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.