Friday, September 22, 2006

TGS: Ken Kutaragi's PS3 keynote.

At 2AM BST Friday morning (10AM in Tokyo), Sony Computer Entertainment president and group CEO Ken Kutaragi will march up to the podium of the International Conference Hall at Makuhari Messe to deliver his keynote address, "Next-Generation Entertainment Created by the PS3". With that, the Tokyo Game Show 2006 will be properly underway, and we'll find out just what Sony plans to do to lash back at the backlash that's discoloured the fabric of PS3's launch campaign in recent months.

What follows is a recap of the Ken Kutaragi's PS3 keynote:

00:39:24 - Hello from Japan! We're in the keynote hall at TGS, which is currently filling up nicely - judging from the queue outside, the room (which isn't very big frankly) will be absolutely packed by the time Kutaragi takes the stage. We're expecting him in 20 minutes, and hoping Sony won't impose a four month delay on our Live Text reaching Europe.

00:42:27 - All the foreign press have settled in, and the Japanese industry types are now flowing into the room at a rate of knots. The hall has clearly been set up by CESA, the Japanese trade body, rather than by Sony itself - there's no sign whatsoever of any PS3 or PSP hardware, and no particular decoration other than a projector screen with the TGS logo.

00:52:08 - Phil Harrison is here! Not exactly a surprise, but it's always a treat to see him towering over Tokyo like one of the giant creatures that fights Godzilla and knocks over entire buildings.

00:54:41 - Sony is attempting to break our souls by playing the most insipid Japanese pop music we've ever heard (and that's saying something, after yesterday's adventures in Akihabara) through the English language translation headsets. A girl who sounds like she's six years old is counting to ten repeatedly over a "funky" "beat".

00:57:28 - We'd love to do the traditional "Kojima is here! Miyamoto is here! Mikami is here! Your mum is here!" update at this point, but they've put all of the press at the back of the room and we can't really see the attendees. Except Phil Harrison, obviously. However, rest assured - there are almost certainly some very interesting Japanese men at the front of the room, making their best stern newsreader faces.

01:00:35 - Attendees are still trickling in, and then looking confused and surprised when there's nowhere for them to sit. Nice things about jetlag - when you wake up at four thirty in the morning, it's not hard to get where you're going on time. Even when you do take the wrong train line.

01:02:04 - One minute late! People are still making their way in - it's very much standing room only now.

01:04:24 - Four mont... Er, I mean, four minutes late. They're making frantic "we'd really like to start" gestures at all the muppets who are still standing up and milling around.

01:10:02 - Tum te tum.

01:10:37 - So um. Nothing much really happening here, apart from J-pop elevator music progressively getting worse and worse. To fill in time, Eurogamer TV editor Johnny Minkley is regaling us with tales (and, sadly, photos) of the Nintendo-branded boxer shorts with "Know Your Mushrooms" in giant letters across the backside which he bought yesterday. Japan is truly a magical place.

01:10:46 - The lights are dimming! We're off!

01:11:34 - They're rolling a TGS promotional video - did you know that this is the tenth anniversary of the founding of the show? You do now.

01:12:50 - A lady is introducing Ken Kutaragi. His talk is called "PS3 - Creating the next generation of computer entertainment". He's going to use some under development footage, apparently, which we're not allowed to take pictures of. Boo!

01:13:18 - Ken is on stage. He's thanking all manner of people for allowing him the opportunity to speak.

01:14:28 - There are over 200 consoles in the venue for the show. According to Ken, this is the largest pre-launch line-up they've ever shown off in public.

01:15:10 - He's rolling the trailer video which will be on the booth.

01:16:25 - First up - Ridge Racer 7. Super hi-def - very varied environments compared to previous games in the series, with lots of jungle and countryside environs as well as cities and other urban environments. All looks quite static, still, but definitely the best looking game in the series to date. Launch title.

01:16:19 - Virtua Fighter 5, from Sega AM2.

