PlayStation 4 screenshots show off new home screen UI and video editing


PlayStation Europe community manage Chris Owen posted the pics of the unique new UI on his Twitter, giving many of us our first look at the various menus and options the PlayStation 4 will offer. The old XMB wasn’t a terrible interface, but it wasn’t always the fastest way to navigate. The way the PS4 breaks its various menu components down appears to make it much easier to find what you need quickly.

In addition to the console layouts of things like the Home screen, the Editing screen and the What’s New screen, Owen also provided a look at the mobile versions of Sony’s interface. Second screen connectivity is shaping up to be a huge part of the next generation consoles, and with the PS4′s remote play options, a good UI on tablets and phones will certainly come in handy.

We have are screenshots of the Home Screen, What’s New Screen, Gallery Video, Live Stream, Profile Page, Share Menu, Video Edit, and Messages Screen. The colors and the overall look and feel remind me of the user interface of the PlayStation 3. The home screen shows games you played along with videos and other content that the player might be interested in.

The What’s New page shows off new games, video, and other content that players might enjoy. The Gallery Video page is where users can go to watch individual video clips uploaded by friends and other PS4 users.

The Live Stream page is the place where users can live stream their video gaming prowess from within supported games. Visitors to the page can join the session or interact on the same page. The Profile Page shows the user’s name, gamer tag, trophies won, and a lot of other information about what they’re playing now along with the ability to message the user and chat with them.

The Share Menu allows players to upload video clips, screenshots, or broadcast their live game play. The Video Edit screen also gives us a glimpse of how you’ll be able to edit your game videos on the console before you share them.

Chair’s Donald Mustard on the Apple console threat

Infinity Blade III developer excited for iDevices’ living room potential, addresses increasing time and cost of mobile development

Donald Mustard

Three years ago, Donald Mustard and his team at Chair Entertainment first started working with the iPhone. And, as a lot of people did around that time, they began to speculate about its potential impact on the gaming world.

The consensus from the team was that within five years, Apple could have a device that was a viable threat to console systems. It was a throwaway guess – the sort of thing you make and tend to forget about. When he got his hands on the iPhone 5S three or four weeks ago, though, Mustard thought back to that discussion – and realized it could have been right on target.

“We know there’s going to be a future chip and it’s just leapfrogging so fast,” he told GamesIndustry International this week. “When streaming or wireless HDMI or whatever cuts down lag just a little bit between the device and the television… that’s going to be an interesting situation for our industry.”

“When streaming or wireless HDMI or whatever cuts down lag just a little bit between the device and the television… that’s going to be an interesting situation…”

Donald Mustard

The A7 processor in the latest incarnation of the smartphone features a 64-bit processor, something no other manufacturer has used before. According to Apple, that makes the 5S 40 times faster than the original iPhone and twice as powerful as the former flagship iPhone 5. It will also result in a significant boost to the graphics potential of the platform. Developers we spoke with after the event said they’d need to see benchmarks on the chip, but the A7 could potentially produce graphics that are on par with the Xbox 360 – something that’s notable given Apple’s already-announced support for third-party controllers.

Right now, says Mustard, there’s a slight lag with Air Play, but he expects Apple to eliminate that in the near future. And when combined with future advances in iDevice hardware, it could be a significant threat to not just handhelds, but traditional consoles.

“When that 700 million strong install base [of Apple products] becomes 1 billion or 1.2 billion – and combine that with the millions of Android devices out here – if only a small slice of that audience has a controller, that’s still going to be more controllers in hands than any console has ever had,” he says.

The advanced capabilities of the iPhone (and, presumably, the next iPad) are taking a toll on development time. While the first Infinity Blade was made in four months, says Mustard, and the second in six months, Infinity Blade III has been in development for roughly a year.

1Infinity Blade games take more time and money to make each time out.

“We wanted to increase the scope substantially and see how far we could push not only the devices, but find out how much game you could create in a mobile device,” he says.

Costs have increased also, though not as greatly as you might expect. The first Infinity Blade cost about $2 million to create. While Mustard declined to discuss the development costs of Infinity Blade III, he noted the expenses were “a little more … but not that much.”

“Making an Infinity Blade game isn’t as expensive as making a console game, but it isn’t cheap.”

Donald Mustard

“We enjoy very high margins,” he adds. “We’re doing just fine. Yeah, making an Infinity Blade game isn’t as expensive as making a console game, but it isn’t cheap.”

Because Apple so carefully guards its products, though, the majority of testing for Infinity Blade III was done on older models of Apple phones. This, says Mustard, allowed the team to create a game that will still push the graphical limits of those systems, while it shines on the iPhone 5S.

