Sony Confirms Multitasking on PS4

While Microsoft has made seamless multitasking between games and media apps, Sony has, since the PS4 reveal in Februrary been a bit cagey on the subject. Considering the large amount of RAM the PS4 includes and the multitasking features built into the PlayStation Vita real task switching felt like a sure inclusion, but it was not until last week the ability was confirmed in the above video released by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Item 10:

In most situations you will be able to switch instantly between playing a game and other apps OR the dynamic menu.

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I’ll Miss You, Ryan Davis

I learned Ryan Davis had passed when I opened twitter Monday afternoon and followed a context free link to Dave Snider’s understated tribute site ThanksRyan.com. It only dawned on me slowly what I was looking at, and I swiftly began looking through my history only to discover nothing but further confirmation that he had died at the age of 24.

Like a lot of people I took this news like a blow to the sternum. I never met the man, but the inevitable nature of Giant Bomb and the way Ryan, Jeff, Vinny, Brad, Patrick and Drew have opened their lives to the community is an assumed sense of friendship. Giant Bomb launched in the same year that I graduated from college and in the ensuing years of protracted unemployment and depression, it often felt like these funny, smart dudes were my only friends, Davis not least of all.

I looked back through my own post history and found the following gem from one of my brief, direct interactions with Ryan online:

Twitter exchange with Ryan Davis

Too true.

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Xbox Gone Redundant

yodawgxbox

Microsoft has no idea what the fuck they are doing. This much has been obvious since last summer when they introduced “SmartGlass” as their next big “innovation”. I use sarcastic quotes because by “innovation” they mean using the tablet or smartphone you already own to do things the tablet or smartphone can natively do. Most damningly they took a preexisting Game of Thrones app for iPad, packaged it inside SmartGlass and pretended like this would change the world. It was an embarrassing attempt to insert an Xbox branded service where it does not belong.

Unfortunately, this buttinski attitude is obviously the guiding design principle behind the newly announced Xbox One. Before the reveal there was a ton of buzz about the potential for Microsoft to introduce something truly disruptive. Many speculated on the idea of an Xbox branded IPTV service, cable subscriptions not bounded by region, or exclusive, untethered HBO Go subscriptions. You know, something revolutionary. What they unveiled was Nintendo’s TVii, take two.

I mean that literally. Despite impressions to the contrary, it is not itself a DVR. The Xbox One’s most vaunted innovation is in actuality a glorified universal remote and programming guide. By virtue of using HDMI passthrough from your existing cable box or DVR, it does solve one of TVii’s biggest flaws: that the WiiU never knows if you’ve set your TV to the correct input. Every other flaw remains. You can’t program your DVR to record anything through the Xbox interface. You can’t see what was saved from last night and start playing a recorded episode. You can’t browse your OnDemand library, or order pay-per-view. Keep your shitty Comcast remote handy for that. But at least that $500 saved you the trouble of pressing the input button once, eh?

But that’s okay, MS had other innovations to demonstrate, like Xbox Snap. The Xbox One has been specifically engineered for smooth multitasking, to the point that it basically runs three separate operating systems including a master hypervisor and two virtual machines, one runs the Windows kernel and various media and communication apps, and the other houses a game specific OS packaged with the game itself runs. Both systems are always running with guaranteed access to system resources and no contention to create roadblocks to seamlessly swapping between the two. And how does MS put this technical achievement to use? To put your smartphone screen on your TV.

Not literally, of course. But it’s obvious the same over the hill executives who thought people would love to use an Xbox app on their phone to do things their phone was built to do are also under the delusion that if people love to use their iOS and Android apps so much while they’re on the couch in front of their TV, obviously they’d love to have the same types of apps overlayed onto their TV screen as well. Why use your phone to order a pizza while you watch Netflix on your Xbox One when you can use your phone to control the Xbox One’s Pizza Hut app snapped to the edge of your TV screen, shrinking your view of Breaking Bad? Ingenious!

These pathetic attempts to insert themselves into arenas where Xbox simply is not needed reek of one thing: desperation. Microsoft is terrified for two very good reasons. First, they are terrified that customers will use this generational shift as a reason to reevaluate their dependence on paid Xbox Live Gold memberships. To combat this Microsoft is continually inventing new “features” that exist almost entirely to live behind a paywall and make the ongoing expense appear worthwhile. Second, the mobile revolution has utterly left them behind. They have been completely left out of the Android and iOS revolution that transformed the way people communicate and consume the internet and media. They are hoping that the Xbox brand and an antiquated assumption that one particular TV represents a household focal point can be used as a wedge to regain a foothold in markets that could not care less about Windows.

