12 June 2020

My take on the PS5 Reveal...

Last night we had the first consumer-focussed PS5 event. Games were shown and the physical console hardware was finally revealed as well. Now, there's many takes going around on the internet - a lot of hyperbole and very little grounded discussion. Maybe I can provide some of that? I don't know. I just know that my personal opinions are not being reflected by the media and personalities I usually follow.

So let's get into it...

The Console...

I don't really like the design of the console.

It's not terrible but it's not going to fit in with anything in my entertainment centre and it's going to stand out like a sore thumb. I think, from a functional point of view, it's going to work well - there's a lot of ventilation but they've clearly designed the console to be centred around the digital version. The symmetrical lines only work for the digital version and the disc drive "lump" looks ugly to my eyes. That would be fine but the small size of the SSD just doesn't cut it for either next gen console as a purely digital device.

I suppose it's probable that the PS5 will allow users to transfer game data to a connected external drive but then the aesthetics are completely ruined anyway by having that cabling and extra drive sitting next to it. The same goes for the SX - and both consoles are large enough that this shouldn't even really be a problem!

Regarding the colour scheme - it's fine. I think the white on black colouring is really nice for both the controller and console, I just can't see it sitting next to my TV. That probably makes me a bit shallow but I never really accepted the WiiU I had stuffed in the shelf below my TV when I used to have it there. It's one of the reasons I've never liked RGB lighting for PCs - it's distracting. I want to focus on the monitor or TV and have as little else that distracts from that entertainment. This console is a bit distracting, especially if it's going to have that luminous blue lighting from the ventilation fins.

There was quite a noticeable transition between the warp bubbles and upon entering a new area...

The Software...

What did I think about the games? Well, as is normal for these sorts of events I wasn't really drawn to too many of them. For the SX game reveals, I wasn't really interested in any that were shown but for this reveal I was at least interested in Stray, RE8, and Little Devil Inside. I'm not a big racing fan and I've never played a Ratchet and Clank game - they just don't interest me. 

What DID stick out at me were two things:
  1. Ratchet and Clank has almost instantaneous loads between worlds but, really, nothing special yet.
  2. The ray tracing was not 100% working yet or is showing how limited it is.

Fair enough, I'm going to give these games the benefit of the doubt because it's still WAY before release - they have a few months to tighten things up. But let's get onto that first point: God of War (PS4) had fast travel load times within the world tree of around 10-30 seconds on average. The 5400 rpm drive in the PS4 could load around 3 GB of data in that time. These transitions in Ratchet and Clank take, on average, 0.99 seconds*. The PS5 can load in a maximum of 8.91 GB in that time. More realistically, it'll be doing 60-70% of that (because there is latency in access, latency in requests, latency in usage of that data once it's into RAM, etc), so around 5-6 GB of data is loaded into memory in that time.
*I counted the frames in the video @ 30 fps
This seems perfectly average to me given the speed/bandwidth increase from the HDD to the SSD. There's still a loading time and also a loading area - it's no different from that area in God of War, it just happens more quickly. Yes, it's nice, but still no more revolutionary than the game loading up in 2 seconds instead of 40 seconds - it's just a linear increase in throughput. 

More importantly, as I've been saying, there's no reason this cannot be done on an HDD or SATA III SSD - it will just take longer! Ratchet will be tumbling for longer between areas. PC gaming is not dead yet! Of course, if you design your game around streaming of data (which this one didn't actually show in real gameplay as most "warping" was within the same area when the action wasn't on tightly controlled rails), then you'll have a harder time of it on PC using an HDD. If the game is designed to load in a lot of information into RAM earlier on (think of the Soul Reaver series where two simultaneous geometries and texture sets were in memory at the same time) then you won't have any wait.

The big take-away is that this is stuff you can do on a PCIe gen 3 or 4 NVMe SSD and on the Xbox Series X with no issue. It's not special to either next gen console, and specifically not special to the PS5.

Watch that shadow progress as the camera travels towards the bend...

