Yes, it's been a while. Remember when Star Wars: Episode III was showing - and almost not sucking - at your local cinema? When hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and John Paul II joined the choir invisible? It was that long since that E3 presentation, when Sony revealed a new home console. The year was 2005 and Sony fans got their first look into their future, a future that gradually would change into the boring present.
Eight years later, roughly one thousand gaming journos are seated in the Manhattan Center, fiddling with their smartphones and laptops in front of the stage's huge, concave screen - adorned by lots of blue and a Playstation logo. Then it's time. Sony Playstation's main man shows up and begins his speech.
The bottom line is that Sony has brand new goals for Playstation 4 as a platform. Nothing will come between us and the game, for instance. We will take part of a larger, more fluid world. These are grand, but rather vague words. We then got a brief glimpse of the hardware specifications. Playstation 4 will be similar to a PC - architecture-wise - and easier to program for. An improved GPU and 8GB of unified memory will make our experience count.
Just when the crowd felt full of boring hardware and numbers, Sony showed something much more relevant: the new DualShock, similar to the model we've seen in leaked images. Among the news was a Share button, which among other things will allow us to share video clips from our gaming sessions. The touchpad on the front was also present, just as we expected.
Sony also mentioned an improved rumble feature, a headphone jack and a light bar on the top of the controller. This glowing part will allow us to see which controller belongs to which player, and can change colour depending on what happens in our games. Furthermore, we will get a Playstation Eye-like camera to track the DualShock 4. This camera will not be a requirement for using DualShock, though.
But of course. It's the games we want to see, and the entire showcase focused on that: software and the studios behind it. A trailer for the first game for the evening, Knack, began and some degree of enthusiasm spread across the room. Knack will hopefully become a colourful action/platforming game where a morphing stone character will be battling angry goblins. We saw shades of both Ratchet & Clank, the Pixar movies and Jak & Daxter, and Knack can certainly be a nice little title.
Next up were examples of the Playstation 4's social features, like being able to record videos of our gaming sessions. Social functions are going to work on all sorts of devices. It will also be possible to pause our games, turn off the console, and then smoothly start up again - our game sessions are going to be saved in the internal memory. We will also be able to download games and play them before they've arrived on the hard drive.
David Perry, CEO of Gaikai, then entered the scene and told us that the Playstation 4 will have "the fastest gaming network ever." Facebook and Ustream will be integrated into the console, and the Share button is able to broadcast our game session live. Other people watching can send messages, give us bonus items in the game and even take control of the game if it gets too hard. Remote Play and the link between the PS Vita and Playstation 4 was then promoted, and we were informed that all Playstation 4 games will have some PS Vita features.
A number of well-known developers, in front of insanely white walls like in those used for Apple commercials, then got a chance to talk about what they had wished for in Sony's new beast. Pre-recorded people like Tim Schafer explained how both the hardware and the social functions of the console will make it easier for game studios. A lot of Sony arse-kissing, sure, but the enthusiasm of the developers still felt genuine. Like us gamers, developers are eager to throw themselves into a new generation of gaming.
Guerrilla Games was next up. They started talking Helghast, and one of the expected reveals was a fact - a new game in the Killzone series named Killzone: Shadow Fall. After an aerial trip over a very colorful Vekta City, the idyllic town was of course under attack within minutes. A Helghast in cyber disguise made minced meat of some innocent citizens, but was soon surprised with a knife in the face by our hero, and the playable sequence started. At this time I cast a glance at the guy playing on stage, and noted that the colors on the Dual Shock indeed shifted at different segments of the game. Red means "ouch". The main character then hitched a ride with a military plane and a wild chase through the glossy city began. The demo ended with the start of a dogfight.
Brand new IP Driveclub from Evolution Studios was next in line and here we can expect team-based racing. "The best cars in the world on the coolest tracks in the world," was one of the sales pitches, and emphasis was again put on social functions and cooperation with our online friends. The cars will mainly be driven in first person view (other views are possible, though) and has been designed with "an insane amount" of details. On the suede carpets in the car interiors, for instance, we will see details like fibres brushed in different directions. Drive Club could be an interesting contender in the genre.
