It's hot and humid outside the room in which Sony's Ken Kutaragi will deliver the most anticipated keynote address of Tokyo Games Show. The journalists who are queuing up are sure to be tired and cranky by the time they get into the show, ensuring, perhaps, a properly sceptical reception for the tsu-hype-nami to follow.
After a raucous round of DS PictoChat, the keynote starts at 10:11am. Introducing Ken Kutaragi, CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment, reading from his latest work, "PS3 Creating Next Generation of Computer Entertainment."
Sony asks us to refrain from taking pictures of demo stuff. Fine, we'll oblige, but we won't like it. 'Cause you wouldn't want to show off the product you want everyone to buy in a couple months. Instead, we'll provide some additional color commentary, courtesy the press and attendees hanging out in the DS PictoChat chatroom.
"The global eyes are on these launches."
"Myself included, all the stakeholders in the industry are very happy that we have such a large attendance here. This TGS is the venue for the launch of the PS3 because we've brought 200 consoles as well as development tools to allow you to enjoy the PS3. We have the largest title lineup ever which are playable in this venue."
"I'd like to ask you and invite you to actually FEEL the PlayStation 3 and experience the new world of entertainment." That means cue the videos, folks.
Video begins with Namco Bandai's Ridge Racer 7. It's an average looking racer that promises to you'll "Experience Real Speed" and "Get Connected to the World", with more "real unreality." It'll be on sale 11.11.2006.
[Image above: "Ken's got an ace up his sleeve." Does he really?]
Virtua Fighter 5 video runs down through the character list, with slow mo demos of their moves, and a teensy bit of what appears to be actual gameplay. This is all formulaic fighting game stuff. It has that shiny next-gen look, more plastic than sweat. All smooth lines, like Dead or Alive 4's porcelain dolls (though the VF5 lacks DoA4's gratuitously large lady lumps).
The reel cuts to mech action with "realistically detailed weapons and environments" and "all sorts of mobile suits." It's Mobile Suit Gundam, Target in Sight and it's "coming soon." The environments and characters look great; the lack of organic characters always allows for more realistic graphics, unlike Virtua Fighter's shiny plastic dolls. Textual hype, straight from the video:
"They descend on the battlefield"
"Giant mechanised suits"
"They destroy everything in their path"
"Realistically detailed weaponry and environments"
We switch to a bullet train screaming through a tube while a deadly female messes dudes up. Flipping, shooting, sword-slashing. She looks very much like Yuna from Final Fantasy X, so it's apparent this is Final Fantasy XIII. There is nothing that looks like gameplay footage, despite some trademark blue dialog boxes laid over the cinematics. We know Square can make incredible CGI, just look at Dirge of Cerberus! What about the gameplay?
A smattering of applause as Ken continues. Ken's first words back on stage, "How do you like that?!"
"I know that you enjoyed [those videes] more than fully. Twelve years ago, when the first PlayStation was introduced, the pictures were clean ... remember those games then? Now, think of what you just saw. Now an enormous amount of content has been created and all this progress has been made. In 1983 the 8-bit family computers were first introduced in this world. In the years since then processors have improved in 4 orders of capacity, [blah blah blah stuff about how computers have become more powerful]. Some of the latest software ... will be in your hands. As users, you'll be able to enjoy them in just a moment."
The translator seems to have major trouble keeping up with Ken's litany of technical terms. In fact, this is the lousiest translation job we've listened to in a while. He's talking bandwidth for high-def graphics.
"I'm very happy that this progress has been achieved. One of the differentiating factors of these game tools is that they're real time ... this is the advantage that the game system can offer even versus personal computers. The game controller has improved in remarkable ways because you need precise and fast control when [gaming]. They require intuitive and versatile inputting operations. The real time response against the operations in the controller is required ... state of the art microprocessers and semiconductor devices ... bus bandwidth ... parallel computer processing. These techniques have been used in the world of computers and now they're available in the world of game engines and game creators can take advantage of these things. The power of the industry is very imminent upon us."
