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The PlayStation 4 Announcement: An in–Depth Analysis – Part 2

Continued from Part 1, before the Xbox One announcement – click here to read Part 1 (opens in a new page)

In the first installment I looked at the PS4 presentation, the branding, the games, PSN and the new Dual Shock 4 controller. This time I take adetailed look at the hardware and UI and ask whether Sony has done enough to ‘Win’ the next generation?

The UI

Although we didn’t get a much of a look, the new User Interface seems to be modelled somewhat on the new PS Store design (which is itself not that dissimilar to the current XBOX UI). I don’t know if it’s because the demo system was not fully populated or personalised but it all looked a little bland to me.

A heavy support on personalisation was hinted at, which ties into their system philosophy (more on that next time). Although the XMB has been with us along time its still pretty functional if not that exciting. Lets just hope the final version retains the functionality but with a little more flair.

The Hardware & The Ethos

Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated and Personalised.

This is the ethos behind PS4 & PSN.

I can’t fault them for this in any way. In fact I would go one step further and proclaim this should be the mantra for ANY digital product, platform, culture, layer or service.

By integrating Social functions deep into the platform itself and not just relying on innovative developers to add features with specific titles, Sony has laid down the gauntlet. The Wii U has some very appealing social options with Miiverse allowing gamers to connect in ways Nintendo gamers could only dream of before and no doubt Microsoft will offer their own clever angle on social but it will be hard to compete with the prospect of sharing in game videos and images in real time with friends and the wider gamer universe.

Immediate and Simple. These are ideals aimed not just at the consumer but at the developer community who have seemed to be won over by Sony’s attempt to offer them a platform which is easy to work with. Sony has along history of technologically capable systems but which were a pain to develop for. Often it would only be the likes of first parties like Naughty Dog, Polyphony, Sony Santa Monica and a handful of talented third parties who could really push PS systems to their max.

Now with a PC based architecture and 8gb of dedicated RAM developers will finally have a Sony system that offers all the benefits of working on a closed, well-integrated system and one that is easier to work with. Could the days of multi format tiles being developed for XBOX as the primary platform be over?

Some have complained about PS4 essentially being a top spec PC – a platform which always has the potential to be upgraded. But after the alleged $1bn R&D costs for the PS3’s cell processor which led to its excessive launch price point can you blame Sony for instead opting for modified “off the shelf” components that will allow it to launch at a price point that theoretically should be much more palatable?

The PC point is also misjudged simply because this is not a PC it’s a PlayStation. We are not just buying a piece of hardware but a whole tailored eco system which comes with its own original titles, and unique services. Like the Xbox 360, the Wii U and indeed every other major console in history, this is much more than just a piece of plastic and chips but instead a total experience. One which I wouldn’t trade for a PC any day (and vice versa).

Personalised, Immediate and Integrated. Tying in it with its new emphasis on Social is the idea of truly personalised system. One that adapts to its owner and is to quote Arnie “a learning computer”. The idea of booting up your system (which can happen instantly and remarkably mid-game in certain standby modes) to find new titles recommended by the system which are then downloaded automatically will be something gamers haven’t experienced before. This will help gamers find hidden gems that may have otherwise escaped their glance. Indies must be hopeful this will offer the mainstream exposure essential to delivering a hit title.

Integration with other systems is reminiscent of Microsoft’s Smart Glass and is something we will continue to see with practically all future connected devices.

Unfortunately Sony’s dream of convincing the world that the Vita is the PS4 natural companion seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Remote Play is a great feature but it will take a lot more than that to revive the Vita…

The Box

Probably the biggest point of contention was the fact that although we saw plenty of what the PS4 is capable of we didn’t actually get to see the PS4 itself! Opinions ranged from “who cares!!” to “I can’t believe they didn’t show the system!!” The opportunity to take a few pot shots by their rivals wasn’t missed either…

Announce a console without actually showing a console? That’s one approach

— Larry Hryb (@majornelson) February 21, 2013

Although it was disappointing not to see the new system, we have to remember Sony still has a show to put on at E3 and there’s also the possibility Sony itself is still working on the final design. Also let’s not forget although brand new console hardware is always exciting especially when we have to wait 5 years or so, Sony will no doubt unveil a PS4 Slim in a couple of years!

