March 28, 2013 at 4:02 PM ET
A PlayStation 4 panel at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco Wednesday yielded some interesting new details on the upcoming console and how it will be better for gamers and developers alike — and, surprisingly, that work began on it as early as 2008.
As far as changes players will notice right away, Sony representatives noted that the Blu-ray drive built in is 3 times faster than its predecessor's, meaning shorter loading times for disc-based games.
The controller, apart from the obvious additions of the touchscreen and colored LED, has also been tweaked: The analog sticks have been tightened, and the unresponsive "dead zone" in the center reduced, for improved sensitivity. The LED will be tracked by the new Eye camera, allowing motion controls and other in-game perks.
Unfortunately, there's still no indication of what the PS4 itself will look like — that will likely have to wait until E3.
The news that the console had such an early start may come as a surprise to many, considering Sony denied they were working on a PS4 in 2011. Indeed, many industry commentators thought until recently that a 2013 debut for the next-generation consoles would be premature.
But Mark Cerny, the lead system architect for the PS4, told Gamasutra that he began canvassing developers and planning the architecture as early as 2008 — making the decision to move away from the specialized Cell architecture of the PS3 and towards the more developer-friendly hardware found in ordinary PCs.
The PS3 has always been criticized as being tricky to develop for: Lots of power that is difficult to use properly. Its successor, as Sony repeated continually at its debut, will be far easier to navigate, and the newly-revealed specs bear that out.
Its 8 GB of high-speed RAM (GDDR5, normally found in high-powered graphics cards) will help to that end, and the 8-core CPU struck a balance between power and accessibility, as suggested by developers interviewed by Cerny. And the game-building tools are integrated tightly with existing Windows 7 development environments, removing a lot of trouble from the process.
More details are likely to be forthcoming as GDC wears on, although many are aimed more at technically-savvy developers than gamers themselves. The conference runs until Friday.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.