Eh, this second one I'm feeling a bit bad about but GT7 really shocked me with how poor its lighting system was. All over the place light sources and shadows where popping into being as the car moved towards them. It's doubly shocking (and disappointing) because there's not really that much going on in this game or in these scenes. This could all just be partially finished work which will look better as things get closer to release but it's a little worrying to even see some mesh pop-in at the side of the track during the video (it's not very common, but it is there - I was seeing tree LOD increasing in places).

Similarly, in Ratchet and Clank lighting was very limited until the new "world" was loaded into memory and the transition area (warp bubble) was unloaded from memory. I think Polyphony Digital's engine needs some work and why they're not using placeholder shadows and static light sources until the ray tracing is able to take over is beyond me.... Insomniac, it seems to me, had to compromise with having to wait until the player enters the new "world" before being able to switch the ray traced light sources on, probably because having rays cast into the transition area might cause problems. In fact, if you watch the video carefully, you'll notice a stark transition in lighting between gameplay areas and the warp rifts.

You can see that the screens and headlights are not rendered until the new area loads in its entirety and it seems as though the warp rift has static lighting...

Closing thoughts...

I'm really excited for what the new generation of consoles will bring to gaming but we should keep our expectations grounded and reasonable. Too many people are saying "this isn't possible on PC" or "this isn't possible on the SX". Those are unfounded and unrealistic expectations. However, one thing I am really feeling is that the cost of PC gaming is about to rise, significantly.... which is what I'll get onto next time.


fungmi said...

I'm platform agnostic and own Xbox(s), Playstation(s) as well as a new PC that I built recently. I was actually impressed with what Sony did with their latest PS5 Games reveal, ultimately they showed a lot of content and if the majority of the video was in engine then I'm quite impressed. Rachet and Clank was the game that showed what an SSD can do, the transition from world to world really did impress. Presonally I've not seen anything like that before. Technically, yes it means a much shorter transition to a new level, but I imagine it would delight most gamers when weaved into the gameplay correctly.

I agree with the need to temper our expecations, I think we will see similar experiences on Xbox & PC alike. Star Citizen already makes use of the SSD by design.

However lets not forget that the console was running native 4K, 30FPS/60FPS games with a higer level of fidelity.

Fully agree it will move the baseline for games PC hardware forward, it's the same for every generation and rightly so.

Duoae said...

Hi fungmi,

Yes, I agree - it's going to be great to have games that have faster or no loading. However, the Ratchet and Clank example has definietely been done before - just not at the speed. I mentioned God of War as an example of it in recent memory and the Soul Reaver series had immediate loads between two "worlds".

I didn't know SC was using the SSD by design - that's interesting. Do you have an account? How does it impact things? I did notice that the only other game I've found that lists it as a "recommended" requirement is Arma 3.

As for the native rendering? Some of the games featured definitely ran at 4K but I saw Digital Foundry say they thought some where upscaled. Anyway, I'm not really worried about upscaling - I said in a prior blogpost that I think that the pixel is dead and that resolution doesn't matter as much as the quality of the image. IMHO, I think that either console chasing 4K is a fool's errand and they'd be better off just focussing on pushing out prettier graphics at 1440p or 1600p.

fungmi said...

Hi Duoae

Technically I do understand its been done before but not at these speeds. However the net result should be a different kind of experience IMHO, if used correctly ... that part is really difficult to quantify, it's as much down to what developers can dream up as the hardware supporting it. Soul Reaver! that did pop into my head last week, when I considered what the SSDs might do, though I do think Soul Reaver deforms existing levels rather than pulling in completely new assets. Imagine a remake of that for next gen. To an extent I also think Developers will need more time with the SSDs, both Sony and MS have an awful lot of custom hardware for it. To what extent it changes things I'm not 100%, but during the Mark Cerny GDC talk he did mention/implied streaming of assets in play. Which I took to mean in between frames. I dont think what we saw with Rachet and Clank was that, it was a shortened version of what we currently do (as you said)but used to great effect.