The Verdict

Overall I was impressed with the launch but I hope Sony still has a lot more up their sleeves. The development community seems to be fairly positive about the hardware and the opportunities available and for gamers itching for new hardware the next gen can’t start soon enough.

Sony was adamant: the PS4 is a games system first and foremost and hardly referenced the ‘all-in-one entertainment box’ others are touting. But the landscape has changed a lot since the PS3 was launched. Rivals and threats exist in a myriad of new forms and Sony can not afford to take its eye of the ball for a second.

One thing is for certain, the next year is going to be very interesting…

Achievement Unlocked: The New Xbox One (Reveal Round-Up)

New Xbox One key facts

Tonight’s Xbox reveal event (#XboxReveal) was many things. Showy? Yes. Hyperbolic? Definitely. Featuring plenty of green lighting? Naturally. But was it what we were expecting? Questionable.

Sure, no-one really expected it to be particularly games-heavy, given that this is only the first announcement and E3 – representing another opportunity to hype things up to the world’s press – is only weeks away. Still, there were very few surprises among the titles shown tonight, and technical specifications were hardly forthcoming.

So what did we find out then?

Well an early surprise was how quickly we got to the name reveal. There has been much speculation online – from simply “Xbox” a la Apple’s iPad launch last year, to the popular “Xbox Infinity”. I think it is fair to say that no-one expected “Xbox One”.

Perhaps the name tries to reflect Microsoft’s aim to turn the Xbox into the total living room solution they’ve been striving for in the latter years of the 360 – “one console to rule them all”, maybe.

New Xbox One consoleThe biggest surprise – and a pleasant one at that I might add – was showing and demonstrating the console itself. Clearly keen to one-up Sony, who only released some abstract photos of their console for the first time yesterday, Microsoft ensured they had a finished product ready for their big day. Taking a much more blocky, sharp design approach than most modern technology, the Xbox One looks less like a games console and more akin to a living room home entertainment system.

And living room entertainment certainly seemed to be the buzz-phrase of the event. “Simple, Instant, Complete” was the ethos Don Mattrick touted right from the outset of the event, and even as person after person came and went, the single-system mantra and social media integration was never far away.
The first obvious observation was the heavy reliance on Kinect voice and gesture commands. No doubt the console will be fully navigational via a controller as usual, however it is clear that a lot of time has gone in to re-designing the Kinect interface to make it more intuitive and responsive. Small wonder then that the console will ship with a Kinect 2.0 sensor, purportedly required to be connected in order for the console to even work (a rumour not confirmed tonight, I should add).

Recent rumours of HDMI/cable TV input ports being included in the console specs meant that the announcement of live TV being viewable via the console came as little surprise. TV channels and the programme guide can all be called up and switched to via simple voice commands, and seemed fairly easy to navigate.

New Xbox One Kinect 2.0

 

The “instant switching” feature allows not only immediate switching between channels, but whole functions as well. In mere seconds, it was possible to jump from watching live TV straight into a game, to mid-way through a film and back to TV, via the music player for good measure. Multi-tasking is something the Xbox 360 truly dominated in the last generation of consoles thanks to its multiple processors, and it looks like the One has taken this to a very impressive new level.

“Snap Mode” enables screen-in-screen use of other application, such as making a Skype video call while watching a movie or playing a game, or opening the web browser to look something up on the internet (cleverly using your smartphone as a remote thanks to the next version of SmartGlass). This was all very seamless and multi-tasking opens up a left-hand sidebar for the purpose, so that the primary activity is not obstructed.