"In all of this development in computer entertainment. Our industry comprises two industries: computers and entertainment. Now they're combined in one industry. We've drawn the functions of the mainframe computers closer to us. PCs today have reached a point of perfection more or less, but in so doing they've used bigger and bigger operating system. Compared to when we were young ... because of the enormous giant OS and software in the PC, we've lost some of the real-time response. Games are different and real-time response is the key. With the entertainment industry and computer industry coming together, a breakthrough is upon us."
"The databases and computing powers are now left on the other side of the network ... and everyone hooked to the network will have access to those abilities. That's the network computer proposed by Oracle. But the network was too slow and computers themselves performance-wise were lacking. But now ... thanks to the Internet ... certain bandwidth has made global reach. Now the power that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago is in your hand. ... Across the network on the other side is large storage and enormous servers which everyone can access."
[We've got to break up all this text with images from PictoChat, because Ken's not providing us anything interesting to look at.]
In a roundabout way, Ken gets to the convergence of computers and games. He thinks we're at a turning point in a network environment, obtusely referencing database giant Oracle. He's basically talking about thin clients, where the network controls the computing power. He appears to be downplaying the importance of speed and strength in modern computing, referencing things like mobile phones accessing the internet. We thought the PS3 was all about power and strength, right?
"Computers on the server can be maintained in a unique way ... in a uniform way. The market is moving from this side of the network to the other side of the network. All the accumulation of computing power on the network and the enormous databases and the search engines that can draw whatever information you're looking for in an instant allow you to virtual access to the supercomputer as if you're using the supercomputer yourself. Even mobile phones can be used to have the same level of access to the powers on the other side of the network."
"For us in the entertainment industry the other interesting thing for us is the map database ... including map data and dimensions of buildings and so on. You can use the joystiq to fly through the landscape created by the map database. All those peices of data are available ... all the buildings are actually physically built up ... if you look at the building registration data you have all the pieces of information available. If all the data can be collected ... it's going to be beyond whatever you imagine is possible. The landscape required for Ridge Racer... today the game developers have to do that work [manually]. You have to take photos, pictures."
"When i say this you may think that's a long way off ... that's not possible today. But I say that map software is available ... thin client ... handheld terminals can be used to change the perspectives ... the production of game software ... today the game production is very costly. It requires a lot of investment. The time required to gather data. The cost is enormous. To drive the car or walk through the field ... if the data is available you can use it again. The opportunity is enormous."
"With the PS3 the next gen platform will have powerful ... users themselves using these platforms will upload their personal environment ... the possibility of creating a GMS, a global map system, users will be invited to upload their data. Users will start with all the pieces of information in their living rooom, their favorite restaurant, their school ... of course you have to think about secrecy, but all of that information can be uploaded realtime. A grassroots initiative to make the GMS a global system. This is not just a pipedream. You can enjoy the data in real time. You can fly through the landscape in real time."
He's trying to tie this into games, but it's a rough fit. Citing the ability for developers to use map data to create or help create levels, cutting down on next-gen dev costs. Even users will be able to upload their own data. Where? To what service? For what purpose? Who's going to want this? He actually says this isn't a "pipe dream" or "pie-in-the-sky" ... which is good, since I was about to type those two phrases in before he stopped me.
"Today the documentation and written material can be searched using search engines available today. But in the future when computer powers become much more powerful ... this industry will provide a much broader range of economic activities, allowing these activities to prosper. The example I gave you is very much a realistic proposition."
"But for us in the entertainment industry the creation of a fantasy world is very important. The creation of fantasy ... there are high hopes as far as we in the entertainment industry are concerned. The economic benefit would be huge ... because of all the participation from other industries will be huge. We'll no longer need to gather data on foot about a landscape for instance. Resources will be released ... and allow us to spend the time and money on development, allowing us to concentrate on the creative, artistic side of the game creation. If you take a larger perspective ... there's the artistic side to it, but also we need expert programmers, and skilled network experts, and they can be part of this global network, which means resources don't need to be in your firm and in your own company. As long as you can connect to that network, you can find the creative material for your games. That will bring us the world of comfort, the world of convenience."
