. Think Grand Theft Auto meets Deus Ex in a very cool way. This video may have received the most applause of the event.

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Blizzard Entertainment - Diablo III

Blizzard senior vice president Chris Metzen took the stage with a short message: Sony and Blizzard have enterted into “a strategic partnership through which they will take over the world.” Blizzard has had a deep desire to get back into the console mix and they’re finally ready to take the plunge with the PlayStation 4. C’mon new Lost Vikings! Sadly, no, but as the iconic Diablo music rang out, Metzen confirmed that Diablo III is coming to both the PS4 and the PS3. They already have a playable version of the PS3 version and he said it’s amazing. The control schemes have been optimized for consoles and they even developed a four-player fullscreen co-op mode, so you don’t have to contend with tiny split-screens. Console fans eager to stay a while and listen will have to wait.

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Activision - Destiny

“Two Jason Jones sightings in a week? You’ll hear from him again in 2025.” – Activision CEO Eric Hershberg

Bungie’s Destiny, a 10-year project with Activision, was unveiled last week in Seattle and we couldn’t be more excited to play it. Bungie lead designer Jason Jones asks, “What’s worth doing after Halo?” The answer is Destiny, a persistent online world where players grow and evolve their characters.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kJkiwDeWqQ?rel=0]

This is meant to be a mind-blowing co-op shooter experience. The in-engine footage looks pretty amazing, which is not surprising considering Bungie’s track record.  We see lush landscapes, beautiful sunsets and more fantastical environments than the harsher, sci-fi ones from HaloDestiny isn’t coming until 2014, but it promises to have exclusive content for PlayStation as it launches simultaneously on the PS3 and PS4.

Other Rumored Launch Titles

According to an article from Official PlayStation Magazine – UK, we can expect the following launch titles:

  • Battlefield 4 - EA CEO John Riccitiello said the company would talk next-gen Battlefield around May and the late 2013 release date is in line with the PS4′s launch dates. This tweet from Gamestop is also pretty convincing…
  • FIFA ’14 – Not even a red card could keep this franchise away from a massive hardware launch.
  • Rainbow Six: Patriots - It’s been a minute since we’ve heard from the counter-terrorism professionals of Rainbow Six, but everything that we’ve heard from Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot points to this title heading for Next-Gen City.

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Parting Thoughts

Today’s event was heavy on the design philosophy aspect of things and offered plenty of impressive tech/game demos, but we still have yet to see the actual hardware (save for the redesigned controller). Pick-up-and-playability and instant access seems to be the name of the game for Sony as they go forward. Downloading the first bit of a game while the next 20GB downloads is a huge win for gamers and makes sense given the state of current digital content distribution networks like Steam. Integrated gaming experiences will follow you everywhere that you go (so start eating plenty of bran if you want to make the most of your Vita). Instant access is the big thing that devs are talking up (which is what we’ve heard about the Durango (Xbox 720) too, so it looks like Access is the buzzword of the next-gen). The gauntlet has been thrown (or at least insinuated) – your move, Durango.

What did you think about today’s PS4 announcement? What games are you excited to play? Quemment below and let us know!