The PlayStation 4 has finally been unveiled. Beyond the chatter of processing speeds and memory space lie features that represent intriguing possibilities for the future. Sony is pushing social connectivity in a big way with its new console. Empowering players with editing software built right in lets everyone share their gaming exploits with a push of a button. And for those whose exploits are not nearly as impressive, a friend can commandeer your console from down the block or thousands of miles away to help you overcome a particularly nasty situation. As interesting as the straightforward uses of these tools might be, however, creative developers could implement them in unorthodox ways that sound downright fascinating.
Sony is pushing social connectivity in a big way with its new console.
Hideo Kojima loves messing with people's minds. The notorious creator of Metal Gear has repeatedly broken the fourth wall and created some of the most iconic scenes in video games in the process. Remember, for instance, when you scrambled for the Metal Gear Solid game box to find the codec frequency for Meryl? Or the "Fission Mailed" screen in Sons of Liberty? His in-jokes have been a time-honored tradition for the franchise, going back to the very first game. In Metal Gear, Big Boss commands you to turn off the system that you're currently playing. Would it be surprising if Kojima took advantage of the PlayStation 4's social features to build on his legacy of lighthearted trolling?
Sony presented the share functionality as a way to show off your most extraordinary accomplishments (or laughable failures) to the world. But, as it currently stands, sharing is a completely separate act from playing. You pause what you're doing, crop out the footage that tickles your fancy, and then jump back into the action as if nothing happened. It's a great concept, but just imagine if that feature could be integrated with the core adventuring.
Which brings us back to Kojima. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is currently in development, potentially for the PlayStation 4. Picture this scenario: Snake enters a metal-plated room in an automobile factory in Belize. The door slams behind him, audibly locking in place. A computer terminal is sitting on a rickety desk directly across the room. Snake taps the keyboard, and with a flash, Tomorrow Comes (a cyborg hell-bent on destroying America's transportation infrastructure) is displayed on the monitor. Snake listens intently as his cyborg foe launches into a 20-minute dissertation on how the electric car is going to cause an unstoppable war between rival oil manufacturers, so Snake must be locked in this industrial prison to the detriment of humanity.
Hideo Kojima loves messing with people's minds.
And then he's gone, off the screen. Snake is alone in the room. There is nothing on the table except for the computer, and the monitor is blank save for a blinking cursor. The old man is trapped, or so it would seem. Snake moves slowly around the room, testing every floorboard and wall panel for give. Maybe if he kneels facing the wall, like the hero from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, a whirlwind will whisk him away to safety. Tossing grenades doesn't make a dent, and he has emptied every bullet, bolt, and slug in his arsenal. Bereft of ideas, you pause the game.
There's your desperate playtime recorded, mocking you with your many failures. You scroll through the footage, lamenting the time you fired a rocket launcher directly at your feet, but you stop when something catches your eye. That flash. Just before Tomorrow Comes explained his master plan, a message briefly filled the screen. You scroll through the video until you find the exact frame you need. "Eco Motor Worms." That's it! You type in this baffling message, unsealing the door as you run toward your ultimate confrontation with the man trying to release the electric car.
Kojima isn't the only creator who could use seemingly cut-and-dry community tools to further his vision. Hidetaka Miyazaki has been downright devious. In Demon's Souls, the old monk was not your typical boss. Invading players would inhabit the body of this insidious enemy, standing in your path toward victory. Such a reversal was shocking. It might have taken hours of careful study, but by the time you crested the stairway of World 3-3, you thought that you understood the rules that Demon's Souls followed. Other players could invade your game, but they were mere annoyances on your way to a greater danger at the end of each stage. And yet, here, you had to fight the smartest and craftiest enemy of all, another player.
Miyazaki is not currently the director on any project. However, it's certainly possible that he's working on a next-generation entry in his esteemed Souls franchise. If a future Souls (Death Souls? Damp Souls? Dancing Souls?) lands on the PlayStation 4, it could use one of the system's most interesting social aspects. Sony pitched the ability for one player to take over another's console in a friendly way to let one gaming buddy alleviate the frustrations of another. But imagine if this were used in an upcoming Souls game with a more nefarious purpose.
[Demon's Souls creator] Hidetaka Miyazaki has been downright devious.
The Deathmaker stands before you, half goat, half dragon, with a prehensile tail and with fire pouring out of every orifice. Except its mouth. In its jaws are the crushed remains of your left arm. After an endless fight in which you spend as much time fleeing wildly from its many attacks as you do planning your own offensive, the beast finally falls to your blade. And the rewards, the thousands and thousands of souls that come with victory, drain easily into your body. The thrill of victory is what brings you back to the Souls games, even though they have never reciprocated your love.
As you walk back toward the bonfire, your controller rumbles. Looking around the environment, you see nothing that could warrant such an action, but the shaking persists. And then, just two feet from the save point, from a chance to regain your health and upgrade your character, you're warped to a dark land. You stand motionless, staring into the black abyss before you, unsure what happened or where you must go. Just before you tap the stick to begin this new quest, your character takes a tentative sword swing. Did you just…? And then your character rolls away, seemingly of its own accord. What is this madness? Before long, your character runs into the darkness, and you helplessly watch him or her.
Another player has invaded your game. But instead of being a demon that you must fight, your character has been possessed. Such a feature could destroy the delicate balance the Souls games have expertly weaved. This invader could just run your character off the nearest cliff or try to fight a skeleton bare-handed, even though you usually hold a weapon. Why would the other player want to live? Because he or she has to. The punishment for failure is to stay trapped perpetually in this bleak cell. If the invader should die, control is given back to the original player, the rightful player, while the aggressor is left waiting for another straggler to come upon his or her trap. But if the infiltrator succeeds, if he or she makes it through the blinding darkness unscathed, boundless rewards are offered. So what does an invading player choose? And how tense would it be to watch your character go off on its own, controlled by a stranger, while you sit idly by?
Raw specifications are but one aspect of a console's potential. As impressive as graphics could be on the PlayStation 4, there are features that could be exploited to change how we view games. Social integration has been at the forefront of many recent technological innovations, and it's only going to become more important in the future. Seeing just how versatile these tools are makes the future seem extremely exciting, with ideas surfacing that no one has even thought about before. Tomorrow can't come soon enough.