He posits that the economic advantages could be huge, but for whom? Will this really remove a huge burden for developers who no longer have to model environments? Is this what the development community has been clamoring for? We're asking so many questions, because Ken isn't answering any of them ... or is he.
Gran Turismo 4: tuned to perfection
Aside from the always comperehensive choice of cards and unparralleled levels of realism, the Gran Turismo series has also always been renowned for its overwhelming number of tuning options.
GT creator speaks
Kazunori Yamauchi, President of Polyphony Ditigtal, tells GT World about discovering his passion for driving, the secret to a good face? and why GT4 is the greatest in the series yet.
Playtest: Gran Turismo 4 - part one
After four long years in the making, does the latest installments of the Real Driving Simualtor bring us one step closer to driving heaven? Try several hundred steps ...
"Gran Turismo, as you very well know, goes to the Grand Canyon. You have to film on location in all those locations. In the picture on the top right yo use the camera mounted on the car. The shots need to be taken. Land surveys must be done. Roadside billboards have to be reproduced. GT cars running on the course are actually real GT cars... in terms of rigidity, tire traction, torque, center of gravity ... the entertainment industry maintains a close relationship with the auto industry to maintain data and use CAD systems to translate data into PlayStation. This is why we have the reality presented through the PlayStation console. But if we had the database, we wouldn't have to enter all the database ourselves. Thanks to the CAD data provided to us by the car manufacturers, we don't have to enter all the data ourselves. Totally unimaginable business opportunities are upon us. This kind of cross-industry alliance ... will be available ... the global map system is just one example."
"This is not just limited to the PlayStation 3... I believe there has to be an open environment ... it'll be like the internet. Through the internet people can experience joy and the first-hand experience. The enviroment of a game has to be open to the network and usable by everyone. Only when systems are open do we have innovation ... the prevalence of the internet is a wonderful example I think. Today I don't even have to talk about the internet because ... it's everywhere. It's used by industries and the government as well. The internet only ten years ago was problematic because of the speed of the connection ... but actually all this began when the first server was created over thirty years ago. It's about the connection between servers, connected by the shared IP protocol, the network system is now within our reach."
An open environment? Was that a jab at Microsoft's Xbox Live service? A female translator finally takes over. Was the male voice just canned for stumbling too often? The new translator cuts though Ken's tech jargon like a PS3 through 1080p content ... or thin clients through server side data ... or something.
"Moving pictures can be easily uploaded by the users directly. New technology has emerged and we are able to enjoy that technology very much. The possibility has been shown to us. The potential is already with us. Music, software, films, videos, that has been provided in the package. The long tail of content and services ... now the users have come to be aware of the excitement of those contents and services. Users themselves wish to transmit those contents."
The PS2 joins the PSone on the screen. He references Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory, referring to the massive library of these two consoles combined. Doom and gloom comes on, with talk of sequelitis and consumers that wait until we tell them what to buy. He's saying we're not adventurous enough in our selection of games.
"As distribution media, the CD-ROM was introduced. In those days, this vision method was using less ROM. That featured high manufacturing cost and high lead time. In those days new distribution media called CD-ROM was introduced to the computer entertainment industry. Because of the cheap cost of the various advantages ... they can be shared by the various media creators and users. As a result of the introduction of CD-ROM the gaming industry which had been in decline was revived ... very new and creative software were created. About 15,000 titles were created for PS and PS2. What's been recently referred to as the long tail has been created over the last 10 to 12 years."
"What we're also seeing is the polarization of what sells and what does not sell. Users have become more cautious to accept new titles. I think that's the reality of the gaming world. In light of the current game industry ... tends to rely too heavily on easy-to-sell sequels, part IIs, and easy-to-play games. I think we should give a warning signal to the industry. On the part of users. So in the computer entertainment industry we have identified many problems in our industry. We need to deal with the new network ready period from now on."
"Much has been discussed with the network in my presentation today, but if you look at the current network infrastructure, if you read today's newspaper, the VoiP has been collapsed. In today's newspaper. That's the reality we have to deal with."
We're pretty sure they messed up the translation on that one.
