Sony hasn't said much about the console since April, when WIRED released the story about development efforts on what was then known only as the "next-gen console." In fact, the company has not said anything. Sony skipped this year's E3 gaming show, a void during which Microsoft revealed details about its own next-gen console, a successor to the Xbox One only referred to as Project Scarlett. Like the PS5, Scarlett will feature a CPU based on AMD's Ryzen line and a GPU based on its Navi family; Like the PS5, it will ditch the spinning hard drive for a solid state drive. Now, however, in a conference room at Sony's US headquarters, Ryan and systems architect Mark Cerny are eager to share details.
Before they do, Cerny wants to clarify something. The last time we talked about the next console, he talked about its ability to support ray tracing, a technique that can enable complex lighting and sound effects in 3D environments. Given the many questions he has received since then, he fears he has been ambiguous about how the PS5 would achieve this, and confirms that it is not a solution at the software level, which some feared. "There is ray-tracing acceleration in the GPU hardware," he says, "which I think is the statement that people were looking for." (A belief born from my own mentions on Twitter, which for a couple of weeks in April made a graphics rendering technique seem like the only thing the internet had ever cared about.)
With that in hand, let's get back to the PS5's solid-state drive, which Cerny first praised for how it can turn loading time from a nuisance to a blink of an eye. It's not just the speed that makes the SSD formidable, he says, but the efficiency it offers. Think of a game console's hard drive, spinning like a 5400 rpm vinyl record. In order for the console to read a piece of information from the drive, it first has to send the record head, like a spinning needle, to find it. Each "search", as it is known, may take only a few milliseconds, but the searches add up. To minimize these, developers will often duplicate certain game assets to form contiguous blocks of data, which the drive can read faster. We are talking about common things here: streetlights, anonymous passersby.
But the data also adds up. "If you watch a game like Marvel's Spider-Man," says Cerny, "there is some data duplicated 400 times on the hard drive." The SSD eliminates the need for all that duplication, so its raw read speed is not only dramatically faster than a hard drive, but it also saves crucial space. How developers will leverage that space will likely be different; some may choose to build a larger or more detailed game world, others may be content to reduce the size of games or patches. Either way, physical games for the PS5 will use 100GB optical discs, inserted into an optical drive that doubles as a 4K Blu-ray player.
However, the installation of the game (which is mandatory, given the speed difference between the SSD and the optical drive) will be a little different than on the PS4. This time, helped in part by the simplified gaming data possible with the SSD, Sony is changing its approach to storage, making it a more configurable installation and removal process. "Instead of treating games as one big block of data," says Cerny, "we allow more granular access to the data." That could mean the ability to install just the multiplayer campaign for a game, save the single-player campaign for another time, or just install everything and then delete the single-player campaign once you've finished it.
Regardless of which parts of a game you choose to install and play, you can stay in the loop through a completely revamped user interface. The basic PS4 home screen sometimes feels frozen amber; You can see what your friends have done recently or even the title of the game they might be playing right now, but without launching an individual title there is no way to know which single player missions you can do or which multiplayer games you can join. The PS5 will change that. "Even though it will be pretty quick to start games, we don't want the player to have to start the game, see what happens, start the game, see what happens," says Cerny. "The multiplayer game servers will provide the console with the set of activities that can be linked in real time. Single player games will provide information such as what missions you could do and what rewards you could receive for completing them, and all those options will be visible in the user interface. As a player, you just jump right into whatever you want. "
He says this like he says many other things: knowing that he will reject any follow-up question that ventures beyond what he wants to talk about. Like, what does the user interface really look like? Or how big will the SSD be? Or is it even a microphone? Which is exactly what I'm asking when Cerny hands me a prototype of the next-gen controller, a matte black labelless doohickey that looks a lot like the PS4's DualShock 4. After all, there is a small hole in it, and a patent points to Sony developing a voice-driven artificial intelligence assistant for PlayStation. But all I get from Cerny is, "We'll talk more about that later." ("We file patents on a regular basis," a spokesperson tells me later, "and like many companies, some of those patents end up on our products and some don't.")
The controller (which history suggests will one day be called the DualShock 5, though Cerny just says "no name yet") has some features that Cerny is most interested in recognizing. One is "adaptive triggers" that can offer different levels of resistance to make shooting a bow and arrow feel like the real thing (the tension builds as you pull the arrow back) or make a machine gun feel very different from a shotgun. It also features much more capable haptic feedback than the rumbling motor console gamers are used to, with highly programmable voice coil actuators located on the left and right hand grips of the controller.
Combined with an improved speaker in the driver, the haptics can allow for some amazing effects. First, I play through a series of short demos, courtesy of the same team at Japan Studio that designed Astro Bot Rescue Mission for PlayStation VR. At the most impressive, I ran a character across a platform level with several different surfaces, all of which gave different and surprisingly immersive touch experiences. The sand felt slow and slow; the mud felt slow and soggy. On ice, a high-frequency response made the thumbsticks really feel like my character was sliding. Jumping into a pool, I felt the resistance of the water; over a wooden bridge, a bouncing sensation.
Edited by ANACONDA