Epic CEO Tim Sweeney says next-generation gaming consoles, in particular Sony’s PlayStation 5, will bring about changes in game development that go far beyond a jump in graphics quality. During a press briefing for the company’s newly announced Unreal Engine 5, which is optimized to work with next-gen consoles, Sweeney says the PS5 is a “remarkably balanced device.”
“It has an immense amount of GPU power, but also multi-order bandwidth increase in storage management. That’s going to be absolutely critical,” he says. “It’s one thing to render everything that can fit in memory,” he adds, but a much more impressive feat to render a world that “might be tens of gigabytes in size” almost instantaneously, as Sony’s new console and its M.2 solid-state drive are promising.
“We’ve been working super close with Sony for quite a long time on storage,” he says. “The storage architecture on the PS5 is far ahead of anything you can buy on anything on PC for any amount of money right now. It’s going to help drive future PCs. [The PC market is] going to see this thing ship and say, ‘Oh wow, SSDs are going to need to catch up with this.”
The new drive, which Sony claims is faster than any on-market device available right now, won’t just make load times almost nonexistent, but will also enable developers to access the data their games are composed of with unprecedented speed. The result is larger game worlds loading much faster than ever before, which could result in drastic changes to how developers approach everything from balancing visual quality and performance to level design.
Sweeney isn’t saying that you can’t get a comparable M.2 drive for your PC, even now if you want to shell out for it. Rather, he’s saying the custom drive Sony created and the way it interacts with the overall PS5 data management system makes it faster and more impressive from a development standpoint that anything a consumer could readily buy today, especially considering PC developers aren’t yet building games that take advantage of such speeds. That may change in the future when both new consoles arrive and, as Sweeney predicts, inspire significant upgrades to PC component design and PC-specific game development.
Sweeney isn’t taking Sony’s word for it, either. He and the engineers at Epic are using the console themselves. Sweeney says the two companies have been working closely together during the development of UE5 and the PS5, ensuring that Epic’s game development tool sets for developers creating next-gen titles is optimized for the hardware that software will ultimately run on. The UE5 demo released this morning was even running on an early PS5 console, and Epic captured the quite remarkable footage straight from the device itself.
As for Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, Sweeney isn’t saying the new Xbox won’t be able to achieve something similar; both are using custom SSDs that promise blazing speeds. But he says Epic’s strong relationship with Sony means the company is working more closely with the PlayStation creator than it does with Microsoft on this specific area. Regardless, words of such strong encouragement from Sweeney — who’s been in the industry for decades and has seen every jump, both iterative and groundbreaking — seem to suggest the new consoles will offer benefits most consumers and developers will have to experience to realize.
We’re still waiting on some more crucial details about Sony’s new console, primarily what it will look like, how much it will cost, and whether Sony will have something like Microsoft’s Smart Delivery feature for transitioning purchases made on the PS4 over to the PS5. Sony decided — before the annual E3 expo was canceled due to COVID-19 — that it would be skipping the large Los Angeles conference and doing its own event, but the company hasn’t revealed its plans for any kind of reveal event to date. The closest we’ve gotten is a rundown of the hardware specifications and a deep dive into the system architecture from lead designer Mark Cerny in March, as well as a reveal of the new DualSense controller last month.