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Insiders reveal what PS5 and Xbox Series X’s crazy specs mean for next-gen games

Updated Mar 13th, 2020 8:26AM EDT
PS5 Specs vs. Xbox Series X
Image: Microsoft

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  • PS5 and Xbox Series X specs include a detail that sounds great on paper: The consoles will feature next-gen GPUs capable of more teraflops than ever.
  • Several game developers explained what that extra GPU performance can be used for, providing actual examples that you might encounter in PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X games as soon as this year.
  • Hair quality is one great example, as rendering and simulating hair has been relatively tricky on previous-generation video game consoles.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Sony’s PlayStation 5 announcement is still nowhere to be found, but the Japanese gaming giant can’t delay it for much longer. Microsoft is already two steps ahead, having revealed the Xbox Series X name and design in December, and most of its specs in mid-February. But regardless of what the PS5 looks like, it’ll have almost the same hardware as the Series X, and it’ll deliver the same type of performance. In fact, it might deliver even better performance if the massive PS5 specs leak from earlier this week was accurate.

Thanks to Microsoft’s surprise Xbox Series X specs announcement, we know exactly what to expect in terms of graphics performance from the Series X: 12 teraflops of GPU power. That’s incredible, and a huge upgrade over the Xbox One X, but what does it really mean? Teraflops alone don’t really explain what the new gaming rig will be capable of, just like megapixels aren’t the only important thing about a camera. However, several developers explained what the GPU upgrade is all about, and their explanations will help eager gamers better understand the big improvements they can expect from the PS5 and XSX.

A developer last week explained that new games will strive for photorealism, although that’s only part of the story. IGN interviewed other developers who provided more details about the upcoming PS5 and Series X graphics performance.

The GPU’s won’t just improve the hair graphics on characters, but that’s a great way to explain the power of these machines because hair has been notoriously difficult to simulate. Just like water, fire, and wind. Bruce Straley, former creative director at Naughty Dog, explains:

Smoke, water, wind – things like that are great for GPU processing. It’s always been really difficult to make really good hair. And then hair responding to different environments – hair and water, hair and wind, hair and hair gel, are all reactions that can be processed.

Ray-tracing, that fancy term you keep hearing when people talk about the PS5 and Xbox Series X, is also going to improve graphics because developers will have better means of handling lighting. Future games will make movie graphics like what we’ve seen in Pixar films possible in games, according to Bryant Cannon, Night School Studio’s lead developer:

Ray tracing is probably the biggest gap between what game graphics can do and what high-end VFX and Pixar and movie graphics can do. [With ray tracing], they’re actually stimulating the lights bouncing from light to different surfaces.

Naughty Dog’s Straley also explains what ray-tracing will feel in games:

Something like a Pixar rendering system will rely heavily on subsurface scattering for flesh tones and skin. If you wanted to make something rendered like The Incredibles, where you have light coming through the earlobes of your character – we faked it at Naughty Dog. We had all sorts of ways to simulate it, but it wasn’t real. If now I can write a shader that has subsurface scattering on it and hook into the ray tracing system, then more people are going to be able to do that.

The best part of the PS5 and Xbox Series X is that all of these features will be available to both smaller studios and larger companies. That means smaller teams will not have to compromise on graphics quality, according to an anonymous developer:

All these things are going to be more accessible to smaller teams. Basically because the machine’s handling so much of the workload. A lot of the stuff that we have to do on our side, for similar effect, is now just given to us.

[…] The reality is we never could get to the point where we could actually do that, and see what that really looks like, and the results are pretty stunning. So I think what’s going to be easier, for smaller teams in particular, is to experiment with things that we never thought we could experiment with because we just didn’t have an engine for it. We didn’t have the ability to do it. And now just the brute force of this hardware is going to give us that.

The new GPU performance will also improve gameplay experiences because developers will be able not just to imagine new concepts, but also significantly increase the volume of titles that involve open worlds. Virtuos VP of games Elijah Freeman explains how effects will impact gameplay going forward:

One key area that will almost certainly see improvement is volumetric effects such as smoke, fog, and clouds. These are effects that scatter light and have previously been presented in games with mixed results. What makes this all interesting is the effect this might also have on gameplay. Yes, improved smoke effects will be great to look at, but the ability to just barely glimpse an enemy if the light catches them right after you’ve thrown a smoke grenade adds a new level of nuance to playstyles.

He also tackled the improvements to the environment in games:

The increased power and speed of consoles like the Xbox Series X will mean worlds many times bigger than we’ve seen before, and with more stuff in them too. You’ll also be able to move around them much quicker, whether that’s driving in a high-speed sports car or flying around on a dragon, perhaps with no loading screens at all.

The PS5 and Xbox Series X will support better simulations, which in turn will help developers populate games with better-defined characters and details, and those worlds will load faster than ever thanks to the speedy SSD — from Cannon:

There is always more we can do with simulation that we couldn’t do before. For example, wanting to make a game with a really big crowd, and every person in the crowd is rendered at a very high resolution. That’s maybe something that couldn’t be done gameplay-wise that we can do now.

[…]Having an SSD, the actual gameplay implication that I think of first is world streaming. That’s something that’s really hard to do seamlessly, especially with a studio of our size, and having a solid state drive where we can be pretty sure that the level is going to load in seconds, we can have a streaming world that doesn’t really impact our performance too much and it doesn’t have too many design problems when it comes to hiding the loading from the player.


full take on the matter is available at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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