New Xbox One interfaceThe console’s user interface seemed very similar to the 360’s, utilising a Windows 8 style tile system but without all the clutter and a darn sight sleeker. Menu screens are customised to each user, which load up with ease thanks to the Kinect 2.0’s effective facial recognition-based auto login. Recently used applications or games are displayed in the primary area, with a second space dedicated to the new “Trending” area for content seemingly pulled from your friends’ social media and Xbox Live profiles.

Clearly social media was going to be a major feature of any new console in today’s world, but surprisingly this Trending area was very much integrated into the Xbox platform – there was not a single mention of Facebook or Twitter at any point during the event; a very welcome breath of fresh air.

Reciprocally, some content can be automatically shared or pushed to other services. A much-discussed example of this is the integration of sports channels with fantasy leagues, enabling stats to be automatically updated over the course of a game.

No mention was made of the rumoured ability to record TV in the same manner as a DVR, however with such a large focus on Live TV it would be very surprising if this functionality is not included.

One very exciting announcement was led by none other than Steven Spielberg, who, in partnership with 343 Industries, will be bringing a live action Halo TV series to Xbox as “premium content”. What this “premium content” means with respect to XBL users is still unclear, however. Will subscribers need to pay for this content? Or will it be included with a Gold subscription? Will the XBL tiers even remain the same?? Perhaps we will discover some of these answers at E3.

Let’s now look at some of the more technical features and launch titles announced.

The Release Date

Xbox boss, Don Mattrick announced the new system would be released “later in the year” which is unsurprisingly vague but at this point they will be keeping the cards close to thier chest to out manoeuvre Sony who will also be releasing PS4 later this year. Video games are all about one-up-manship after all! As expected no price point was revealed.

The Hardware

Under the hood, Marc Whitten revealed the new Xbox One packs 8GB of RAM which matches up to the PS4 and will no doubt keep developers happy. Recent rumours of this 8GB being DDR3 rather than the PS4’s dedicated DDR5 are still unsubstantiated at this point. Not much else was revealed about the tech but we did find out that the Xbox One architecture comprises of “3 operating systems” to work with its three main inputs.

The Disc Format

The system also utilises Blu Ray as its physical format, which will be a fun talking point for all of us that remember the bitter Sony Blu Ray vs the Microsoft-backed HD DVD war a few years back. This also flies in the face of those who thought that the next gen systems wouldn’t incorporate any kind of disc-based media and operate as digital-only. Good news for Game and HMV (assuming that come the end of the year they’re still afloat, that is).

So this means both the Xbox and PS4 will have parity in both RAM and media format which will be good for developers producing multi-format titles, but is perhaps a little boring for gamers looking for more unique differentiators between platforms.

Kinect

The updated Kinect which now “anchors the system” has a greater level of fidelity and measures depth, musculature, more skeletal points, weight and balance. Alas – no mention yet of the rumoured eye and finger tracking. The new Kinect is now the main input it would seem for the main UI. Microsoft are shipping every system with the Kinect and will no doubt force/encourage developers to make as much use of it as possible. Hopefully this time around it won’t be forgotten quite as quickly and maybe even used in more innovative ways.

The Controller

New Xbox One controller

The controller looked a lot like the 360 one crossed with the original Xbox controller, and didn’t have the same number of new features as the Dual Shock 4 – although we were told there were 40 new updates including feedback in triggers. What a tease!

The Games

And so onto the games!

So now we know why Turn 10 took a break with Forza Horizon as they unveiled, surprise surprise, Forza 5! Which looks a lot like… Forza 4! Looks like Microsoft will be taking on Sony’s PS4 launch title Drive Club head on.

Swedish developers Remedy showcased their new title Quantum Break which, like Alan Wake, looks like a highly cinematic game where the story and gameplay adapt to the player’s actions and decisions. Looks like Quantic Dreams and Naughty Dog have a challenger on their hands for their “games as movies” crown.

EA reaffirmed their commitment to the Xbox One by announcing what we already knew: EA Sports is coming to Xbox! WOW!