This is very nearly as backwards as the false premises Nintendo built the WiiU around. Families have many TVs. Games are played as often in dens or bedrooms or basements or offices as they are in living rooms. The real revolution in television consumption happening right now, setting aside cord-cutting, is whole home DVRs. The idea that one TV is enough died long ago. Now Cable and satellite providers are chasing whole home solutions like the Hopper or Genie which record 5-6 shows at once and serve those recordings to every screen in the house.

And yet all of this would be forgivable if there was a sense MS had any real commitment to games. In a presentation that ran over it’s allotted hour television slot 33 minutes elapsed before the first game was introduced. Of the 7 games announced 5 are multiplatform. Not a single game was demonstrated playable in stage. In fact, of all the game footage shown there was less than 2 seconds worth that even appeared to be real gameplay, and that was buried in the Call of Duty: Ghosts trailer. It’s not like they didn’t have time for a real demonstration. Both the Call of Duty and EA Sports packages were preceded by lengthy interview montages, in the case of Call of Duty this included footage of essentially every scene that would appear in the proper trailer. Microsoft can plead that E3 is their big game blowout all they want, the truth is you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. There was more than enough time to show something real, something tangible and instead they chose to demonstrate changing channels with your voice, TWICE.

The only real interesting gaming feature is the vaunted multitasking capabilities. The ability to suspend a game anywhere, restart instantly and swap out to use Netflix or a web browser or other apps is a long time coming for these consoles. Microsoft’s virtual machine architecture is founded on maintaining the quality of service and that should pay dividends, even if it does mean dedicating less than the full power of the machine for actual games.

But the real irony is the PS4 is going to multitask, too. MS might want you to believe they’ve invented the idea, and yet things like instantly suspending your game, switching to another app, checking the web, updating your twitter, all without needing to save your game or quit out, are things the PlayStation Vita does right now, including Skype. And given that, we have every reason to believe the PS4 will happily suspend games, switch to streamed video, load up a custom music playlist and allow for video-chatting very smoothly.

The Xbox One’s market position is fraught with dangers, even without addressing flashpoints like used game sales, always on requirements or access for indie game developers (or the pie in the sky promises of games being augmented by cloud computing). You need not even engage in those to debates to have serious doubts about Microsoft’s strategy. Not since Windows 8 has a Microsoft product been so myopic about how people want to interface with technology. Without the kind of good fortune that handed the 360 a year long advantage in time to market significant price advantage they will have great difficulty convincing knowledgeable early adopters to bite. As we saw with the Microsoft Kin, billion dollar marketing campaigns can’t save a product that badly misjudges what customers really want.

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Last Minute Predictions for #PlayStation2013

At 6 PM Eastern Standard Time in New York City Sony is set to finally unveil the “Future of PlayStation”, something that has had certain sectors of the internet in a virtual tizzy for the last three weeks. At this point it is all but certain that the next generation PlayStation console will debut alongside something of a vision statement for the future Sony’s gaming division. Various leaks over the last few months, and even going back a year or two have already given us an inkling of the PS4’s capabilities, but it is an open question as to how much will actually be revealed today. To that end, and as a matter of public record, here are my predictions.

Cold Open

The Last Guardian

Although long absent, Team Ico’s PS3 effort the Last Guardian had been written off as dead by many until lead designer Ueda recently dropped hints that work on the game continues. One popular theory is the game has been off the grid for so long because Sony made the decision to move the troubled project to the PS4 and it will be announced as a launch window title for the new system later today. I’m not sure that’s the case. Maybe it’s foolish, but I find it troubling to think that Team Ico will have missed an entire generation between the release of their last game on PS2, and their next on PS4. In my mind today’s event will begin with the lights dimming and a new trailer for Last Guardian playing on the big screen. The trailer will transition seamlessly into a live stage demo when a developer is revealed with a spotlight on stage, actively controlling the game on screen. The live demo will end with the announcement of a release date for the game this year, for the PS3.

The Hardware

An image of the new PS4 controller leaked to Kotaku.

An image of the new PS4 controller leaked to Kotaku.

