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The Overt And The Subtle Of The PlayStation 4

Last night was the oddly protracted unveiling of the PlayStation 4, otherwise known as the most recent entry in a long line of poorly kept industry secrets. Over a wide breadth of news outlets and, presumably, an equally varied collection of shady, fedora-donning back alley sources, we knew pretty much everything that was worth knowing about Sony’s new console before they wanted the public to know. New controller? Check. Built-in share functionality? Double-check. A smattering of specs? Checkarooney. We knew everything.

Or did we? In a rather quality press event (seriously, compare it to E3 and you’ll be amazed that companies didn’t collapse last June), some surprises lay in store for everyone watching in person and online. Strangely, though, folks managed to miss out on some of the bigger ones in light of flashier announcements. But these are huge deals! Understandably, without some knowledge on the matter, they’re easy to miss, but these do merit some discussion.

8GB of RAM

Quite frankly, 8GB seems a bit like overkill, but the drastic bump is quite important. Consider the fact that the Xbox 360 had 512MB GDDR3 RAM and the PlayStation 3 capped out at 256MB. Megabytes, not gigabytes. That is totally and utterly absurd. But it also makes sense. If you go back and look at interviews with developers are these next-gen consoles, the number one response is invariably something about more memory. They’re tired of delving into the realm of diminished returns with optimizations and hording like animals.

Of course, all 8GB is moot without something that can utilize it, but hopefully the PS4 can deliver on that, too. An 8-core, 64-bit CPU and a GPU capable of 1.84 teraFLOPS just might do it. The jury is still somewhat out on what the Cell architecture is fully capable of, but consider that the PS3′s RSX GPU was doing 400.4 gigaFLOPS. Giga to tera, mega to giga. I think we’re in for something big.

You should also know that the 8GB contradicts earlier leaks reporting 4GB. This is a non-trivial change and probably explains why we didn’t see a console; they’re still working on putting all the stuff in it.

Simultaneous Play/Download

This, on the surface, isn’t that big of a deal. OnLive solved streaming (as much as they could, anyways) and Gaikai improved on all the stuff surrounding it. As much as it can be, streaming a game while downloading it is largely a trivial problem at this point (though, I should point out that “trivial” in this case is very much a relative term to figuring it all out from scratch; it’s still a huge obstacle). This is nothing like what some people thought it was—core engine stuff was downloaded first and then you could play as sequential assets were downloaded—but consider this: in tandem with fast suspend/resume capabilities, is it possible that you could play a streaming game and immediately jump into your local version?

If a whole-cloth dump of memory could be shuttled across Gaikai, could it be possible for the PS4 to fast-load it and launch your local game right where you left off online? This completely eradicates the barrier of traditional demos. Before, those little slices would begin and end and you would have nothing to show for it except 15 or so minutes of boredom once you play the retail version. If this is the case (or even if it’s not since I guess you could just keep streaming and achieve the same thing, but if you can get better quality, you’ll want the better quality), it becomes an impulse purchase. Buying and downloading a full game after its trial becomes as easy as picking up a pack of gum in the grocery store checkout.

It also goes without saying that the second chip that makes this possible as incredible potential beyond this simultaneous play/download trick. Like, huge.

Media Molecule

A lot of people hemmed and hawed at Media Molecule’s demonstration yesterday. It was predictably cute but it was also unequivocally a tech demo. Untitled and utilizing something that even Sony seems to have forgotten about—the Move—it was pretty unclear as to what Media Molecule was doing besides showing off how much fun it is to work at Media Molecule.

But if you’ve ever done any 3D digital modeling, you’ll immediately understand the possibilities of what they showed. It’s ZBrush but with a real world sculpting analog. Instead of manually adding basic shapes and nudging things around, you can now immediately sculpt a rough mesh of your final design and then delve into it afterwards for finer tweaks. This eliminates hours of work out of the 3D sculpting process.

And then all the puppetry stuff seems like something Media Molecule (and possibly only Media Molecule) could turn into a game. Charming, whimsical, and fun. Is there any other way to describe them? Well, besides “the new Nintendo.”

Just kidding!

For now.

No Price, No Date

Not showing a console isn’t that big of a deal. I imagine the people that wanted to see it are the same people that don’t fully understand that since the start of this generation with the Xbox 360, service now trumps hardware. Every single time. It wasn’t just that the 360 was cheaper, launched first, and had the first indie star of the generation in Geometry Wars, but it also had Xbox Live. It was a paid service, sure, but it also was better than the PlayStation Network in almost every way.

That’s not to say, however, that hardware doesn’t matter. If Sony dicked around on stage for two hours last night and didn’t reveal any specs, the fans and press would be lambasting them across the board. However, they did, but they held back two key points: price and date. Why? Because Microsoft.

Microsoft has yet to announce its new console. Very little is known and the only thing we’ve got so far is some unconfirmed rumors outside of the Sony event last night about something in April. Who knows, but now Sony has the upper hand. It’s a very small, slight advantage, but I’m guessing they’ll take it where they can get it.

Getting out of the gate isn’t as important this time around as it was last time (last launch was still very much a Wild West sort of milieu with impulses and curiosity largely driving consumer decisions; this time will be much more measured), but I can pretty much guarantee you that the PS4 will launch in November before Black Friday. But if Sony decides that they need the edge, they can maneuver the PS4′s release date according to what they see from Redmond.

As for the price, well, it’s pretty much guaranteed Sony will be taking a loss on the PS4. Like, a big loss. The only question is how big. If Microsoft announces something high, Sony can go slightly higher without much recourse and stop some of the bleeding. Otherwise, they’ll have to match Microsoft and hope they can recoup on software during the holidays. This event was definitely a power play, but it was also not without its safety nets.

Watch_Dogs Security Camera

I’m not sure if you noticed at the very end of the Watch_Dogs demo, but when the game zoomed in on the security camera as the player was escaping on top of the train, a word popped up over it. No, not a world: a name. It is the gaming handle of Frag Doll Edelita Valdez, otherwise known as PixxelFD. Apparently that camera was controlled by another player in realtime, even as the player was walking around down in the streets doing his protagonist thing. Um…WHAT.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a PS4-exclusive thing (at least, I don’t think it is), but it is a really interesting thing to keep in mind the next time they show off Watch_Dogs.

Wrap-up

Those were some of the less discussed aspects of last night that I found really interesting. The big stuff like the share button and Ustream partnership, Bungie’s Destiny, and Mark Cerny’s both soothing and unsettling voice are all the talk around the water cooler, but some of this small stuff is too good to let slide under the rug.

Of course, it wasn’t all puppies in top hats and rainbow ice cream last night (see: Square Enix, Blizzard, and remarkably unremarkable first party offerings), but there’s so much time between now and launch. PAX East will undoubtedly house some more announcements either to continue the buzz or subvert Microsoft and E3 will almost definitely have some big news. Of course, remain skeptical since nothing has been put in our hands like with the Wii U announcement, but so far the PS4 seems promising.

That is unless you’re John Teti.

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