I’m not a PC gamer. Apart from enjoying console controllers (obviously no longer the same issue it was in years gone by), consoles just made more sense to me as a kid. They were easier to comprehend; you buy a box, plug everything in, put in your disc, and play. But the two benefits I always appreciated were the fact that you could trade in the games you were finished with to be able to purchase others at t lower cost, and the longevity of that one console you would have for the duration of its life cycle, likely in to the next generation’s until you could afford the next iteration. Really, the value I got out of my Xbox 360 over the 6+ years I owned it for was amazing. This is one of the main reasons the concept of a mid-cycle console iteration, the “Playstation 4.5” or “NEO”, perplexes me.

Before getting in to this, let me just say that I’ve always enjoyed games irrespective of the platform they’re on. Like most gamers, I’ve played a wide variety of games and on many different platforms, including those which were long before my time. I’ve arrived late to the party on quite a few, particularly Gamecube games (I only bought one when we were well in to the next gen.) and the Playstation 3 exclusives I missed prior to getting the console a day after Microsoft’s questionable E3 showing in which they revealed Xbox One details, which they later changed of course. When the Playstation 4 was announced, I was all-in. Really it was the first time I could afford to buy a console close to launch without having to wait for a price drop or Christmas for my parents to buy me one. I bought mine sometime around Christmas 2013 and have loved it ever since. After some questionable decisions during the long life-cycle of the Playstation 3 – the original price point, PSN outage, and the super slim as a whole – it seemed to me like Sony just got so much right this time round.

whiteps4-2

Needless to say, I was quite surprised, despite the recent rumours surrounding it, to wake up to a Giantbomb article solidifying the much-talked-about “Playstation NEO”. This finally provided some much sought after, if unverified by Sony, information about both the “NEO’s” technical specifications, and Sony’s plans for this new iteration of Playstation 4 as well as the current console. Starting with the latter, it is at least admirable (and from my point of view, essential should the “PS4.5” be released this year, as is indicated by Giantbomb) that Sony do intend on keeping users of both systems connected. We won’t be finding any “NEO”-exclusive titles, so the exclusivity will simply be in the overall experience (slightly unamused tone intended).

However, there will be an obvious split amongst users and fans. To my earlier point, a major benefit of home-console gaming is that buying-in generally means you will be getting the same machine and same gaming experience as anyone else who has done the same, and getting the exactly what the developers can achieve on that platform. I, like many gamers, am a fan of this. Never mind the fact that it’s a level playing field online (not a priority for myself), just knowing that the single player experience is primarily effected only by your choices as a gamer, rather than which iteration you’re playing on, is something which appeals to me. Take Bloodborne as an example. I loved my experience with Bloodborne, and talking with those I knew were playing it at the same time made the experience that much more enjoyable. Would that still have been the same if I was playing on the PS4, and someone I was talking to was playing on an upgraded Playstation 4 version?

Bloodborn

Apparently, all games released from October this year will be required to launch with a “NEO” and “Base” game version. The “NEO” version will have the advantage of the supposed upgrade in CPU, GPU, and RAM upgrades to allow potential higher frame rates and increased visual fidelity in comparison to the base version, and it is suggested that Sony will not allow a drop in frame rate between the “NEO” and base versions. I, personally, will be very interested to see how developers are affected by this change both in their design choices, and as companies, as I’m assuming more resources will be required to design two versions of the same game where it was previously one. Will this result in a different approach? Perhaps more console exclusives, as developers may have to be careful, considering how much money it costs to make a game, as this will involve supporting another console, for the same platform. Would you imagine a game like Volume being produced for the Vita (where I think it belongs) if Mike Bithell and his team had to concentrate on a “NEO” version? Or what about the current PS4? The best games of last generation (as far as getting the most out of the console) came close to the end of its life-cycle, such as The Last of Us. Will the best still be brought out of the PS4, or will it gradually fade away as the new iteration becomes the standard?

