NEW YORK CITY -- While there were 10 games shown at the PlayStation 4 announcement on Wednesday -- including the super-fun “Knack,” delightfully violent “Killzone: Shadow Fall” and undeniably cool “Watch Dogs" -- the two-hour presentation didn’t include even a mention of a single sports game.
But the first look at gaming’s next generation still gave us a glimpse into some features sports video games may possess in the future.
The highlights of the announcement were the versatile new controller equipped with numerous new features, a graphics processor as powerful as the best PCs on the market and a social component that allows users to easily share their experiences with friends and access their PS4 on their phone or tablet.
Let’s start with what sports gamers will hold in the palm of their hands -- the controller.
The most noticeable difference is the blank, black touch pad in the center of the controller, previous home of the start and select buttons. It’s unclear exactly how interactive this pad will be, and it doesn’t seem big enough to draw plays on “Madden” or select strategies in “NBA 2K,” but surely game developers have something in mind for such a central part of the device.
What could have a bigger impact on sports gamers on the surface is the controller’s motion sensor and light bar, which when combined with the stereo camera that comes with every PS4, will work much like Microsoft’s Kinect. Could the sensor be utilized to go for a bump draft in “NASCAR” or line up a shot in “Tiger”? Or call for a fake snap in “NCAA” to get your friend to flinch? These minor details can make a game feel more interactive and complete.
And then there’s the share button on the controller, which allows players to share videos with friends while their game still continues. Who hasn’t felt the urge to share a replay of a particularly ambitious “FIFA” goal or a “WWE” wrestler getting thrown off the Hell in a Cell cage? If sharing is as easy as Sony made it seem during Wednesday’s presentation, the PS4 is going to be the most social sports gaming experience the world has ever seen.
Sony has also made the controller slightly larger and increased the size of the shoulder buttons, making it easier to flank a pass out to the running back in “Madden” or hold down sprint in “NBA 2K” or “FIFA.”
Now let’s talk about what’s on the TV screen.
While the jump to the PS4 isn’t as jaw-dropping as the improvements we saw in the PS2 and PS3 -- it’s hard to improve on the advanced graphics of the current generation -- the visuals on the PS4 were stunning. Sony presented the polygon of an old man that displayed emotion and immense detail in his eyes and wrinkles. It was comparable to something you’d see in a CGI film, which obviously doesn’t react to real-time commands.
The eight-core processor and updated graphics were the best presentation the public has ever seen in a video game -- Microsoft hasn’t announced the Xbox 720 yet, to be fair -- and the details in the shooting and adventure games looked pretty much real.
In sports games, we’ve already seen lifelike faces, accurate tattoos and sweat dripping from players on the PS3. But in this next generation, the particulars are likely going to be amped up -- more sweat, more blood and more details. More than ever, you’ll be able to see the strands in Brian Wilson’s beard, the determination in Joakim Noah’s face, or the jiggle in Vince Wilfork’s gut.
And even when gamers aren’t actively enjoying those games, Sony hopes they’ll still be connected to their games.
Sony plans to launch apps for mobile devices and tablets, where gamers can access information about games, view replays and even watch their friends play live. This is the area where sports games can really shine.
While franchise modes have become more and more in-depth, gamers have never been able to finalize a “Madden” or “NBA 2K” trade from their phones, either with computer-controlled teams or fellow humans in an online league. In the future, if the PS4 announcement is any indication, this will be the norm.
We’ve already seen sports games dip their toe into this type of thing with Connected Careers in “Madden” and Football Club in the “FIFA” series. And the PS4’s social component falls in line with what Andrew Wilson, the head of EA Sports, told ESPN.com in an exclusive interview this summer.
“We don’t want to make it where the only time you can engage with our game is while you’re sitting in your lounge playing our game,” Wilson said when asked about the future of gaming. “We want you to be able to do stuff on your phone. We want you to be able to do stuff on Facebook. We want you to message, and text, and tweet, and see what's going on in the virtual world, which for many gamers is as important as what goes on in the real world.”
The PS4 will also bring the ability to watch your friends play live, whether out of curiosity, entertainment, or in sports games, scouting. Potentially, gamers can drop in on their friends to see what his or her favorite third-down conversion play is, or see exactly how it’s possible Dwight Howard is averaging 30 points per game in an online league (seriously, Mike D’Antoni may want some pointers).
Additionally, the PS4 offers the potential to link up and play with your friend in the middle of a game. Having trouble running the pick-and-roll in an online game of “NBA 2K?” Call up your buddy at halftime and he can jump into your game to set stronger screens and roll harder than an A.I.-controlled teammate. This feature hasn’t been confirmed, of course, but it’s possible in the new hardware.
Some other features on the PS4 include compatibility with the PlayStation Vita (do we still have to buy copies for both the PS4 and Vita?), the ability to play games even as they download (more interactive games than, for example, beating a single goalie in “FIFA”?) and accessibility of a number of well-known applications (MLB and NHL apps were shown in a preview clip).
Many sports games are often criticized as being roster updates from the year before, but this holiday, the participating sports games will surely be a new experience for gamers on the PS4.
We don’t yet know what the PS4 looks like or how much it will cost, or if it will put Sony back on top of the gaming world, but we do know it’s going to be a whole new ballgame.