Wired recently published an article they did with Mark Cerny the lead designer of the PlayStation 4 and who is now working on the next generation of console for Sony in the same role. (For the sake of ease I’m going to call it the PS5) In the article he covers a lot of broad details about their plans regarding the hardware although they aren’t ready, or willing, to discuss price, games or services quite yet.
However what interests me most is not the information about the CPU & GPU upgrades or anything like that. For more on that, check out Ben’s article. Mark Cerny expresses in the interview some major hints about the philosophy behind the machine he is helping to create – that interests me greatly. It interests me because he seems to echo some of the points I’ve been making for a while now in conversations about the future of gaming. That the focus on graphical fidelity and cramming more pixels onto the screen isn’t enough anymore.
The jump from 4K to 8K to 16K doesn’t seem to be as stark as the jump from Standard Definition (480p) to High Definition (1080p) was. On their own higher pixel counts are actually more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to game development as it helps to highlight the flaws and rough edges that may remain. That means that the textures need to be more detailed, effects need more work and files become increasingly large to accommodate this extra detail. These things can have a negative impact on a game, increasing development costs, lowering overall performance etc. It’s this aspect of the new PS5 details that intrigue me most.
Instead of a standard Hard Disk Drive, Sony are going for a custom made Solid State Drive that in itself could be a revolutionary move. In the wired article Cerny shows off a side by side demo of Spider-Man where they fast travel and compare the load times, on the current gen display it took 15 seconds to load into the new location. On the “next gen” demo kit it took 0.8 seconds. 0.8 seconds. That’s 19 times faster and even if the final product doesn’t match that impressive figure, anywhere close will be a huge improvement.
There’s a second demonstration, again done side by side that is detailed in the article which showcases the difference in how quickly the game world can be rendered as the camera moves through the world as if the character is there. I hadn’t even thought about it before, but obviously the reason that Spidey can only reach a certain speed and not go any faster is because if he went faster you’d outpace the console’s ability to load and render the world you are supposed to be inhabiting. Imagine having that sort of restriction being lifted and being limited only by your own skill at traversing the game world. I don’t know about you but I’d spend hours trying to rocket up and down the streets of Manhattan to see how fast I could go.
That’s just two examples that are mentioned in the article, there are plenty more aspects that are also touched on. With the aim being to increase your immersion as a player and give the worlds you visit a sense of presence. New techniques like ray tracing which will improve lighting and potentially other things, improved capacity for AI and adding additional hardware components to deliver native 3D sound even through TV speakers; all of these things and many others that I’m sure we don’t know about yet will improve the games we play immeasurably.
In essence then, I’m really pleased that Sony, and Mark Cerny in particular, understand that there is more to improving video games for the new generation than simply cramming more pixels onto the screen. That bodes really well for the future of PlayStation and for the industry as a whole.