“I’m just in shock at how it looks on the 5S,” he says. “Usually we’ve been able to turn on maybe one or two of the high-end effects, and usually not at the same time. But with the A7, we turned on everything simultaneously and it was working.”

Infinity Blade III isn’t just using graphics – or the game’s legacy – to woo players, of course. On Thursday, Chair announced the game would ship with an exclusive, original single from Imagine Dragons.

Mustard says he and his team have been fans of the band since they were playing locally. When the two parties finally met, Imagine Dragons mentioned they were big fans of Infinity Blade – and the two began looking for a way to work together. Then the band saw its popularity explode.

“We thought that might complicate things,” chuckles Mustard.

When work started on Infinity Blade III, though, the developer reached out to the band.

“We had this crazy idea how we wanted this big climatic moment in the game and we thought it’d be perfect to have them write a new custom song to play through that moment,” he says. “They loved the idea.”

The band’s integration went one step further, in fact. Sharp-eyed fans might notice Imagine Dragons cover art in the game. Those who click on that will receive an exclusive dragon axe – which plays the song whenever the player uses it.

While Infinity Blade III offers a strong case that app games can be as graphically impressive as those on a console, the hard truth is that it’s typically titles that spend much less on art that catch on with mobile gamers. Mustard doesn’t let that phase him.

“There are certainly games in the app store that invest significantly less money than it costs to make an Infinity Blade-production value game that enjoy even greater monetary success than we do,” he acknowledges. “But to us, it’s not all about that. We’re trying to create what we think is the ultimate expression of what these amazing computers we carry in our pockets can do.”

Can the 2DS change the game for Nintendo?

The 2DS

The 2DS is a neat package for a nice price. But can it rejuvenate Nintendo’s ailing business?

When Nintendo unveiled the 2DS, a new lower-priced member of its celebrated line of DS mobile gaming consoles, fans met the news with characteristic excitement. But for market watchers, the 2DS seemed like a peculiar answer to a persistent problem. The Wii U hasn’t been selling very well, Nintendo admits, and the marketplace for mobile gaming devices has steadily shrunk as the one for other mobile products has exploded. Whether or not fans want the 2DS, is it what Nintendo needs to set itself back on the right course again?

“I think the 2DS is brilliant,” Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities told NBC News. Pachter is one Nintendo’s most vocal critics — he called the Wii U a “failure” and said Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata “sucks.” So it’s surprising to hear him sound such a positive note.

Yet Pachter insists that Nintendo can’t really go wrong with the 2DS, chopping 3DS bells and whistles — the stereoscopic 3-D effects and a bendable hinge for its two-screen display —  giving it a more affordable price ($129 vs. $169) in the process.

“It’s going to lift sales,” he said. “It just is!”

Other analysts like Piers Harding-Rolls of IHS Electronics and Media and Lewis Ward of IDC’s gaming division, agree. Both told NBC News that Nintendo is essentially going down market to snag a new group of customers — prospective buyers, mostly young children or their parents turned off either by the price of the 3DS or the scary-sounding labels that warn about its potential to cause seizures. In the process Nintendo can then up-sell the 3DS as a “premium” counterpart to the new device, thus hitting the mobile gaming market with a sort of one-two punch.

“The 2DS launch removes the pricing pressure on the higher-end 3DS and gives the company a path to up-sell from 2DS to 3DS, with both the hinged form factor and 3D as a selling point,” Harding-Rolls of IHS told NBC News.

This is how Nintendo itself sees the new product. The new console is “designed specifically for consumers looking for an entry point into or a new way to enjoy the Nintendo hand-held experience.” Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, told NBC News. He added that the launch of the 2DS does not mean the company had any plans to phase out the 3DS or spend any less time focused on that device as well.  “Content will be shared between both systems” Moffitt said, and that the 3DS is “very popular in the market, and we expect that will continue.”

But Melissa Otto, an analyst at TIAA-CREFF, isn’t convinced that a new DS will do Nintendo any favors.

“The DS was a huge success in the past,” Otto told NBC News. “But we have a whole new group of products now — tablets and smartphones. We didn’t have those five or six years ago!”

Now, Otto said, parents are no longer choosing between Nintendo or Sony when it comes to buying their children a portable entertainment device, but choosing between “tablet and console,” or “smartphone and gaming device.” And at the end of the day, a console “is not as multidimensional a product.” It may cost less than a smartphone with a data plan, but it also gives its owners “less bang for their buck.”