01:18:43 - We've seen much of this video before in other trailers, but it's definitely very nice on the big screen. Lovely lighting and environments, although there are certainly fair comparisons to be made with DOA4 on the Xbox 360 - it's a bit ahead of that graphically, but arguably not by much.

01:20:17 - Mobile Suit Gundam: Target in Sight. Famitsu had this down as a launch title. It looks like a fanboy dream - not the most graphically impressive game by far, but very extensive environments, buildings getting destroyed with pretty good physics, and some especially lovely lighting effects on the very detailed mechs. Nice trees, too.

01:21:28 - Next up - one of the FFXIII titles. Lots of pre-rendered footage of very pretty characters and environments, which is fair enough, but more interesting is the real-time gameplay footage, which doesn't look that far off the pre-rendered stuff - a little less detailed and colourful, but still very impressive, which huge numbers of enemies on screen at once.

01:22:04 - And that's it for this trailer reel. "How do you like that?" asks Ken. We can't deny that it certainly all LOOKS nice...

01:22:33 - Now he's talking about the progression from PS1 through to PS3 - how the specs have grown astronomically in the 12 years between the first and most recent consoles.

01:24:39 - He's talking about the progress in user interface and controllers, which has been driven by consoles due to the very precise and fast response you need to your input. Now he's embarked on a relatively technical, albeit vague, discussion of how creating real-time responses to that input takes all manner of complex hardware and difficult computer science.

01:25:22 - He believes that the "computer entertainment" industry used to be composed of very separate elements, computers and entertainment - which have now reached a "combination point".

01:26:14 - He's talking about PCs - which he likes a lot, but he feels that the massive, complex operating systems make them unsuitable as gaming and entertainment devices.

01:27:55 - Now he's talking about the concept of the Network Computer - proposed by Oracle a decade ago, but the network was too slow, and computers weren't powerful enough. Under this system, much of the computing power is on the other side of a network connection - he believes that this is now possible due to the development of powerful computers and servers, and internet infrastructure.

01:29:24 - The market is moving from being on "this side" of the network, to being on the other side. Using things like search engines are basically getting virtual access to a supercomputer - you don't need the power in your own computer, and can even use it with a mobile phone to access that power.

01:30:48 - Ken is now enthusing about map databases, allowing you to get satellite photos and so on across the network... However, the problem with this is that time is suspended, rather than being updated in real time. We assume he's building up towards talking about the PS3's online service, but it would be nice if he'd get on with it!

01:34:26 - He's talking about a system called GMS - Global Mapping System - which will allow users to upload their own pictures and data of the world around them, and create a detailed view of the world in that way.

01:35:15 - This seems to link into an earlier comment about how game developers (good lord! A comment about games? You mean the PS3 plays those as well?) can use network available maps to create realistic environments.

01:35:38 - Next topic - personalised shopping and entertainment content delivered over networks...

01:36:16 - GMS is a realistic proposition, he believes, but will need people from many industries to participate.

01:36:37 - However, in the entertainment industry, creating fantasy worlds is also very important - not just modelling the real world.

01:37:23 - With GMS, developers will no longer have to collect landscape data "on foot", and can focus on the creative or artistic side of game creation.

01:38:39 - He believes that - this sounds like an extension of GMS - games can be created in future by very spread out teams, with expert programmers, artists and so on being spread around the world and linked together by the network.

01:39:44 - In Gran Turismo for example, locations like the Nurburgring and the Grand Canyon have to be created by going to the site and doing loads of filming of various areas in the game, as well as of the tiny details which make up the sides of the track.

01:40:05 - The developers also need a close relationship with the auto industry to collect detailed technical data about cars, in order to create a realistic physical model.

01:41:00 - This is how the realistic driving experience is created - but if you have an existing database, such as the CAD data held by some manufacturers, you can import that and not have to recreate the physical parameters.

