GDC 06: Online key to PS3

Worldwide Studios head Phil Harrison unveils Sony's grand online plans for its upcoming console with high-definition demos and slides of next-gen interfaces.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--It would be an understatement to say that anticipation was high for the Sony keynote address at the 2006 Game Developers Conference. More than an hour before its scheduled start, a crowd gathered in front of the San Jose Civic Auditorium, the site of the speech, under the surprisingly warm central California sun.

And little wonder. The presenter was Phil Harrison, president of Sony Computer Entertainment's Worldwide Studios, former executive VP of development at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, and cocreator of the EyeToy peripheral for the PlayStation 2. His speech promised to reveal details about the newest addition to the PlayStation family, the PlayStation 3.

Even before the event, the next-generation console was visible. Or, more accurately, its box was. A mockup of the silver and white versions of the PS3 were literally put on a pedestal onstage, surrounded by PSPs and PS2s in colors not available at North American retailers. The original PlayStation was up there as well, apparently to help convey a sense of dynasty to Sony's platform.

When the hall's doors opened, an eager crowd surged forward--first to save their seats, then to bum-rush the stage to take pictures of a technological equivalent of a pheasant under glass. Confused staffers tried to stop them, first saying they couldn't take photos "of any kind," then allowing press to snap some shots, and finally bowing to the inevitable and letting everyone with a camera shutter away--for the first five minutes.

Finally, after what seemed like a torturously long delay to those who overindulged at the previous night's Microsoft event in San Francisco, the lights dimmed. The loop of covers of The Clash blaring on the PA faded out, and an unseen announcer repeatedly admonished anyone within earshot to turn off their cell phones and refrain from videotaping.

After a brief introduction by GDC head Jamil Moledina, who said GDC was "proud to host the demystification of the next-generation transition," Harrison took to the stage. Though intimidatingly tall, he proved more amiable than most other executives, balancing his grander statements with deadpan British humor.

Much of Harrison's presentation rehashed points made by SCE president Ken Kutaragi at last week's PlayStation Business Briefing in Tokyo. Using some of the very same slides as his boss, Harrison played up the PlayStation 2's success, reminding the audience that the console has sold more than 100 million units. He said the 6,732 titles released for the console had sold in excess of a billion copies worldwide, and repeated Kutaragi's claim that the console has a 60 percent market share.

To remind everyone of the PS2's capabilities, Harrison brought out SCEA Santa Monica developer David Jaffe, who showed off God of War II. The crowd ate up the "exclusive" clip, which showed game hero Kratos ripping one of the heads off a Cerberus, gouging a Cyclops' eye out, and hacking the wing off a griffon in midflight.

After joking that the presentation was a "family show," Harrison then turned to the subject of the PSP. Boasting that the now-$199 handheld is the fastest-selling platform in Sony history, Harrison said that Sony has sent out 5,412 PSP development kits worldwide. He then repeated the main PSP-related points from the PlayStation Business Briefing, showing off its forthcoming camera peripheral and GPS receiver. He said both have "tremendous gameplay potential" and urged any designers in the crowd to create games that used them.

Harrison also reiterated Sony's plan to digitally distribute original PlayStation games to PSPs via an archive server. He said the service would begin "this winter," after the portable gets video/voice chat and audio/text RSS functionality. He said the PSone games and other content would be available via archive servers, but that the PSP would get the ability to boot off of and store entire games onto a Memory Stick Duo. However, he emphasized that Sony would continue to release games via the PSP's proprietary Universal Media Disc (UMD) format.

Harrison then neatly segued into the subject of the PS3, touting that the console will be "seamlessly integrated" to the PSP. He repeated that the PS3 can be used as a content server, delivering media from its hard drive to a PSP "anywhere in the world."

Harrison then showed the latest spin on the famous rubber duck demo that was used to showcase the graphical capabilities of the PS2 and PS3 at previous Sony events. But instead of ducks in a tub, his demo showed several ducks lying on a seabed. Then the camera tilted upwards, showing the sun shining down through an ocean filled with thousands of fish. Harrison then pointed out the complex shifting schools of fish, and assured the audience the Finding Nemo-esque scene was all being rendered in real time.