When the lights come back up Kaz Hirai will take the stage, welcome the crowd for attending, acknowledge Last Guardian as representative of the peaks PS3 was able to reach before introducing the “PlayStation 4″. A curtain will lift to reveal the console design on a pedestal and Kaz will lift it to pose for pictures for a minute of two. When the flashes die down he will launch into a broad overview of he system’s features. It will come standard with a new PlayStation Camera, a hard drive, Blu-ray for games and movies, built in WiFi and ethernet and an HDMI port with support for up to 4K resolutions. He will then show the new playstation controller and delve into its inclusion of a touchpad, motion controls, headphone jack and built in speaker and mic. He will also go into the underlying hardware a bit, acknowledging the widely rumored inclusion of an AMD built APU processor that features an 8 core x86 CPU with a powerful DX11 GPU on the same die. Although he will liekly refrain from giving specific RAM amounts or processor frequencies, he will finish by promising the system will launch this fall.

The Software

Before leaving the stage, Kaz Hirai will introduce Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony’s Worldwide Studios. Yoshida will be charged with running through several planned stage demos of PS4 software from first party developers. Based on Sony’s recent presentations at E3 and Gamescom last year, I expect Sony to barrel forward full speed ahead with brand new IP for the PS4 launch, technical marvels from their talented pool of in house studios. We know that Sony has had teams at Polyphony, Evolution, Naughty Dog, Guerrilla Games, Sucker Punch, Media Molecule, Sony London, Sony Snata Monica and elsewhere who have all been dark for 2-3 years. That is a lot of firepower they can bring to bear at today’s event. Some of those teams may be working on new iterations of hit franchises like Killzone or Uncharted for the PS4, but I think in terms of timing it wouldn’t be right to announce those games so close to the release of the Vita iterations of those games, or with The Last of Us gearing up for a launch this summer.

No, I think Sony will show games from three studios, all brand new projects for the next hardware generation. One will be a brand new racing game from Evolution, creators of the Motorstorm games on PS3. It has been strongly hinted that they picked up a number of former Bizarre Creations staffers and are now working on a street-racer reminiscent of the Project Gotham Racing franchise. Another will be the new game from InFamous and Sly Cooper developers Sucker Punch. Very little has leaked out about their next game. It’s possible they are working on another inFamous, but the ending to the 2nd game in that series reportedly makes a continuation problematic. In any case it will be interesting to see their unique skills with traversal and open worlds applied to a vastly more powerful console. Finally, I Guerrilla Games has been rumored to be working on a new open world RPG game in parallel to an inevitable Killzone 4. I think this new IP may very well be the standout hit from today’s presentation.

I also believe Yoshida will probably trot out a smaller studio working on a next gen PSN game for the PS4. Maybe someone like Housemarque who are best known for the Super Stardust HD and Delta games. I think that game will also be used as an opportunity to go over some of the features in the new Operating System. For example, the ability to multitask. By pressing a button you can instantly switch out of a game, saving it exactly where you were in order to switch over to another App, like Netflix. After watching a video you can go straight back and pick up the game exactly there you left off. PS4 will also have a instant sleep and resume mode, very similar to the Vita so you can put the system in a low power mode, even midgame and come back hours or days later without having to find a save point first, or wait for the console to boot and the game to load and then the save to load, etc. Finally, they’ll demonstrate the system’s always running game capture feature. As rumored the console will always be saving footage from the last 15 minute of your game allowing you at any time to pause, edit and save clips from the game.

The Network

After the game demos Yoshida will yield the stage to Sony Computer Entertainment America President Jack Tretton. He’ll be in charge of describing the next generation of PSN. First he will confirm that Sony firmly believes basic multiplayer features should always be free. Just like on PS3 and PS Vita, the PS4 will have free online multiplayer, including a party system and cross game chat.

playstation plusBut Sony will be adding new features under the aegis of the popular PlayStation Plus service. First is the new cross-game video chat. Using the included next gen PS Eye you’ll be able to party up with your friends and play games together while chatting on video, not unlike a Google Hangout, with the unique difference that you can switch between seeing your friend, and seeing a live view of the game they are playing.

Many of the PS4’s new social features will center on that idea of spectating and sharing in game experiences. The new controller is rumored to have a dedicated share button that will activate the video capture, live streaming, screenshot and social networking features. If you are a member of PS Plus you will get access to these new capabilities  including the ability to publish screenshots and video directly to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and livestreaming gameplay, including commentary, through sites like Twitch.tv and Nico Nico.

