Sony did it. They managed what Nintendo failed to do last year -- make next generation gaming something to be genuinely excited about. In a mammoth 2-hour event that wrapped up just moments ago, the entertainment giant released details on the internals of the new PS4, better Move integration, a new PlayStation Eye, a much improved PlayStation Network, a host of new features and UI changes, a brand new DualShock 4 controller, and announced a slew of new content and software for the upcoming console.
Hardware specs are confirmed as an x86 architecture, an enhanced PC-spec GPU with an estimated 2 teraflops of performance (that's a lot, in layman's terms), 8GB of DDR5 RAM, and an unspecified amount of HDD storage.
Sticking with confirmed hardware, the DualShock 4 was announced, looking a lot like its predecessor but with some subtle changes. Sony adhered to the if-it-ain't-broke school of design -- and so they should, as the DualShock design is iconic, and integral to the brand's identity. Featuring new, recessed thumbsticks, a rubberized grip, a more rounded profile, a touchpad borrowed from its Vita sibling, headphone jack, improved rumble capabilities, a light-bar to identify individual players and, most intriguing, a new share button. This button ties into Sony's new emphasis on sharing content (no surprises there). Also announced were a new PlayStation Eye camera with stereo lenses to better track the 3D position of the PlayStation Move controllers, though it can also track the new light-bar on the DualShock 4.
In terms of performance, Sony is placing an emphasis on cutting out loading screens and boot times. The new hardware is capable of instant-resume -- something tablet gamers have taken for granted for the past year or so. The PS4 can pause mid-game at any point, and resume instantly, allowing for more efficient multi-tasking. Leave a game, watch a YouTube video, or even turn the console into a low-power connected stand-by, and it'll jump back into your gaming session without missing a beat. Sony have also included a dedicated chip that manages content distribution -- either downloading of games, movies and music, or uploading clips and images via the new share features. Gamers can purchase a game and start playing another without worrying about hurting system performance or pausing the download. Another cool feature is game streaming -- start downloading a game and, after a certain point, users can start to play the title as the rest of the data downloads. Depending on play style, a whole game can be played without having to pause and wait for the download to catch up -- though this will depend on internet speed, and won't help those with a download cap. Remote Play, which was introduced between the PS3 and the PSP, and later extended to the Vita, returns with increased functionality. The Vita can act as a second screen, but its increased power also allows it to stream game sessions so you can continue gaming on the go.
Sharing, however, is where Sony is making a big push. Partnering with social apps like Facebook and Ustream, it's putting gamers and their friends first, and is making bold steps to bring a more social aspect to the rather cold PlayStation Network. Gamers can not only pause their game and scroll back through the play session, selecting a pre-cached short clip of their game to upload for friends to see, but they can now livestream their gaming session to friends, or the public, via their console. A new multi-cast feature enables a gamer to invite several friends to virtually spectate in a game with them, with spectators able to throw comments on screen, offer advice, manipulate the game-world in titles that support it, and even take over the game session -- say, to assist the gamer if they become stuck at a puzzle. It's a seriously cool idea, and it'll be interesting to see what game developers can do to implement it -- scenarios offered included friends dropping health potions when the player is low on health, or manipulating the environment to aid in a platformer.
And then there were the games... Sony brought their first party studios with them, demoing Killzone: Shadow Fall from Guerrilla Games, whose live demo looked stunning -- and a far cry from the pre-rendered Killzone 2 demo they brought to the PS3 announcement, which earned Sony and Guerrilla a lot of ridicule. Motorstorm developer Evolution brought Drive Club, which brings an interesting social aspect to the traditional racing game, and offered the closest thing to car porn I've ever seen in a game, the level of detail was so great. Sucker Punch showcased Infamous: Second Son, Ubisoft brought open-world adventure Watch Dogs with a pretty great live demo, Quantic Dream showcased some breathtaking character modeling, Braid developer Jonathan Blow announced PS4 exclusive The Witness, Capcom and Square Enix displayed their new graphics engines running on the new architecture -- Capcom's in particular was rather eye-catching, and Square Enix also announced that they will have an announcement regarding a new Final Fantasy game at E3. (Great announcement, guys.) Bungie confirmed that their MMO Destiny was headed to both PS3 and PS4, with exclusive content, and, in a rather major coup, Blizzard stepped on stage to confirm a strategic partnership with Sony which would bring their massive PC game Diablo 3 to the PS4 and PS3, with remapped and enhanced controls. Sweet.
Really, though, it was Media Molecule who stole the show. With a simple, effective video presentation, they demonstrated why they're the studio who developed the beloved LittleBigPlanet series. Developer Alex Evans started by expressing his distaste for the Move controller -- a risky move (pardon the pun) -- but then pacified any nervous Sony execs by saying, after 2 years of research into enabling greater creativity, Media Molecule had realized that the Move was the tool for the next generation. What followed was a sublime, adorable presentation, which made Nintendo's approach to motion-gaming seem dull and passé.
All of this begs the question, what will Sony have left to announce at E3? The console itself. Sony deliberately stopped short of showing the PlayStation 4 in the flesh, leaving a gaping, teasing hole in their announcement that's sure to whet the appetite of fans desperate to see what will surround the new gaming beast.
We'll be live at E3 to bring you every announcement as it happens. Roll on June.