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When will we see the PS4?

Everyone has had passing thoughts about when the next generation of consoles will show up and what will make them stand out from their predecessors. I’ve decided to organize my thoughts on the matter into a blog mini-series about the three home console rivals (or two rivals and one unimpeachable overlord, if you prefer) and try my hand at some basic prognostication.

Feel free to skip to the goal if you just want the predictions, or just read the bold text if you’re a lazy jerk on the internet. Up first, Sony’s PS4.

The PlayStation 4

The Call for Change

 Kaz is calling it.
 Kaz is calling it.

When Yamauchi got on the podium and apologized for Gran Turismo 5’s less-than-perfect framerate, I could feel buildings of hardware designers in Minato cringing. The lead designer of a first-party flagship had declared the PS3’s graphics potential exhausted. 

This siren call had been coming and it doesn't somehow mark the end of developmental progress by any means, but processing power was the biggest push for the PS3 at launch behind Blu-Ray support. Losing that bullet point leaves the PS3 in a rough spot as it only stands out in one other regard: as a media center. This strategy, looking at the numbers, can only get them so far.

Sony’s Problem

Too little, too late. 
Too little, too late. 

Between trophies, the PlayStation Store, and Home, Sony has been treading water since launch to provide a comparable online experience to Microsoft’s; whether they’ve succeeded is a verdict I’ll leave you to give. In equal “me-too” fashion, the Move just arrived on the scene as a better version of the Wiimote. The Move in particular exposes Sony’s most glaring weakness as a console designer: everything they do is improvement rather than innovation. Nintendo comes up with the amp, and Sony makes one that goes to 11. They never grasp for new ideas , opting to wait and tweak the ideas as they show up.

Modern console architecture is pretty much identical across the board now--CPU, GPU, optical media drive, home page, wireless controllers, online game distribution, USB interfaces, in-console storage. When those variables were in flux, making the PS2 use DVD’s was a huge deal. That trick doesn’t work anymore, and Sony can’t just innovate by having bigger and better numbers anymore. Unfortunately, their track record shows that they disagree with this sentiment. As such, I will not account for the possibility that they realize it here.

Black is always in style.
Black is always in style.

Sony also has an overbearing need to look high-brow. The old PS3 bleeds discretion and class, as does the first iteration of the PSP. Their commercials are cringingly postmodern. This behavior naturally deters both experimentation and new customers. I happen to love the distinguished black look of Sony’s products (the commercials are another story entirely), but most people just don’t care about stuff like that and its hurting their business to cater to discerning ponces like me.

The Goal

Sony’s goal feels the most straightforward of the three: they want a superior graphical experience and they want to match or best Xbox Live’s online services. The PS3 is already a pretty solid home media center, and improving upon its feature set would be an in vivo process anyway, so I won’t go into it here.

If other branches of Sony Corp have any sway at all on the video game division, 3D will be a must for the PS4. Every BRAVIA developed from here on out will be a stereoscopic display, almost guaranteed. PlayStation has always emphasized the single player experience and glasses-bound 3D is nothing if not a one-man endeavor. This is probably Sony’s most alluring angle as cross-product integration with TV’s can give them an additional edge, if handled properly.

Sony won’t release a new machine unless the visuals are game-changing. For purposes of defining game-changing power, a reasonable (and simple) objective would be for games that ran at 30 frames per second in flat 720p on the PS3 to run at 60 frames per second in stereoscopic 1080p on the PS4. Number crunching pegs this as a ninefold increase in performance (twice the frames x 2.25 times the pixels x twice the screen renders = 9). 3d tech shortcuts, advanced shaders, economy of pixel scale, and expanded texture sizes aren’t accounted for by this formula but as an approximation it will do.

 Now in all three glorious D's.
 Now in all three glorious D's.

Barriers to Success

This kind of graphical might is already alive and well in, you guessed it, the high-end PC market. NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang stated during Sony's pre-show press conference at E3 2005 that the RSX GPU that drives the PS3 is twice as powerful as the GeForce 6800 Ultra and it has been compared to a Geforce 7900 GTX. That card is six generations old (8000-9000-G200-G300-G400-G500). In extreme geek terms, we weren’t even using unified shaders back then. Even without upgrading the CPU, the PS4 could make the 9x goal on an optimized version of NVidia’s next card. I imagine NVidia is pushing Sony hard to get to market so they can restore their revenue, which has been dangerously low in the recent past.

