“Do I need to lean in closer [to the microphone]?” Says Michael Ephraim at the beginning of our PS4 chat.
“That’s ok, it will be right” we say.
Laughing Ephraim points at the voice recorder “Oh, yeah, it’s a Sony, there’s a plug”
The Australian Managing Director of SCE is obviously a passionate man when it comes to his company wares. Even after two decades talking about Sony game consoles he can still bring a freshness to the PR lowdown at an event such as this week’s PS4 launch.
The message at the Aussie launch of the PS4 - well one celebrating the launch in the USA at least, for Aussies will need to wait until November 29th to get hands on one – was one that Sony as a company has listened to the PlayStation fans, particularly since the PS3 launch in 2007.
“We learned over the last two decades from the PlayStation One onwards, our intent this time was to make it simpler, more accessible price wise and software driven, whereas maybe PS3 was more technology driven,” explains Ephraim “The Cell chip was a pretty fantastic chip but it had its restrictions and limitations cost wise, development wise and really the message from all over the world from PlayStation is that we have listened, we have been inclusive.
In the last ten years technology has moved so fast, so I think [for the release of the PS4] it is just right now for where the gaming population is.“ says Ephraim.
Local Head of Marketing, Patrick Lagana was tasked with showing the audience the features of the new PS4 User Interface (UI).
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For the most part, gone is the cross-media-bar (XMB) so prevalent in the PS3 and other Sony products of recent times. Though not completely replaced, the XMB has had its geography rearranged; there is certainly a lot of Microsoft influence in the new UI.
The initial screen houses player profiles, in a much more graphically, and if permitted, FaceBooky way. If so equipped, with the new PlayStation Eye Camera, users can log in (in a very Xbox Kinect reminiscent way) using facial recognition.
Once logged in, the screen is divided into three areas, the Function area, the Content Area, and then further down the Content Information Area.
The Function Area contains messages and notifications along with the ‘friends’ section that highlights the new social aspects of the console. This includes all shared friends info, captured content using the new ‘share’ function and the all-important, and seemingly improved, Trophies data.
Content Area will provide lots of ‘what’s new’ information, plenty of data on what activities the user profile has been up to for the chosen app. This is the more traditional application features, including games that users would be used to. Below this are in the Content Information Area Sony is hoping that publishers will provide content to enhance the application currently chosen. It is a design feature that highlights how Sony is collaborating more closely with the entertainment eco-system around them.
“As Pat showed you” explains Ephraim later “with the new Dual-shock 4 and the features it can show on the light-bar alone, it can show different colours depending on who the player is, what your life status is. These are features that have been created in conjunction with software developers, so we hope that since this has been a collaborative process that we will see some great new innovations in gaming because we collaborated with the publishers from the beginning, what their visions were for the future of gaming and that has been incorporated for PS4.”
“Sony has been accused in the past of being very proprietary even with their music system format [Atrac] and a closed environment, but we have listened and even the fact that the PS4 is compatible with iOS and Android devices, so not just software. We realise where the world is and how people are in track with content, so we haven’t shut our eyes and said this is the new machine and this is the only way you can play it.”
“My kids, four boys, play FIFA a lot, and every time the score a great game, they pause it, get out their smart phone, play the replay, video it with the smart phone and post it to FaceBook. Or they are playing FIFA and they have their laptop, and they are on FaceBook talking to someone, saying I am winning one nothing. So when you look at that environment, and then you look at the share button, that just makes it instantaneous. So this is where the world is, this is how people are interacting and we have listened with publishers but also opening it up to portable devices that are not our platform.”
The games however, what about the games? We had a chance for some fleeting play with games that will be available at launch, and a couple to come early in the new year.
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At the PlayStation Faux Aussie launch we did get some hands on time with the new console. As many in the US will already know, Sony has gone somewhat minimalistic in design with the console itself. A small angular box that belies the hidden power, including the continued Sony design notion of no external power “brick”. The soft white light is unnoticeable, and the buttons well integrated into the design.
The Dual Shock 4 controller on the other hand is more attention seeking than previous models. The larger size fits confortable in a wider demographic of mitts and the front triggers are better positioned and have a greater range of analogue movement than the PS3 counterpart.
The new touchpad sharing button and light-bar are accommodated unobtrusively with the only negative being the new position and actual recessed buttons used for Start and Select, which will take some getting used to.
Games wise, we played for a short time on revamped next-gen versions of BattleField 4, Call Of Duty: Ghosts, FIFA 14, NBA 2K14 and Assassin’s Creed 4. The improvements are noticeable, particularly on AC4 coming from somebody who is loving the PS3 version, the fidelity jump between generations is very obvious.
On the new games front, we spent some short – and somewhat disappointing – time with the accessible third-person fantasy brawler, Knack. We found that for a game that is touted as being something you could give to a video-game-virgin, that the result (at least in the short demo level) was a strange combination of ease (controls wise) and difficulty in actual game play.
Something more intriguing was Contrast. Though the audio was unavailable due to the venue, the Tim Burtonesque visuals were a delight, as was the puzzle game-play. Playing as a leggy goth-girl the aim is traverse the levels using traditional 3D platform controls coupled with the ability to move into the shadow world of an illuminated wall. Here the player can use shadows as platforms to move around. Throw in the ability to collect luminescence to dynamically change the level via set light sources (such as powering up a Carrousel for example) and there is plenty of gently-brain-teasing game play to be had.
We tried the improved PS Vita remote play with Contrast, and found the game well suited to the hand-held format, apart from the minute fonts for the menu system which – for these aging eyes at least – are unreadable.
At the other end of the brain scale is ResoGun, a literal explosion of particles will greet side-scrolling shooter fans. Those with long video-game memories will instantly recognise the Williams arcade hit Defender’s influence on the game.
Briefly we watched over the shoulder of another journalist as they negotiated the high-rise corridors and battled the Helghast in Killzone: Shadow Fall. The bits we saw invoked – perhaps jaded – feelings of “yep, another shooter”, but it certainly looks the goods, and with more time spent at the controller we will see how the Killzone world is fleshed out this time around.
The PS4 launches in Australia on November 29th