You're probably all aware that Sony announced the PlayStation 4 last week. (I kind of wish I wasn't aware, but it's actually part of my job....) Having seen most of the big announcement ceremony, I wasn't too happy with seeing the people in charge of the mainstream game industry charge down the same blind alley they've been going down for the last decade or two.

Anyway, I'm mostly here to share a very perceptive blog article about the event:
"More, More, More—How Do You Like It?" by John Teti

Here's a good section from the article:

It was an evening of cognitive dissonance. For the first half hour, Sony’s people exhausted their buzzword thesaurus telling us how the PlayStation 4’s technology will make “new experiences” possible. “In the past, creators’ visions have been constrained by the limitations of technology,” said executive David Perry, but not anymore.

This proclamation of a new era was followed by a trailer for Killzone: Shadow Fall that was indistinguishable from countless other trailers we’ve seen for first-person shooters in the past. It hit all the standard plot points. The fresh-faced recruit hops off the troop transport. A building blows up. Much loud shooting ensues. (Here’s a rule of thumb. If the title of your game contains a colon, odds are it’s not a “new experience.”) Later, representatives of the Japanese studios Capcom and Square Enix stopped by to show the audience that they planned to make PlayStation 4 games with dragons in them. Sony’s tired thesis, the notion that more technology necessarily produces innovative artistry, was convincingly refuted by the content of its own event. It was like watching the Flat Earth Society unveil the year’s hottest new globes.


What gamers deserve, according to Sony, is more of the same, made marginally shinier. The man from the Evolution studio breathlessly told the crowd that some of the DriveClub cars featured virtual carbon-fiber exteriors in which the physical response of every thread in the fiber is calculated separately. More than one producer marveled at the increased number of “polygons” he was now able to cram into his latest predictable genre sequel—“polygons” being industry lingo for “size of penis.”

I'll point out that among weak announcements, Square Enix's was particularly poor: First, one fellow came up and showed a very nice real-time rendered short called "Agni's Philosophy" (if you haven't seen  it, I recommend giving it a watch)... which was first shown at E3 last year. Then the head of the Final Fantasy line came up and announced 'there will be a new Final Fantasy game on the PS4!' (Let's see, three games on the NES, three on the SNES, three on the PS, two on the PS2, one on the PS3 & Xbox 360—discounting MMOs and direct sequels. Thanks for telling me there'll be a new game on the new platform. Couldn't have figured it out on my own.) At least everyone else was showing new content.

Explosions flew thick and fast in the presentations, and marketing buzzwords flew thicker and faster. There's some interesting stuff mentioned—play the game while it downloads, a mass application of technology like Bizzard's download manager for WoW. Pre-fetch of games that your history shows you'll probably like, so you can try them out instantly. Neat, and about as creepy as Minority Report. Never mind the fact that it's geared towards generating more impulse purchases than a Steam sale.

The bright point, as Teti mentions, was The Witness, where Jonathan Blow (of Braid fame), pointed out places where he was bucking normal industry wisdom in order to create a tighter, more focused game. As a puzzle/adventure game set on a small island, it does lend itself to fairly direct 'haven't we seen this before' comparisons with Myst. But games like Myst are far more underrepresented in the industry, than, say, games like... Doom. It was also the only game showing a relatively simple render style, and not enthusing at how much more visual horsepower the new hardware had.

It's business as usual. And since console games only rarely go into territory of any interest to me, Sony is off to a flying start on letting me ignore the whole thing for another 5+ years.

And one last quote from the article:

Creativity thrives under limitations. People who love games understand this implicitly, since the best players find the most creative ways to succeed within the confines of the rules. The Great Train Robbery is a masterpiece not in spite of its limitations but because of them. So if David Cage doesn’t think he can produce an emotional work of art with a PlayStation 3 and an eight-figure budget, maybe he shouldn’t be in the art-making business.

It reminds me very strongly (as has for some time) of the CPU market. Intel sold new processors in terms of 'speed' as defined by processor cycles (you know, that number measured in MHz, or GHz for the last several years). Which can be an important measure of how fast a computer will actually run, but is undercut by just what the processor is doing on each of those cycles. AMD spent the better part of a decade trying to educate people on the difference between 'speed' and 'performance', and gave guides to just what speed of Intel chip their's would act like (a practice that goes back to the heyday of performance off-brand chips in the early '90s). And then came the Pentium 4, and Intel suddenly found they couldn't just make their chips faster all the time. Current Intel marketing is much more balanced.

Sony, and way too many highly-paid game developers, are willing to say that the next game will be better with just a few polys more.