To quell any potential skepticism, Harrison quickly moved on to a real-time PS3 demonstration. After clarifying the console would launch in early November 2006, the executive brought out Andrew Bond, Senior Engineer of physics-engine-maker Havok, and Richard Lee, technical director of SCEE. The pair then showed off an amusing demo that showed off how the PS3 can render complex rag-doll physics in real time and high-definition resolution. This was done by blasting around hundreds of fully skinned and rigged onscreen soldiers via invisible concussions, much to the audience's delight.

The next demo was from an "unnamed game" from SCEE's London Studio. The shop's technical manager, Simon Hobbs, presented a brief clip of a Volkswagen-esque car being shot to pieces by an offscreen machine gun. Besides being pocked with bullet holes, the car's windshield and taillights shattered, its engine came apart, and finally, its wheels popped off.

Having temporarily sated the crowd's appetite for destruction, Harrison then went on to extol the virtues of the Blu-ray Disc (BD). He said the high-capacity medium is the preferred format for the PS3 because of the massive amount of data next-gen games require in the form of high-resolution graphics, high-fidelity sound, more-theatrical content, and more dialogue. "It's not just cost of creating assets," he said. "It's also in storage cost."

To illustrate his point, Harrison showed a street scene from the upcoming PS3 sequel to the Getaway, which showed a re-creation of London's Piccadilly Circus. To demonstrate it was in real-time, Harrison panned the camera around, pointing out how the numerous details in the environment would require a vast amount of data--a quantity that he said BDs are perfectly suited to store.

Harrison used another approach to shill Blu-ray. He pointed out that BDs have enough capacity--up to 50GB per disc--to store all localized versions of a game. That would allow publishers to have a single SKU for the entire planet, which would streamline production and distribution costs.

Then it was on to one of the presentation's highlights. Dylan Jobe of Sony's Incognito Studios came onstage and briefly played a demo of the PS3 remake of Warhawk. He talked up the PS3's ability to create "ambient warfare" via the sheer computing power of its Cell central processor. He said the power of the Cell is very accessible, and Warhawk didn't need to create effects using low-level assembly programming language.

As he spoke, Jobe piloted a jet fighter through a massive in-air battle. In the background and foreground, hundreds of enemy fighters engaged in "next-generation behavior" by dodging clouds of tracer fire and strafing massive airborne capital ships.

During his demo--which featured highly detailed graphics full of dynamic shadows, detailed explosions, and cloud effects--Jobe also revealed that Warhawk would be playable at E3. That means that there will be PS3 kiosks on the floor of the event, a fact that had not been previously announced.

After some sustained applause, Harrison retook the stage to talk up Sony's answer to Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network Platform. He stressed that the lengthy title was strictly "an internal name, not a consumer name," resurrecting rumors that the online service would be called the PlayStation HUB.

Then, it was on to business. Like Kutaragi the week before, Harrison said the cornerstones of the PSNP are "the four Cs": Content, Communication, Community, and Commerce. He said it would go online alongside the launch of the PS3, and that the basic service would indeed be free. He said SCE would support the basic service, but repeated that the PSNP would also allow for the integration of third-party servers.

In a thinly veiled swipe at Xbox Live, which does not support third-party servers, Harrison said Sony is adopting an "open Internet business philosophy" for the PSNP. Specifically, he said this was done to encourage "makers of massively multiplayer online role-playing-game-type products" to integrate into the network. Later, he would hold up the wildly popular MMORPG World of Warcraft, which boasts more than 6 million subscribers, as a paradigm. "If World of Warcraft were a country, it would be bigger than Ireland," said Harrison. "That's what we would like to achieve in terms of community."

Using the mention of community as another segue, Harrison presented several slides that showed the interface of the PSNP. Using the PS3 game Formula 1 as a backdrop, he showed how up to three simultaneous video chat windows could pop up during gameplay via a minimalist, translucent heads-up display (HUD). Later slides showed how a player could send messages, check e-mail, scour friends lists, and send game requests all while in-game--and all using the same translucent HUD architecture.

Moving on to commerce, Harrison displayed the first shots of the PSNP store, which can also be accessed in-game. He showed a mockup of a menu offering an additional racetrack that players could buy, again using the same translucent design as the communication HUD. He then showed how the PSNP store menu could be customized to match the look of a game with a slide of a car being bought in Motorstorm. The menu featured the same bold yellow design as the off-road racing game's logo, but retained the same elements as the other store menu.

