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Q&A: Sony Computer Entertainment's Shuhei Yoshida

Sony's Worldwide Studios boss talks about backward compatibility, new technology, and the challenges of communication.

Shuhei Yoshida speaking to reporters yesterday.
Shuhei Yoshida speaking to reporters yesterday.

The morning following Wednesday's PlayStation 4 announcement, Sony provided reporters access to Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida, who did not appear during the presentation, but nonetheless has been on-hand to talk to press about the company's direction for its new hardware.

Throughout yesterday's roundtable meeting, Yoshida was a mix of cagey and effusive, willing to talk at length about certain things left hanging following last night's announcement, and tabling others for a later date. Here's a brief overview of what was talked about, and how he chose to respond to those questions.

The Box

Much ado has been made about Sony's decision to not show the console box itself, instead opting to show the new DualShock 4 controller and the in-system interface. Yoshida was blunt about why this was the case, responding simply that the final design of the console is "not finalized." He was cagey about whether or not we'd see it, or really anything else regarding the PS4 prior to E3, opting to defer to his PR handler, who wouldn't confirm one way or the other.

The PlayStation 4 Eye

The new 3D camera peripheral, which was briefly touched on during Wednesday's presentation, is something Yoshida was happy to talk about and describe. "How it works is the PlayStation 4 Eye has two HD cameras," he said. "These two cameras can be used in several different ways. One way is to use as triangulation, so that the 3D space in front of the camera can be measured, and can separate the player image. Face tracking will be much more robust. Another way is to make our augmented reality games, like Wonderbook, look much nicer. Using one camera for the video streaming of the player image, and the other to focus elsewhere, two separate camera settings to optimize for whatever task."

He was, however, less willing to talk about how the Eye might be bundled with the system, saying only that "we are not ready to confirm what will or won't be in the box."

Used Games

Eurogamer effectively was able to get Yoshida to confirm last night that the PlayStation 4 won't feature any specific technology designed to prevent players from playing used games on their system. Since then, multiple quotes have popped up leading one to believe that maybe it's not as cut-and-dried as all of that. Yoshida's answer during our talk seemed to confirm his original statement, as he stated that "all disc games on PS4 will work with any PS4."

He was a bit more coy when addressing whether any such restrictions could be employed by other publishers, as with specific registration codes or other technologies designed to hinder the used market. All he would say was, "It's a publisher decision," and that "there are all sorts of capabilities."

Remote Play

"I would be heartbroken if this functionality wasn't available at launch," said Yoshida, regarding remote play capabilities for all PS4 games.

One of Sony's big tentpole features for the PS4 is the notion that all PS4 games will potentially be playable via the Vita using remote play streaming. Yoshida was asked about whether or not all games would support this at launch. His response? "The remote play side, we are saying virtually every PS4 game will be cross-play compatible with PS Vita. I would be heartbroken if this functionality wasn't available at launch. My feeling is that we have to have all games work with this."

Gaikai

Yoshida was asked whether the Gaikai infrastructure would be something we'd see on other relevant PlayStation platforms, such as the PS3. "That's the vision," he replied. "That's what Dave Perry said. In the future, the ultimate goal is everything everywhere. When we say everywhere, we mean every device, including the smart phones, TVs, what have you. That's our goal."

Backward Compatibility

Sony made it relatively clear last night that PS3 games and other PlayStation titles would not be natively supported on the PS4. However, he was less clear when discussing the possibility of future emulation for PS1 and/or PS2 games, saying only, "we are not talking about our Emulation plans yet" and that "there won't be native support for those games."

Region Locking

I asked Yoshida about the possibility of region locking going away in the next generation. However, he did not respond, saying only that he knows the answer to the question, but did not want to get an unhappy call from his PR department.

Peripheral Compatibility

When asked whether or not the PS4 would support previous hardware, Yoshida explained that the system will not support old DualShock controllers, but will obviously support PS Move controllers, as was briefly demonstrated last night.