New Xbox One EA sports Fifa, Madden, NBA Live and UFC announcedFIFA 14, Madden 14, NBA Live 14 (let’s hope this one actually makes it to retail this time) were all announced, along with their upcoming UFC title which they revealed at least year’s E3. The new EA Ignite engine was presented via some in-game footage of all four titles. They look like the EA Sports titles we all know and (maybe) love, but a little bit better.

This time we were promised better animation and more realism. Which admittedly is what we hear every time, but hey the demos did look impressively detailed.

Bringing out the big guns (literally) Microsoft saved the “best” for last, and what else could it be but Call of Duty: Ghosts, which seemed to basically be slightly prettier standard Call of Duty fare – but now with added dog!

Infinity Ward are developing the game with a script by Traffic writer Stephen Gaghan, and the plot now sees America in ruins and your team more as the underdogs (plus actual dog).

New Xbox One COD Ghosts reveal

The new engine was demo’d and compared with Modern Warfare 3‘s engine. Much like the EA engine, the main features of the new COD engine (massively increased poly counts, advanced animations, high res textures and volumetric lighting) seem to be what we hear about every time. Managing to keep it all running at a very smooth 60 fps however is undeniably impressive; putting that hardware to good use.

Multiplayer now boasts dynamic maps complete with natural disasters, and a greater level of character customisation.

Continuing the highly successful Microsoft-Activison partnership, Xbox One will see all Call of Duty content premiere first on Xbox One. For many gamers, that fact alone may well be sufficient incentive to buy Microsoft’s new console, possibly even over the PS4.

Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft Studios, confirmed there would be 15 titles in the first year of launch, and perhaps most impressively claimed that 8 of these would be completely new franchises; a much-welcomed fact given the oft-discussed current lack of new IP. Your move, Sony!

The Verdict

While the Xbox One reveal was undeniably exciting, with a whole host of ideas premiered, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that many of the so-called “innovations” are built upon foundations laid solidly during the current console generation, and that true innovation is really yet to come. Combine that with the relatively short run-time and Microsoft holding a pretty hefty chunk back for E3 – a show which is already touted as being in decline by many industry veterans – the whole affair seemed a little bit… lacking. Lacking in excitement, in innovation and in substance. But then again, how many launch titles since the PS2 era have been truly unique?

Both upcoming consoles have the hardware specs to enable developers to really take gaming to the next level, and both industry giants have a large focus on becoming one-stop-shops for the living room, so whatever your take on things so far, it’s safe to say the best is yet to come.

Bring it on.

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XBOX Reveal – LIVE Updates from the Show

We are live blogging the XBOX reveal LIVE!. refresh the page to get the latest news form the event!

·         We are live blogging the NEXT XBOX reveal!

·         All star intro with Cliffy B, Hideo Kojima, Bill Gates, JJ Abrams and more!

·         Don Mattrick has hit the stage talks up the success of Xbox live

·         Simple Instant Complete – the ethos of Next XBOX

·         Introducing XBOX One

·         Form factor is very boxy very similar to XBOX original but slicker and shinier – I like it!

·         Kinect 2.0 matches the design of XBOX ONE

·         Cloud Powered

·         Yusuf Mehdi takes stage to introduce new UI

·         Home screen remembers your favourites and last played – login via Kinect

·         Home screen looks a lot like Win 8

·         Live TV on XBOX – instant switching allows immediate switching between TV, games, web, music with  lag no menus

·         New gestures for TV and movies

·         Snap Mode allows you to use multiple apps at the same time ie movies, web

·         Group video calls via Skype – who needs Google Hangouts eh?

·         Snap Mode allows you to watch TV and make calls and surf web and apps at the same time

·         EPSN demo – watching TV with fantasy basketball integrated

·         TV Guide fully integrated

·         XBOX One has made second screen on the same screen

·         Marc Whitten hits stage to talk tech

·         Blu Ray included and 8GB RAM matches PS4

·         OS is the XBOX architecture is 3 OS in one

·         Kinect updated with 2Gb per second processing

·         Kinect camera measure depth, skeletal, balance, muscle

·         New controller has over 40 updates including feedback for triggers

·         SmartGlass is natively part of the system

·         3 inputs – Kinect, Controller and SmartGlass with Kinect as the focus

·         300,000  servers powering next XBOX live

·         EA Sports in new partnership with Microsoft with FIFA, Madden, NBA and UFC (who saw that coming?!)