Other analysts didn’t deny that smartphones and tablets have eaten away at the market for mobile gaming consoles, but questioned how profound the immediate impact of these devices would be on Nintendo’s business.

Still, even Pachter said that the market for smartphones and tablets is now “10 times as large” as the one for mobile gaming consoles, describing Nintendo as “a victim of technological advances” that mean the latter is no longer a 30-million-sales-a-year market. The 3DS may be selling well — reaching 32.48 million units sold as of July 2013, according to Nintendo, and remaining the best-selling console for three months this summer in the U.S., according to NPD data. But that’s nothing compared to the 153.93 million units the original DS has sold.

For Otto, that’s the whole problem. “Hardware doesn’t make Nintendo money,” Otto said. “What makes them money is their content, their software.”

But the company still won’t separate the two by putting any of its franchises on massive platforms like the iOS app store or Android’s Google Play. And as far as Nintendo is concerned, it’s never going to.

“I think it’s plain to see that Nintendo hand-helds offer a more complete gaming experience, with richer controls and more immersive gaming worlds,” Scott Moffitt of Nintendo said. “One of the reasons that people have such a fondness for Nintendo franchises and characters is that their games are paired so well to Nintendo’s hardware. Nintendo’s IP works best on Nintendo systems, and that’s where it will remain.”



Xbox One vs. PS4: Competition at last

Microsoft is still playing catch-up in some ways – but Sony’s competent launch is finally starting to see a genuine challenge from Redmond.

Xbox One vs. PS4

It is not a novel observation to note that Sony’s success thus far with the public perception of the PS4 is not down to any radical, brilliant innovation on their part, but rather down to the fact that the company’s relatively conservative and perhaps even unimaginative strategy is being executed competently and sensibly, which contrasts with the ungainly flailing and flapping as Microsoft attempts to turn the corner on a host of unpopular and ill-conceived platform strategies in a very public way.

The same scenario was played out at Gamescom this week, albeit in far less dramatic form than it was at E3 a few months ago. Sony turned up to the event effectively to confirm that everything is going smoothly – it announced price drops for existing products, including a desperately needed although probably still insufficient drop for the Vita, but as for the PS4, it simply went through the motions you’d expect from a company smoothly executing a standard console launch. A little bit of new software, some additional service details, confirmation of pricing, announcement of launch dates – this is not revolutionary stuff, it’s just what a company in Sony’s position needs to be doing right now.

“Microsoft is still playing catch-up and a huge amount of red ink remains to be repaid in terms of customer goodwill squandered by the arrogant and disrespectful initial positioning”

Microsoft is still managing to make Sony’s bog-standard competence look good, though. Xbox One is looking like an increasingly appealing console, but it’s still playing catch-up and a huge amount of red ink remains to be repaid in terms of the customer goodwill squandered by the arrogant and disrespectful initial positioning of the platform. Turning that situation around has contributed, no doubt, to the shaky and changeable nature of the Xbox One’s release plans and to Microsoft’s inability to lock down launch details by the time Gamescom rolled around. Indeed, the biggest Xbox One story of the weeks surrounding Gamescom was arguably the decision to push the launch back to 2014 in a number of countries – undoubtedly a sensible decision if it avoids launch chaos in other markets, but hardly one that reassures consumers considering a $499 purchase that there is a firm and steady hand on the tiller.

While all of this fascinating drama has played out, one might reasonably argue that we’ve all ended up rather too focused on platform and hardware issues to the exclusion of the thing which this industry is actually meant to be all about – software. Quite a few people have observed that while Sony’s execution has been good and Microsoft’s has been shambolic, this has disguised the “fact” that Microsoft’s software line-up is more interesting than Sony’s. I’m not entirely convinced – I think there’s an enormous degree of subjectivity involved in that judgment which its proponents don’t entirely acknowledge – but I can certainly see the argument that securing exclusives like Titanfall or getting a game like Forza Motorsport out in the early stages of a console (compared with the inevitable years-long wait for a Gran Turismo game on PS4) is great stuff on Microsoft’s part.

This is, after all, the games industry – it’s about the games, in the end, with the hardware platforms on which they operate being merely enablers for those experiences. Over the lifespan of a platform, its success is based ultimately on the software it makes available, with factors such as price and marketing being secondary by a significant margin (although still important), while aspects like hardware prowess barely matter at all. It would be quite right to say that any mistakes in Microsoft’s execution up to this point will be irrelevant over the medium to long term as long as the company can wow consumers with a software line-up that drives them out to buy the hardware.

