PlayStation turns 20: Sony exec talks PlayStation’s past, future, and relationship …

4 Dec 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

20th anniversary PlayStation 4 revealed, with original console’s colours.

Depending on how old you are, you might not even remember a time when gaming existed without PlayStation, but Shuhei Yoshida—president of worldwide studios at Sony Computer Entertainment—has been with Sony since before PlayStation launched on December 3, 1994. It’s 20 years since the small, grey original PlayStation emerged into the world — and Sony, apparently aware that we might miss it, has launched a PS4 that looks like the original console It will sell 12,300 of the commemorative machines, coloured in ‘Original Grey’, a symbolic number related to the original PlayStation’s release date.My first experience with Sony’s original PlayStation occurred almost a year before yours: in the display window of a Babbages in an out-of-the-way shopping mall in western Iowa.

PlayStation is 20 — and to celebrate, a limited edition version of the current console has been given a retro makeover, draped in the grey livery of the original Sony console. Babbages, many have probably forgotten, was a franchise named after Charles Babbage, the guy credited with inventing the mechanical computer, that sold computer software and console games back when you could still buy stuff like Peachtree Accounting in biblical boxes from brick-and-mortar outfits.

The Play Station name was originally tied to a collaboration between Sony and Nintendo in the 1980s as the two companies developed a new CD-ROM format, but Sony backed out. Sony’s Ken Kutaragi, later dubbed the “father of the PlayStation” was nearly fired for his involvement with Nintendo, but managed to persuade Sony that gaming was not a fad. After its Japanese launch, the console landed in the US and Europe in September 1995 The 32-bit console went head-to-head with with the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn. Sony originally planned to release a CD-ROM-equipped Super Nintendo called the PlayStation, and showcased such a product at CES 1991; Nintendo, however, called off the partnership a day after Sony’s announcement due to disagreements over revenue sharing. I remember reporting for duty and noticing a racing game running demo laps in that window (I had no idea what Ridge Racer was at that point) and doing the equivalent of one of those cartoon double-takes.

Ken Kutaragi’s renegade division within Sony regrouped and, a few years later, reemerged with a product that subverted Nintendo’s entire business. It’s doesn’t look like much now–you can see what I saw in the video below, complete with the world’s first Redbook Audio-caliber soundtrack–but pretend it’s still 1994, Babylon 5‘s just getting started, the original Jurassic Park only hit theaters last year, and the best-looking game you can play at home is Doom–a first-person shooter that’s technically only 2D with a bit of clever height fakery.

He oversees all of Sony’s global game studios, and he’s involved in the development of new technologies like the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset . Sega, meanwhile, released a 3D-capable, CD-equipped console of its own, the Saturn, but a combination of high pricing and poor 3D performance quickly saw it reduced to a sideshow. I’d graduated from a Super Nintendo to a Pentium computer a few months earlier, and so 1994 for me was System Shock and Tie Fighter, X-COM: UFO Defense and Master of Orion, Master of Magic and Warcraft and Wing Commander III.

We had a chance to talk to Yoshida ahead of the festivities, and he explained why competition is a good thing for the entire video game industry—and why consoles still have a place amidst gaming PCs and powerful mobile devices in this exclusive interview. But none of that stuff (including 1993’s Doom) looked half as sharp and smooth and visually grounded as Ridge Racer on that crazy little from-the-future import PlayStation. 3dfx’s Voodoo Graphics passthrough card for computers was still years away, and seeing smooth, lifelike full 3D actually working in a game felt like watching a moon landing.

Figuring out how to represent plausible reality spaces (or various forms of unreality spaces that take their cues from three-dimensional ones) has always been a stopgap process, a technology-facilitated march toward a kind of retinal verisimilitude that’s still underway. First of all, they could store far more data — crucial for the extensive voice acting of Metal Gear Solid, the CD-quality techno soundtrack of Wipeout, and the gorgeous pre-rendered CGI cutscenes of Final Fantasy VII. The medium’s only part of the message, and my interests shifted long ago from workaday graphic whiz-bangery to design facets like simulated intelligence and interactive rhetoric and the sort of compositional visual artistry so wonderfully expressed in games like Inkle Studios’ 80 Days or Ustwo’s Monument Valley. But in 1994, we were still dreaming of the world to come, one flush with sleek roadsters and smooth-framed race tracks and arcade ports that didn’t feel like downgrades from their souped-up, quarter-chewing equivalents. Third-party developers abandoned Nintendo in droves, while the PlayStation built up a software library of unprecedented breadth, depth, and diversity.

In late 1994, home computers were still ridiculously expensive, Nintendo’s Project Reality was just a rumor and Sega’s Saturn was a hypothetical that had pundits twisting over its advanced but at that point developmentally esoteric architecture. Into that space Sony poured the PlayStation, a system born of a failed add-on deal with Nintendo (the original “PlayStation” concept was to be a Sony-developed optical drive for the SNES), and the first game console to eventually sell over 100 million units worldwide–surpassed only by the PlayStation 2.

Companies like Atari and Nintendo and Sega played crucial roles in gaming’s formative decades, but when it came to capturing the public’s hearts and wallets, the original PlayStation completely recalibrated our expectations. But the other major companies were very open to share their feelings about Sony, telling us that “The video game industry is different from your industry and it won’t be easy.” Some companies had management that told us if you sell a million units of PlayStation, we will consider making games for your hardware. So considering how we started, it’s amazing when I meet people who are in their 20s and we talk about PlayStation games like Crash Bandicoot, which I was producer on, and PlayStation has become a synonym for video games. Scroll down for photos from Sony’s commemorative PlayStation Awards ceremony in Tokyo earlier today, including images of just about every PlayStation ever released.

Resident Evil creator and The Evil Within director Shinji Mikami receives an award from new Sony Computer Entertainment Japan and Asia president Atsushi Morita. Over the course of the PS3 period, developer Naughty Dog continued to develop and improve performance capture, creating stories that you play instead of just watch, and make people feel about the characters that you are playing with. I bet there will be more and more game developers that will introduce stories as an important element of the interactive experience, and a lot of developers are getting better at doing so. Developers are now using actors’ voices and acting and facial acting at the same time, and it shows a clear difference in the clarity when we used to capture one person at a time and we just record voices after the fact, or we used to animate facial expressions after the fact compared to now.

We have the group of actors spend time doing rehearsal before they go into the motion capture to understand the emotions of characters in that particular scene, and develop the rapport among these actors so that they can bring out their emotions through the capture session. What do you feel is the secret ingredient to the success of console games even with the proliferation of mobile devices and affordable gaming PCs over the last few years? What has been the key element of consoles that has never changed, and still is the differentiator to other hardware that also play games, is the ease of use. Even though the PS3 was difficult to develop for, from a consumer standpoint we always made sure—and other companies like Nintendo and Microsoft made sure—that people who purchased game consoles and games can trust us to just hook up to the TV and put the disk in or download a game and you can start playing. And with mobile there’s such immediacy and ease of playing games with its very intuitive interface and typically you can just download titles over the network and start playing without any payment.

However, for people who grew up playing games on the console, there are certain things that mobile games have a hard time providing in terms of gameplay experience.

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