The new Playstation 4 was unveiled this past week, drawing gamers out from their parent’s basements to see what the next generation of gaming would bring. To most people’s surprise, Sony didn’t actually show the new system, at all. No actually unveiling took place. They talked about the experience, they talked about some of the specs, they even showed off the new controller (which I’ll talk about in a bit); but in the end, the PS4 itself was a no-show.
And frankly, I don’t think that’s really a bad thing. Sure, people are grousing about it now, annoyed that the actual physical container for their new console remains a mystery. But, it’s a smart move by Sony. First, it allows them to stretch out their reveal, building intrigue and stealing focus from the inevitable Microsoft Nextbox announcement. Second, Sony knows that in the end, the looks of the console itself don’t really matter, as long as it’s not hideously ugly.
What Sony could do, of course, would be to make a truly gorgeous console, glass and charm and carbon fiber and class. What they’ll likely do though is make a console that blends into the background, probably some shade of black. Because Sony knows that the console is just the gateway to the experience, not the experience itself. The looks build hype, but they don’t affect the actual experience. So by holding back this unimportant, and yet highly desired aspect, Sony builds on the curiosity of the gamer community in a way that doesn’t hurt the experience of owning a Playstation. And in doing so, they steal attention from Microsoft. Smart move.
The new controller was revealed though, and it’s a potential big step forward for the Playstation. At first glance, it looks almost identical to the DualShock 3. But looking closer it quickly becomes apparent that there are some fundamental changes made to the device that could dramatically improve the user experience. The old Playstaion controllers were all essentially the exact same on the outside, from the PS1 through the PS3, they were the same shape and size.
DualShock 4 vs DualShock 3 comparison. Image courtesy of IGN.
The first and biggest change as far as I’m concerned, are the more bulbous handles. Old PS controllers were never easy to hold, mainly because the handles themselves were thin, tapering, arthritis inducing torture sticks that you could rarely get a solid grip on without significant practice. The new handles though don’t taper, but instead swell to fill your palms, hopefully insuring a better grip on the controller. Of course, until we get a hands on of the controller, who knows, it could still be a torture device. But appearances lead me to believe that the DS4 is an improvement over the DS1-DS3.
The second improvement are the control sticks which are blessedly no longer convex, just begging your sweaty thumbs to slip off them. Now, they have a central indentation that hopefully will not slip as easy during long sweaty COD sessions not sending your character lurching off a cliff instead of strafing to safety.
There is also the addition of a touchpad, and a share button, of which the benefit for both depends entirely on how they are integrated into the system. The Six-Axis for example, which does return for the DS4, never really was put to good seamless use in any Playstation game, and remains just a barely used gimmick. Only time will tell about the DS’s new features.
But back to the Playstation itself. The specs that they did release are impressive enough, though as any PC gamer will tell you it really isn’t impressive at all. But for console gaming, the Playstation will once again likely be the most powerful system out there. Of course the PS3 was the most powerful system of its generation, and that didn’t really serve it terribly well. So there’s really only so far that the specs can take you.
However, there has been rumor (completely unverified) that the Nextbox will require a constant internet connection to play any games, as well as removing any ability (without the system getting hacked, of course) to play used games. Sony confirmed that they won’t require internet to play, and they will allow used games to be played on the system. Of course, developers could decide otherwise (we’re looking at you Blizzard), but Sony is catering to the gamer here, not to the developers. A smart move, as gamers are noticing that the winds of change are more and more frequently favoring not them, but the companies that provide content. Yes, developers can easily work around that, but it’s a hat-tip to the gamer, letting them know that their experience is what matters.
Finally, and along the lines of the user experience, is the online experience. Microsoft nailed it with the 360 by making it easy to access online games, easy to organize events with friends, easy to chat in or out of games. Sony… didn’t. It’s not that Sony did a bad job, they just didn’t do a good job, and frankly that’s a big reason of why they didn’t do as well with the current generation of consoles. But make no mistake, Sony knows that, and they for sure have been working to make the next generation experience as user friendly as possible.
So, a lot remains to be seen, including the console itself, and including the cost. Both will likely be revealed after Microsoft announces the Nextbox, so Sony can match or even undercut the competition. The next gen games teased at the announcement look decent enough, and Sony has managed solid launch titles with all of their consoles. But, it will come down to the user experience, and the online experience, both of which Sony appear to be attacking head on. And as far as hyping the PS4, I don’t think Sony could have done a better job. Microsoft is going to be playing catch-up for the next few months.