GDC 2013: Sony reveals fresh PlayStation 4 details

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Sony detailed PlayStation 4’s power, pad and potential in an hour-long GDC session today.

Though SCEA’s Chris Norden was speaking just as Hideo Kojima revealed Metal Gear Solid 5 elsewhere within San Francisco’s Moscone Center, the session was still hopelessly over-subscribed, with GDC staff forced into turning many people away.

Those that did join the queue early enough saw SCEA’s Norden explain in greater detail how powerful PS4 is, and the creative potential of the new DualShock pad, PS Eye and the next PlayStation Network.

Norden explained that PS4s memory outperforms the DDR3 you can find in many high-end PCs, and that its 8GB of GDDR5 RAM offers developers “Crazy high bandwidth”. Simplicity was also key, said Norden.

“If you’re coming from the PS3 you’re probably quite used to the headache of having to split memory architecture, you can’t quite use all of it, the speeds are really wacky on some of it – we don’t have that with PS4. It’s eight gigs, it’s there, it’s easy,” he said.

“You’re getting some really amazing memory with PS4 and we’re really excited about it.”

PS4’s Blu-Ray drive is three times faster than the current PS3 drive, Norden confirmed, adding that the hard drive in every console will be “very large” and that real names can be used within PS4’s friend system, subject to the players’ approval. PS4’s social functionality will also allow for more than 100 friends, the current limit on PS3.

Moving onto outline what’s new about DualShock 4, Norden said that the analogue sticks have been tightened up and there’s a smaller deadzone compared to its predecessor. A mono microphone and headset will come bundled with every PS4 for use with the DualShock 4, and the pads can be charged by USB even when PS4 is on standby.

The new touchpad will be clickable, doubling up as an extra button, and will also support dual touch input. Perhaps most intriguing was the explanation of how PS Eye interacts with the light bar on each PS4 pad – one augmented reality tech demo superimposed a simple Pong-style field of play in front of where the players sat, which warped and twisted depending on where and how the light bar was moved around.

Another internal demonstration showed an army of miniature robots ‘inside’ the pad, reacting to the movements of the DualShock before being flicked out into the real world using the touchpad. PS Eye could then track the players’ movements, Kinect-style, prompting the AR characters to react in different ways.

Connect four pads to PS4 and they will each display a different colour, which can then be tracked by PS Eye and reflect where the player is in the room. Another neat idea proposed that developers could re-arrange split screen displays so that they correspond to where the player is sitting in the room, and then change if the players swap positions.

Further explanation of the PS4 pad’s Share button confirmed that the last few minutes of play are captured on the separate chip inside the console, and therefore won’t impact on any game’s technical performance.

One press of the new Share button opens up the share screen no matter where the player might be in-game, and a longer button press will take a screenshot, again without interfering with the game’s technical performance. Players can then add in a title for the video or image and share it on social networks, with other players’ comments added in realtime. “We hope it ushers in this new era of anyone being able to share video,” said Norden. “Now it’s easy and built into the system.”

Like the Share functionality, Remote Play on Vita will not rob the hardware of any technical grunt, with Gaikai tech ensuring that there will be very low latency. Sony also encouraged developers to use the ‘play as you download’ feature which David Perry explained at PlayStation Meeting. Studios will be able to split game data into multiple chunks, so that PS4 owners can jump in and play the game as it is downloading, once the minimum amount of data has been downloaded or copied to the hard drive.

The example Norden used was that any PS4 owner will be able to begin downloading a title remotely on their phone through the PlayStation app, returning home from work to be greeted by a new, playable PS4 game. “We want to minimise the amount of time we spend staring at loading screens,” said Norden.

The thematic beats were consistent with those first seen at PlayStation Meeting, then – that PlayStation 4 comes with powerful but easy to use dev tools, that its games will be more connected and social, and access to its wares would be immediate and frictionless. “We want sharing to be so effortless that everybody does it without even thinking about it,” concluded Norden.