I have to be real with you guys: there was a brief moment where I figured I’d be saving this one for last. After all, Microsoft teased the big announcement of Project Scorpio not too long ago, so I almost figured I’d have to push the musings on that up and push this one all the way to the end. I mean, I’m already late to speculate on the PlayStation 4 Pro anyway, right? I’d be late regardless. Then the big announcement comes and what do we get? Technical specs and a Forza video. Not really enough information for me to determine whether or not the suggestions I already have in mind still apply or not. It doesn’t really help that I kind of bastardized the original concept for these “Suggestions” articles anyway, with that one I wrote Street Fighter V. Originally, I just sort of expected to write out the first three for the various console manufacturers and let the cards fall where they may after that point. But I’m getting off-topic again.
I’ll be honest with the few people who actually end up reading this: I don’t particularly have the highest opinion of Sony. Sure, the first home console I ever owned was the original PlayStation, but back in the day I was a huge Sega fanboy — suppose I still am in many regards — and only went with the PS1 because the Saturn was dead by the time I got my hands on anything. My grudge with Sony honestly began around the release of the PlayStation 2. When it launched, that was effectively the bullet in the brain for my beloved Dreamcast, at least in North America. That’s strike one. The fact that it shaped the video gaming landscape in such a way that I found unpalatable drove me headlong into portable and retro gaming. There’s strike two. I think the thing that still drives me nuts to this day would be the “Sony drones”, as I’ve heard them referred to. A clever bit of wordplay, but giving them a cute nickname doesn’t make them any less annoying.
Heh, I keep going off-topic here. Anyway, the main reason I decided to write this list of suggestions is not out of any love for Sony. Rather, I’ve accepted the fact that they are the leader of the console marketplace and will likely continue to maintain that position for some time, regardless of sales figures. After all, the PlayStation brand is the one aspect of Sony that hasn’t turned into a colossal money pit — while the opposite can be said of their “direct rival”, Microsoft. Nintendo’s been moving in a more experimental direction for the past three generations, so when it comes to the traditional console gaming experience, PlayStation is king. Of course, that hasn’t kept them from making some odd decisions. Despite seemingly being neutral towards PC gaming in general — to the extent where I’ve seen Sony boast about certain exclusives while casually mumbling that they were also heading to PC — the PS4 Pro was essentially created to combat the PC marketplace by courting the specific subset of PC gamers that focus on the strength of their rig: the “PC Master Race” as they’re generally referred.
I’ll confess: when I first heard rumors of the concept, I laughed my ass off. Console architecture is good for maintaining consistency, but this comes at the cost of modernity. By the time the damn thing was going to launch, even the most advanced piece of tech would likely be six months out of date — fine for you and me, but a literal fossil for the exact demographic Sony claimed to be going after. A friend of mine, on the other hand, was absolutely frantic when the damn thing ended up being real. We’re talking about the kind of person who would sooner commit suicide than play on something more complex than our modern consoles, even as far removed from the original concept of “plug-and-play” as they are: consoles are the man’s comfort zone and the very idea of mid-generation upgrades gave him panic attacks: would this mean that there would be PS4 games that would incompatible with the original version? As such, he relished when Sony announced that gameplay enhancements would not be possible on the Pro, merely graphical enhancements for people who have the most advanced TVs on hand. By extension, every single pitfall the Pro has suffered has been met with sadistic glee from that friend of mine. As for me, I only saw one advantage to the PS4 Pro’s existence: maybe now more developers will learn how to properly optimize their games for weaker platforms, which would be a massive boon for PC gaming, believe me. Aside from that, I think it’s a stupid idea.
Gaming the System
As I’m not simply focusing on Sony’s latest system, this will be a far more scattershot article than the previous Switch article. Having said that, I’m about to go on one of my trademark delusional rants, which is just peachy considering that’s what Radical YMCK’s for.