Unsurprisingly, the mention of Motorstorm cued a demonstration of the game, presented by Evolution Studios' Scott Kirkland. The demo was a far cry from the trailer which wowed audiences at E3 2005, even showing slight frame rate issues at times. However, the results were still impressive, as Kirkland guided a dune buggy through a plain of mud, which dried in real time, eventually impeding the vehicle's progress. He explained the PS3's Cell had the ability to render sophisticated in-game dynamics, allowing wheels to drop in newly created ruts and dirt splattered onto walls to visibly dry.

More impressive was the subsequent demo by Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games. Price played several minutes' worth of his studio's forthcoming shooter, Resistance: The Fall of Man, which was formerly titled I-8. Looking much like a next-gen combo of Black and Half-Life 2, the shooter saw Price fighting off wave after wave of oncoming aliens with a variety of weapons, including a needle-grenade launcher, which drew impressed "whoas" from the audience. He then announced that the game would be "out this year," within weeks of the PS3's launch.

When the demo ended, Price delivered his stump speech for the PS3. "Even though we've had a close relationship with Sony, we're an independent developer," he said. "We chose PS3 because it has superior firepower." He said this firepower stemmed from two features of the PS3. First, Blu-ray's storage capacity, which "allows us [developers] to put content on we previously couldn't," including extra dialogue, into games. Second was the Cell processor's seven synergistic processor units (SPUs), which allow for much faster calculations. "The PS3 has parallel processing on a scale we've never experienced before, coupled with a storage medium that will help us give consumers the content they demand," said Price.

Closing his portion of the presentation, Price then showed a clip of "a game we haven't yet announced." However, its identity didn't remain a mystery for long. After panning across a city skyline that resembled an eco-friendly version of The Fifth Element's futuristic metropolis, the camera angle followed several vehicles through packed lanes of flying cars and buses. Then, across the frame, a blimp coasted by with a giant billboard on its side bearing the words "Ratchet & Clank."

When the lights came up, Harrison retook the stage to present his concluding remarks, which covered Sony's vision for the future of the game industry. "Right now, we make content on discs inside boxes in stores," he pronounced. "But in the future, we will be creating and servicing a network of game communities." Harrison went on to show the increasingly complex revenue streams that will stem from said communities, which include mobile gaming, game object auctions, and traditional packaged media.

Harrison also said episodic content and network sales would soon become key parts of publishers' income. He then announced Sony was launching an international "e-distribution" initiative to help generate "content that will be only available online." (More information can be found on the initiative's trilingual official Web site.) He also said subscriptions would become very important, and that he "would love to bring social-network functionality into PS3" much like the Web site Myspace does to nongamers.

The final part of Harrison's diagram of future game-industry income was merchandising akin to that of Hollywood films. "We are creating phenomenally powerful brands and IP," he told the crowd. Continuing the Hollywood metaphor, he laid out his hopes that one day games would become a part of everyday life and more mainstream.

"I believe games can have as much social currency as television shows," he said. "You know how you hear people talking the day after they see a really good episode of 24 or Lost? I think games can do that too."

For more news from the event, check out GameSpot's GDC 2006 page.

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Discussion

261 comments
Big_Will
Big_Will

ok if i don't have to pay for it like nintendo's online program

i_love_my_ds
i_love_my_ds

damn the PS3 looks like its gonna kick ass.....

Alpha__13
Alpha__13

This doesn't seem like much of an answer at all to Xbox Live. It still seems to be pretty much the same "let everyone go their own way" system as before. Xbox Live is a solid, structured and centralized service. This answer that Sony has come up with seems fairly disorganized. One more concern: If they're allowing integration of third party servers, won't those third party servers be able to charge players to use them?

chromexl
chromexl

This is very good news, online will be a big part of the nextgen consoles as sony forecasted many years ago, even before Nintendo and Microsoft ever had idea's of going for digital distrubution, check some old news. Imagine you'll be able to play games FREE no forced subscriptions to play games, this will get alot of people onto the PS3.