Not touching the CPU might even be the right way to go. The Cell processor in the PS3 is so much more powerful than the rest of the machine that it’s wasteful. It has being used in arrays for supercomputing. Efficiently programming the Cell is a huge pain because of its peculiar architecture; it has one main core and 8 "synergistic" cores. As anyone who plays games on PC is aware, multithreading is relatively new technology for games and is far from perfectly implemented. However, with the help of scaling technology being developed by companies like Valve and Id, this power will be more useful in the next generation. It is fast enough to comfortably scale to meet the needs of the next-gen GPU, significantly reducing the necessary jump in GPU performance to get to 9x total performance. Using identical architecture would also go a long way in preventing another backwards compatibility debacle.

 Seriously. No one will even notice.
 Seriously. No one will even notice.

Sony could abandon their current community services in favor of superior ones tomorrow. Seriously. Trophy support is still a half-assed affair years after its inclusion. Games and movies are both tied to e-mail accounts that use money rather than points for exchanges and could be shuffled into a new interface without incident. “PlayStation Home”? “Integral to the PS3 experience”? Never in the same sentence. The problem is that any software engineering could just be done on the current console. This element cannot justify new hardware. However, it may still be used to push new hardware and that might be an appropriately obnoxious move in the interest of pimping the next model.

When is the PS4 hitting store shelves?

My guess is late 2012. Why should they wait? If Sony’s first-party games aren’t getting people to buy the PS3 anymore, nothing will. Blu-ray players are dirt cheap now, a bevy of streaming boxes are hedging the PS3 out of that market, and pretty much everyone agrees that the PS3 and 360 are equivalent graphically. It has lost most of its individuality and the faster Sony can step up their game, the better. They have also worked on a 6-year development cycle since the beginning, supporting the previous platform until it dies off completely. The competition would also be caught offguard; Microsoft just blew half a billion dollars promoting Kinect and spent a good deal more developing it. Microsoft's gaming division probably lacks the funding to develop another console right now, making an earlier date even more appealing as Microsoft wouldn't be able to match it. As such, I predict an announcement Q2 2011, and a release Q4 2012 unless Sony is working a much grander project than I suspect.

Your move, sir. 
Your move, sir. 

Will a drive toward 3D and superior online be enough to float a console? I doubt it, but Sony supports peripherals apathetically and if anyone is going to stick with the DualShock form factor into the foresee future, it will be Sony. I would love to be surprised, but I foresee a fairly vanilla improvement in the PS4. To honest, though, I’d be happy just to have a console that actually uses my screen.


As a disclaimer, the PS3 is the only home console from this generation that I personally own. I have so many friends with Wii’s and 360’s in close proximity that all I’ve needed is GameFly and an XBox Live account to see the world of games in its entirety--such are the perks of collegiate life. Still, this partial ownership undoubtedly colors my perspective at least a touch.

I’m sure there are a billion typos and errors in this blog. It went way longer than I expected and the next two will almost certainly be shorter. 
I also reserve the right to edit the original article to make it look like I thought of everything the first time.

You have the floor. Yes, you, the one at the computer/phone.    

GT5 is really underwhelming so far.

My brother and I have played the Gran Turismo series since number three. I enjoy them in spurts and my brother has played them obsessively in past. We were both fairly anxious for a full HD upgrade to GT4 and the list of new features and cars made GT5 out to be exactly what we both wanted: more straight-up car racing in real model cars. Not an overly ambitious goal, but sometimes I need to unwind with a down-to-earth title and Gran Turismo fits the bill admirably. 

We have been playing GT5 for about 4 hours now and while the core concepts of the game are still intact, it has totally failed to impress me.