I suppose my main issue with this idea is that I would just prefer Sony to shorten the overall console life-cycle rather than start mid-cycle upgrades. I’m confused by the whole idea. I know many people have pointed out that this sort of move is common place in the phone or PC market, nut that’s been standard ever since I can remember, this hasn’t. But a lot of my confusion is that the PS4 is doing so well right now. It’s outselling competitors (especially the Xbox One) by a long way, and is on track to become one of the bestselling home consoles ever. It seems as though the benefit is for those who either haven’t bought a PS4 yet, or those with enough disposable income that it’s not an issue. What about your average gamer? That’s a lot of games you could be missing out on should you see the need to instead save and invest in this new console. To me the argument of “but you don’t *need* to buy it” is flawed here, because of course those who saved and saved to get a PS4 close to launch will *want* this. It’s somewhat of a kick in the teeth to me, and many others.

PS4 Controller

The “thanks for your support, but give us more money or enjoy your inferior experience” attitude doesn’t exactly seem like it’s “for the players”, does it? Don’t get me wrong, people will buy this. I’m sure I’ll want one, I just wish Sony held out. I wish that the money I so willingly spent on my console doesn’t end up being giving me less than I think it should, because I certainly haven’t got even close to the £430 I spent on it back in value, yet. As nice as it is to get some more information on this, it does beg many more questions. Will the PS5 be 2-3 years after the 4.5 launches? Would they do the same again next-gen? Will this become more akin to the phone market – many upgrading every other iteration?

On one hand, the longevity of consoles previously is a major benefit and would make me lean toward one console if I knew it was going to give more value. On the other, who doesn’t like new toys? At the very least, it will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds, I personally just don’t like the idea of this becoming the industry-standard for consoles in the future – I certainly couldn’t afford the investment to get every iteration.

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Ali Stoops

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One Response

  1. c4rr0t

    I think it’s got a fair bit to do with the sudden rise of VR. First Oculus announced the Rift, then HTC/Valve announced the Vive and ‘room scale’, and Microsoft were talking about Hololens (now put on the back burner I believe), which was more AR than VR and wasn’t designed for the XBox One. But even so, VR was/is ‘the next big thing’ (and might actually get somewhere this time, unlike when it was a bit of a thing in the mid-90s).

    So Sony started developing and announced ‘Morpheus’. Problem is, VR takes a _lot_ of processing power. You need a pretty top spec PC to be able to make reasonable use of a Rift or Vive without feeling ill, because you’re rendering twice and anything lower than a consistent and smooth 90fps (apparently, based on both manufacturers choosing that as their minimum point and my own anecdotal experience) causes issues inside your head. And even then a few 1080p (ish) screens right up close to your face look quite blocky and pixelated, because each pixel takes up a wider proportion of your vision than when it’s a monitor a few feet away, or a TV even further away.

    I have used both Rift and Vive, and they’re both pretty good but I wouldn’t want to drop back to 2005 graphics levels just to be able to use them. The systems I used them on cost multiple thousands and just about squeezed the requisite 90fps most of the time, whereas they were easily running at 150fps+ on a single 1080p screen and that looked a lot better apart from the 3D/headlook aspect. I can also quite comfortably play various games at 30fps on my PC on a monitor, whereas anything less than about 75 (and it has to be a smooth 75) causes the aforementioned headaches on a VR headset. So to look ‘as good’ in VR you have to be able to push more pixels, and push them a _lot_ faster, than you do on a flat screen (Some people claim that anything sub 60fps, or even higher, is unplayable on PC. I’m ignoring them. If we’re talking consoles then most games aim for 30fps [and don’t always hit it] and some specific examples aim for 60).

    Given the sort of performance jump required for VR on a PC, I simply don’t believe it’s possible for any of the current console generation to run a worthwhile VR game. I think the Neo is Sony’s answer to this. ‘Regular’ games must run on both systems, and can look a bit prettier on the Neo, but I expect Morpheus and VR games to be Neo exclusives (I expect the Neo might also have new connectors for Morpheus to jack in to). And even then, given the requirements on PC, I am skeptical that Morpheus will be a good experience on the Neo/that there will be any good looking games for it that I’d want to play over a ‘normal’ game. I hope to be proved wrong, because competition is good for everyone and a wider audience would encourage more developers to make VR games, but still…

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