When Sony and Microsoft launch the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S in November, console gamers will be treated to a serious uplift in graphics performance. Gorgeous graphics, higher resolutions and increased fidelity and immersion is the typical promise of next-gen consoles. But you know what? I’ve been living that reality as a PC gamer for years. What I’m truly excited about — and if I’m being honest, a little jealous about — is storage drive tech that hasn’t even seeped its way into PCs yet. And I hope these will be literal game-changers for the entire game industry.
Why? Because time is a precious resource, and I’d like to waste less of mine.
Sure, both Sony and Microsoft are touting dramatic reductions in loading times, and quality-of-life improvements like this are more than welcome. But that’s not what grinds my gears about this current generation of games.
No, the development trend I’d love to see disappear is the not-so-subtle “loading screen disguised as gameplay” trick.
You’ve seen this rather bluntly in action with the infamous Mass Effect elevator ride. More recently, it rears its ugly head in games like Final Fantasy VII Remake (aka “Squeezing Through Tight Spaces Simulator”) with Cloud and company fitting themselves between all manner of cracks, crevices and crawl spaces.
In the last generation there were technical limitations that prevented developers from caching and streaming in massive amounts of a game world, and those limitations weren’t just about the hard drives being used.
But the custom PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSD drives being used with the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles have some neat tricks up their sleeves. Especially on the Microsoft side of things. Sure, my gaming PC has an NVMe drive, but it doesn’t have the exceptional benefits of DirectStorage.
When we talk about loading times it can turn into a very complex conversation, but in a nutshell, your GPU needs to get information to display the game world that surrounds you. It needs to get those visual assets from the hard drive, and this involves an application making an “IO request.” It involves a lot of moving parts.
We’re used to this happening by the storage drive involving the CPU and system memory (RAM). With DirectStorage, the storage drive and GPU can talk directly to each other.
In the previous generation, Microsoft says the average game would make hundreds of IO requests per second. With the significantly speedier drive on the new Xbox, games are free to increase that to tens of thousands of requests per second.
DirectStorage basically enables this complex interaction between game, drive and GPU to happen much faster and more efficiently.
Approximately zero PC games take advantage of this because there are zero PCs capable of this until Microsoft brings its Xbox Velocity Architecture to Windows (which the company plans to do).
So we have an interesting case of consoles influencing future PC features (sorry PCMR crowd, but consoles are getting this innovative tech first). And if that means not just drastically faster loading times but the disappearance of the dreaded “loading screen in disguise,” I’m all for it.
Can you imagine the implications this technology could have on a future open-world game like Grand Theft Auto 6 or Elder Scrolls VI? Bring on these new consoles, and let’s hope game developers start truly tapping the potential of this new drive tech.