After months of hype and extensive PR campaigns, the two big next-gen consoles, the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, have been launched. They are the most powerful, most connected, and most innovative gaming consoles ever released. Or at least that's what their respective companies have been telling everyone for the past 9 months. The question now is, do these two gaming behemoths live up to the promises they made when they were revealed to the public? Did the features that Sony and Microsoft promised gamers make it into the final consoles? Both consoles haven't delivered on more than a few of the claims that were made when they were first shown earlier this year. This article will highlight some of the biggest omissions that may have excited the prospective buyer, only to turn up missing when you powered up your new next-gen console for the first time. For the purposes of this article, game delays and software changes won't be held against the consoles. The very nature of game development means that if the game you’re working on is exactly the same at launch as it was 6 months before launch, then you’re doing something wrong. So there won’t be any mention of missing 3rd party launch titles, or slight UI changes. This article will focus on big features that would have been a major factor in how the consoles operate.
FRIENDS TAKE CONTROL
The PS4 launched first on Nov 15th so it’s fitting that it takes the lead. The Playstation 4 announcement presentation started off with tech specs, powerpoint slides, and promises of a totally connected gaming experience. You would not only be able to stream games, but your friends will even be able to hop on and take over your controls to help you through a level. This feature was brought up twice during the presentation, by both lead architect Mark Cerny and Gaikai founder, David Perry. We’ve all had times where we have a friend who can effortlessly get past a boss which has proven impossible for you to get past. It would be great to have that friend jump in and take over via the internet. Well, at launch, you can stream your game from the PS4 to Twitch.tv so that your friend can watch you die over and over, but having them ‘jump in and take control’ isn’t an option.
‘Launching directly into a game from bootup ‘into the exact spot you left’ was a feature that many gamers were salivating over. Being able to play a game, turn off the system to go to work or school and then coming back, turning on your console and immediately being placed right where you left off sounded too good to be true. And it was. The PS4 does have a standby mode, but it’s used mainly for charging the controller and downloading files in the background. Coming out of standby will place you at the familiar cross media bar, and even then, starting up a game will take you to the title’s start screen, and not at the point in the game where you left it.
PREDICTING YOUR PURCHASES
The Playstation Store was slated to predict what you wanted to buy, before you bought it. It may sounds a little 'Big Brother-y', but according the Cerny, the PS4 would keep track of what you like to play, your favorite creators, and genres. The system would then be able to predict what you wanted to play and pre-load the game on your system before you even bought it. When you do finally decide to buy the game, it would be ready and waiting for you, already downloaded on your console. This Big Brother-like feature was quietly dropped and there has been no mention of Sony keeping tabs on what you’re doing and predicting your next purchase before you make it. Although Sony’s latest update to the privacy section on the terms of service, which states that they reserve the right to monitor any and all PSN activity shows that they haven’t completely forgotten about this ‘feature’.
Perry also announced that Gaikai integration would allow gamers to play titles from the PS3 directly on the PS4. Gaikai would stream the game to you using ‘the fastest gaming network in the world’, theoretically giving the Playstation for access to the complete library of it’s predecessors titles. Gaikai has not only been absent from the launch, but theres no set date for that service to start up.
The PS4 did manage to fulfill most of what it promised gamers at launch. Great graphics, a better controller, and a more social feeling to the system compared to the PS3’s lonely island approach to gaming. But Sony did over promise on some key features in the user experience. Whether those features were removed due to marketing (Privacy concerns with ‘predicting’ buying habits), or pricing considerations (removing the PS Camera was widely seen as a move to reduce costs), the end result is, the PS4 has broken a few of the promises it made when it was first announced. It’s possible that some or all of these missing features will be added in the futures, but it’s just as possible that they will never see the light of day.
The Xbox One’s reveal event was very different from the PS4. Instead of presenting specs and game previews, the focus was placed on the overall experience in using the system. The star of the show was definiately the user interface with Microsoft letting everyone know they were ready to change the way we interact with our entertainment.
YOUR NEW REMOTE
One of the first features shown was the now famous ‘Xbox On’ command. Just saying those words will turn on the console and talk to all of the components in your home theatre. ‘No more switching inputs’ was the tagline. This tagline is accurate, except for the part about switching inputs. If your Xbox One is the only device in your home theatre, then yes, you wont need to lift a finger to get the system on the screen. But if you have other devices hooked up, like say a PS4 or a bluray player, then you’re still going to have to manually switch the inputs on the TV or receiver, because the Xbox’s control of your home theatre doesn’t include changing those inputs. Its a seemingly small omission that becomes a much bigger deal for those people with more extensive setups.
Another huge feature of the Xbox One is the extensive use of voice commands. And while controlling the Xbox One with your voice works (admittedly with varying degrees of success), the phrase that stands out from the announcement event is ‘conversational. The Xbox One’s voice commands are implied to be almost ‘Siri’-like. During the demonstration, they were presented in a way that seemed very natural and matter of fact. If you want to play Forza Motorsport, just say ‘Play Forza Motorsport’ Makes sense. But say ‘Play Forza’, and nothing happens. ‘Start that driving game’..nothing. Xbox One expects you to say specific words in a specific order. It’s not Siri, and it’s not conversational, even though it was touted as a conversational voice interface.
WAVE YOUR HAND
The next user interface update is the use of Gestures. The Xbox one was set to have a ‘universal gesture language’ to control your system. Want to move to the next screen? Just wave your hand. Yusef Mehdi even demonstrates it a few times. It doesnt work. Waving your hand in front of the TV screen only results in a slight breeze of air. If you have an Xbox One, try it. Instead of the smooth, graceful motion, you'll instead have to place your hand up, palm out flat, wait a couple of seconds for the Xbox one to recognize it, then make a fist (grabbing the air), and then swipe. It’s a tedious process that's miles away from the effortless movement seen at the announce presentation.
The use of Skype on the Xbox One was a large part of the presentation. While playing a movie, Skype is brought up, snapped to the sidebar, and the user carries on a converation while watching their favorite video. Don't bother trying to mimic this action. It isn’t possible. The Skype app on the Xbox One can’t be snapped at all. It’s either the main section of the screen or nothing. Which makes having a mini version of your skype partner on the side while you gaze at Star Trek Into Darkness in HD or play a game, unlikely.
The announcement events of the PS4 and Xbox One both showed off a lot of features. But not all of them made it to launch. Some ommissions were big news, but others were quietly dropped without so much as a whimper from the companies or press. These two systems will be with us for a long time to come and no doubt will go through many changes. Features will come and go. Just make sure that when you make a decision to buy a next gen console, the features you want to use actually exist and arent just 'Coming Soon' promises that may or may not appear in the future.
Watch the original reveal videos:
- Published in All Games Blog