Tretton will also reveal some of their plans for the recently acquired Gaikai cloud gaming service. They will likely include providing an avenue for backwards compatibility for PS3 games on the PS4. As long as you are a PS+ subscriber you can play any game you’ve bought from PSN, or any game you put into the disc drive streamed live over the internet. It will be less optimal than just playing on your old PS3, but better than nothing.

Local streaming will also finally allow universal RemotePlay support for PS4 games on the PS Vita. Thanks to the dedicated video compression hardware it will finally be possible to stream any PS4 game to your Vita across your local network will very little added lag. Streaming from your new PS4 to your old PS3 on a different TV in the same house may also become a reality. PS4 will probably have interactions with smartphones and tablets as well through Android and iOS apps.

Third Parties

Next up Andrew House taking the stage to talk about third party games. He’ll probably announce partnerships with publishers like EA and Ubisoft. I’d imagine at least one trailer for a game that has never been seen before. The next gen Battlefield 4 is a likely candidate. Perhaps a first look at the next Assassin’s Creed. This would also be a prime time for Kojima to formally announce Metal Gear Solid 5, but the timing is off and he’s probably too busy travelling to promote Metal Gear Rising: Revengence released this week. Support from a major Japanese publisher will probably be pledged by someone like Square-Enix. Maybe Final Fantasy Versus XIII has been rebranded, or at least moved to next gen finally? Or Square could straight up confirm a Final Fantasy XV based on the Agni’s Philosophy demo is coming to PS4.

House will end by introducing a sizzle reel of launch window titles coming to the platform including both first and third party efforts. There will be 10-20 games represented which will having people pouring over the video frame by frame trying to identify titles, developers and more.

In Closing

Kaz Hirai will once again take the stage at the end of the show to thank everyone for coming. He’ll promise more details in the official press release and many more announcements to come in the months leading up to E3 in June.

Before he lets people go, however, he will announce official price drops for both the PS Vita and the PS3 to $199 effective next week. And then he will pledge to release the PlayStation 4 at the price of $399. With that the presentation will conclude.

Final Thoughts

Sony has been something of a punching bag for most of this generation, but while many, including an unfortunate number in the games press, have simply written them off, the company has quietly been building back a great deal of credibility with core gamers. PlayStation Plus alone has put the value of Microsoft’s Gold membership to shame, and Sony has been at the forefront of providing day one digital distribution of AAA games, as well as supporting many risky and experimental PSN titles. The Instant Games Collection, and frequent PSN sales on downloadable games have also created something of a Steam-style progressive pricing scheme and attendant backlog for many members. Furthermore, Sony is still the largest first party developer in the world, employing more game creators than Nintendo and Microsoft combined. Many of those at world class studios like Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica and Guerrilla who can go toe to toe with any other studio in the world. What’s more, Sony seems far more willing to fund the creation of risky new IP, both in the late stages of a console cycle as evinced by Last of Us and Beyond, but also at the beginning of a new cycle where they have a track record of letting their best talent try something totally new.

With Nintendo’s WiiU floundering, and Microsoft looking more and more brazen in their attempts to chase the mainstream with Cross-media Entertainment initiatives, or casual friendly motion controls, in addition to the petty manner with which they nickel and dime users over features that cost them nothing to provide, a humble, and more importantly, nimble Sony appears poised to win back much of the market share they lost over the last six years.

If that comes to pass is not something we’ll know today, but making a great first impression will be very important to the PS4’s long term prospects. My predictions above are probably far to specific to be particularly accurate, but I like to think they are well considered, and representative of the kind of show Sony needs to put on. We’ll all know a lot more in about 9 hours, and I for one can’t wait.

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New Denny’s Ad Rips off Beck song from Sound Shapes

While watching television tonight my ears perked up at the background music playing in a new advertisment for Denny’s. Here’s the TV spot in question:

If you haven’t played Sound Shapes on PS3 or Vita you may not recognize the melody, but the creators of the spot seem to have chosen a song that borrows very directly from a song created by Beck for the level “Cities”. Here’s a video of that so you can hear what original sounds like:

It’s easily the best music in the whole game, though unfortunately there’s no official way to just buy any of the music tracks, nor presumably any way to license them for use in an ad.

Generic “sound alikes” are nothing new to advertising, but this is notable in that the song being referenced is from a fairly obscure game and has never been available in any other form.

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