The video above hit the Interwebs a couple of days ago, but in the rush surrounding E3 there's not been a lot of time to properly digest it. Let's take a closer look at it and figure out what's actually going on with the PS4's interface and social features. Obviously there's a degree of "bullshot" in this for demonstration purposes, but we can get a reasonable idea of how it's supposed to work, at least.
The first thing we see in the video is Our Hero -- named Will, apparently -- browsing what appears to be the PS4's home screen. This takes the form of a social feed with a somewhat Windows Metro-like tile-based design. From the feed, Will can see what his friends have been up to, including trophies that have been attained, content shared from games and promoted material from the PlayStation Store. It looks like it's possible to "Like" entries on the social feed, and game-related entries provide a link to start the game itself.
Within a game itself -- Knack is the one used for the purposes of demonstration -- it's possible to look at a player's profile, view videos and other content that player has shared from the game and then return to gameplay. The PS3 allowed you to look at a player's profile, but doing anything more complicated than that usually required you to quit the game you were playing and return to the XMB, so it looks as if PS4 has much better multitasking in place.
There's cross-game voice chat at last -- the demo shows one of Will's friends calling him up and telling him that he's having trouble in Killzone and wants some help.
Will's friend asks him to download Killzone, and we see an interesting part of the store interface -- the facility to selectively download parts of the game and be able to begin playing before the whole thing is downloaded. In Killzone, for example, it's possible to download either the single-player or multiplayer mode first and continue downloading the rest of the game in the background. Will's Internet speed is frankly rather unbelievable, however.
As well as voice chat, the PS4 supports text chat. Notifications pop up on screen during gameplay. The interface for entering text looks fairly similar to that seen on the PS3, complete with auto-complete options.
Joining Multiplayer Sessions
Once Will has finally downloaded Killzone at the insistence of his rather pushy friend Brian, the PS4 interface allows him to view information on the game he's about to join, including number of players, how long it's been going on and other pertinent information. The interface also shows the players who are currently present in the game session -- players on the user's friend lists are displayed with their real name and photograph, while others are shown with their username and avatar.
Will's friend Sarah, it transpires, has been communicating with Will and Brian via a mobile device. It's not immediately apparent exactly what type of device she's using from the video, but if Sony has any sense they'll make these features accessible to Android and iOS users at the very least.
The mobile app for accessing PSN appears to include the facility to view all the content from the social feed (such as gameplay videos); send and receive messages to either individuals or groups; purchase new games from the PlayStation Store; and start them downloading remotely.
This social connectivity all looks good and will doubtless be a lot of fun to people who enjoy that sort of thing -- particularly with the fact that many features can apparently be accessed away from the PS4 via mobile and tablet devices. A unified solution for a "gaming social network" is a great idea; presently, Web-based services such as Raptr perform a similar role, but aren't tightly integrated into the console OS itself so can do little more than share achievements and trophies automatically.
My one concern is how obtrusive all this might get. Personally speaking, sometimes when I play a game I do so in order to escape from the noise of the social Web and the rest of the world for a while. I really hope that Sony provides some sort of "Do Not Disturb" functionality for when I want a bit of peace and quiet from notifications, messages and voice chat, because sometimes I just want everyone to shut up so I can play my damn game. I doubt I'm alone in that feeling.
Overall, though, so long as players have control over their experience, it looks very much like Sony is headed in the right direction with the PS4's implementation of PSN. It remains to be seen what the end user experience is like, but this early preview certainly has me intrigued by the possibilities.
This article may contain links to online retail stores. If you click on one and buy the product we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.