The moment that we've been waiting for ever since the 'big three' chose to break the golden five year rule for new console generations is finally upon us. Tomorrow, every man & his dog is expecting to take a first glimpse at the PlayStation 4. The entire gaming media is certainly going to look very silly if they don't any way.
New console announcements are always an exciting time to be a gamer, yet the world has changed unrecognisably since the last generation was announced, driven by the rise of social media, smart devices and almost instant access to all types of media. It's a strange paradox that gaming enjoys more mass appeal today than ever before and yet many feel that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo face a tough battle on their hands to remain the dominant forces in an ever changing ecosystem.
Still, the rumours that have surfaced so far about the PlayStation 4 offer plenty of reason for optimism. Certainly, if there's one thing that Sony has proven over the years it's that you can always rely on them to produce good hardware. There's still an awful lot left to discover about the PlayStation 4, but having written my own personal wish list a few weeks back I've decided to piece together all of the evidence we have so far and make a few predictions about what Sony are going to unveil tomorrow. Without further ado...
It may seem like PlayStation 4 is the obvious choice of name for Sony's next console, but there has been speculation that Sony will actually go with the codename, Orbis, as the final product name as well. The reason for that is because the number four is highly superstitious in Japan, and anyone with knowledge of Sony's recent history knows that this is a company that has been coming over increasingly paranoid lately.
Ultimately though, PlayStation 4 seems the most likely choice. After all, PlayStation is a global brand and Sony has more to consider from a marketing perspective than simple avoiding all possible hoodoos. Many people have attributed the underwhelming success of the Nintendo 3DS and more recently the WiiU to the fact that it isn't as clear to the general consumer that these are in fact brand new products rather than just hardware revisions (particularly following the DS lite, DSi, DSi XL etc.). Gaming enthusiasts will know the difference of course, but those less engrained in the world of gaming might not, and having followed a sequential numbering pattern up to this point with new PlayStations it might not be smart to upset the apple cart now.
So many details have leaked out about the PlayStation 4 hardware specs that it's almost safe to assume they're a known quantity by now. Digital Foundry certainly seem pretty convinced they've got the full details and the only real bone of contention at this point seems to be how much RAM they system will have.
The most interesting development for me though is the nature of the hardware rather than the individual specifications. All of the rumours seem to suggest that both the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox will be built using off the shelf components built by AMD rather than bespoke architecture that the platform holders have had specially created for them, as was the case with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and that has a number of interesting ramifications.
A number of insiders have already come out in favour of this approach, stating that the systems are much easier to get to know and develop for than the previous generation because they have already been working with similar tech when creating games for the PC. What that should mean for us end users is bigger and better games from third party developers earlier in the console cycle, with the teething problems associated with learning the inner workings of seemingly alien architecture significantly reduced and possibly even irradiated.
Another significant advantage when using off the shelf components rather than bespoke ones is that it's a much cheaper avenue to go down. Sony spent an absolute fortune in R&D for the PlayStation 3 alone, not to mention the costs they will have faced in mass producing individual parts that need to be made using specific machinery and manufacturing processes.
The Times claimed today that the PlayStation 4 is going to cost £300 at release in the UK, which is quite a drop from the £425 that the PlayStation 3 came to market at some seven years ago. The Japanese media is forecasting a cost of 40,000 Yen, which translates to roughly £275, so the £300 prediction wouldn't seem too far off the mark.
We all know that the PlayStation 4 is going to have to brave a market that's more diverse than ever thanks to the aforementioned rise of smartphones and tablets. Simply put, the mass market might no longer see the value in paying over £400 for a machine that has such a specific function when they can spend the same amount on an iPad that they can take everywhere with them and use in all areas of their life. There's also a recession on (if you hadn't already heard), so a price that's lower than many would have initially predicted can only help the PlayStation 4's chances of hitting the ground running and creating a lasting legacy.
Last week's leaked image of the prototype DualShock 4 looks relatively concrete, and although we don't know how old the picture is and whether the aesthetics have changed since it was taken, what we can surmise is that this is going to be Sony's most feature packed controller yet. The all singing, all dancing nature of the feature set, with inbuilt PlayStation Move integration and a touch pad at the centre, certainly bears close relation to the design ethic of the PS Vita, gaming's ultimate Swiss Army knife.
I wrote a couple of weeks back about the hazards of differentiating the controller design too much from the rest of the competition, but the look of the new DualShock 4 provides a lot of reassurance. It's essentially all the things that make the DualShock 3 so great with a few added bells and whistles for developers savvy enough to exploit them. It's true that we might not see AAA third party games that are going to be released cross-platform taking full advantage of the extra features too often, but the fact that essentially every single PS4 owner will have both a Move controller and the touch pad should mean that first party developers and smaller indie outfits will be able to use these functions to focus on exploring and creating new and unique ways to play, which can only be a good thing.
The most intriguing part of tomorrow's announcement is the one we really know the least about; the games themselves. Next to no concrete information has leaked out about the games we can expect to be playing on the new console, other than a smattering of titles that appeared at E3 or since without any firm console partners attached to them. From a third party perspective, the biggest ones that spring to mind are Watch Dogs, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Star Wars 1313, which I expect to see a lot more from in the coming months even if they don't feature at the official unveiling.
There's very little information on what a number of Sony's own in house studios are up to either, but based on the ones that are either working in total secrecy or have only mentioned working on ‘unannounced projects’ I think it's fair to say that we'll see games revealed from the likes of Guerrilla Games (Killzone), Sucker Punch Productions (Infamous), Media Molecule (LittleBigPlanet) and Polyphony Digital (Gran Turismo), as well as Sony's own Japan and London Studios. We might not see games from all of them of course, but I'd be frankly amazed if we didn't see something from at least a few of them. Hopefully some new IPs too.
The biggest hint we've probably had is from Team Ico of the Japan Studio. Their current project, The Last Guardian, has allegedly been locked in development hell with very little new information surfacing since its original announcement back in 2007 (has it really been that long?!). However, just last week the creator of the game, Fumito Ueda, said that "details regarding The Last Guardian's release is solely decided by Sony Computer Entertainment, not myself. Please keep an eye out for their official announcement." Reading between the lines, it seems that Sony's been keeping information on this project back for quite some time, and it wouldn't take a genius to join the dots and suggest that it's because it's moved to being a PlayStation 4 release, quite possibly even a launch title. I can think of very few things more beautiful than the first game I get to play on my new console being made by Team Ico, can you?
Well, that's just about enough speculation from me for today. Sony's press conference is taking place at 6pm EST tomorrow (11pm for those, like me, that are based in the UK) and let's hope to God that it doesn't just turn out to be the world's most over publicised PS3 price cut…