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PlayStation 4: Why Sony's plan to turn PS4 into a PC makes sense

Developers are moving onto next-gen - whether Sony is ready or not...

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Former Sony Computer Entertainment boss Ken Kutaragi and current boss Kaz Hirai couldn't be more different. Kutaragi was in love with custom solutions and boundary-pushing tech. He predicted that a Super HD era would start in 2008, that TV sets and PCs would reach resolutions of 2160p and support 240 frame-per-second performance, and that Cell would continue its evolution into Dual Cell, Mini Cell and later massively parallel Micro Cell chipsets. Hirai is more of a realist, and he knows that kind of pie-in-the-sky road-mapping could be disastrous for PS4, especially during a period of economic recovery.

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THERE'S LIFE IN PS3 YET
Not everyone's done with PS3's twisted innards yet. Shortly after wowing GDC attendees with PS3 tech demo Kara, Quantic Dream's David Cage insisted there's much more left in the current hardware. "We're far from seeing everything the PS3 can do," he told GameIndustry.biz. "People will be surprised. Developers use the hardware in different ways. We put the focus on very close shots, and the lighting is very important to us. Other consider what matters is the size of the landscape you can display. So different developers have different views."

God of War's PSP developers Ready At Dawn are recruiting developers to work on "a next generation home console game system." Bethesda has posted similar vacancies. Even now, Starbreeze, Splash Damage, Crytek, Bethesda, Rockstar, Infinity Ward, Respawn, Blue Castle, and Visceral are all recruiting for developers to work on next-gen console games. And of course Epic, with its Unreal Engine 4 on show at GDC, is pushing for consoles that are "past the bleeding edge. Because if they don't," Epic told CVG, "Apple will go right past them."

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Whatever and whenever Sony decides, it has a little breathing room. Microsoft recently confirmed that a new Xbox will not be unveiled at this year's E3, although perhaps with their fingers just as crossed as Jack Tretton's during his PS4 denials. Nintendo's Wii U is the next big threat and potential E3 show-stealer, but it's aimed at a very different market to the next Xbox and PS4, and there's nothing too ominous from Apple. For now.

AHEAD OF THE GAME
Developers move onto next-gen whether Sony are ready or not...

The words and movements of off-the-shelf engine makers can tell you not just when new consoles might appear, but what they might entail. The PS2 landscape of studios relying on their own affordable tech has been transformed - with PS3 and Xbox 360 - to one that's all but dependant on Unreal Engine. Manyof the biggest blockbuster franchises (Mass Effect, BioShock, the Batman: Arkham games, Borderlands, Medal Of Honor andplenty more) have used it, meaning that a great many developers are now fully trained in the popular engine. To go on using it makes all kinds of sense.

Unreal Engine 4 has only been shown behind closed doors at GDC, and presumably during private talks with adopters. However, it's safe to assume it'll be comparable in output to the headline-grabbing Samaritan demo shown last year. At the DICE 2012 summit in February, Epic CEO and tech mastermind Tim Sweeney revealed that a PC roughly ten times more powerful than Xbox 360 was behind the 1080p, 30fps showcase. Given Epic's ongoing overtures to console manufacturers, we can take that as our ballpark for what PS4 should achieve.

Epic isn't alone in this. Crytek brought its customary engine demos to GDC, and has been aggressively hawking CryENGINE 3 since before it debuted in Crysis 2. Speaking to Develop in February, CryENGINE business executive Carl Jones confirmed that studios "are already using CryENGINE 3 for games with target platforms significantly higher in power than the current-gen consoles." That could just mean new PC graphics cards and processors, of course, and Crytek itself has rejected claims that its UK studio is making its Homefront sequel for new consoles. There are 50 commercial CryENGINE games in production, says Jones, but how many are for apotential PS4 is unknown.

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