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LONG BLOG

Sony's ethereal "weapon" is powerful; but aimed at their feet

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Mouths were stretched. Jaws were dislocated. And Mark Cerny stood, unfazed, talking endlessly about HDD "seeks", the anatomy of read/write speeds, chip controllers and how labyrinthine level design is all part of a complex scheme to mask loading.

All the while, people were... less than ecstatic. The presentation was not made with the average gamer in mind; it was to be held at the Game Developers Conference 2020, hence all the jargon. So, where's the fault in that? Nowhere, nowhere at all. It is completely understandable that, in the face of a pandemic, an important (for the industry) conference was postponed but Mark Cerny had lots of interesting stuff to say. Sony must not shoulder the blame for the content of the presentation, but for everything else.

Cerny Controller

You see, it was a critical time to not stick to your guns and, well, show something, Sony. The Japanese giant has been excruciatingly tight-lipped with everything regarding PlayStation 5. Just a few hours earlier, Microsoft went ahead with a full-on reveal of the Xbox Series X's specs, and Sony had to "answer" in the minds of many -- me included. The undisputed leader of the current, soon-to-be-previous generation is playing a weird game of "don't show, tell a little". After a console reveal of in-your-face, unapologetic digs at the competition, their current stance feels... oddly not like them.

Microsoft's approach, on the other hand, is diametrically opposite to what Sony is doing: they're showing and backing up the words with actual, tangible footage and imagery. People wanted an image of the console they'll buy (or won't) come Holiday 2020; Microsoft provided it. People were wary of its curious, PC-like design; Microsoft explained how it actually helps with cooling. Fridge comments notwithstanding, I'll sure as Hell take their word on it after owning a whisper-quiet Xbox One X. People wanted the jargon of "machine-learning HDR algorithm" and "variable rate shading" explained in simple layman's terms; Microsoft gave Digital Foundry, among the most respected tech-heads in the industry, a console to test out and tell the people about it. All in all, Microsoft exhudes an air of confidence that is contagious and refreshing, after the initial disaster that was the Xbox One's reveal.

Back to square Sony. As previously said, Cerny did what Cerny does; the man's a genius when it comes to programming and let's not forget, he was the mastermind behind the dominant PlayStation 4 -- as well as the upcoming PlayStation 5. To an extent, I enjoyed what was on the table. The not-so-mystical talk of how a labyrinthine level design helps solve memory and loading problems, or how a patch actually installs itself on existing data, were easy enough for me (I consider myself above-average in all this tech-talk) to grasp without thinking too hard. Sadly, I can't say the same about most of the rest of what Cerny offered. And again, I do not blame him. I was not his target audience. Nor were most of my friends and colleagues, who were subjected to a nigh-hour-long mind-numbing. The blame, for me, lies exclusively at Sony's doorstep.

Sony had, all the way back in April 2019, confirmed that the PlayStation 5 was going to be compatible with the PSVR, a device I bought day-one and love to this day. Oh boy, I thought. It's going to be epic. The giddy kid inside me had woken up again. Then, Sony spoke of backward compatibility for the, then-unnamed, PS4 successor. And I waited for more. I waited. I waited on. 

In October 2019, my patience was rewarded when rumours of a PlayStation 5 were finally confirmed after much speculation. Microsoft played their hand first during that year's E3 conference, so it was up to Sony to one-up them. With a reinvigorated Microsoft to face, and after their dominance with the PS4, I was so eager to see what the future held for the two giants.

After another few completely news-dry months, Xbox laid their hand bare and revealed the "Tower of Power"'s specs, boasting an impressive 12tflops of power among other, previously-mentioned upgrades. Sony wouldn't hold back and announced the "Deep Dive", in order to provide us with a clearer picture of the PS5's innards. "This is it", I thought. "This is the answer to Microsoft, and the ol' War of the Consoles will rage anew".

Andrew Ryan came out in a sweater, looking all awkward and sterilized. He, shortly thereafter, offered the stage to Mark Cerny. Now, the stretched mouths and dislocated jaws come full-circle, and my head-shaking disapproval of Sony's methods is almost enough to make my head fall clean off of my shoulders.

To put it simply: where is Sony's marketing department? The missteps and bad communication are all over the place. Mixed messages, wrong assumptions, nothing tangible for people to cling onto while they wait for Holiday 2020. Where do I start?

