Console Wars 2013 – The PS4 Preview

Written by DigitaLeon on . Posted in Featured Article, Frontpage, Gaming, Reviews

This week marks the launch of a new console generation. This has been the longest period ever between subsequent generations of video game consoles. The Xbox 360 launched in November 2005 and the Playstation 3 launched a year later in November 2006.  It’s hard to believe it – but these systems are 8 and 7 years old respectively. In terms of technology they are effectively fossils.

To put things in perspective at the launch of the Xbox360 there was no iphone. If you had a state of the art consumer cell phone you probably had the ultra thin Motorola Razr.   We’ve seen massive changes in technology over this time – while the primary game consoles have essentially remained static.  Consumers are in for a treat because developers will now be able to deliver experiences that are far and above what the current hardware can support.motorola-razr-v3i-unlocked-silver

This series of articles will work to separate fact from fiction and hype from solid intelligence.  That said given my background with Microsoft and Xbox I know I have some intrinsic bias. So I have asked my friend Travis Williams to participate in the conversation and offer a different perspective.

The Playstation 4 launches this week so we’ll start with our  thoughts on that system.

My Initial PlayStation 4 Thoughts (Digitaleon)

leon profile big daddyFull Disclosure – I’m an Xbox guy. I was an employee of Microsoft Game Studios during the launch of the Xbox and the Xbox 360.  So I definitely have a bit of a bias.  That said prior to the PS3 I was a huge fan of the first two Playstations and also enjoyed the PSP. However The Playstation 3(PS3) was a machine that got very little use from me.  One reason is that the PSN network was so vastly inferior to Xbox live in terms of content and capabilities.  Online interaction is important to me and it was a huge part of the last generation of games. This fact naturally drove my purchases to the Xbox platform.   That said there were a few PS3 exclusive titles that I enjoyed. Notably “The Last of Us” was one of the best games I’ve ever played.

Looking to the PS4 – Sony is really working hard to corner the hard core gamer for this generation. And it looks like we are going to see a more sophisticated and capable PlayStation Network(PSN). Sony now sees PSN as a key tent pole of their business and are acting accordingly.

Support of day-1 digital downloads on the system is a huge win for consumers. In previous generations the fear of retail prevented game companies from embracing this technology fully. Only older titles were available for digital download.  Additionally the PS4 features some interesting options for sharing experiences online. Gamestop you’ve been given notice – evolve or go the way of the record stores and the dinosaurs.

From a developer perspective – Sony has abandoned their practice of building esoteric system architectures. They have based the PS4 on technologies that are much closer to Windows PCs(and therefore the Xbox)  This addresses a long standing complaint from Playstation developers which hampered their ability to get the most out of the system.

Challenges
Using the Playstation Vita as a remote terminal seems like a gimmick. Given the high costs (and low battery life) of the Vita – I just don’t think this is a compelling use case.  I’m also not convinced that Sony can fix their interface challenges. The current cross menu bar is an awful interface.  Hopefully the investments they’ve made will increase the usability of the system.  I also think voice is a HUGE risk for Sony. Microsoft has made a large commitment to voice interfaces on the Xbox one – and I don’t believe that Sony has made a similar investment.

Outcomes
The Playstation will sell out to early adopters this holiday. Every unit manufactured will end up in a home – the challenmlbtheshownov2013_13110521_616ge is what happens next. Will Sony be able to attract users outside of their existing fan base and hard core early adopters? Above all the system will be judged on the quality of the titles that are released and how well those titles interact with Sony online services. Sony can’t afford to have games like Call of Duty taking down their network if they hope to succeed.

That said Sony has a wonderful collection of talented first party developers building exclusive content for the system. For example – I DETEST baseball – but the highly detailed character models of their first party Major League Baseball game are so good it makes me consider playing the game.  We are going to see some amazing experiences across both platforms and I am extremely excited!

-DigitaLeon out

My Initial PlayStation 4 Thoughts (Travis Tech)

thinkingtravisFirst of all lets go with the full disclosure. I am a PlayStation alumni (2006-2012) and I have always been a fan of SONY products. It doesn’t mean I am a blind fanboy. Anyone who knows me at work can tell you that I didn’t love everything at Sony because I worked there. I even got uninvited to a few meetings because I was so “outspoken” about things that were broken or ineffective. Don’t like my answers? Don’t ask me tough questions.

Let’s be blunt. The PSN was a hot mess. There was so much wrong with the PlayStation Network that it was really mind blowing how it lasted. Especially when all you really had to do was look at Xbox Live and “DO THAT!”  That wasn’t so easy at the beginning when the PSN staff was sub 20 full time employees.  Sony Online Entertainment built the CMS (Content Management System) for it and it was something that not even a mother could love.  Who builds an online system with no staging area? Helllllo 1980s!

When you really get to the bottom of things the defining difference between SONY and MicroSoft is:

  • Microsoft is a software company that makes hardware.
  • SONY is a hardware company that makes software.

Sony_psn_logoIMO The PlayStation 4 solved Sony’s largest problem. Online functionality. The PS3s PSN online feature set was just embarrassing. If it wasn’t the feeling you were alone on the network itself it was how slow the updates/patches took. If it wasn’t you not knowing who was adding you friend-wise it was remembering your friend’s alias afterwards. The PS3 did a lot of cool things.. unfortunately, most people had NO IDEA how to make it happen. That’s what happens when a hardware company makes software. Mistakes are made.

What they got right…

  • Broadcasting your gameplay live (I wonder can you see this on your PC as well)
  • Using REAL Names instead of PSN Alias (FINALLY)
  • Playing games as they download
  • Day one downloads of games (FINALLY)
  • Sharing your gameplay videos / screenshots (To Facebook or twitter)
  • 8 user cross game chat (HEY LADIES)
  • Charging users for online functionality (You KNEW this was coming)

Sorry people if you want innovation or superior quality network features you need to pay for it. Keeping up with Xbox Live isn’t cheap and unless you want less than 12 people working on the PSN that takes cash.

Jury is out on…

  • Dynamic Menu (Is this gonna get too busy?)
  • Voice commands (I never seen this work well enough to be worth my time)
  • 2nd Generation Move (Sorry, I am mostly too lazy for these things to be worth it)

Controller

ps4-controllerOnce I get my hands on a final Dual Shock 4 I will tell you what I think of the feel of it. I wish that Sony would have staggered the analog sticks because I really think that configuration works well but there no way they would admit that Microsoft was right about that. The Share button, touchpad and the speaker are nice additions. I think it will be a good six to twelve months before you see anything worthwhile is developed with those features.

I wont even bother talking about graphic fidelity. I think that’s a foregone conclusion your games will look better and run faster. I don’t even care about that as much as I care what you can do to share your experience. I think this generation of consoles are all about the shared experience and what we do with it.

When I saw that you can remote play into another persons PS4 and play their game remotely… I flipped my wig. Not because I want Leon to play Street Fighter for me.. what I thought was from a game standpoint what you could do with that from a social gaming standpoint. If I see you playing a new game via your PS4 broadcasting it. I can jump in and play that game.. if it’s cool I can just go buy it?! Come on.. Come on…

 

– Travis Tech (and you know I’m right)

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DigitaLeon

Leon Pryor is a technology expert and professional photographer. Leon has an engineering degree from the University of Michigan and has spent his career managing and building software for pcs, game consoles, and mobile devices. Leon is currently based in the metropolitan Detroit area.