The PlayStation 4 – More than ‘just’ visual upgrades

Posted by: 2/26/2013

The Internet often blurbs out opinions and statements without letting the dust settle and really think about things. The most recent example to me here is the PlayStation 4 reveal on February 20th where Sony officially unveiled the next generation hardware from the company. Please keep in mind that what follows is solely my humble opinion and in no way me trying to force a stance onto the reader.

PlayStation 4 Logo

It’s been quite a while since the PlayStation 3 shipped in November 2006 – some may argue too long – the fact of the matter is the economy was in shambles and the last jump to HD console gaming allowed for this generation to go on longer than previous cycles. Gamers were able to enjoy increasingly quality titles on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 which sort of climaxed with Halo 4 on the Microsoft console and the upcoming The Last of Us on the Sony equivalent.

Developers and publishers made it work, gamers were happy and enjoyed extremely good looking and well playing games in the tail end of this console generation. The easiest thing to expect from new consoles is ‘prettier visuals’ with ‘mind-blowing lighting and particle effects’ and that is what press and gamers have been talking about ever since the PS4 was revealed along with the gameplay demos and trailers. The PlayStation 4 will be an immensely powerful machine that mimics a higher end PC in terms of specs but will never truly rival the latest and most high end PCs that gamers can build or purchase. After all we want to be able to afford the thing and put it in our living rooms.

Dual Shock 4

The Dual Shock 4 with it’s touch pad, LED and share button

We are already living in an HD world where crisp visuals and pretty vistas have been part of our experience for years and the visual upgrades with the new generation may not be as impressive as the upgrade from PS2 to the PS3. That’s okay – our games already look really pretty and yes, they will become even more stunning to look at as the new generation picks up steam – just look at PS3 launch games and compare them to the latest and greatest.

Resistance Fall of Man

 Resistance Fall of Man – released in 2006

The Last of Us

The Last of Us – to be released in June 2013

The truly big an innovative thing about the new PlayStation is what developers can do in terms of AI, world building, player interaction, community and gameplay improvements. Oftentimes we complain about stupid artificial intelligence or arbitrary world interaction where every playthrough is the same for everyone. We complain about how things like gameplay is the same and boring, we want to experience a fresh new thing and interact with the community and friends like never before.

This is what we will get from Sony’s PlayStation 4.

Players will be able to share content with the push of a button or have friends jump into their game to take over control and help them finish a hard section, spectating will be build into the console’s base features and allow for communities that make the praised ‘MiiVerse’ communities look like child’s play. I am not drinking the kool aid here, I am simply pointing out that we should not be solely focusing on visuals, yes they are important and yes they will be improved and some developers will create games with a ‘wow-factor’ that gamers long for so desperately, but not paying attention to the true possibilities here misses the point.

In a recent interview posted on Polygon on Killzone Shadow Fall, one of the games announced for PS4, Guerilla Games managing director, Herman Hulst had this to say:

“What we are trying to do with this game is create a vibrant world, something that feels very alive where your existence is acknowledged, so people look at you, people respond to your actions, all of that,” he said. “And that takes a lot of different elements. It’s not just the quality of the facial animations, not just the effects, not just the lighting. It’s not the photo realism. It’s not the environment. It’s all of these different things that need to work together to create a coherent kind of experience where you believe that, ‘Yes, I am in this world because it all makes sense.’ Nothing falls out of place and jerks you out of that experience.”

A lot of times a video game feels what we call ‘game-y’ and players often want an immersive, authentic or ‘real’ experience – to accomplish these things developers needed new hardware with more processing power in the CPU, advanced shaders in the Graphics Card and lots of RAM to run complex scripts and code that allows for truly smart AI to interact with you – the player – the world around you and other online interactions all while making sure the game continues to work, the lighting, textures and animations to be pretty and fluid as well as all of the other aspects that are required to make a good game to run n sync.

Please get used to the fact that visuals will at some point reach that level of diminishing returns while other advancements in game design will continue to improve and allow studios to create experiences that will blow us away in ways we can’t think of yet. Please don’t get hung up on the ‘Oh that game doesn’t look better than Crysis on PC’. It’s just a bit ignorant and naïve to be honest – show some faith in the developers and publishers. This next generation will drive gameplay and immersion as much as the lest one pushed visuals.

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