We’ve come such a long way from ‘Pong’.

Such humble beginnings

I’m an O.G. gamer, having cut my teeth on Pong and Breakout and Space Invaders way back in the day. I can remember every major jump in graphics tech and how we thought things couldn’t possibly get any better than they were right then. I remember the brief period where it seemed Laserdisc based games were the future. I remember when CD-ROMs took over from cartridges offering up incredible — for the time — amounts of storage (Final Fantasy VII would not have been possible with cartridges). Then there was the arrival of true 3D rendering and how were they going to top that?

Crash Bandicoot.

I’ve been a Sony fan since the original PlayStation was released though I almost didn’t buy one. I moved on to gaming on computers after the console market crashed in 1985 and didn’t bother going back when Nintendo and Sega revived it a year or so later. The one exception was my purchase of a Panasonic 3DO in 1993 and that was only because ex-Amiga people were behind its development. Everyone was excited for Sony’s PlayStation arriving in America in 1995 and the word was that if you hadn’t preordered you weren’t going to be able to get one, but I didn’t bother. I happened to walk into the local Babbages the day it was released, and they had a stack of them on hand that weren’t already claimed. I bought one on a whim and have been a fan ever since.

Now the PS5 is looming on the horizon and I’m tingling with anticipation. There will be yet another improvement in graphics with its release, but the real jump in tech will be from its storage technology. The last two generations of consoles have included mechanical hard drives as their main form of storage which, much like CD-ROMs did, allowed for much more capacity as well as giving developers the ability to release updates and new content to a game. Large mechanical drives, though, are terribly slow which could make for long loading times between levels. You can alleviate some of that by putting a Solid-State Drive (SSD) in your console, but it’s not there by default so developers don’t take advantage of it.

Oh, you sexy beast!

The PS5 is including an SSD for the first time, but it’s not an ordinary SSD. It’s a variation on a newer form known as an NVMe drive which offer ridiculous transfer speeds because they bypass the normal drive bus and talk directly to the system bus. I have an NVMe drive in my gaming desktop and it is disgustingly fast. The one in the PS5 reportedly is custom designed to exceed a standard NVMe’s transfer speed and works in conjunction with a custom I/O chip to deliver uncompressed data to other system components at up to 5.5GB/sec. What that means is insanely fast load times and the ability to stream data into a game faster than ever before.

What can you do with that? One of the best examples is the upcoming Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart game:

Now it may not be immediately clear why the new custom NVMe drive in the PS5 is the most important part of the new system, so allow me to elaborate. The game has a portal mechanic like the PC game Portal in those orange things Ratchet is grappling through. No big deal, that sort of tech has been around for a while and we’ve seen stuff like it before. It’s a testament to the power of the PS5 that so much of the geometry is being rendered in the portals as you move through them, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before.

It’s the purple portals he falls through that show the power of the new SSD drive. When he’s falling through those, he’s going from one game level to a completely different game level with a different art style and a whole new collection of assets. The game has to load all that in which is why there is about one and a half seconds where he’s drifting “between realities” before the second portal opens and drops him in the new world. The end of the demo does this five times in relatively quick succession and it’s almost seamless. Watch it again:

This will start at the purple portal sequence.

That’s damned impressive. I’d bet most folks wouldn’t even realize it’s doing so much work in such a short period of time. I’m trying to think of any other video game that has pulled this sort of thing off and I’m coming up empty. This also means things like Fast Travel in open world games should be so brief that there’s little to no time to put up game tips. I’m currently playing through Ghost of Tsushima which has one of the shorter Fast Travel features I’ve seen in an open world game. Especially compared to a title like Red Dead Redemption II which is almost glacial in comparison. I can’t wait to see how that feature will work on games on the PS5.

Above and beyond that, though, is just the shear amount of detailed stuff that’s happening onscreen during this demo. It really is dizzying at times to look at. The previous games in this series were no slouches in terms of on-screen action, but this is just so much… more. More stuff, more detail, more effects. I’m not a huge Ratchet & Clank fan, but I’ll be picking this one up.