AlMar12345
AlMar12345

3604Life is a total blind fanboy, its people like him I cant stand, if a fanboy actually backs themselves up with info I don't mind, they have done their research, but he's just a moron yelling that the 360 is better blindly and stupidly, man you just gotta love 12 year olds hahaha.

sickpain01
sickpain01

sony didn't steal any ideas from nintendo. the only thing they took( which came out awsome) was the name PLAYSTATION, again the NAME, then nintendo wimped out and split up the company. and now that playstation is huge or should i a say SONY, nintendo is crying and tried.... TRRRIED to sue sony for taking the NAME. even if sony took the system they made it work and still coming strong the PS2 is amazing, xbox blows, the 360 is awsome, but the PS3 is the console winner sorry xbox fans but the xbox is just a newer dreamcast hahahahahahahahaah

cheesytaco69
cheesytaco69

SuperIntendent: I don't understand how people can say, "it doesn't take much to be better than X-Box Live" lets face it. XBOX Live is possibly one of the greatest things for internet gaming. If it took Microsoft four years to get it down to what they want, what makes you think sony will get it right the first time? their will be alot of mess ups, just like any new product. I couldn't agree more.

ebax7588
ebax7588

Hooray! I have to gove a great big congrats to Sony for such a great idea! Hey, is $ony going to charge me monthly subscription fees on top of my $800 console? (Extreme sarcasism) Seriously, Xbox Live is already around, offers great service for the Xbox 360 and guess what else, you could pay for like 10 years of Xbox Live with the money you save between buying an $800 Playstation and a $400 Xbox 360. Decisions... decisions.

MarcjinJaume
MarcjinJaume

I't has to be better than the Xbox live, they're not stupid.

miiiguel
miiiguel

What about having the two systems, sounds the best option to me..., I already took care of 50% of that choice, and so far it IS sweeeet!

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

cloning is right and there is nothing you can do to change that

Rokabee
Rokabee

Damn, I wanna see a video of the event. Oh well, guess we'll have to wait till E3

Metamorphos1s
Metamorphos1s

I'm not a fanboy. as you can see i have a sam fisher icon which splinter cell is available for evry system. though i only play Tom Clancy's games on xbox and xbox 360 cuz in the other systems the games sucks. =P splinter cell onine with the ps2 sucks compare to the one of xbox live. ps2 fanboys who have not played on xbox live have no right to be saying that ps2 online is better than xbox live. never...

Metamorphos1s
Metamorphos1s

xbox live is still gonna be better. nothing is gonna top xbox live.

anthonym45
anthonym45

wow ya'll some haters the fact is the PS3 will be better and if u already boght a 360 I feel somewhat sorry for you.

jtsice
jtsice

I wish it was coming out sooner but the more time they take the better it will be

ff7cloudking
ff7cloudking

Nice Read. Sony has a pretty ambisious plan laid out.

Solidesnake2004
Solidesnake2004

Even though the videos they showed was all in realtime demos....think about this for a sec...do you think that that could be gameplay in a way....i mean ...im sure the employees have to press a button also to make a charater move..or like that VW that they blew up...heck...bullets..but a program jsut pretty much did hte work with the fireworks display of the car blowing up....Just a thought people.

Solidesnake2004
Solidesnake2004

Harrison then went on to extol the virtues of the Blu-ray Disc (BD). He said the high-capacity medium is the preferred format for the PS3 because of the massive amount of data next-gen games require in the form of high-resolution graphics, high-fidelity sound, more-theatrical content, and more dialogue. "It's not just cost of creating assets," he said. "It's also in storage cost." My Response: Time is Money...and Memory is Money...kinda funny...people have to increase their memory to remember stuff for school or thier workplace.

EatMyHorns
EatMyHorns

I myself have succumbed before to the fads and tenacity of fan-boyism on these forums. But xbox360 is great for now and that's that. Whether PS3 is better is yet to be seen. How about those useless (almost entirely) USB ports on my PS2??? I have faith in Sony but all you fanboys gotta chill out! Xbox360 is gaining next-gen market share fast right now, so we'll see if PS3 is actually the ace that'll put them on top for another 6 years...fan-boys. Oh, and does anyone give a crap about legitimizing their comments with a little, hmm, whats the term... oh yeah SPELL CHECK? And for anyone that wants some pretty cool and entertaining insight check out a movie called THE PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY.

