Sony has yet to reveal the PS5 but we've heard titbits about the console, with the latest news coming from an indie game developer who called it "incredible," touching on the PS5's texel density capabilities and how that translates to "one of the most important advances in visual capacity" we'll see.
But the Xbox Series X has its own secret weapon. Its 12 teraflops of GPU power is going to allow for brand new graphical techniques on consoles that will make for "more alive and dynamic" games.
Bruce Straley, former creative director at Naughty Dog, describes how the Xbox Series X's GPU processing power will help create more realistic renders of things like "smoke, water, wind" adding that textures like hair and fur have historically been a bugbear to animate.
"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."
Straley also touched on ray tracing, and how it can open up the reality of high-end VFX that we've not seen in video games before, but that are prevalent in cinema, with Pixar being an example. The Xbox Series X and PS5 will be the first consoles to implement this tech.
"Something like a Pixar rendering system will rely heavily on subsurface scattering for flesh tones and skin," explained Straley. "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.”
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More importantly, these tools will now be available for smaller studios, doing most of the heavy lifting for them, with one anonymous developer saying the Xbox Series X will allow them to do "things that we couldn't even dream of before."
Straley elaborated on this point, saying "the availability of these tools, and this power, means there’s more opportunities for people to play with styles and concepts and ideas.
"And hopefully there’s more interesting or wacky ideas that become realised, because I was never able to play with ray tracing or some kind of dynamic global illumination...that now opens up a new opportunity to think about game design differently, or an experience differently.”
He uses the example of water simulation in games, stressing that it's not necessarily all about realism, but being able to make design decisions with more freedom thanks to the console's power.
"It always comes down to design decisions. We have all of this power, but the choices are what we do with it, and how do we make games more compelling and the experiences richer, and not necessarily more realism.”
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Straley doubled down on his point, saying, "I don't necessarily need more realism. I don't want a realistic plumber. I don’t want Ron Jeremy in a plumber’s outfit trying to make a jump. But I want Mario, and I want him to jump how the designers have decided to make him jump."
It's clear that the Xbox Series X is going to be powerful enough to usher in a new era in terms of what can be feasibly achieved in video game graphics, raising the bar to new levels. It may be a while before developers take full advantage of its power, what with having to release games for current and next-gen consoles while the install base slowly grows, but there's no question that the hardware will be ready when they are.