Mark Cerny would do it would love to have something out of hand right now: the video game console that Sony has been building over the past four years is not a simple update.
You would have good reasons to think differently. Sony and Microsoft have extended the current generation of consoles through a mid-cycle upgrade, with mini-sequels of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (Xbox One S and PS4 Pro). "The key question," says Cerny, "is whether the console adds another level to the experience you already have access to, or if it allows for fundamental changes in what can be a game."
The answer, in this case, is the second one. That's why we're sitting here, hiding in a conference room at Sony's headquarters in Foster City, California, where Cerny is finally describing the internal mechanisms of the still unnamed console that will replace the PS4.
Senior correspondent Peter Rubin covers culture and technology for WIRED.
If the story is a guide, it will eventually be nicknamed PlayStation 5. For now, Cerny answers that question, and many others, with an enigmatic smile. The "next-gen console", as it repeatedly calls it, will not arrive in stores at any time in 2019. A number of studies have worked with it, however, and Sony has recently accelerated its implementation of devkits so that the creators of games will have the time they need to adapt to its abilities.
As he did with the PS4, Cerny was the main organizer of the upcoming system, integrating the desires of the developers and their game hopes into something that is much more revolutionary than evolution. For the over 90 million people who own PS4, this is really good news. Sony has a brand new box.
A true generational the shift tends to include some fundamental adjustments. CPU and GPU of a console become more powerful, able to provide graphic fidelity and previously unattainable visual effects; system memory increases in size and speed; and game files grow to match, requiring larger downloads or higher capacity physical media like disks.
The next-generation PlayStation console meets all these needs, starting with an AMD chip in the middle of the device. (Attention: it follows some alphabetical soup.) The CPU is based on the third generation of the Ryzen line of AMD and contains eight cores of the new 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture of the company. The GPU, a customized variant of Radeon's Navi family, will support ray tracing, a technique that models the journey of light to simulate complex interactions in 3D environments. While ray tracing is a staple of Hollywood's visual effects and is starting to make its way among high-end $ 10,000 processors, no game console has been able to handle it. Yet.
The immediate benefits of Ray's tracking are largely visual. Because it mimics the way light bounces from one object to another in a scene, reflective surfaces and refractions through glass or liquid can be made much more accurately, even in real time, leading to a higher realism. According to Cerny, applications go beyond the graphic implications. "If you wanted to run tests to see if the player can hear certain audio sources or if enemies can hear the players' steps, ray tracing is useful for this," he says. "It's the same thing as taking a ray through the environment."
The AMD chip also includes a custom 3D audio unit that Cerny thinks will redefine what sound can do in a video game. "As a player," he says, "it was a bit frustrated that the audio didn't change much between PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. With the next console, the dream is to show how dramatically different the experience is audio when we apply a significant amount of hardware power to it. "
The result, says Cerny, will make you feel more immersed in the game as the sounds arrive from the top, from behind and from one side. Although the effect does not require external hardware, it will work via TV speakers and surround sound, allowing the "gold standard" to be the sound of the headphones.
One of the words that Cerny uses to describe the audio may be familiar to those who follow virtual reality: presence, that feeling of existing within a simulated environment. When he mentions it, I ask him about PlayStation VR, the peripheral system that has sold over 4 million units since its 2016 version. Specifically, I ask if there will be a next-generation PSVR to support the next console. "I won't go into the details of our VR strategy today," he says, "besides saying that VR is very important to us and that the current PSVR headset is compatible with the new console."
Thus. New CPU, new GPU, the possibility of providing unprecedented visual and audio effects in a game (and perhaps a PSVR sequel at some point). It's all great, but there is something else that excites Cerny even more. Something that defines "a real turning point", something that more than anything else is "the key to the next generation". It's a hard drive.
The biggest a the game is done last year Red Dead Redemption 2 with a duration of 99 gigabytes for the PS4, the time required to do practically everything. The loading screens can last minutes while the game extracts what is needed from the hard drive. The same applies to "fast journeys", when characters carry between remote points within a game world. Also opening a door may take more than a minute, depending on what is on the other hand and how much more data the game needs to load. Starting in the fall of 2015, when Cerny started talking to the developers about what they wanted from the next generation, he heard it repeatedly: I know it's impossible, but can we have an SSD?
