The PlayStation 4's lineup of launch titles are clearly more graphically and technically enhanced than their current-gen predecessors, but according to PS4 lead architect Mark Cerny, once developers get a few games under their belts, they'll really start to get really creative with the hardware.
Speaking to Polygon during Gamescom 2013, Cerny discussed the milestones targeted by the hardware design team for Sony's next-gen console. The team obviously wanted to build something magnitudes more powerful than current gaming consoles, ultimately hoping to create something that could impress even the most discerning tech consumers.
"We set our target at 10 times the PlayStation 3's performance, because that's what we felt we needed to achieve in order to differentiate the titles," Cerny said. "When I did pitches to developers about the hardware, I talked about what I call the Akihabara test. Akihabara is a electronics district in Tokyo, it's just full of stores where you can buy just about anything you plug into a wall socket. I knew that at some point, there'd be out on the sidewalk a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and they might even be showing the same game, and the PlayStation 4 had to be powerful enough that when people walked by, they had to look at the PlayStation 4 and say, 'Wow, I have to have that.'
"I believe we are at that level of performance," Cerny added. "I mean, the million pre-orders we have is, I think, speaking to that."
"...they had to look at the PlayStation 4 and say, 'Wow, I have to have that.'"
Making the next generation of gaming hardware look impressive seems like it would be a difficult task. The leap from the current generation of hardware to the next one isn't going to be as visually stark as previous leaps — as polygon counts exponentially increase, actual boosts to visual fidelity begin to experience diminishing returns. Cerny says he actually heard similar complaints from pickier gamers in the last console transition.
"Believe it or not, at the PlayStation 3 launch, I was hearing a lot about how PlayStation 3 graphics aren't really different from PlayStation 2," Cerny said. "I think that speaks to both how large people's expectations are, and also how launch titles are not fully exploiting the hardware."
Cerny clarified that developers aren't having any trouble grokking the architecture of the PS4 — being easily understandable to devs is one of the console's core philosophies. But it may take time for them to learn how to fully utilize the tweaks Sony made to the architecture they're already familiar with.
"It's a supercharged PC architecture, so you can use it as if it were a PC with unified memory," Cerny said. "Much of what we're seeing with the launch titles is that usage; it's very, very quick to get up to speed if that's how you use it. But at the same time, then you're not taking advantage of all the customization that we did in the GPU. I think that really will play into the graphical quality and the level of interaction in the worlds in, say, year three or year four of the console."