In what must have been a real punch in the gut for Microsoft, Bungie then got the chance to talk dearly about upcoming Destiny and their plans for Playstation 4. Not only did they show a juicy piece of gameplay, they also told us that the Playstation 4 version of the game will get some exclusive material.
A somewhat paranoid man (by the way Sony, where were the women at?) then got on stage and told us that there are 23 million billion surveillance cameras per UK citizen - or something like that. After this doomsday scenario Sucker Punch's new game apperaed in trailer form, and a dystopia with the aforementioned cameras was shown. The game turned out to be Infamous: Second Son. It looked promising, since the previous games have been good. More gameplay would of course have been nice to see.
Jonathan Blow, creator of the brilliant Braid and one of my personal heroes, then revealed himself in all his bald glory. Blow was there to talk about his upcoming The Witness, a puzzler Mr. Blow has been working on for half an eternity. "No filler" were some of the key words and we can presumably expect a short but sweet game when The Witness arrives. In the trailer we got to see a colorful world full of puzzles, and our thoughts wandered both to the classic Myst and, to some extent, Braid. For the first time during the presentation, I noticed I was smiling, and this game will hopefully be very atmospheric and challenging indeed. The Witness will be released for the Playstation 4 before other consoles, Blow concluded.
Another big name followed: David Cage of Quantic Dream, who with his moderately thick French accent began talking about polygons in the studio's previous games Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain. Boring, was my first thought. I mean, polygons? A subject only german gaming journalists can be interested in (sorry about that, Gamereactor Germany...) But when an extremely high resolution digital face appeared, running on a Playstation 4, it became more interesting. The feelings one could discern in this digitally produced face felt real, and it will be interesting to see how this can be used in games to come.
Speaking of graphics, Media Molecule then explained their disgust for "polygons tyranny" in the presentation of their next project. The almost-forgotten Move controller is going to be paired with the Playstation 4, and apparently we are to become 3D sculptors. In a trailer, a pink electric guitar was surrounded by a group of people, each with a Move controller in their hand, which in turn controlled a clay figure. The scene evolved into a full clayman band blasting out a rocker. Some enthusiasm, but also uncertainty, spread across the crowd. Would this be a full game or just a tool? A Minecraft copy, perhaps? Later, however, it was confirmed that this was a tech demo.
Then it was time for Capcom who extensively talked about how they've been using Sony's previous consoles over the years, which caused people to (silently) scream "show what you're doing with the PS4, gosh darn it!" The code name for a new engine, Panta Rhei, was presented, followed by a game that will use it. Deep Down, as it was called, seems to be a really neat fantasy game and in its gameplay trailer, we witnessed an intense fight against a fire-breathing dragon.
Shinji Hashimoto from Square Enix then jumped up on stage and with him was a cinematic demo made with Luminous Studio. He showed us the trailer we saw at last year's E3, with a feather-dressed, dark-haired girl being chased by doped up wolves. Nice but old stuff, which was a bit of a disappointment. Final Fantasy big shot Shinji Hashimoto took over and RPG fans in the room began to raise eyebrows. There will be info about a new Final Fantasy title at E3 this year, it seems.
Then we got served more information about the upcoming Watch Dogs, which was shown in playable form. A simple walk through a few blocks in the game's city proved to contain much for the main character, who hacked a businessman's bank account just by going near him. After, a female victim of a knife threat was rescued and a chase sequence with the perpetrator began. One refreshing jog and a blown up electrical cabinet later, the villain was caught. The main character then got chased himself, which culminated with an escape on a hacked train. Watch Dogs looks really entertaining and was one of the games that generated the strongest applause during the evening.
Chris Metzen from Blizzard then wandered up to the tunes of some Warcraft-like music and told us that the studio has joined forces with Sony to ... take over the world. Apparently. Diablo 3 will be released for the Playstation 4, we then learned and the console version is going to be easy to control (easier than with a mouse and keyboard? Probably not.) and Metzen also promised co-op for four players.
Showtime over. Sony rounded off the evening, and the one thing we all hoped for did not occur - there was no Playstation 4 rolled out on stage to bombastic music, smoke and light effects. The enormous screen promised a release date though - "Holiday 2013". If this will be a worldwide premiere remains to be seen. All in all, this glimpse of the future felt exciting, and now it's time for Microsoft, and to some extent Nintendo, to concoct a convincing response.