The graphics are not good. Yamauchi has an eye for detail and his passion for the cars is made obvious when you try to discriminate any of the cars from the real thing--you have to try, and that is testament enough to their craftsmanship. But the cars only make up a fraction of your viewing area while racing and it is equally obvious that a comparatively meager amount of time went into the environment. Trees are classic doubled sprites, the grass has no tone to it, the audience is as unconvincing as it ever was...but the worst offenders are the distant backdrops which look universally terrible. No effort was put into them at all; you get the impression that each track is suspended in mid-air, a thousand of feet off the ground.
The menus are garbage. Nearly every race has stringent requirements for entry, requiring you to scour the globe for cars on a regular basis. This doesn't really bother me; in a game with over a thousand cars I want to be swapping them out on a semi-regular basis so I can at least see a sizable portion of what's on offer. But the dealerships are arranged alphabetically, the cars in each are arranged by price, and there is no other way to sort or search them. This is a nightmare when looking for a European FR mobile made between 1960 and 1979 (a dreampipe attempt to use the same car in three different cups). Is this any worse than it used to be? No. Is this acceptable after five years of development on an unmodified premise? No. The sting here is that the garage has a ton of filters that make finding the car you want a breeze. Polyphony simply didn't put this functionality in the other browsers.
Loading times. Holy shit. We installed the game; it took over 40 minutes for the PS3 to soak up 8 gigs from the GT5 Blu-Ray, and if this is the result I shudder to think what the game must be like without the install. Browsing for cars is a mostly text-based affair, as it can take upwards of 5 seconds to bring a car on-screen after highlighting it in the dealer menus. The races also take a ridiculous amount of time--an amount made even more frustrating by the quality of the environment the game renders once its done. Load times are even frustrating between menus. 
This does not sum my complaints totally, but it is more than enough text-based rage for one blog post. I certainly hope that Polyphony puts some major patchwork into this game, because most of my problems with it are completely fixable post-launch. 
I'm sure plenty of other people have been harping these things over the last two days. I just need some catharsis from the BLAEGHURGH is all.


An open challenge

As you are all quite aware at this point, this thread generator has solved all of our gaming forum needs for the rest of eternity. However, while browsing, I stumbled across this particular question that I couldn't help posting. 

No Caption Provided
The ideas mashed together in this topic are so incompatible that I cannot even come up with a bullshit response for it. But I can feel the gen taunting me as I fail to imagine a scenario where this sentence could possibly be valid. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


Cryostasis hasn’t stopped being fun, but it is letting up a little bit. It’s hard to tell if the story is going to go anywhere or if I’m nearing the end or what is even going on…and I love its design for that very reason. I feel like I must have missed something somewhere along the line, but I am still substantially in the dark about what the fuck the plot is truly about. Perhaps I'm simply not even close to the end, which is my current thought. Still, that doesn't explain why the grandma story seems to be coming to a close; unless, of course, it isn’t which is entirely possible. I am still loving every frosty corridor it has to offer.

Based on the soundtrack numbering, I have reached the final world of Mario Galaxy 2 and I have to say that it is better than I expected. The music is not nearly as original as the first game’s, but that is really an unfair comparison. It is mostly remixes of old songs done up quite well and the jazzy overdubbing is…fresh *shudder*. I hate that word but it is the correct one in this case and I intend it as a compliment. The game finally ratcheted up the difficulty in world 4 to an acceptable level and it has remained adequately hard since. Bowser Jr.’s boss fight at the end of World 5 is actually one of the more entertaining boss fights I’ve ever played in a platformer. It is absolutely loaded with dangerous elements and it struck a fantastic middle ground between challenge and frustration. If the last world maintains the current tempo, I may give Galaxy 2 a five, putting it on par with World and SMB3. It could well deserve such standing.


Minecraft: Hope in Java form

My indie support fund for this month was expended getting into some Minecraft, and this investment has paid off in ways I didn't remotely expect. 
On the more obvious front, the game's simplicity and openness make it very entertaining. There is little depth to Minecraft's mechanics, but the few pillars the game is built upon have brought LEGOs into the 21st century. This is easily the most apt comparison I can draw for the game, from the brick-by-brick construction to the enforced granularity of the world to the mine spelunking--an exercise suspiciously akin to my time spent rummaging in a giant tub for the one piece I need, sidetracked by a multitude of wondrous obstacles along the way. 
The more subtle, and possibly more gratifying, thing that Minecraft has done is restock my belief in the ingenuity of the video game industry. I am not naive enough to believe that video games have stopped evolving or have "run out of ideas;" I am actually rather anti-nostalgic as far as gamers go and I frequently defend new games from the community's stigma against corporate influence, whether these games are based on novel ideas or not (Modern Warfare 2 comes to mind). But I do lose confidence in the industry's ability to make novel adventures as the years go by. I can't help it; as my perspective for this entertainment form gets larger, the momentum of today's innovations seems less and less impressive by comparison. 
But once every year or so, a game like Minecraft comes along and shines a light on that gathering shadow. Anyone could have made Minecraft. Anybody. The game runs in a browser and is so simple it could have existed in its current form ten, if not fifteen years ago. But the hand of fate fell last year on recently unemployed Markus Persson to codify this work, a game allegedly inspired by games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Dungeon Keeper, neither of which come close to emulating the creative freedom of Minecraft. 
That is a hell of a thing.