·         EA introduces next gen engine EA Ignite

·         Phil Spencer talks up MS Studios

·         XBOX One is clearly designed for the living room with a smart design and all entertainment integrated

·         All new franchise reimagined for a new generation

·         Forza 5 revealed first XBOX One first party title – so this is why Turn 10 didnt do Forza Horizons – this will take on PS4’s Drive Club Head on

·         Cloud powered changes games worlds

·         Remedy presents Quantum Break – a cinematic game which adapts as you play (sounds like Heavy Rain?)

·         Microsoft is investing than ever in studios around the world

·         We have more titles in development now than any other time in history

·         15 exclusive launch titles with 8 new IP for launch!

·         Nancy Tellem announces interactive immersive TV

·         TV on XBOX will immersive you… for the first time truly personalised

·         Bonnie Ross, head of 343 Studios  announces live action HALO TV series with Steven Spielberg

·         Peter Jackson must be gutted!! He had tried to bring Halo to the big screen for a several years

·         HALO is a “Premium” tv show – what does that mean?

·         Game Changer? NFL Partnership with XBOX

·         NFL On XBOX allows for interactive fantasy play with live in-game updates

·         Don Mattrick is back to talk up the “one system you will use everyday”

·         XBOX releases later this year – around the world. Is that a simul-launch?

·         More games presented at E3

·         All future Call of Duty content will launch exclusively on XBOX One

·         New engine for next-gen Call of Duty Ghosts

·         Stephen Gaghan writing Call of Duty Ghosts for Infinity Ward

·         Who let the dogs out? Infinity Ward it would seem! Mo-capped dogs feature in Call of Duty Ghosts

·         Call of Duty Ghosts: Dynamic maps for multiplayer and character customisation

·         Call of Duty Ghosts: Still 60 FPS

·         New Call of Duty Ghosts engine boasts massively increase poly counts, advanced animations, high res textures  and volumetric lighting

And that’s the end of the show. Read our full in depth analysis of the reveal here.

Do you think Microsoft did a good job? Let us know below!

The PlayStation 4 Announcement: An in–Depth Analysis – Part 1

So it’s been almost two months since Sony finally pulled back the curtain and revealed the PlayStation 4 to the world.

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In that time since we’ve heard a few more rumours and several title confirmations as well as a talk at GDC which offered a few nuggets – but not much else. Right now the industry and indeed the world beyond are looking towards June’s E3 super blow-out in anticipation of one final Sony “Megaton” spectacular.

With rumours swirling about an imminent Microsoft Next-Gen XBOX  announcement, codenamed “Durango”,  I wonder if Sony is waiting to reveal another tantalising feature to spoil the Microsoft party. Of course this course of action could backfire if said hypothetical Sony reveal underwhelms and if Microsoft blows everyone away with their next XBOX.  If history is anything to go by, this is one industry that’s definitely not afraid of a fight and taking risks. Well, some of the time anyway.

So as we look to Microsoft’s launch, what better time to reflect and take a closer look at the February 2012 PS4 announcement and ask; did Sony deliver and live up to the hype?

In this two-part feature we will be breaking down the announcement into it’s core components.

The Presentation

 The show itself was something of a surprise. Sony always delivers great staging when it comes to these types of events and this was no difference opening with a video screen that appeared to bleed out all around the arena. Imagery of past PlayStation glories such as Parappa made me realise how Sony has now truly earned its position as a mainstay in gaming. I still remember them as the brazen upstart taking on Sega and Nintendo in the nineties, and for a few years that impression remained. Today, Sony have undoubtedly earned their place in the industry, with a heritage and legacy they can be proud of.