Solid state drives have been available in cheap laptops for over a decade, while Xbox One and PS4 offer external SSDs that claim to improve load times. But not all SSDs are created in the same way. As Cerny points out, "I have an SSD in my laptop and when I want to switch from Excel to Word I can wait 15 seconds." What is integrated into Sony's next-generation console is something a little more specialized.
To demonstrate, Cerny launches a reproduction of PS4 Pro Spiderman, a PS4 exclusive from 2018 with which he worked alongside Insomniac Games. (He is not just a systems architect, Cerny has created a classic arcade Marble Madness when he was 19 and very involved in the PlayStation and PS2 series like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet and Clank.) On TV, Spidey is in a small square. Cerny presses a button on the controller, starting a fast travel interstitial screen. When Spidey reappears in a completely different place in Manhattan, 15 seconds have passed. So Cerny does the same thing on a next-gen devkit connected to a different TV. (The devkit, one of the first "low speed" versions, is hidden in a large silver tower, with no visible components.) What took 15 seconds now takes less than one: 0.8 seconds, for the 39; accuracy.
This is only a consequence of an SSD. C & # 39; is also the speed with which a world can be rendered, and therefore the speed with which a character can move through that world. Cerny performs a demonstration similar to two consoles, this time with the camera moving on one of the streets of Midtown. On the original PS4, the camera moves roughly at Spidey's speed during web-sling. "Regardless of the power of Spider-Man, you can never go faster than that," says Cerny, "because it's simply the speed at which we can recover data from the hard drive." In the next-generation console, the camera accelerates as if it were mounted on a fighter jet. Periodically, Cerny interrupts the action to show that the surrounding environment remains perfectly clear. (While the next-gen console will support 8K graphics, the TVs that supply it are few and far between, so we're using a 4K TV.)
What the other developers will be able to do is a question that Cerny can't answer yet, because these developers are still trying to figure it all out, but sees the SSD as an unblocking of an entirely new age, one that overturns the same tropes that have become the foundation of the game. "We are used to designing logos at the start of the game and graphic selection screens," he says, "even things like multiplayer lobbies and intentionally detailed loading processes, because you don't want players to wait."
At the moment, Sony won't take care of the exact details on the SSD – who does it, regardless of whether it uses the new PCIe 4.0 standard – but Cerny claims to have a raw bandwidth greater than any available SSD for PC. It's not all. "The raw reading speed is important," says Cerny, "but so are the details of the I / O [input-output] mechanisms and the software stack we put them on. I got a PlayStation 4 Pro and then I inserted a SSD that costs as much as the PlayStation 4 Pro: it could be a third faster. "Unlike 19 times faster for the next-generation console, judging by the quick-travel demo.
As you have noticed, this is all about hardware. Cerny is not ready to chat about services or other features, not to mention games and prices, and neither is Sony. Nor will you know much about the E3 console in June: for the first time, Sony will not hold a keynote at the annual games show. But some other things come out during the course of our conversation. For example, the next-gen console will continue to accept physical media; it will not be a download-only machine. Since it is based in part on the PS4 architecture, it will also be compatible with the previous ones for games for that console. As in many other generational transitions, this will be delicate, with numerous new games released for both PS4 and the new generation console. (Where exactly the next Hideo Kojima title Stranding of death fits into that process is still unconfirmed. When asked, a spokesman in the room reiterated that the game would be released for PS4, but Cerny's smile and pregnant pause invite us to assume that it will actually be a two-platform version.)
What the game will look like in a year or two, not to mention 10, is a matter of debate. The Battle-Royale games have redesigned multiplayer experiences; augmented reality marries the fantastic and the real in unprecedented ways. Google is leading a charge from traditional consoles by launching a cloud-gaming service, Stadia, at the end of this year. The next version of Microsoft's Xbox will probably also support cloud gaming to allow people to play Xbox games on multiple devices. Sony's plans in this regard are still not clear: it is one of the many things that Cerny keeps his mother, saying only that "we are pioneers of cloud gaming and our vision should become clear as we head towards launch", but it is difficult to think there will be no more news coming to this front.
For now, it's the living room. It's where the PlayStation has lived four generations and will continue to sit at least one more generation.
Other great WIRED stories