While those features served as the presentation’s highlights, many consumer-focused details were missing, including its cost, what it even looks like and, most importantly, new titles to anticipate ahead of its expected holiday release.
The tone and content of the presentation seemed to indicate Sony intended to give this presentation during the Game Developers Conference, which primarily features an audience composed of developers rather that consumers. That conference was scheduled for this week before the coronavirus pandemic forced a global shutdown of events. But while developers may have learned some relevant details, all players wanted was to see what the thing looks like.
Casual players, and even ardent Sony fans, were caught off guard, considering Sony promoted the talk through its standard social media channels. Players hoped it would have the air of a Nintendo Direct-type news conference made for fans. Instead, Sony brought out Mark Cerny, the lead engineering architect of the modern PlayStation, to talk about how excited he is about “how the development community takes advantage” of the console’s features.
Cerny is an industry luminary, who helped start and elevate studios like Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games. But even users on PlayStation’s subreddit were confused at who he was: “I finished uni[versity] and hoped I’d never have a presentation like this again.”
Cerny did release more raw specifications for the upcoming console, including a CPU with 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz, 10.28 teraflops, a custom RDNA 2 graphics processing unit architecture and 16GB GDDR7 of memory.
For an accurate and far more technical analysis of these new details, we recommend you read the breakdown by Digital Foundry, who have a sage-like reputation for analyzing gaming technology. But here are some of my takeaways as a consumer.
It was comforting to hear that PlayStation 4 backward compatibility is built into the system. The PlayStation 4 ruled the market for the last seven years thanks to its diverse, robust and high quality game library, and it would be a shame to leave that behind. However, Cerny mentioned that “almost all” of the “top 100” most-played PS4 games would be available at launch, indicating some will be missing.
It’s also deeply disappointing that Sony is still unable to promise better compatibility with its previous PlayStation systems. Microsoft has made great strides in making many of its previous games available on its latest Xbox, and that feature will only strengthen with its upcoming Xbox Series X, a console we still have far more information on (including its appearance).
All PS4 owners will be relieved to hear that Sony promises shorter install times for its game updates. Anytime a PS4 game needs to update a new patch, the file must be loaded onto the console first before starting another process to install it to the game. Depending on the size of the update, the process could last hours. This would finally be removed on the PS5.
Cerny spent about 20 minutes explaining the benefits of the SSD. It was a curious decision, since many gamers at least know what advantages that brings, namely, faster loading speeds. He claimed the subway travel load times in Marvel’s Spider-Man (which lasted several seconds) would be so fast, the PlayStation 5 would have to somehow slow down the processing.
Blinding fast load speeds is a dream come true for console gamers, who have struggled through long loading screens since the advent of the very first PlayStation last century.
The problem with that serving as the presentation’s biggest highlight: It’s not exactly a selling point for a console. The Xbox Series X, so far, is more powerful on paper, and will also provide nearly instant loading times. And PC players have experienced fast loading times for years.
Mainstreaming solid-state drives into consoles might have a significant effect on game development, since many studios often have to consider the weaker consoles, rather than focus primarily on more powerful PC hardware. Cerny’s talk seems aimed to encourage developers to feel liberated from being tied to a weaker console market.
Still, this message was impossible to decipher in the presentation. YouTuber Scott the Woz said it best:
I find it hard to get excited for the PS5 and Series X when literally all Sony and Microsoft are showing us is how they can play PS4 and Xbox One games faster.— Scott Wozniak (@ScottTheWoz) March 18, 2020
Much of Cerny’s talk was focused on convincing developers that their creativity would be less hindered, and their work would be much easier. He talked about the freedom to get rid of “long twisty corridors” developers have used to disguise load times while providing a seamless gaming experience.
He ended the talk with saying “now comes the fun part,” saying that Sony will get to see how the development community will take advantage of these features.
“I guess we’ll find out soon enough,” said Cerny, ending his talk. While load times may soon be a thing of the past for gamers, it appears PlayStation fans will spend their immediate future waiting for more useful, relevant information about the PS5.