One positive thing that was somewhat unexpected was the sheer technical emphasis of the show. Considering this was heavily promoted and live streamed for the whole world to see – the developers, the wider industry, the media and the gamers – I was impressed that they were willing to go into details, and Lead System Architect Mark Cery was an engaging and credible host alongside the more familiar Sony execs. The absence of our old pals Jack Tretton and Kaz Hirai was a shame but on the whole this was a slick, well paced launch.

The Branding

The only surprise was, well,  the lack of surprise! It looked identical to the PS3 Slim theme. Every PlayStation has launched with its own branding identity – until now. Of course it makes sense to create imagery that feels familiar to established customers, but surely they could have added a more unique spin to the “new” logo? Sony have often innovated with their marketing (This Is Living, It Only Does Everything, Kevin Butler, Michael, S.A.P.S, The Third Place, David Lynch, Alien Girls), and I hope the PS4 offers up something as memorable when it’s campaign kicks off properly later this year.

The Games 

Ok, I’m afraid to say it but this is where I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong the titles all revealed (or in the case of Watch Dogs re-revealed) all look interesting and fun but none of them delivered that killer impact. Graphically we were treated to more complex iterations of Kill Zone (NOT pre-rendered this time!) and Infamous but apart from Quantic Dream’s undeniably impressive tech demo, nothing pushed any real graphical boundaries. Also it remains to be seen if the visuals represent the fidelity of in game characters in Quantic Dreams next gen title as opposed to just proof of how many polys the PS4 can push. It was also surprising to see that the very first demo of any PS4 title ever was for Knack, a game that looks entertaining enough but not one capable of dropping jaws. (Shuhei Yoshida explained by saying he didn’t want the PS4 to kick of with an FPS.)

What was most disappointing was the actual lack of new play ideas. Media Molecule as ever offered up some original ideas but everything else felt a little too familiar. Perhaps their newfound prominence on indie games will counter this? The next generation should not just be about more polygons and more realistic animations but also offering the player experiences they simply could not have had before. My one hope is that we will see some truly ground breaking titles at E3 – although with the way the show has been going in recent years it’s difficult to expect many major launches .

The Controller

Somehow the PS4 controller managed to be both a familiar sight and a pretty drastic change to the classic DualShock design we all know and love. Although many of the features were leaked before the announcement (including the touch pad and instant share button) there were still some surprises to be revealed. Move integration with the light bar and a jack for headsets (possibly just included to appease Call Of Duty fans) were both talked up, as well as other more subtle tweaks to the DualShock 3 that gamers will appreciate. It was also interesting to see that instead of abandoning Move as some predicted, we were introduced to the new Move/PS Eye concept that included a Kinect-eqsue camera that will apparently ship with every system. Not much was mentioned about it so either Sony is saving that for another day or its capabilities are not too far removed form the current PS Eye. Kinect 2.0 may be more advanced but by shipping with each system Sony has at least ensured that Move 2.0 won’t be forgotten as quickly as its forerunner.

PSN & PS+

We were all sceptical when PS+ was launched. “They’re gonna charge us to just play games! How dare they!” seemed to be the general consensus but it only took a matter of months for us to realise what a fantastic service PS+ really is. In the past few months PlayStation gamers have had the chance to play AAA blockbusters like Batman: Arkham Asylum & Mass Effect 3 as well as indie favourites like Limbo. With the concept now well defined and the ability to transfer over profiles from the PS3 era PSN, gamers will have a fully featured online service right from the get go.

The most interesting aspect was of course the long awaited answer to the question of Gaikai’s role after the $380m+ buyout by Sony in 2012. Veteran developer and Gaikai boss David Perry took to the stage to talk up streaming game demos, playable games during download and a future where every key PlayStation title would be made available across multiple devices via cloud. In principle this could mean the PS4 has the biggest title line-up in history – whether Gaikai’s steaming service is ready at launch is however still unclear.

Next week we take a look at the hardware and the controller in more detail, and discuss whether Sony has done enough to ‘win’ the battle for next generation consoles.