01:42:13 - There is now a massive business opportunity created by realistic simulations of the world like Gran Turismo - and the Polyphony Digital team have worked on several projects with car manufacturers to co-design systems used in real vehicles, apparently.

01:42:44 - Now he's talking about the network architecture for PS3. He believes that it's vital that the network platform is open, like the Internet itself, because it's only when platforms are open that real innovation and "drastic ideas" can thrive.

01:43:08 - The development of the internet into a system used by banks, hospitals, government and so on proves this theory, he believes.

01:43:52 - If you're wondering when Ken is actually planning on talking about games or anything remotely concrete or relevant to gamers, developers or anyone else - so are we!

01:45:11 - Digital content on the internet - digital still cameras and video cameras are very easy to use to create content which can be uploaded, and people now do that in great numbers, which is a fundamental change to how the network is used. New technology also allows that content to be searched and classified. He's a big fan of Web 2.0.

01:45:25 - I wonder what his Flickr username is.

01:46:23 - It's all about user participation for Ken. People want to be involved in content and services, not just passive consumers.

01:47:42 - We're on to storage media, although I'm not sure how we got here. PlayStation launched with CD-ROM - this was introduced due to major problems with solid state media, such as cost and slow manufacturing. He believes that using CDs, with larger capacity and cheaper manufacturing costs, caused a revitalisation of the industry - both creatively and commercially.

01:48:02 - 15,000 software titles for the PSone and PS2 in total - and the emergence of a "long tail" business for videogames.

01:48:23 - However, recently we've seen a polarisation of what sells and what doesn't sell in games.

01:49:42 - The original reason for content production is to seek diversity and to promote creativity, and at present the games industry relies too heavily on easy to sell sequels. He believes that this is a warning signal for the business - and that for SCE, innovation is now the basis of all their thought. Without innovation, there can be no future for the industry.

01:50:18 - Creativity must be the basis of the computer entertainment industry, and that needs to be reviewed once again. The industry needs to discuss the network-ready future of consoles seriously.

01:51:14 - He's talked a lot about networks, but he says he's not happy yet with the quality of network services that are on offer. The reality is still that services are unreliable.

01:52:20 - Even using the fastest speed connections, network services haven't reached the internal bus speed of the original PlayStation of 12 years ago. It will still take time to realise the dream of real-time video and so on - perhaps in ten years time, this will be real.

01:52:37 - Therefore, while the gaming hardware in PS3 may be called overkill, this hardware is necessary.

01:53:36 - The opportunity to connect the PS3 to the network has become real. Of course, for the next few years, boxed games and the network environment will co-exist - because for large capacity media, packaged media is required.

01:55:42 - He's talking about the wider network functionality of the PS3 - allowing full interaction for users and creators to exchange information and content over the network. All of the systems for this, such as the browser and so on, are built into the console.

01:56:10 - In the last 12 years, a massive library of titles has been built up for PS1 and PS2 - thousands in total.

01:56:51 - The PS3 can emulate those titles over the network, and beginning with those with smaller volumes of data, those will be made available to users in that manner. He first talked about that possibility in 2000 when the PS2 launched - this year it will become a reality.

01:57:00 - Good lord! Is that a real announcement at last?

01:57:32 - Emulators for old systems - Mega Drive and PC Engine titles can be downloaded over the network as well.

01:58:10 - Sony will work with publishers to decide what titles to make available, and how to charge for them - pay to play models are possible, for example. They hope to massively expand the range of game content available over the network.

01:59:45 - Videos will also be available over the network too - starting with shorter movies. He seems to be implying that users will be able to upload and share their own movies, YouTube style, but the translation is a little ropey so it's hard to tell exactly.

02:00:29 - PS3 units will be installed in many retail and other environments - he's talking about the option of using mobile phone micropayments to use them for arcade style titles and billing systems. Sounds more relevant to the Japanese market, where the arcades are massive business, than to anywhere else...

