We’ve had a unprecedentedly long console generation this time around; it’s been over 7 years since the release of the Xbox 360, and 6 since Sony’s PlayStation 3. The games expected in 2013, like The Last of Us and err…umm…. Oh! Gears of War Judgement show that both systems still have a bit of juice left in them, but if we’re going to be honest, we have to admit that they’re growing a little long-in-the-tooth and it’s time for some shiny new hardware. It’s almost a dead cert that we’ll be seeing new hardware this year, even though it might not see general release until 2014. With that in mind, here’s what we’d like to see from the PlayStation 4.
Shared Memory Architecture, and lots (and lots!) of RAM
The biggest flaw with the PlayStation 3’s architecture isn’t the ridiculously difficult to code for cell. No, that dubious honour belongs to the system’s split-memory.
The PS3’s Cell CPU is unquestionably more powerful than the IBM tri-core Xenon that runs the 360, and its RSX – essentially an off-the-shelf Nvidia 7800 GTX has more juice than the the Xbox 360’s AMD Xenon (a tweaked Radeon X1800 XL). Why then, do many multiplatform games look and run better on Microsoft’s console?
The PS3 split its meagre 512MB of memory down the middle, leaving 256MB for system, and the remainder for graphics. The Xbox 360, on the other hand, let developers choose how to split the memory, dynamically.
Say, for instance, that you were running a huge open world game involving shouting and dragons that’s not exactly the most graphics-intensive game, but needed lots of RAM for all of its open-world variables. Restricted to just 256MB of system memory, you’d find that game to start buckling under the weight of everything happening. With a lot more memory – and the option for developers to dynamically allocate that memory as they see fit – things like that wouldn’t be a problem at all.
8GBs or more of ridiculously fast (DDR4?), unified memory, please!
Less alien CPU architecture
IBM’s Cell is a beast of a thing, and of the most sophisticated processors you’ll find in consumer electronics.With a PowerPC core acting as a “managing processor,” it delegates processing to the eight other processors on the chip, the Synergistic Processing Elements which act as vector processors, able to quickly disseminate and process several pieces of data at once.
If that makes little sense to you, don’t worry – it made little sense to game developers who took years to get to grips with the complicated and complex chipset. In addition to the memory issue highlighted above, the excessive time and resources (financial and human) needed to get 3rd party PS3 games running as well as 360 ones outweighed the benefit. You can moan about “lazy developers” as much as you like, but when there are deadlines, budgets and other constraints sometimes the extra polish just isn’t possible.
Instead, Sony should utilise less alien hardware, that developers are already comfortable with. Current rumours point to Sony using one of AMD’s Fusion APU systems, which integrate a CPU, GPU and memory controller, which can then be supplemented with another dedicated GPU. It’s fast, efficient, and most importantly, familiar territory for developers – who’ll be able to focus more on designing their games than wrestling with getting it working.
Sony recently acquired game streaming pioneers Gaikai, so the question of cloud-based game streaming coming to the PlayStation platform is more a matter of “when,” than “if.” Still, unless you’re connected to the internet via black magic, there’s always an issue of lag – so I don’t really want to play full games, OnLive style from the next PlayStation.
What would be incredible though is if you could stream timed, full game demos from the cloud, without having to download them first. It’d be like it was raining games.
But, we still like our disc-based games, so we’d also like
A faster Blu-Ray drive
Sony gambled with using Blu-Ray, a next-generation optical drive in its PlayStation 3 – but it’s one that paid off. The format won the HD video wars relegating the Microsoft-backed HD DVD to the top of the pile of losers, joining Betamax, Laserdisc, MiniDisc and Peter Molyneux. The problem with the one in the PS3, because of the format was still in its infancy at the time, is that it’s a slow as all hell 2x drive. While its larger capacity meant the end of disc-swopping, it also paved the way for mandatory installations, because the discs couldn’t be read at the same speed as the 12x DVD drive in the 360.