The impressive early line-up of the Xbox One is a good start down that road. It is not, however, enough to secure the console’s future – and nor is any perceived weakness in the early line-up of the PS4 enough to hamper that console’s chances. Software is the most important factor for any console, yes, but it’s a long-term factor. With the occasional peculiar exception (Wii Sports on the Wii is probably the best example, and as a pack-in title in most territories it’s very much an outlier), launch periods are actually driven by hardware rather than software. Early adopters are a curious bunch among consumers – they buy the first few million units of console hardware based on genuine excitement over the new platform and its potential rather than true anticipation of specific software titles. It’s important that the software should satisfy them to some degree, since they’re also a vocal bunch – witness the huge negativity around the Wii U which has been largely driven by disappointed early adopters presently suffering through a drought of high-profile software – but software is not their sole imperative. They’re buying a promise, not a reality.

“In the heady days of early adoption, consoles establish themselves with promises, positioning and image, not the reality of software”

In other words, while the mantra for most of the lifespan of a console must be games, games and more games, the peculiar atmosphere of those launch window months demands something slightly different. To really “win” in a launch window, to sell out in the shops and build the kind of image and even mythos around a console that’s required to push it beyond early adopters and into the broad public imagination, you need to make a convincing promise, and be seen to have a strategy to fulfil it. In this regard, Sony’s competence and confidence counts for a great deal – and the promises the PlayStation 4 makes in terms of its open arms approach to indie development, its gamer-friendly message, more appealing price point and so on, are enticing promises indeed. Just as with the firm’s pronouncements to date, what it needs from its launch line-up is not so much shining brilliance (though that wouldn’t go amiss if there’s any available) as solid competence – games which are good enough to show that this is a system which will truly shine down the line, good enough to satisfy the early adopters that this is the system worth evangelising.

This has worked before, remember. Both the PlayStation and the PS2 launched with game line-ups which you wouldn’t send an SMS message home about, let alone writing a letter. I may still have a soft spot for Fantavision, but the reality is that the PS2 offered a promise, not a reality, for quite a long time after its arrival – yet that promise was enough to see off all the competition and make the platform, ultimately, into the best-selling console of all time. The original Xbox launched with Halo, but struggled to avoid being relegated into third place behind the GameCube by the time the generation came to a close – while the Xbox 360’s launch line-up was tepid (Kameo: Elements of Power? Perfect Dark Zero? Good lord, give me Fantavision any day!) and yet the console has been an enormous success. There were other factors at play in all of these cases, of course, but the point stands that in the heady days of early adoption, consoles establish themselves with promises, positioning and image, not the reality of software.

“The PS4 needs a real vision of the future to ignite excitement around a console which, sooner rather than later, will have to start trading punches with an opponent that’s stopped shooting itself in the foot”

Both Sony and Microsoft still have a great deal of work to do. Microsoft needs to find a way to put the horrible months leading up to the launch of Xbox One behind it – to draw the line under all the U-turns and course changes it has made, to atone for poorly considered public statements that still rankle with gamers and haunt the console in media coverage and to focus on the future of the Xbox One that exists now rather than the unloved corporate dreambox that existed at E3, and the embarrassingly public strategy rethink which followed. It can’t do that by ignoring what has occurred, because god knows it’s going to be reminded of it at every turn – it needs humour and humility (neither of which have come naturally to Xbox executives in recent years, sadly), as well as an unrelenting focus on the quality of software and the potential of the system for the future.

Sony, meanwhile, needs to think beyond the launch period – which will be absolutely fine, thanks to the firm and superbly competent management of its console up to this point – and start fleshing out the vision for what comes next. Its launch software isn’t going to set the world alight, which isn’t a huge problem, but in the coming weeks and months it needs to start making bigger promises for what comes next. The PS2 had its Metal Gear Solid 2 trailer; the PS4 needs something similar, a real vision of the future to ignite excitement around a console which, sooner rather than later, will have to start trading punches with an opponent that’s stopped shooting itself in the foot (think of it less as a mixed metaphor and more as a delicious metaphor cocktail).

One thing is certain – comparing the climate after Gamescom to the climate after E3, Microsoft is still limping slightly, but this looks more and more like a genuine competition by the day. That’s great news for the industry as a whole and for consumers overall. The console space is still a vital and important part of this industry, and while it will change immensely in the coming years, it certainly won’t disappear. Much of the new growth in gaming will come from outside consoles, of course – but billions of dollars of revenue will still pass through the AAA console space every year. That space is still in many ways the beating heart of our industry. Healthy competition between Sony and Microsoft – and indeed Nintendo, albeit a very different kind of competition – will keep that ticker running for many years to come.