From their humble beginnings as a console manufacturer, Sony’s major source of must-play offerings have stemmed from their partnerships with third-party developers. Indeed, their more laissez-faire attitude towards outside development was a major factor in swaying heavy-hitters like Squaresoft, Capcom and Namco to their side, effectively dethroning Nintendo in the process. However, these days, it seems like third-party exclusives are becoming more and more a rarity. Sure, the term “exclusive” is slowly being bastardized to the same extent as the word “literally” — that’s a rant for another day — but redefining the word doesn’t change the fact that most third-party developers and publishers have decided to shore up their numbers by casting a wider net and the only way to do that is by including as many viable platforms as possible. These days, the only way to guarantee anything even resembling a true exclusive requires a significant amount of funding and even then, it’s not a guarantee: hello again, Street Fighter V.
That’s not to say that Sony hasn’t had their fair share of first-party hits: even from their humble beginnings, Sony had games like Twisted Metal, Parappa the Rapper, Jumping Flash!, MediEvil and Gran Turismo. These days, their first-party library has only become more acclaimed, with heavy hitters like Uncharted, God of War, Ratchet & Clank and The Last of Us. The only real major issue is that it seems like the only thing Sony does faster than creating new franchises is discarding their old ones. My aforementioned friend and I have discussed this in passing, effectively joking that if Valve is deathly afraid of the number 3, then Sony outright despises anything that comes after it. Sony’s intellectual properties have also have had a tendency of dying off with the consoles they originate on. The only thing worse than that is when franchises do manage to make the jump between generations, it comes at the cost of whatever quality they once had.
I may be in a small minority, but I’ve always felt that out of the three active console hardware manufacturers, Sony’s intellectual properties feel the least distinct from third-party offerings. Some of you are likely scoffing at this assertion: what aside from Halo does Microsoft have that would count as iconic. Unfortunately, I’m willing to count the IPs they acquired with rare, some of which have seen both good (Killer Instinct, Battletoads cameos) and bad (Banjo-Kazooie, Conker) representation as of late. At best, you’ll see remasters of some of Sony’s old games — the ones I’d honestly care about. At worst, you get PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale: a game that somehow managed to be the lamest Super Smash Bros. clones of all-time, an astounding feat given how flat most licensed titles that attempt that route have fallen.
I know I’ve been going off-topic a lot in this post, but this is a rant, so I might as well rant about all manner of things. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale’s biggest failure wasn’t the truly unbalanced gameplay mechanic of forcing players to use supers to score KOs, it wasn’t even the lack of polish, and it wasn’t even the fact that it managed to kill the studio that created it in the process — though I must admit, sometimes I still chuckle over what it ended up doing to Seth Killian. In the end, PSASBR’s biggest failing was its roster. Sure, you got Parappa, Sweet Tooth and Sir Daniel representing the old school; Cole McGrath, Sackboy and Nathan Drake serving as examples of more contemporary franchises; and heavy-hitters originating from the PS2 era like Kratos, Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. Aside from that, many of the choices are weird — “the guy from Killzone”, Fat Princess and “Evil Cole McGrath” aren’t exactly characters that I would consider iconic, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Where were characters like Robbit (from Jumping Flash!), Wander (from Shadow of the Colossus) or even a representative from Wild ARMS, Arc the Lad or Dark Cloud? Perhaps the biggest disappointment would have to be the third-party representatives. Of the ones that appeared, I’d only argue that Heihachi was emblematic of the PlayStation brand — every other character felt like an advertisement for a recent release. Big Daddy was perhaps the most egregious: the game he appeared on was a late port to the PS3, and a shoddy one at that. Using Raiden to represent Metal Gear Solid instead of Solid Snake? The latest version of Dante from the controversial reboot? Friggin’ Isaac Clarke, who appeared on multiple platforms in the first place?! Where was Crash Bandicoot, the closest thing PlayStation even had to a mascot in the West? No characters from Grand Theft Auto? Not even Cloud fucking Strife? Somehow, Nintendo managed to get him in the latest version of Smash Bros. and no iteration of Final Fantasy 7 even appeared on a Nintendo console!
