Sony has been conspicuously quiet for much of 2019. It’s teased a handful of major first-party video game releases – The Last of Us Part 2, Hideo Kojima’s hallucinatory action game Death Stranding, the Bellevue, Wash.-developed Ghost of Tsushima – but skipped E3 entirely (giving Microsoft a nearly free field to debut its competing Project Scarlett console), revealed no real surprises at PAX West, and canceled its annual PlayStation Experience show due to, reportedly, a “lack of announcements.” Sony has made a couple of big moves, such as its outright purchase of Insomniac Games, but has been playing things close to the vest for most of the year.
Sony abruptly broke its silence earlier today, however, with a second story in Wired about its upcoming PlayStation 5 video game console. The PS5 made its official debut back in April in another Wired story that was effectively little more than proof of life: the new box was said to feature a new GPU that supported ray-tracing, allowing for real-time rendering of complicated visual and audio effects, as well as a specialized internal solid-state drive for vastly improved loading times. The new system is said to be heavily based off of the PlayStation 4’s architecture, to the extent that it can play PS4 and PSVR games via backwards compatibility.
In today’s Wired article, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan provided more details regarding the PS5, not least of which is the fact that it officially is going to be the PlayStation 5; Sony is sticking with the old numbering scheme after all. The plan is for the PS5 to reach store shelves by the 2020 holiday season, just in time to compete directly with Project Scarlett.
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) October 8, 2019
Sony enters the ninth generation of video game consoles with a commanding lead over its competitors, with the PlayStation 4 approaching a worldwide installation base of nearly 100 million, around double that of the Xbox One. Both systems overcame a rough release (take a look at the first two years of both systems’ life and count how many of the games are ports or “HD remasters”) to achieve respectable success. (Meanwhile, the Switch is coming up on its 40 millionth sale, if it hasn’t already passed that with the debut of the handheld-only Lite model.)
We’d already been told about the PS5’s SSD and ray-tracing capabilities, but Mark Cerny, the designer of the PS5, had more to say about it.
For one thing, the PS5 will still have the option to use physical media, with games shipping on 100-gigabyte optical discs, and loaded into the system via a drive that can also play 4K Blu-Rays.
Cerny also says that game installations will be treated differently for the PS5, allowing the user to install and remove parts of a given title rather than treating the entirety of it as a single mandatory block of data. In theory, you could pick up a brand-new game for your PS5 and only install the single-player campaign, or the multiplayer mode, rather than having to burn valuable hard drive space on every piece of data that the game might possibly need.
Sony seems particularly proud of one particular innovation for the PS5, enough that Jim Ryan augmented the Wired piece with a post on the PlayStation official blog: the new controller that will ship with the PS5 (which you have to figure will be officially called the DualShock 5, because why stop the theme now?) replaces the old “rumble” technology with haptic feedback. Instead of just vibrating in response to onscreen activity, the haptic controller can simulate a variety of tactile sensations.
“With haptics, you truly feel a broader range of feedback, so crashing into a wall in a race car feels much different than making a tackle on the football field,” Ryan writes. “You can even get a sense for a variety of textures when running through fields of grass or plodding through mud.”
The new controller also features “adaptive triggers” on the L2 and R2 buttons, which allow developers to program them with a custom degree of resistance. The example Ryan uses here is drawing back the string on a bow, in order to achieve “a powerful experience that better simulates various actions.”
For all the hype and possibilities offered by Sony for the PS5, there are a couple of potential cracks in the armor here. The PlayStation blog post notes that “Game creators have started to receive early versions of the new controller” now, roughly 12 to 14 months before the PS5’s planned launch window. That effectively means that any use of the haptic technology for the PS5’s first wave of titles will be little more than a gimmick, if it’s used at all.
The big innovation here, although it isn’t particularly exciting to talk about, is the system’s SSD. I hadn’t thought about it before the Wired piece, but as Bluepoint Games president Marco Thrush says in the article, there are a lot of modern gimmicks in game design that are specifically there to make loading times look organic. Any time you’ve had to pause to open a heavy door, sit through an unskippable dialogue scene, or run down a weirdly empty corridor for a few seconds, that was a clever trick to cover up the game’s need to load a new area off the disc or drive. With the internal SSD, PS5 games don’t have to do that anymore, leading to what Laura Miele, chief studio officer for EA, calls a “generation of immediacy.”