psx-2016-shawn-layden

I’ve watched three PlayStation Experience keynotes so far, and each one has been different in its own way. The inaugural meeting in 2014 was somewhat awkward and fumbling, as if Sony decided to use the experience to find their feet rather than wow the audience. It worked, however, cementing in plans for next year’s event (which was decent), and finally the one that took place this past week. I don’t have a blow-by-blow you can follow – read Matthew’s coverage for that – but I do have some things to take away from the event, both technical and game-related.

New experiences

29 brand new games and DLC expansions were announced at the event, which is quite a decent showing and in line with how much Sony tends to cram into their other keynotes. I kept a pad of paper on me and tallied the results; eight games were debuting for the PlayStation Vita semi-exclusively, and ten PlayStation VR titles were shown off as well. Mix that in with the short montages where it was difficult to pick out every game included in them, and we’re looking at somewhere around 35 games on show.

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But what’s interesting is the number of VR games. These are games for what amounts to a separate system, if we take the hardware requirements into account. A grand total of 41 games are currently available for PSVR, falling short of meeting Sony’s year-end target of 50 games launched for 2016, but that’s still a lot of content to consume. Taking up a third of the presentation with titles that are either PSVR exclusives, or that have a PSVR version, is a ballsy move, and shows confidence in the market potential for VR experiences. Couple this with the fact that the PSVR headset also works on other platforms (even on Xbox One in cinema mode), and this is starting to look like a smash hit for Sony.

As I’ve said previously, though, PSVR needs to be more than just a gimmick to buy into. One of the newly announced games, Starblood Arena, is almost, but not quite, R.I.G.S. Mechanized Combat in zero gravity without the need to fling yourself through a hoop to score points. You still aim with your head, and you have to move your mech/ship around with the controller. Control schemes like that get old fast, and I hope that we move past it very quickly. Farpoint is a good example of the use of VR with a separate Move-based peripheral that is used to control your gun, and I honestly can’t wait to see Farm Simulator 2017 get a PSVR update (it’s not announced, but you know that’s happening).

Not enough T-shirt teases

PlayStation USA’s Shawn Layden keeps on appearing on stage in a black long sleeve shirt and T-shirts that bear logos up upcoming projects that Sony wants you to know about, but can’t detail right now. He did this for a God of War sequel, for Crash Bandicoot Remastered, for Crash’s inclusion in Skylanders as a playable character, and just recently, minutes before announcing a new WipEout sequel. Because this is now a pattern (he also uses the same long sleeve shirt every time), I am now hoping that Sony will use him as some sort of walking billboard for announcing secret projects with cryptic clues. Remember the “This is for the Players” video from the PS4 launch in 2013? In that short, there was a clue at the end signaling that talks to bring Crash Bandicoot back to PlayStation were beginning.

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And then two years later, Shawn shows up wearing this shirt:

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This is a thing. Sony needs to make this a bigger thing. There’s even a small, obscure meme genre based on editing stuff onto his T-shirts. At every PlayStation keynote, Shawn needs to appear on stage at least once with a hint to something they’re working on that they can’t talk about yet. It gets the internet up in a frenzy, and brings down both the /r/PlayStation subreddit and NeoGAF websites down at least once a year.

Not much ado about the PS4 Pro

This is the weird part, isn’t it? Sony has a new console available that is somewhere between two to three times more powerful than the PS4 Slim, but it wasn’t talking much about it. When it popped up on the stage for discussion briefly, Sony said nothing about how well it was selling, or how they were expanding and capitalising on the extra horsepower. That was left, instead, to the games to do, and none more evident than the selling points listed by Gran Turismo Sport in its latest trailer:

  • Greater detail – 4K visuals on the PS4 Pro
  • HDR support – for both PS4 and PS4 Pro
  • VR support – for both PS4 and PS4 Pro, with caveats
  • Wide colour support

If I missed any other games that might have had something about PS4 Pro, let me know in the comments below. In any case, Sony didn’t use this presentation to boost sales of the PS4 Pro, and I don’t expect them to do that until E3 2017. GT Sport only listed one reason for playing it on a PS4 Pro, which was greater visual fidelity. Is that enough to sell me on the system? No, not really, but perhaps that’s not the point. If PSVR costs $399 on its own, it’s far more likely that current PS4 owners will stick with their older console and just get a headset, the move controllers, and the camera. That’s basically the cost of a PS4 Pro with a bundled game and a new controller. It’s very weird that Sony went in this direction, but I can also see why they did it. This will just mean that the same economies of scale that allowed the PS4 to become cheaper in one year might not affect the PS4 Pro in the same way. They’ll sell less units, but each unit will be that much more profitable.

On another weird note, the GT Sport trailer also noted that it would ship with PSVR compatibility, but this would only be enabled for certain tracks and cars. I breathed a sigh of relief at this news, because it means that I won’t have to buy two copies of the game, unlike Driveclub VR, but I’m puzzled as to why there’s that limitation. Are some of the tracks technically challenging to render? Is it simply too much work to tack on to the project this late on their way to gold status? Can all premium cars support VR interiors, or is there a lack of matching driver animations that need to be programmed in? I mean, that’s probably it, but it’s an odd thing to be limited by.

All in all, watching PSX 2016 was an enjoyable experience, and I look forward to next year’s event, which will come right after Microsoft launches Project Scorpio. That’s going to be a very interesting conference to watch.