When a new console being created, it must impress gamers. It must contain enough power, enough new features and enough reason for us to buy it – as opposed to the rivals. For instance, you might have purchased the Playstation 3 because of the blu-ray support. You might have bought it because you’re familiar with the PS brand. For the Xbox 360, you might’ve loved the online, or maybe you thought that Gears of War looked cool and worth your time and hard earned cash to buy and play. But – honestly, as much as we gamers are important, games developers play perhaps the biggest role.
Why? How can I say that games developers play a bigger role than gamers? Without our money, they too would crumble. If you don’t buy the next COD, the next God of War, the next Half Life, the company will hurt – badly. That’s true – but honestly, companies by now know how to please us. Unless a game is terribly designed or has major issues (see Aliens: Colonial Marines) we’re probably going to love it. We gamers want to play the latest and greatest titles, and we want them to look fantastic – and with the shortest development time possible!
For games developers though, they need to be happy with the hardware they are working on. I’m not talking about first party developers of course – Naughty Dog for instance, are going to created the new Uncharted for the PS4, and they’ll do it if they love the machine or hate it. But the same isn’t true for Bioware, EA, Capcom, Sega and the dozens of other games developers out there. They don’t “have” to make games for your machine. If the platform is popular – then sure, financially it makes sense for them too, but it’s not a requirement. There have been numerous systems in history which have failed because of lack of third party support – and honestly, it’s one of the largest contributions to Sega’s downfall. Sega’s Saturn games system was fantastic – but it was far too hard to program and get the most out of. That, combined with poor marketing and other decisions on Sega’s part meant the system was doomed.
Sony admitted they knew they had issues with the Playstation 3. The lead architect behind the new PS4, Mark Cerny went on record and said that even back during 2007 that “(we) clearly we had some issues with PlayStation 3”. It’s likely that as soon as games developers got their hands on it, they wept with disappointment over the overly complicated Cell processor. The rather lackluster memory configurations, and the lacking GPU. Fortunately, the system wasn’t so bad that developers couldn’t program for it – and it wasn’t so bad that fantastic titles couldn’t be produced. See God of War or Uncharted, hell, even Infamous for examples of such great first party games.
The issue – is that it wasn’t even. Porting games from the Xbox 360 was often difficult – resulting in games running in sub par resolutions compared to that of the Xbox 360, and PC to PS3 was a huge problem. The developers behind Dishonoured stated that RAM was one of the biggest issues (although to be fair, they were also including the Xbox 360 in that too, as neither system had enough).
It’s why when Mark Cerny began to decide exactly how the PS4 should be thrown together, he was careful to ask developers “what do you guys want” and not “here’s what we’ve given you”. Developers don’t feel like Oliver Twist and going to Sony and asking (with cap in hand) “please sir, can I have more?” only for Sony to shake their head. This time, Sony made the smart choice – they asked “what’s needed for YOUR vision of next generation”.
Think of it this way – you’re a games studio. You want to put out the next awesome title and you want it to kick the butt of previous games you did on the last system. You view the Playstation 4, Xbox 720 and high spec PC’s as tools, as display mediums – similar to how a film producer might view higher resolution screens, or 3d. You want a system that is capable of producing and showing of your next level of creative vision, that’s able to showcase the new tools that you’ve been working on.
Now, Sony have been getting a lot of praise here because they’ve listened. Sure, from my point of view – I’d liked to have seen a few changes here or there in the design (although I’m not a developer, but I’ve been around the tech block). I wish a few more of the GCN cores had made the Playstation 4 cut from the original 7970M. I wish those cores ran a little faster – the 850MHZ rather than 800MHZ. It seems that the Jaguar CPU is only running at 1.6GHZ – and I wish it was clocked a little higher, perhaps 1.8 for instance. But honestly, I’m pretty damn impressed with the specs of Sony’s machine. It has the memory bandwidth, the amount of RAM, the GPU and CPU power to display Unreal Enegine 4, to display the new Killzone and make it look beautiful – and more to the point, smoothly.
But – that’s not the only important trick – ease of use. I don’t care how fantastic your new system is, if it’s not easy to use you scare of studios. Small studios can’t afford to hire in the experts to program the system (let’s say you’re a tiny studio, such as those responsible for a lot of Indie titles) – it’s as simple as that. Big studios like EA can take the hit to hire in these experts, who understand how the Cell CPU works – but it slows down the project, and a compromise always needs to be made. So – isn’t it better for Sony to not force this ultimatum on developers? Of course.
The Playstation 4 isn’t a incredible piece of engineering if you compare its specs to a PC. A PC wins, it’s that easy. PC’s will always win, even on a consoles launch, because of the long design cycles of a console. You can’t launch the console with the latest highest spec components – especially as price also becomes an issue. How big would the market be for the Playstation 4 if it cost a high price, for example £999? sure, the graphics and hardware would look amazing, for the 3 people who actually bought one. I am being a little flippant here, I’ll admit.
The Playstation 4 is a lovely system because of the flexibility that it affords to developers, and that in turn keeps games devs very happy. You may not care about how many pennies EA are spending to produce a game, but honestly, that’s one of the reasons that products ship early. That bugs are in, and of course, that DLC is such a big deal. DLC is usually fairly cheap to produce (especially items such as weapons and armour upgrades) but are a great cash injection after a title cost quite literally, millions. If you hire Patrick Stewart and co, it’s not like they work for free! Games are getting to the point where they are so complex, so huge, that anything to shave time off their design and creation, and to make that easy is a huge plus.
Have Sony done a fantastic job on the PS$? Sure they have, the Playstation 4 is a awesome looking system. Problem is, we don’t really have any solid ideas yet what it’s up against from Microsoft – from the leaked specs, which show the Xbox 720 Durango as being lower spec perhaps little. But then, perhaps MS will charge a lot less for the machine, or perhaps the specs are false, or vastly out dated. We all remember the 8GB GDDR that made its way onto the PS4, when no one (including myself) didn’t think it would manage to happen.
Right now though, Sony seem to be making developers happy – and that’s a great step in the right direction for the next generation PS4.