"Perhaps after ten years we'll have a time when this is fully materialized. Therefore the gaming equipment that is included in the PlayStation 3 may be be called overkill. BD-ROM as distribution media therefore becomes necessary. The gaming equipment, anybody who purchases it can be connected to the TV, so the always-on network has spread. Now with PlayStation 3 ... the best opportunity to connect to the network has finally come true."
"Over the next two to three years the network must live together with packaged (retail?) media must come together. For large content distribution we must use packaged media for the time being. But eventually a new situation will arrive."
Someone in media behind us mutters, "I feel like I walked into the wrong class." At the same time, a PictoChat wag writes, "Is this jet lag or am I just bored?" We're hoping this is all going somewhere, but with just a few minutes left in the keynote, it's hard to see how Kutaragi's going to rescue this one.
"The interactive network should be used to the full extent. Not just users, but creators too can share information over the network. Over the last 12 years together with you using PSone and PS2, we have built up the large game library. PSone and PS2 have thousads of titles. PS3 has emulation functions to emulate them over the network. Starting with those games with smaller volume data users will be able to download the games to play them."
"For the PS3 ... the emulation environment for PSone and PS2 can be transmitted over the server. That cannot be done without the cooperation of other game developers. With your permission, and authorization, I want to expand the ... not just content and movies ... movies shot by individuals. Living in the living room you can enjoy and upload the equipment."
He's talking about shared user generated content, the hottest new thing on the 'net!
"Another point: we have the pilot equipment on the store front. We have 15k units in the United States and Japan ... will be installed on shopfronts [kiosks?] by connecting those consoles to the network, to be able to download games. It's possible to introduce microtransactions ... and arcade play. If you visit the store and are just interested in playing the game for ¥100 ... "
"Enormous experiment performed. Medical area ... chemical area ... that point has been paid keen attention to. The other day IBM announced the plan to supply Los Alamos lab with a supercomputer with 16,000 cells."
A "Folding @Home" slide is the backdrop to Ken's discussion of the ability to coordinate PS3s to work as a giant distributed computer. Is this altruism, or about gaming? He's intimating it's the former and not the latter.
"Folding @Home ... joint project. Using the power of the Cell processor, and by combining a large number of Cell processors, we can combine everybody's power and efforts to solve gene problems ... of course playing games is the great fun, but we're able to make a great contribution to society and community if we're able to use it for medical purposes. Gaming equipment is often seen as gaming equipment, but with the network, the use of gaming eqiupment is apparent."
An update on PictoChat: a series of sad faces. He's not winning over the crowd, that's for sure. Not sure if PSP users would feel differently, but we're guessing not.
"Over the network you're able to see the progress of our new game production. And the users are able to upload content. Live entertainment which cannot materialize in the packaged world ... can now come in. We will see the start of that era."
"I think we're very lucky to live in such a great scientific era ... the gaming industry and entertainment industry are opening the door to the future. Perhaps what will happen over the next ten years will be much more interesting and much more stimulating and dynamic than the last ten years."
We will take initiative to lead ... the PS3 and the new generation platform is expected to play an important part in this trend. I feel very pleased to be involved in PlayStation 3. Sony Computer Entertainment with you and with your support we'd like to continue to make our utmost endeavor to realize the vision of the entertainment world."
Ken's clearly got some huge ideas, jumping from the purpose of computers, to the functionality of the internet, to the power of networks, but he's not doing a very good job bringing it all back to the PlayStation 3. Now he's promising to show us a video highlighting these possibilies. Here's your chance Ken! Wow us!
AFRIKA [working title]
Afrika! All right, those elephants look seriously good! There's a ton of emu (?) on the screen. The models, animations, and environment (it's all in one big green field), look great. A cheetah chasing down a antelope closes off the scene, before we see a short shot of a Jeep looking on. What is Afrika? Is it a game? A virtual simulator?
Pictochat: "Is this a game?" Are you talking about the keynote or the AFRIKA footage. Ouch.
That's it folks, end of the keynote. We'll update this post with additional images, and some transcription from the Q&A following Kutaragi's speech.
[Update 1: minor edits throughout.]