Here’s the thing though; Blu-Ray tech has come a long way. I could go in to a long-winded discussion about how DVD drives operate at Constant Angular Velocity, which means the speeds are variable, speeds are faster at the edge of the disc than in the centre; while Blu-Ray drives operate using Constant Linear Velocity so you get the same read speed regardless of the data’s position on the disc. I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll simplify it. At even 4x Blu-Ray speed, you’ll get faster constant performance than 12x DVD’s maximum speed.
Pop in a 12x Blu-ray drive, and we’ll see the end of mandatory installations as well as significantly fewer and shorter loading screens. Basically, a really fast drive could mean that consoles actually become consoles again; pop in a game and play. None of that installing games like we’re playing on PC’s nonsense.
1080p and 60fps
Don’t believe what you see when your TV says it’s operating at 1080p. For the most part, games are rendered internally at 720p or less, and then upscaled to fit your TV screen. There are a few real 1080p games on consoles, but you could count them all on a Ninja turtle’s hand.
What we’d like from the PS4 is for 1080 and a buttery-smooth 60 frames-per-second to be the norm. Most current console games run at 720p at 30 fps. Rumour suggests that the PlayStation 4 will have support for 4K resolutions, but you’d need a pretty damned huge, expensive screen to even tell the difference. Rather focus on getting games to look and run as best they can at 1080p, with tons of detail, effects and physics.
A new controller
Sony’s essentially used the same controller since they first entered the console gaming business, and I’m really growing bored of how Sony keeps re-appropriating the same damned mould for every successive controller. Here’s a quick look at the evolution of the DualShock, since it first made its appearance in 1997, replacing the analogue-free design that debuted with the original PlayStation in 1994.
Many consider the design of the DualShock to be perfect, but I’m convinced they’re lying to themselves or have tiny little hands and smell of cabbage. I’ve never really like the DualShock; extended game sessions make my hands cramp up. I’d like a newer, curvier and far less-angled controller, and if Sony insists on keeping PlayStation Move around, then maybe that integrated hybrid controller isn’t such a bad idea. Honestly, I don’t care how they change it, as long as they change it. And not just by adding more sticks and buttons.
Of course, Sony has tried before, but fans were so up in arms about the proposed, reviled boomerang controller that Sony went back to the Dualshock.
A better online shopping experience
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried buying anything from Sony’s PSN store. This might sounds like a first world problem, but it honestly requires far more clicks and prompts than is necessary. This comic, from Penny Arcade, highlights the problem exactly.
Sony’s recently relaunched its PSN store, making it look a lot nicer and a little easier to search for content, but the above problem is still prevalent.
The most played game by any internet-connected PlayStation 3 is “updating,” whether it be game patches, or firmware updates. Just about every time I switch on my PS3 to play anything, I’m greeted with a elephantine patch. I’m told that while the PS3 now allows for iterative patching for firmware, the same doesn’t hold true for games; patches for Xbox 360 games seldom weigh in at over a few megabytes, while the same patch for the PS3 version often clocks in at a few hundred megabytes.
PlayStation Plus membership allows you to update all your while you’re at work or busy sleeping, so members spend considerably less time staring at update screens, but it’s a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
Support for 2nd hand games
Patents and rumours suggest that the next breed of consoles from both Microsoft and Sony will block out used games, tying whatever games you purchase to your online ID or console. From a developer and publisher’s standpoint, I get it; they directly make no money from second hand sales.
What they invariably fail to realise is that the second hand market largely funds new game purchases. If this comes to pass, many would be stuck without the means to buy new games and will end up only buying the handful of must-haves that come out every year. Or they’ll just pirate them.
Cross Game Chat
I honestly can’t say I use, or care much for Cross game chat – mostly because I prefer to do my gaming offline and alone, like the cynical hermit I am. Still, I’d really like Sony to implement the feature on their next console, even if it is just to shut up the Xbox Fanboys who laud this one useless feature as the reason that Xbox Live is superior. On that note, throw a headset/microphone in to every single box, so that everybody has a voice.
That’s our list. What’s yours?