Anyway — I’d just recommend that Sony make better use of their IPs than they have been. Even Nintendo’s been juggling around some stuff, utilizing both classic IPs along with trying to establish entirely new ones. I’d just say that maybe you should put in a little more effort, go beyond HD remasters and show the gaming public that you’re capable of creating enjoyable content on your own.
Stay the Course
With that little rant out of the way, let’s get back on topic. First, let’s discuss Sony’s current strategy. As of right now, it seems that Sony’s active platforms include the PlayStation 4, the PlayStation 4 Pro and in spite of Sony’s attempts to sabotage it, the PlayStation Vita. At the moment, the PS4 is the most popular system of its generation, which helps the Pro as it’s essentially the same console, only with the ability to display 4K Resolution (I’m still bitter they didn’t call it the “PS4K”). I’m still under the impression that the PS4 Pro only exists to help Sony move 4K TVs.
Meanwhile, it’s likely that Vita support will begin drying up, as the Nintendo Switch is stronger than it and boasts similar portability. Considering the fact that Disgaea 5 Complete – the expanded version of the latest Disgaea game with all DLC included – is making its way to the Switch, along with other titles generally associated with Sony’s portables, I think it’s clear that even third-party support for the Vita is slowly drying up.
With all of this kept in mind, I’d just say that for the time being, Sony should just keep their current course. I know that sounds a bit silly coming out of a rant dedicated to making suggestions, but frankly, I can’t argue with results. Even though the Vita was bigger flop over here than the PlayStation Portable, Sony cut the apron strings fairly early and managed to focus more of their resources into making the PS4 as big of a success as possible. Hell, I remember when the Vita first launched and the games it shared with the PS3 had Vita-exclusive content. I still don’t understand how making other customers feel abandoned was going to endear them to a console that utterly relied upon an overpriced memory card.
PlayStation 5: A Two-Pronged Approach
So with that bit out of the way, what should the future hold for Sony and the PlayStation brand. The answer’s obvious: PlayStation 5. After all, we’ve still got a ways to go before PlayStation 9 and you wouldn’t want to make those commercials for the PS2 look like liars. Of course, this answer is a cop-out: of course PlayStation 5 would be the next step, but what should the PlayStation 5 look like? The sad part is, in spite of my, well, spite towards the Sony brand, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea — and here’s the kicker: it was actually partially inspired by the PS4 Pro, among other things.
By now, I’m sure anyone reading this is familiar with the Nintendo Switch. Put simply, it’s a system that acts both as a portable handheld gaming device and a home console, depending on which orientation you’re using it. Simple concept, but it achieved so much: it’s already the fastest selling Nintendo console of all time. Couple that with the fact that Sony has a reputation of copying successful ideas from other companies, and I think I know where this could possibly go:
Let me just stop you right there: this is not what I want to see out of the PlayStation 5, not even in exchange for the sheer amount of schadenfreude I could derive from such a boneheaded move on Sony’s part. Instead, let’s look at this logically. Despite its outright failure outside of Japan, the PlayStation Vita, to this day, still boasts an incredibly rabid fanbase capable of matching even PC gamers’ fervor with regards to port-begging. Having said that, handheld gaming still appears to be more popular than console gaming in Japan for a variety of cultural reasons: it’s to the extent where I’ve made the joke that Vita was the PC of Japan on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Sony is more than capable of maintaining two platforms if only a small amount of effort is necessary — we can see this with the fact that they didn’t discontinue the classic PS4 when they announced the Pro, even making sure to release a Slim model alongside it.
Quite simply, my pitch for the PS5 is simple: Sony releases two different form factors. One is a handheld, effectively a Vita successor. The other is a major console. Both of them would run on the same operating system, both of them would be able to run the same titles — granted, the console version would be able to run them at far higher resolutions — they would both essentially be the PS5, just for different sections of the market. Obviously, the handheld version would be cheaper, but less powerful. However, it should still be able to run every title that its console counterpart can in the process, albeit at a lower resolution (and likely framerate). That way, Sony would be able to court both markets while only being expected to maintain one shared ecosystem.
