It will be relentless, it will be competitive, it will be noisy and it will be difficult to escape. November is going to be a very busy month in video gaming to an unprecedented, and for many, an overwhelming extent.
With both Sony and Microsoft releasing new consoles within a week of each other, this very visual medium will look to dazzle and delight through the digital shop window of their new games – the gleaming parade that shifts the units.
Yet this eye-catching burlesque is the result of the surprisingly long development process that delivers that box under the television.
Equally, it is a process for which the stakes could not be higher. Sony recently announced that it was expecting a 40% drop in earnings for the year, and while rivals such as Panasonic are shifting away from consumer electronics, Sony's chief executive, Kazuo Hirai, has insisted that gaming remains one of the company's core points of focus. A point that is very sharply focused on its head-to-head with Microsoft.
In the battle of the current generation consoles, Microsoft's Xbox 360 outsold the PlayStation 3 in both the UK and North America and worldwide in software. Becoming the leader in console sales tends to generate momentum for further sales, so the company is acutely aware it has to have pitched the PlayStation 4 to perfection.
Its bid began at an early stage, within two years of the release of the PS3in 2006.
Beginning so soon has unique problems. Technology advances require that one of the first steps is to look at trends of where the evolutionary lines of hardware and chip sets might be in five to 10 years' time.
Although this initially involves only a small number of people, it soon expands. "We had members of various departments and countries gather once a month to freely debate about their ideas on the next generation platform," says Masayasu Ito, senior vice-president of Sony Computer Entertainment.
Following on from these early estimates anddiscussions, Sony opted to move from the complex chip set of the PS3 to a more user-friendly for developers (both professional and indie, the latter of which Sony is especially keen to encourage) PC-based system. This is a change indicative of the evolution of development that has been proceeding since the relatively tiny team of five that had begun research and development of Sony's "System G" broadcast TV graphics project in 1990 ultimately resulted in the PlayStation 1.
Back then the first two consoles were very much engineered in a more insular fashion, the hardware designed to the company's singular specifications. Many of the decisions for PlayStation 4, however, were the result of what now is a far more collaborative approach with software developers.
"We actually began talking to developers in 2009, which was very early on in the design process," says Mark Cerny, lead architect for the PS4.
"Their comments definitely were a big influence on our decision-making. The developers told us they wanted the hardware to be powerful but familiar, they wanted unified memory, and wanted a hard drive in every console – all of which we did," he adds.
Which is recognition of the importance – and crucially, expense – of modern software development. Presenting a raw platform and just letting people get on with it is no longer an option. Very little may be publicly known about new hardware while in development, but nowadays it is far from being created in the vacuum of a lab; Cerny puts the figure at more than 1,000 people outside of Sony.
Equally, there are areas in development where nothing but hands-on assessments will do. The touch pad on the new PS4 dualshock controller for example.
"The engineering process of the wireless controller was a repetition of trial production and user testing," explains director of the engineering department, Takesi Igarashi. "We created a removable touch pad so we could try different places on the controller. We also tried many different sizes. If the touch pad was too big or too small, it was difficult to use, and at the end we were able to settle on a size that was just right and does not affect the design of the controller."
The real trick in this detailed and intricate process is bringing these elements together as a whole, which is a delicate and complex balancing act, doubly so because alterations in one area affect others. A late change to the processor's clock speed for example may affect power consumption, increasing the need for heat dissipation which might knock on into the physical size of the console, until ultimately a lockdown is enforced and tweaking must cease.
"You have to take on all the learning you can from a previous platform, but what was fundamentally different this time was that we wanted it to be a creative dialogue about possibilities," says Andrew House, president of Sony Computer Entertainment.
For this generation, at least, the dialogue is finally over, but the show and the possibilities – as we shall see this month – are just beginning.
UPCOMING REASONS TO BUY A PS4
The Order: 1886. Out, 2014 Highly anticipated PS4 exclusive that places the first-person shooter into a steampunk environment set in an alternative history-version of Victorian London. Inhuman foes are to be battled by the game's protagonists using inventive and unusual weaponry. Demos previewed display a grey, murky city, atmospheric and recognisable but nicely skewed through the alternative timeline device.
Knack. Out, end November. Delightful little platformer that plays intuitively and barrels along with a pace and wit that children will enjoy. Younger gamers remain a large demographic as the success of Skylanders has shown. Here, the titular Knack, who changes in size for different tasks, from a perky wee chap to a giant tank-smashing bruiser in a bid to defeat goblins, proves an endearing protagonist.
Deep Down. Out, TBA Debuted at the Tokyo Game Shop in September, this dungeon-crawler from Capcom will be free to play upon release and is intended to offer randomly generated foes and layouts. Gameplay offered an enjoyable hack-and-slash against pig-like guard beasts amid the gloom, traps and surprises. Set in New York in 2094, players are transported back to the past in order to adventure. The game looked atmospheric and really made something of the next-gen power in visual terms,and if the idea of unpredictable, always differing scenarios can be made to work it will also be bringing a new gaming feature that would work across genres to the console.