The Tokyo Game Show (TGS) is one of the largest video game expos of the year. The show—which is not actually held in Tokyo but rather in Chiba, Japan—has been running since 1996 and is attended by hundreds of thousands of people. (Last year, 223,753 people attended. For reference, the biggest show in America, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), only had 48,200 attendees.)
This year’s TGS began September 19 and is continuing today for exhibitors, journalists, and other industry professionals. This weekend it opens up to the Japanese public, where attendees will be able to play the new consoles from Sony (the PlayStation 4) and Microsoft (the Xbox One) for the first time.
Here’s the buzz.
The PlayStation 4, demoed along with a new physical iteration of their Vita handheld, represents a continuation of Sony’s “kitchen sink” approach to hardware design that their previous system was famous for. Despite the suitably impressive hardware specifications (an eight-core processor based on AMD’s “Jaguar” architecture, 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, powerful GPU), the system be launching in America on November 15 for a surprisingly low $399 (in comparison to the PlayStation 3’s ludicrous $599 price tag).
Beyond the internals, the new controller features a touchpad on the center as well as a “Share” button that will allow for immediate uploading of gameplay footage, helped by the fact that PS4 is constantly recording and storing the last 15 minutes of play to its built in 500 GB hard drive. The new controller has gotten glowing reviews from the gaming press, including IGN’s Scott Lowe, who said, “I can confidently say that the DualShock 4 is better than the DualShock 3 in every way — it's more comfortable to use and hold and unquestionably more precise.” The system also has the ability to remotely push its games over to the PlayStation Vita, where they can be played even if the television is off (mimicking one of the Nintendo Wii U’s fundamental features).
And mimicking Microsoft’s Kinect, Sony will separately release the PlaySation 4 Eye, which is a camera accessory that will initially not be used for much on a system level (subject to change as the system matures) but could allow for new gameplay possibilities. The predecessor to the PlayStation Eye, known as the EyeToy, came out a decade ago, predating Microsoft’s camera hardware, but Sony’s recent push certainly seems like a response to its competitor.
If the PlayStation 4 is the kitchen sink, the Xbox One is like the entire kitchen. The system, launching on November 22 in the US for $499, caused a huge controversy earlier this year with an announcement that it would require an internet connection to function and would bake in ways to limit the sale of used games, policies which were reversed almost immediately after a massive backlash made its way into the mainstream during an episode of Jimmy Fallon’s late night show.
With every Xbox One, Microsoft will be bundling a new version of its Kinect camera, one which will supposedly fulfill the major promises about the way people will be able to interact with their system and TV made about the first generation’s technology.
Although no one has gotten a chance to play the system in their own homes, in demo environments the new Kinect has impressed. At E3, Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland said that “from the moment we entered the demo room, it was clear how much the new sensor improved on the depth sensing resolution of the old Kinect, just from viewing a live, greyscale 3D model of a couch sitting about seven feet from the sensor (a representative said it was about three times the fidelity of the old Kinect). When a volunteer got up in front of the couch, I could easily make out details, from the ripple of his shirt as it fell on his chest to the individual fingers as he rotated his wrists.”
Along with the Kinect, the Xbox will also be able to record video to its 500 GB hard drive (although it only continuously records 5 minutes of gameplay to Sony’s 15) and is making a major push towards integration with cable TV. Using an HDMI-in port (a first for a home console), the Xbox One will allow users to switch from playing a game to their cable box (or their PlayStation 4, incidentally) without picking up a remote. It will also feature special controls and overlays for use with an Xbox One, although not all of the details about that have been worked out.
Sony’s newest bid for control of the television is not a response to Microsoft, but rather a response to the Ouya, an Android based mini-console that became one of the most successful Kickstarter projects of all time when it raised more than $8.5 million from its over 63,000 backers. Response to that console’s release has been muted, but that didn’t stop Sony from announcing the Vita TV, which will only be available in Japan at the time of its November launch, but in an interview with Engadget at the Tokyo Game Show, SVP and Division President of Business Division 1 at Sony Computer Entertainment Masayasu Ito said that the company is now considering bringing it to the United States and Europe.
The Vita TV is essentially a non-portable version of the handheld, hooked up to a television and controlled with either a regular PS3 or PS4 controller (or another Vita). It will not be compatible with every Vita game, but the prospect of playing these higher quality games on a TV versus the Ouya, which primarily plays souped-up smart phone and tablet games, has many people excited. Initial reactions have been mostly positive. In a preview of the system, Destructoid’s Dale North said, “PS Vita games look fantastic on the PS Vita TV. Those that have been daydreaming of a way to be able to play Vita games on their TV will be pleased…. I feel TV play of vita games alone is worth the price of entry. I can't wait to see how my Vita collection looks and plays on the big screen.”
Once its released, the Vita TV will also be able to receive streams of PlayStation 4 games over Wi-Fi, so someone in one room can be playing games on a PlayStation 4 in another room (on a TV, whereas the Vita remote play is on the system’s 5-inch screen). At TGS, The Verge’s Sam Byford saw it and said, “While it's probably not something you'd want to use if you can avoid it, it does work as advertised. There's definite artifacting and blurriness, as you might expect from streaming a high-end video game while aiming to maintain responsiveness, but the feature could come in handy for dodging arguments about who gets to use the TV.
All of this adds up to a very exciting fall, and the Japanese public is about to get their first taste of it (even though due to differing launch schedules, it isn’t actually their fall that they’ll be experiencing). With dozens of games accompanying the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One as well as the last hurrahs of the current generation consoles and some good looking games on the horizon for the Wii U, 3DS, and Vita as well, it’s a good time to play video games.