Some may scoff at this suggestion, wondering how Sony could afford to build a handheld strong enough to handle whatever a console of the next generation could dish out. I’ll just leave you with this thought: Nintendo maintains a philosophy of “Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology”. That essentially means that they use outdated tech in unique ways. Yet, somehow they were able to create an affordable portable device that can run PS4 games as well as the Vita could run PS3 games.
A Legacy System
When it comes to backwards compatibility, it seems that these days, Sony believe that’s best left in the past. Meanwhile, Microsoft is still adding compatibility with various Xbox 360 games to the Xbox One on a regular basis. Then you’ve got Nintendo, who is probably in a league of their own — regardless of my criticisms of their slow schedule. The Wii U managed to have an unprecedented library of games from previous systems available digitally: the only major platforms it was missing were the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color, the GameCube and the Virtual Boy. Considering that I can’t even conceive of anyone who wanted that last one emulated, that leaves at best 3 Nintendo platforms unrepresented. While the Switch’s Virtual Console has yet to be implemented, I’m almost positive that we’ll see a similar line-up of support on there, perhaps with the addition of the missing GB & GBC, as those were quite prominent on the 3DS.
Then there’s the PlayStation 4. As of right now, I think the only previous generation that the PS4 supports is the PS2 Classics. Compare that to previous generations: the PS3 launched with full PS1 and PS2 physical backwards compatibility, before losing the latter due to defects, but eventually saw digital releases for both platforms down the line; the PlayStation Vita could play a majority of digital PS1 and PSP titles on it and hell, Sony literally invented a special chip which contained a near-perfect emulation of the original PlayStation’s hardware for use on the PS2. To make matters worse, I’ve heard rumors that at one point there was a PSP emulator in development for the PS3, adding further titles to its repertoire. While the shift to x86 architecture as opposed to Sony’s previous strategies of inventing entirely new and complicated hardware means that backwards compatibility with the PS4 seems like a sure thing, it’s just not enough.
As such, I feel that Sony should definitely try to focus on bringing back some functionality in this field. For starters, try to add as much compatibility as possible to what’s currently on the store with any and all future platforms. The ability to play older games on newer hardware is one of the major advantages I cite when discussing my love for PC gaming and it seems like Sony is in the best position to try to implement something like this on a grand scale, just due to the fact that with few exceptions, the PlayStation Network store pretty much contains everything that’s ever been released on the service. Whether they’re emulations of PlayStation Classics, purely digital releases or downloadable versions of full retail games, there’s a lot to work with and Sony should consider trying to make them as compatible as possible with any new hardware they come up with. Remember the huge round of applause when they announced that the PS4 could play used games? I’d imagine that if Sony announced a renewed dedication to backwards compatibility, we’d see a reaction twice that positive, bare minimum. Add in some form of optional native upscaling and I’d bump that to triple.
That’s pretty much all I’ve got. After all, the PS4 Pro has been well established at this point and we’re probably far enough away from a PS5, that there won’t be rumors for quite some time. I mean, that doesn’t excuse the fact that quite a bit of this blog was essentially me hammering into Sony, airing my various grievances in a semi-coherent format. That probably ended up padding things out though. To wrap things up, I guess it may seem a bit suspect for someone as purportedly anti-Sony as me to tell them to “stay the course”. It’s not even outside the realm of possibility to take that as a form of sabotage, as if the people from Sony are reading some random WordPress blog for advice on how to run their company. Let me just ask you a question: what company is in the position to dethrone Sony from their position of console dominance? Nintendo’s doing their own thing and its working out for them, no matter how many of their “fans” claim that attempting another GameCube is the only way for them to redeem themselves. Microsoft has been on a roll, fucking up everything since the Xbox One came out in the first place, so they’re in no one’s good grace. And the only thing the Steam Machines managed to accomplish was increasing the number of Linux ports by 20%. Couple that with the fact that a substantial amount of Sony drones would buy a shoebox full of cat turds for $400 if they slapped the PlayStation logo on it and I think Sony’s pretty safe for the time being. But maybe that’s just me.