The magic of next-gen

The magic of next-gen

By Claire Blackshaw

June 6th 2013 at 4:00PM

Climax senior technical designer Claire Blackshaw looks at how developers can take advantage of the PS4's unique web and social features

[Claire Blackshaw studied BA:Philosphy and BSc: Computer Science (AI) at University of Pretoria before coming to the UK, where she studied BSc: Computer Games Software Eng at Northumbria. Claire joined Mere-Mortals where she was a lead programmer & designer, before moving to Jagex as a lead designer. Claire now works at Climax as a senior technical designer.]

Some time last year two black PCs rolled into the Climax offices. These seemingly simple PC cases, as is common practice, contained the innards of the early PS4 alpha dev kits. We were about to ride into the next generation.

I've been lucky at Climax to be involved early in its life cycle. Since midway through last year I’ve been bursting to talk about this. The hardware is gorgeous, but the real excitement is in the next generation of services and architecture layer.

Sony has already outlined some of the key services the PS4 offers, but I’ll give a quick recap. At all times, at no cost to the developer, the PS4 records recent gameplay enabling frictionless sharing of video clips and screenshots, so you never miss a moment.

Passive recording means we don't have to think about it. The serendipity of pulling off the impossible and having it on film is magic. So when we have that amazing moment we can instantly share it with our friends. Not on some restrictive closed ecosystem but with the entire web using open standards.

One of the main areas that will be disrupted is exposing new content and how you learn about brilliant new games. Today we learn about new games through previews, trailers, and press channels, which is really just one big marketing machine.

This led to a recent explosion of marketing budgets where marketing money can trump quality gameplay and innovation in the short-term. The flip-side is, how did you learn about Minecraft, Unfinished Swan or Fez...? YouTube and friends. The way we talk about, discover and share the games we love is going to change.

We are storytelling creatures who like to express and digest information in a narrative form. The stories we want to tell are personal, not “look at this cool game” but “look at this amazing starship I built”. The ‘show, don’t tell’ method of video makes it easy to express unique gameplay and explain it instantly.

This means more innovative and quirky gameplay can quickly show its value and a live stream adds the joy of sharing in the players reaction to interesting gameplay. If we see something we like we can start downloading it and within moments start playing the game while the rest downloads in the background, encouraging us to try more games and engage.

Which leads to the next feature, easy one button live streaming with camera & microphone inputs. Video is only the start, we can involve our friends through HTML5 and web standards to interact with our games. So every browser, be it on desktop, mobile or new devices is part of our network. So your friends don’t need a PS4 to enjoy your story and share your triumphs.

This is all tied into a powerful extensible framework which builds on open standards like HTML5 and empowers developers to create truly modern game experiences.

This, coupled with a range of smaller technical features built into the very DNA of the PS4, sets the stage for the next generation of services. Imagine a narrative moment when you flip open your radio and on the other end is not some faceless AI, but your friend on their phone making decisions that impact your game. So not only can we watch the games our friends and casters are broadcasting but we can interact with them.

The first impulse of many will be spammy Facebook-like interactions, but it can be so much more. This is not only limited to real-time streams but asynchronous services, websites, mobile services and the PlayStation dashboard. Discover your friend’s dying message on a wall, or instead an ammo cache they left for you. Beyond simple boosts this extends to story moments, what if the old sailor is your friend and the dire warning of sea monsters was voiced by her.

Whether from her PS4, phone, Vita, or desktop we can make this your story with best mates. We can extend this to the crowd, you could be broadcasting online while you creep through a haunted mansion fearing for your life, your viewers guiding you through the horror with text messages on your character's phone while they look at a map of the mansion online.

Beyond the active participation you can build rich passive data for the more solo experiences. Chart your survival quest through the zombie apocalypse as progress is mapped onto a real-time web page your friends can follow and you can annotate with video clips and notes. We can also pull data into our games from the servers without expensive proprietary servers.

Sony has built a machine from the ground up thinking about user-generated content and the online lives we live, making it easier for studios to use user-generated content in their games. This extends into media. For example, imagine a web TV show based around a few witty friends playing through a user-generated mission campaign.

These applications barely scratch the surface; there will be some amazing applications in the next generation. The best part of this story is to take advantage of this next generation; we need innovative gameplay and creative thinking. No one wants to watch the same tunnel shooter twice let alone hundreds of times. This has the potential to truly reward smaller studios and new types of games.

This will be aided by not betting everything on a marketing push or the first month's sales, but instead on continued community value. Additionally, the fast download and play behaviour will allow impulse purchases much like retail. People can learn about my games from their friends or online. This viral spread is a steadier vector of information and will encourage a longer tail to sales.

The PS4 brings in the next generation built around strong social services and open platforms. It’s little surprise that Sony are courting innovation and putting gameplay at its core.

So here’s to a future of innovative gameplay, sharing our stories and experiences with friends. A world where the game is front and centre and not the marketing machine or business model. Where I can see something cool, hit download and within moments be playing with friends. Here is to playing and sharing with friends.

[Interested in contributing your own article for Develop's readers? We're always on the lookout for industry-authored pieces on development-related topics. Email craig.chapple@intentmedia.co.uk for more details.]