02:02:30 - Aha, we're on to the inevitable lecture on how astonishingly powerful Cell is. Ken is quite chuffed with IBM's new contract to provide a ridiculously powerful supercomputer based on a load of Cell processors running in parallel - which brings him on nicely to the topic of the Folding @Home system, which was recently announced and allows PS3 users to "donate" computation power to the protein folding project which is aimed at benefiting medical research.

02:02:50 - Playing games is fun, but with this, users can be making a major social contribution as well.

02:04:55 - Using the network to keep contact between users and developers - with users using the network to keep in touch with the progress of new games in development. What a genuinely unique idea, eh, regular readers of Eurogamer? Videogame information online? It'll never catch on.

02:05:40 - Apparently users will also be able to upload their own content and give new ideas to game developers, which will drive innovation. My eyebrow is most of the way to my hairline.

02:06:36 - He sounds like he's wrapping up - he's making all manner of vague happy comments about how great it is to be living in a time when PS3 is coming out and entertainment software is all so promising.

02:06:44 - Now he's rolling another video!

02:06:57 - It's Afrika!

02:07:22 - Jungles, plains, and some really lovely elephants. There's a little baby elephant!

02:07:38 - A giant herd of Wildebeest. Genuinely giant - actually, that's quite impressive.

02:09:58 - Actually, it would be very easy to be cynical about this video, since there's no sign of what the gameplay actually is, but it does look very lovely. Loads of different animals have been modelled in incredibly detailed ways, and the environments look fantastic - however, it's still definitely more of a tech demo than an actual game. As tech demos go, it's amazing - but it's not a game.

02:11:09 - And that's it - it's all over. Barely a game in sight, which is an extraordinarily poor show. There were some useful nuggets buried in the nonsense about networks, but overall this has been a hugely disappointing and vague showing from a company with a lot to prove before their console launches in a few weeks. Let's hope the show floor is better, eh readers?

02:11:35 - There's talk of an open question and answer session, which sounds like a bloodbath in the making, if we're lucky! We'll keep you updated...

02:14:31 - Kutaragi's back on stage for a talk session - however, he appears to be being interviewed by a Japanese journalist chap rather than conducting an audience Q&A. Boo.

02:16:21 - This appears to be terribly friendly and non-confrontational. There's been a sideways mention of the fact that Ken has just wittered on for an hour and barely mentioned videogames at all, but now they're having a lovely chat about how Ken is still an engineer at heart and dreams of integrating possibilities from many different industries rather than just focusing on videogames.

02:18:52 - Next ridiculously long-winded question - is grid computing just a dream at the moment, or is it something Ken believes can become a reality? Ken is talking about how when he was a child, he had many dreams. It's beautiful. On the other hand, this would probably be a tougher interview if they'd got Kutaragi's mum to ask the questions, frankly.

02:22:14 - At last, a serious question - is Kutaragi confident that there will be no further delay in production of the console?

02:26:17 - Ken apologises to software creators who have had to put up with these delays. SCE engineers have been working very hard and trying to do new things, and that has caused problems - but they are now focused on ensuring no further delays.

02:23:22 - In other words, he's not sayin' nothin'. Well, that's promising.

02:26:57 - We've just heard a lengthy and rather boring discussion on HDMI, and how it's definitely the standard of the future. That's nice. Also, apparently when Sony announced the price in America, everyone thought that it was really cheap given the functionality of the console. News to us!

02:28:45 - In Europe, meanwhile, it's very expensive because... Er... Apparently it's expensive because the Euro exchange rate is so different to what it used to be, when it was one Euro to one Dollar, but European people don't notice that. This is also news to us! Ken drinks beer in Europe because wine is too expensive. It's good that he's focusing on the important stuff.

02:32:03 - And it's all over, completely this time. If you stayed up with us through all of that, thank you - now get yourself to bed, and we'll be back with some impressions of ACTUAL GAMES (remember them?) once we've had a chance to scoot over to the show floor. Bye!


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