×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The PS5 was too fast for Unreal Engine

It's safe to say many gamers are excited about the next console generation. And who could blame them? Both Sony and Microsoft have touted some impressive specs for their respective machines, and both seem ready to compete in a way we haven't seen for over a decade.

A lot of talk about the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X has been about graphics, which is understandable. The two consoles will come closer to reaching parity with gaming PCs than any previous systems have before. But on the PS5 side, at least, one other notable feature now has people talking. That feature could completely change the way game developers approach their craft, and could open the door for all sorts of interesting new ideas.

It's all thanks to the PS5's SSD storage and the console's ability to transfer data at insanely high speeds. In a chat with VG247, Epic Games' Nick Penwarden — who serves as the VP of engineering — talked about the kind of changes gamers can expect when the PS5 is paired with Epic's Unreal Engine 5.

"The ability to stream in content at extreme speeds enables developers to create denser and more detailed environments, changing how we think about streaming content," Penwarden said. "It's so impactful that we've rewritten our core I/O subsystems for Unreal Engine with the PlayStation 5 in mind."

You heard that right. The speed afforded by the PS5 is such a game-changer that Epic wasn't even expecting it. The company had to redo some parts of Unreal Engine to take advantage of the PS5's much-improved I/O (input/output) speeds, and game design could change for the better as a result. That is very exciting news.

You may be wondering, though — what does that mean, exactly? Where will these faster speeds be noticeable? If you think about the areas past games have used to sneak in new assets, that might help you wrap your brain around it.

Take Mass Effect, for example. New locations are loaded in using a number of tricks, the most notorious being the long elevator rides in the Citadel. No, you aren't just awkwardly standing alongside your crew for a solid minute because that's what riding an elevator is actually like. The game is using that time to load up the part of the Citadel you're visiting.

Mass Effect had slower hard drives and slower I/O to work with, so the elevator was a necessary evil. With the PS5's faster storage and faster data transfer speeds, this would no longer be necessary. That's not to say a new Mass Effect game would do away with elevators. But they'd exist more for immersion — they wouldn't be loading screens in disguise.

The Tomb Raider reboot series offers another example. Think about all those instances where Lara Croft climbs through a tiny hole or shimmies through a crack in a cave. These never seem that out of place — she is an explorer, after all. But these actually have a term borrowed from the world of construction. They're called load-bearing walls. In game development, they serve to pause the action so new parts of the level can be loaded.

You can see these used in games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and God of War, too. Presumably, they could also be phased out thanks to the PS5's speedier architecture, though some developers might still use them for aesthetics. That's what happened with the Unreal Engine 5 demo on PS5. There is a section of the demo where the main character travels through a very Tomb Raider-ish crack in the wall. Epic insisted, however, this was "not trying to hide any loading."

Where you might really see the benefit, though, is in open world games. A score of titles these days make use of seamless environments, and assets are streamed by looking at where you are and where you're going. You may notice some pop-in happening in games like Spider-Man or Grand Theft Auto 5, where objects or textures aren't loaded quickly enough. Thanks to the increased everything of the PS5 — storage speeds, I/O speeds, RAM — you won't see pop-in nearly as much, if at all.

In fact, as we stated earlier, Epic's Nick Penwarden believes environments could become "denser and more detailed." So you could see more people walking on the street in the next Spider-Man, or a more lush forest in the next Tomb Raider (if there is one). All of this sounds like the kind of next-gen experience gamers were hoping for. Hopefully that ends up being the case.

According to Epic's Tim Sweeney, work done to improve Unreal Engine 5 for the PS5 will also benefit the Xbox Series X, so there's no need to start a console war just yet. Based on the available specs, though, it does seem clear that the PS5 will offer faster loading times in games and faster data speeds all around. How will that affect the battle between the PS5 and Xbox Series X? That remains to be seen.

At the very least, games themselves are going to benefit tremendously from these faster speeds. If we never have to take a long elevator ride again, we'll be very, very happy.