The SC and SSD information I think I got from a Digtal Foundry Video by Alexander Battaglia, I think its to do with the insane amount of detail that makes up the SC world. Jumping from a space station to space to planet, then back to space etc. Sure, we can equate that to loading fast, but who is going to design a game of that nature if fast loading wont support the vision.

Agree with your point on resolutions, the 4K thing feels like a false prophecy. Something that sits along side TFLOPs to chase. I think this will normalize, when the conversation moves away from specs to real world outcomes i.e. The Games. I would be more than happy if we had good upscaling, high fidelity and solid framerates (not necessarily at 60FPS). I think in the next generation we will see a lot more density in the game worlds which I think the SSDs will underpin.

Duoae said...

Hi fungmi,

I think you're going to get your wish - although both console makers are talking about 4K, they're mostly talking about giving developers enough power and flexibility for them to do what they want.

Although I really would like them to target 60 fps as a standard this generation... I really think 30 fps should be shelved as much as 480p was. I know some developers talk about "cinematic" experiences but it really has no meaning in a world of IMAX and 60 fps HD cameras used in modern TV and movie recordings. Yes, auteurs like Tarantino might stick to old tech for a particular look but I don't see this "vision" in a game like Assassin's Creed. It's a silly argument for me.

Regarding SC, I'd have to look into it more (and I really don't have the time right now) but if it's just quick loading of assets for transitions and loading screens then there's really little issue of supporting HDD speeds all the way up to SSD speeds.

However, if it's dynamic loading then, yes, that cannot work either way. You need to have code for SSD and code for HDD... and also design the install for use on consoles or PC rigs with smaller amounts of system memory. It's a bit messy and complicated and I'm pretty sure the only reason it hasn't happened is because consoles didn't support the investment in engine design until this point.

To be honest, I think what Cerny was really referring to with regards to streaming of assets between frames was in relation to LOD and asset pop-in. I think that we should not be seeing such things this next gen. Regarding this, I did a bit more digging on the Gran Tourismo 7 trailer and it seems that the developers are actually using the last gen engine with very few optimisations for next gen features - which is why all the pop-in, shadow limitations and light source limitations.

To be honest, I really think Sony should get rid of Polyphony Digital - sure, it's a tentpole franchise but they're ridiculously terrible at their tech implementations, behind in their gameplay featuresets and must cost a hell of a lot to run the studio for releasing only a single (or possibly two) game (with limited features) over a whole console generation. Just look at the Forza developers and what they can do... and many other racing game studios...

You're right about how Soul Reaver's tech worked but with modern improvements to quantity of RAM and data streaming, it could be implemented in a much more powerful manner.

fungmi said...

Hi Duoae

I think they should give the end user different modes of operation to choose between i.e 60FPS or High fidelity. It would be good if the platform owners standardized these, just so there is some consistency. If 60 FPS is something we can have without concessions, all the better but the evidence we've seen on both PS5 and XSX does not point to that.

Take your point on LODs, just seems both Sony and MS are throwing a lot of custom hardware at it. I don't know if you follow Coreteks but he did an interesting piece which talked about the PS5 SSD, its called 'AMDs Checkmate'. The video itself does not focus specifically about the new consoles, I recall it being a general AMD piece.

Will be interesting to get your views on SC

fybyfyby said...

Hi Duoae, you are right. But mainly because multiplying console power is less and less visible because of the perceived resolution. From SD to HD - that was big jump in perception. From HD to FHD also, but you needed bigger tv to see it. From FHD to 4K it is really perceivable if you have at least 55" tv, but even on my 65" tv...in motion I dont perceive many differencies. Now we still have 4K and for some people 8K. But there is no space for jump in clarity. I think If you had Pro or XOX, you will see higher fps or more details, but for general gameplay, it will not be so much revolutionary. And thats the reason MS and Sony came with architectural changes. And thats good. Because consoles were always about proprietary gaming hardware. PS4 and XO were built around pc architecture. Here it is more about custom chips. Im mostly excited about (I hope) quiet PS5, haptic feedback, true 3d audio thanks to hrtf and new possibilities for VR. And fingerscrossed for more than 4 controllers connected.