Graphics aren't to blame for my impressions of HL1

There is a subconscious agreement among most video game players of all walks that many blockbuster games are carried purely by their visual power. Shooters get this tagging a lot, Crysis being the star pupil. These games are supposed to go out with a bang and have no lasting appeal, what with the development cycle being so lopsided toward gorgeous instead of good. It just assumed that the game will age poorly and, in two or three years when we can honestly say "this doesn't look THAT great," the 9/10's and 5 star impressions will fade to the weaker "real" experience the game "actually" had to offer.

I am a firm dissident of this belief, and the most recent reinforcement of my stance is Half-Life 1. 

Valve, as you probably know, lowered the price of HL1 to 98 cents in commemoration of its 10th birthday. This game, until very recently, has been in my dark closet of shame where games I should have played a long time ago reside. I pre-ordered HL2 and its corresponding episodes, playing and beating them all within 3 days of their release, yet I had not played the very first one that gave the later games such limelight. I can honestly say that, had I paid $10 for the game, I would not have been satisfied.

Some of you may see a contradiction here. I believe graphics don't drive how good a game is, yet I have a disillusioned taste of this decade-old masterpiece. The problem wasn't graphics; it was the core gameplay. Say what you will about the video content of shooters over time and their subsequent softening in difficulty, but the shooter has come a longer way from its roots than any other genre. StarCraft II, coming out someday in the future, is maintaining a fair amount of similarity to Blizzard's elder gaming style in strategy; adventure games have always been about the story, the mechanics driving the bus being secondary and sometimes even pointless (RPG's are actually being hybridized with shooters in games like Mass Effect and Borderlands); platformers have gone 3D and frozen, some like Mega Man and Trine even falling back to 2D. There is no major game developer making another Doom.

That is because, for all the charm they have to offer, the FPS's of yesteryear have design elements and restrictions that no developer finds valuable beyond nostalgia. Did you enjoy traversing square-shaped mazes, looking for key cards, dodging semi-static enemies that have one attack and death animation? Games that possess these traits nowadays suck. Mazes are considered poor level design; key cards are fetch quests; repetitive voicework and posing kills immersion. Notice how we have terminology for every one of these ideas? Those terms comes from the negativity that surrounds them.

Half-Life 1 doesn't look great anymore, to be sure. The textures are pixelated regardless of the range you view them from; no one has more than a hundred polygons to their figures; the particle effects (with the notable exception of the machine gun blast which is surprisingly good looking) look like something out of a cheesy flash video. Despite all this, as I was playing, I never muttered "man this game looks like crap." Most every shooter has the player running around too much for this matter in the slightest and clarity of image becomes the only real graphical factor. No, I was muttering "why does it take more than one blast from a shotgun to kill a soldier on Normal?" and "How the hell am I supposed to make this jump and not die from the falling damage (seeing how I've been clinging to 3 health for the last half hour)?". The game wasn't fun for me; the only entertainment I gleaned from it were the nostalgic bits and the loose story ends that I was unaware of from playing the sequels.

I didn't review the game for GiantBomb because I don't think reviewing classics makes practical sense...too many factors make evaluating and reading about oldies a waste of time. If I did, I would give it 2 stars, with the only positive notes being the atmosphere and the under-the-hood nature of the story. Valve, as a developer, has grow by an incredible degree in maturity in these 10 years (as they better have after that period of time). They cling unnecessarily to the past in some instances, such as their health system (it's not really the HP number that bugs me so much as how you replenish it), but the series of Half-Life 2 games is a step forward in every possible way over its predecessor. HL1 is worth it for a buck, if you consider a net neutral experience and filling in your old-game pallet  to be desirable characteristics.