For one, I take issue with the current ethereal form of the PlayStation 5. I don't want to see a box, necessarily, but I want to see something. A controller, an outline of the box, a tease, or a game running on a PS5 to showcase some of the upgrades, however early those might be. At this point in time, with roughly 7 months to go until its release, it's astounding how little, actual evidence of its existence there is. For the continuation of an industry-dominating console, I sure expected more of Sony. What good is Cerny's talk of an improved ventilation system for the PlayStation 5 -- something I welcome with open arms, as an owner of a launch PS4 and PS4 Pro who only plays with a headset on because of the noise -- if we can't possibly wrap our minds around what he's actually saying? Xbox gave us the fridge, alright, but analysis points to its design being actually very sophisticated, ventilation-friendly and possibly producing very low noise. Take it or leave it, the design is there for everyone to judge, as a simple picture or as a practical, actual electronical device.

Then, you have the issue of people expecting too much out the "Deep Dive", simply because Sony couldn't be arsed to name the video "PS5 Deep Dive: GDC 2020 Keynote" or something along those lines, sending a clear message about the advanced-level content waiting each viewer. People went in expecting a "PlayStation 5 reveal" (whatever that means), because news sites reproduced that message but, mostly, because Sony allowed them to. When you're not clear about what you're going to say, you can't blame your audience for setting their hype levels high (or low) and ending up disappointed.

Among all else, there was talk of the "top 100 PS4 titles being available for the PS5", to paraphrase Cerny. Upon hearing those words, I immediately thought: "what of the promised PSVR compatibility"? PSVR is a niche product, and I'll be damned if there's a single PSVR title in the top 100 of the PS4 titles ever (my research proved there's not, but feel free to correct me) -- and no, I'm not talking PSVR modes, but games built for PSVR. So, I was disappointed. Sony went on to clarify that, in short, this will not be the case but they simply started experimenting with the top 100 titles. Alas, the damage was done, cat's out of the bag and all that.

And as if that wasn't enough, the final PS5 specs prove to be lower than the Xbox Series X's specs. After all this waiting, I was hoping that Sony would be hiding an ace up its sleeve and was just playing the waiting game to make the impact of the announcement all the more devastating. And again, I was disappointed. To be clear and realistic, numbers don't always tell the truth. The PlayStation 3, for example, was potentially much more powerful than the Xbox 360, but it was a pain for developers to work with, regularly resulting in third-party games (the bulk of any console) to run worse on Sony's console. However, this time it's different. We're talking very similar, if not outright same, parts making up the insides of each console and with that in mind, the 10.3tflops of the PS5 pale in comparison to the Xbox Series X's 12tflops.

Raw power isn't everything, but again, Microsoft showcased how that power will be used: ray tracing, upgrading of previous-gen games, HDR machine learning and so on. On the other camp, we have 3D audio -- an exciting feature, but not something that can easily be conveyed over a web presentation -- and... a very fast SSD? What Microsoft has achieved here, is that while their numbers are higher (and sometimes, that's enough for some people), they've provided people with something more substantial to occupy their minds when thinking of the Xbox Series X. I'm thinking the jaw-dropping Gears 5 upgrade, or the Minecraft ray tracing image. When I think of the PS5, the only thing that springs to mind -- and I kid you not, it's the only thing -- is that weird dev kit.

The only positive I can salvage out of the entire mess that is the PS5's presence up until today, is that Sony is, I believe, fully embracing a single-player, immersion-centric approach to gaming. All the talk of giving developers freedom to make the game they want without limitation, by giving them the hardware to back them up, and the emphasis on 3D audio, make me think that immersion is their end goal with the PS5. Have the players lose themselves in your first-party games, as you know that's your strength. But that's it. That's all I have, and it's pure speculation. Help me out here, Sony.

I do not know which console will be "better", which will have more exclusives or better multiplayer infrastructure, but I know one thing: Sony threw themselves under the bus and I am utterly baffled by how they're handling things so far. On the bright side, competition seems to be revived after the thrashing Microsoft received with the Xbox One, and that can only be good for consumers, but it will always be sad for me -- as PlayStation holds a very special place in my heart since my very early years -- to see them so out of touch and seemingly stunned. It's like they forgot how to handle a console launch, bringing those awful PS3 reveal memories to mind. The launch of a console is always cause for celebration for the gamer inside me, and the build-up to it is like waiting for the Champions League final to kick off. And with Sony's current presence in it, it's like they're the title defenders and their player slipped during kick-off.

Or a similar, grandiose event for non-football fans. Think of something. A new Vanilla Ice album, maybe?

- What can I say? You guys... are the best.


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About Christos Chatzisavvasone of us since 11:22 AM on 06.25.2014

Greetings, from the land called Greece. I am Christos, and I am fascinated by everything (mostly, SFW) coming from the land known as Japan.

I own more than 1300 physical games and over 60 consoles plus a gaming PC, as, evidently, I also quite like games. Sources tell me the color of the sun is green; need to go outside once, to confirm.

From the many different experiences I have, came my love of writing about games, and so, here I am.

P.S.: Insult Okami and/or Final Fantasy, at your peril.