3D Support

Sony made a big push toward stereoscopic 3D gaming on the PlayStation 3, but hasn't mentioned up to this point any potential support for it in the PS4. Yoshida had this to say on the subject:

"It's not a focus. It does do [stereoscopic 3D], and it does do it better. Because of our basic capability is higher, more games will run in 1080p, 60 frames, etc, so it's an easier and better experience when you watch on a 3D TV. But the 3D was a big thing a couple of years ago, we made it a big thing, because it was led by the consumer electronics side of Sony. And you know, we like what you can do with 3D on the PS3. But now the consumer electronics side of Sony have shifted focus from 3D TVs to something else. So, if they're not talking about it, why are we?"

4K Support

Yoshida was asked about whether or not the PS4 would support Sony's proprietary high-resolution, titled 4K. According to him, the system will provide 4K output for TVs that support it, but that content will be "personal content," IE home movies and such. Games, video services, and the like will not run in the 4K resolution for the foreseeable future.

Hard Drive

We know the PS4 will have a local hard drive, but how upgradeable/interchangeable that hard drive might be is still a question mark. Yoshida's response? "We're not ready to talk about the exchangability of the hard drives, but it's our dream that people are filling up their hard drives on PS4. Because on PS3, not many people did."

An App Store?

When asked whether or not the PS4 might support a more developer-focused self-publishing system like the Apple or Android app store, Yoshida remarked that he would very much like to see something along these lines in the future. "Our network, PlayStation Mobile, is really targeting to do that," he said. "Small developers can publish from any country we support to everywhere we publish. We are discussing internally how we can make it a bit more open, a bit easier, especially for smaller developers to publish. We see the importance of supporting these smaller developers, because they provide some very unique and interesting ideas to the platform. So somewhere in between what we are doing with PlayStation Mobile, and the kind of console publishing model, we'd like to work toward for PS4."

A More Western Influence

I asked Yoshida about the stronger presence of western developers and figureheads at last night's event than in past years. More specifically, I asked whether this represented any kind of sea change at the company, or was simply more emblematic of what Sony had to show at this time. His response wasn't a direct acknowledgment of either answer, though it did provide a bit of insight into his and Mark Cerny's role in the current scope of PlayStation 4 development.

"More and more development is done outside of Japan. Mark Cerny is a game developer, but he's very knowledgeable about hardware, he speaks Japanese, he's a nice partner to have. Because it takes a certain kind of understanding to work with Japan. It's a very strange place.

"Depending on the developer, the performance can be really really important," said Yoshida, speaking in regards to trying to balance the needs of different developers.

It's hard. I moved from the US to Japan a few years ago. I used to work there, but there are many new people. I was away from Japan for eight years. Coming back to Japan, the communication is very intense. You have to be there to understand how it works. Mark is able to bridge the two different cultures, and it's amazing. I'm there not because I'm running the studios at all in Japan, we have Alan Becker, and he's been doing a great job in my mind. I'm there because I can join the hardware team to bridge hardware guys with our Worldwide Studio resources. Mark is doing that from the tech side, I'm doing that from the game development side, making sure that the hardware guys have all the resources we have outside Japan, so that they are able to design and build the PS4."

The Challenges of Messaging

Lastly, I asked Yoshida about the challenges inherent to trying to excite consumers about a device using methods other than just pure visual prowess. Wednesday's demos highlighted plenty of technical achievements, but many of them had more to do with interface, usability, and functionality, than graphical power. Yoshida acknowledged that balancing this message has been a challenge for Sony. "The simplest answer is we want both. People like David Cage, for him the higher performance is really important, because what he wants to do is make a digital character really look like a human being. So depending on the developer, the performance can be really really important. Some consumers are really socially addicted, like myself, those people, it's really important for them to be able to share what they are doing, or communicate and see what other people are doing in the community, and that's our focus. But some people are totally untied, they're like, 'why do you want to expose your privacy?' There are many different consumers and many different developer focuses, so we want to be able to cater to these different needs."

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