EatMyHorns
EatMyHorns

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

UltimatumCHIEF
UltimatumCHIEF

When i will Test Xbox360 and PS3 only when i will Tell you guys the Real Truth of who is the best of the best, tell then STOP taking Crap about Xbox360 & PS3.........OK.....fanboys?

only_dirtydog
only_dirtydog

360 doesnt have a HD-DVD drive, nor does it support HDMI and doesnt support 1080p... whereas ps3 has blu-ray (superior to HD-DVD), supports HDMI and 1080p... in my opinion ps3 will be more 'next gen' than the 360... and to all the people that say ps3 sucks, 360 owns it please stfu you havent even played a ps3 yet how could you possibly know?!?!

Solidesnake2004
Solidesnake2004

My Response: After reading all that...i forgot that Xbox live didn't invite 3rd party servers...just by that information...im guessing that PC gamers will enjoy the server network functionality of which Sony is up to..... Warhawk for instance going to be playable at the E3 06' Now that is one month to prepare...and get ready for the consumer to enjoy. PS3 Is coming to town....Microsoft " LETS GET READY TO RUMBLE"!!!!!!!!!!!!

matt_tabb48
matt_tabb48

It's gonna be the best online gaming ever TEN TIMES better than Xbox-Live

optimus
optimus

While i'm getting both rev and ps3 understand all companys have to talk smack and i doubt anyone will best live because anytime anyone gets close ms just upgrades the whole thing to further distance themselves from the compitition. Anything would be better than gcn or even ps-2's cough...online..cough..games. Without live online might still be on a ps2 level of quality and you could've froggotten about buddy lists,universial online experiences etc. We'll see i'm inpressed that even nintendo has wi-fi going but none of it would've likely occured without live.

miiiguel
miiiguel

Maybe people come to ALL forums because they're gamers, and they want to know the news ? The truth is X360 is an amazing machine, and we all hope PS3 will ever shlow up and have a decent price. Competition is good for everyone, please do understand this! In a monopoly system there's only one winner, and believe me it is NOT the consumer.

Vaughnkiezel
Vaughnkiezel

lol furbyballistik is right why would ms fanboy come all along in the ps3 room...its all psychological, they make others feel bad so they feel better...how can you say ps3 sux when its not event out yet... and no its not gonna be sega with their most top-secret next-gen...its gonna be atari with their new secret technology...the fourth dimension lol

Furbyballistik
Furbyballistik

omg how r u guys gonna say wat PHIL HARRISON is sayin isnt tru!! u guys are idiots swear!! and y is there so many freakin xbox fans up n here, u guys must truly want a ps3 cuz u guys came all tha way to this ps3 room and read that whole article!! or mabey ur scared that ps3 is gonna take down xbox wit there superior plans so u gotta respond wit hate!!! save ur bull for when problems actually show up!! omg!!

irkendefbringa
irkendefbringa

It doesnt matter because SEGA is going to come out with a classified next gen system that will be 8 times as powerful as the ps3 and it will cost les than the revolution because of its secret NASA technology

3604liffe
3604liffe

why dont you guys just get it xbox 360 is better than ps3. sony will never beat xbox live DUH sony tries to copy them but cant even do that. every game store i asked and i also looked up and the graphics of both systems are the same just made by differant companys is not the same than 360 might have a little better graphics. resident evil 5 and final fantasy is coming to the 360 and halo 3 and thousands more sorry sony you lose and there is not a DAMN thing you can do about it.

megabig
megabig

sony you are doing good I like your ideas wit the blu-ray discs and the playstation thing tht is supposed to be like xbox-live but wht i don't get is why you hve to make yo stuff cost so much man if it cost less more people will byt them like i don't knoiw me for example

sam20vt
sam20vt

ahhhh official news at last. and on top of that its good news. and i'm sick of hearing that sony is copying everything. the only reason it seems like they copying xbox live is because there is no other console online service out there. what else are they going to compare it to yahoo games? come on people, it's smart business sense to see if there is a potential market for something like that, and what better way than to let your rival do it and let them risk millions. and on a side note, sony had the first "remote" controller that i know of. it was the PS2 dvd remote, and you could play PS1 games with it. i should know as i beat RE2 with it. as a controller it sucked but it made a good dvd remote.

