(Guest post by New York Film Academy.)
When the Playstation 4 was unveiled last month, it’d be fair to say it was a disappointment to all but the most ardent of fanboys. In fact, the term ‘unveiling’ is a bit of a misnomer as far as Sony’s event was concerned – the PS4 itself never made an appearance, which was instantly jumped on by scores of journalists.
But while Sony’s puzzling decision to keep their cards pointing chest-wards has frustrated many gamers, the event and the subsequent detail leaks have been of great interest to developers… the only difficulty is deciding which are verified and which are plain conjecture.
Today however we rake over the coals of stuff we know for definite, and what the implications are for developers.
Hardware Limitations Are Virtually Non-Existent
Although the games revealed at launch were a bit lackluster, that doesn’t bear any relation to the games which we should be see being developed for the platform in the coming years.
And as far as the future is concerned, the sky is the limit.
Michael Denny, Sony’s vice president of Worldwide Studios Europe, was very keen to point out that the Playstation 4 was very much designed with developers in mind when he spoke to CVG. Whether this is in response to the numerous criticisms over the difficulty in coding for the PS3 (coming from high-profilers such as Gabe Newell) is open to speculation, but what is clear is that the PS4 is set to buck that trend.
Devs should no longer have to downscale code to adhere to the Playstation’s limited hardware – the PS4 is set to run on X86-64 architecture with a super-enhanced GPU, bolstered by 8GB of on board memory and a solid state hard drive. The demo of upcoming game Knack at the unveiling conference really showed off the capabilities of the PS4’s DDR5 memory, too; apparently the system can handle over a million moveable objects at any one time and the Knack trailer is testament to this.
In a nutshell, it’s a PC which runs 16x the speed of the Playstation 3, and that can only be a good thing for budding developers.
You’ll Still Have One Limitation: 1080p
Although the Playstation 4 is set to support a gorgeous-looking 4K resolution output, it’ll only apply to a user’s photos and videos. No matter how you go about rendering your games, they’ll still only come out at a maximum of 1080p. This is a bit odd given the unlikelihood of an average PS4 owner shooting home videos in 4K resolutions, but there we have it.
The Share Button – More Important than it Sounds
The PS4 is going to feature some kind of insta-share feature which allows players to upload images and videos to social media right from the controller. Whether this is a big enough hook to get people to buy a PS4 – or whether it’s a good idea at all – can be argued either way, but one thing for certain is that it’ll have a big impact on indie developers.
If you have no idea why that would be the case, consider how some of the biggest indie success stories owe a lot of their growth to Let’s Plays videos on Youtube (Minecraft being the obvious example). As such, the PS4’s share button might end up being a powerful marketing tool for indie games… and the best thing about it is it won’t cost you a dime.
The new Playstation is going to bring some interesting mechanics to the table, but with them they’ll bring extra complications for devs who wish to utilize them.
Not only will the new DualShock 4 controller feature some kind of rudimentary second screen, but the console itself will have a redesigned PlayStation Eye (essentially a Kinect analogue), Playstation Move controllers (a la the original Wii) and support for tablets and the PS Vita as additional screens.
It won’t be obligatory to build in support for any or all of these supplementary devices of course, and doing so may even cause a headache when it comes to porting, but it might work out that players come to expect such functionality as standard.
The Bigger Picture
But perhaps those kind of considerations are simply the way of the world now. The entire industry seems to be moving more in this direction and Sony are just following suit.
Although Moore’s Law is driving things ever forward, there is a downside to the increasingly massive, industry-wide changes which come with every new console release. Just as the next generation of game designers is becoming acquainted with the basics of coding and design, everything flips on its head. This forces responsible institution such as the NYFA game design school to constantly update its program in order to make sure students aren’t specializing in outdated knowledge.
Perhaps the upcoming Xbox 720 unveiling (strongly rumored to be late next month) will be the deciding factor on where game development – and consumer interest – is heading.
And at that point, we may need to put out a follow-up post.