: Full details of the post-keynote Q&A
are in a separate Gamasutra article, with info on HDMI changes and a Japanese PS3 price drop.]
When Sony's Ken Kutaragi strode on stage to give the first keynote on the business day of the 2006 Tokyo Game Show, one might think the CEO and President of Sony Computer Entertainment would be concerned at some of the adverse PR sent his company's way over the past few weeks.
Not so - the Sony exec clearly felt that the best way to answer critics was to simply show them the goods upfront, and started by noting that "over 200 consoles and development tools" were available at TGS "to let you enjoy the PlayStation 3".
He then ably segued into a 'sizzle reel' of some of the best looking PS3 titles playable at TGS, including Ridge Racer 7
, due on the November 11th launch day, which, to be honest, doesn't look that much more impressive than the Xbox 360-exclusive Ridge Racer 6
, before showing a distinctly fetching Virtua Fighter 5
Further video showcased Bandai Namco's Mobile Suit Gundam: Target In Sight
, a flagship mech game, before things finished up with some gorgeous looking action sequences from Final Fantasy XIII
, though CG cut-scene sequences and real-time action were as ever difficult to differentiate.
Kutaragi then elicited some applause for the demonstrations, noting that 12 years have passed since the first PlayStation was introduced, and that there has been a quantum leap in processing power and overall quality.
He then discussed how the user interface has improved, particularly with regard to controllers and overall power - commenting that "the combination of computers and entertainment have merged". He noted that PCs "use bigger and bigger operating systems", suggesting that PCs have lost some of "their real-time responses", with a breakthrough "almost upon us" in which a lot of the processing power is available through the network.
This is all somewhat odd, since the concept of network computing somewhat indicates that the processing power for local computers (or consoles) need not be that powerful, but the PlayStation 3 has been designed to be exceptionally powerful separately of the network. In addition, the talk again saw Kutaragi, at least obliquely, comparing the PlayStation 3 and the PC, something that has got him quizzical looks in the West previously.
Kutaragi then discussed the concepts of personalized agents for shopping, search, and so on - again, more PC-like networked capabilities which is clearly very important to Sony in launching PlayStation 3.
The Sony CEO brought things back by discussing how game producers could possibly use the network to grab map data in real-time and then create games out of it - suggesting that you can massively reduce the costs of game development by using networked common scenery. Very oddly, he almost seems to be discussing the concept of a shared metaverse - extremely enticing, but not seemingly immediately relevant to the PlayStation 3 launch.
Nonetheless, Kutaragi's theme was very clearly the "global network" - the concept of using networked resources heavily in the PlayStation 3's genesis. He then explained his thinking with direct relevance to the PS3 version of Gran Turismo
. He noted the extreme amount of complicated texture and geometry capture needed for Polyphony Digital to capture multiple real-world courses, and then also capture complex car models into the game. He noted the kind of "joint business opportunities" available when this data has been captured.
He suggested an "open environment" for the networked world of games - in other words, all hardware manufacturers would be able to use this networked world, much as the Internet is an open protocol used by everyone. His grand vision is clearly a major shared 'open network' for all game resources. This may explain some of Sony's antipathy to Xbox Live-like managed services - Sony apparently believes that in order for everyone to reap the benefits, the online systems must be open to all.
Interestingly, Kutaragi noted the 'long tail' business, specifically referencing Chris Anderson's term, of many users looking for niche content elements. He then revealed that the PlayStation 3 will be able to download some of the "thousands of" PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 titles" over the network for a fee, "starting with those with the smallest game data". The reason? Sony wanted to "...allow the users to choose the games of their preference." He also noted, as examples, Genesis and PC Engine titles which will be also be downloaded over the PlayStation 3 network.
This segued into Sony's concern, that "users have become more cautious to accept current game titles", and that "...current game industry tends to rely too heavily on easy to produce sequels", according to Kutaragi. He noted that users "...have been become totally passive, to just receive the games from the producer", arguing: "Creativity should be the basis of the computer entertainment industry."
But how do the two poles of a networked ecosystem and the PS3's extreme power get reconciled? Kutaragi freely admitted that the PlayStation 3 "may be called overkill" in terms of its "enormous computation power", but he explained that, over the next 2 to 3 years, "networking will live alongside packaged media." He further indicated: "We need to use packaged media for the time being", since networking and server speeds are not yet fast enough to stream all game data in real-time. He concluded: "Perhaps in 10 years it will have materialized."
So the PlayStation 3 is a hybridized concept, including "always-on connection of Internet, browser, and hard disc" - not only playing the games, but also exchanging text data and photo data. Kutaragi talked about movie sharing over the network, with YouTube style uploads to PlayStation 3 network, and even of having PS3s installed in shop fronts, and the possibility you can pay for goods via mobile phone and Bluetooth-like wireless on these networked machines - heady stuff.
He also noted the use of the enormous amount of Cell chips on networked PlayStation 3s, referencing the Folding @ Home project, which searches for aberrant genes through networked supercomputer using idle CPU cycles. Kutaragi even claimed that game programmers can share game elements with artists over a network - users will be able to see progress of game content over the network, and add to it, essentially talking about user-contributed content. There was no clear indication as to how, however.
Finally, Kutaragi showed a video for Afrika
(working title), an SCEJ title set amongst wildlife on the African savannah, which still gave little hint toward how the gameplay works - was he implying that this was in some way a networked ecosystem? Sony is, as ever, working in mysterious ways.