GunsofTPatriots
GunsofTPatriots

The PS3 isn't gonna be more than the 360 will be. Some of you should do ur research. Pick up a recent playstation mag to C some good points on the price subject. Sony would be stupid if they charged more. They can't sell Blu-Ray alone and expect people to believe that if they raised the price they would be getting a deal. No, Microsoft has set the price and Sony always matches and hasn't gone over in the previous installments in the older systems. So Sony will match the 360...the PS3 will sell better that way.

dragon_kim
dragon_kim

K FIRST OFF! the xbox fans out there...i give credit to you and all for believing in a product which held its rep for 3/4 of its first gen console, but now, Xbox 360 so far is a failure, there games are mediocre, controllers are too small, its power is dominated by PS3 by 2x the strength, and has didnt even anticipate that first gen xbox fans would want it so bad...after playing much i say "What was the wait for...in less its commin with somethin big...Sony is going to dominate the entire gaming world by storm." there making more systems to go above demand, is 2x the strength of Xbox 360, completely compatable with every game from PS1 and PS2, internet features are going to be fantastic, games are going to be better quality with better developers behind Sony and the PS3...NEED I SAY MORE...i play every system...and the sad reality is, Xbox 360 is going to be left behind if it doesnt do something fast...Nintendo may even find a place higher than it...lets wait and see what happens

OMasterBeefO
OMasterBeefO

I find it interesting that Sony didn't mention anything about the PS3's price. Hmmm.... I'm not knocking Sony, but I remember how many grand speeches they've made about the "future of gaming" and what their unlaunched consoles will be able to do. Did the PS2 ever produce any games that looked like the rubber duck tech demo for it? I'm predicting the PS3 might be able to produce in-game visuals like the PS2's tech demo, maybe. I prefer Xbox Live's centralised structure compared to Sony's "let every game use a different service" approach, making Live much more user friendly. If Sony can do the usual "copy what another company did a while ago and make a big fuss over it being the next big thing", they might be able to compete with Live. And lastly, just for the ignorant people out there, it is IMPOSSIBLE for the PS3 to produce games that look like the tech demos. For the bathtub-rubber duck demo, these are some things that would need to be added (and slow it down hugely) for it to be a real-game situation: 1) draw distance - the biggie: showing about 1m of a game-world (a bathtub) means more polygons can be pushed into a small space. They don't need to show long distances for the tech-demo. 2) particle effects - dust, gunfire, dynamic lighting, real-time shadowing and heaps of other stuff wasn't shown, which take up huge processing power. 3) AI - didn't need to worry about it for a bunch of rubber ducks. 4) RAM - because it's just a bathtub and some ducks, not much needed to be loaded onto the RAM. Doesn't show how bug a level with that amount of detail Sony could make. 5) Textures (related to RAM) - the yellow textures on the duck could be lower-res than a PS1 game, because it's just a flat colour. 6) Animation - their just rubber ducks. Weeee... I know their are plenty more parts that i haven't mentioned because most people wouldn't understand, but those are a few. Show us a REAL (not pre-rendered) full level from a game instead of promising visuals like the fake Killzone demo. Then I might believe Sony's talk.

LordMe
LordMe

I am going to get the PS3 and the Revo. PS3 seem's like it's going to have the most power. And it has Devil May Cry and Capcom to I will buy a PS3. I am going to get a Revo for Super Smash Bros. and Zelda.

barnold81
barnold81

The PC has been doing online gaming before the consoles, and better than the consoles. I think this argument about Xbox Live vs. anything not Xbox is just stupid. I don't care if the Xbox 360 is your child, nothing you say will convince me to buy one. Compare it to the PC morons. All the online services, regardless of which system it is for, seem more like catchup than something special in that light.

Kool_j
Kool_j

How disapointing :'(

GranTurismo_559
GranTurismo_559

I really like Sony's ideas of how the PS3 online community will be layed out, maybe it could be better then Xbox live.

DonJuanito
DonJuanito

Good luck with their strategy of trying to reap every last dollar out of our pockets slowly.

InLiner920
InLiner920

i believe sony will come out on top because of its blu-ray functionality and with its peripherals such as the HD IP camera cant wait for the new controller theyre gunna reveal ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- XBOX 360 blows, REVOLUTION sucks, but PS3 f**ks