The PS5 and Xbox Series X mark the start of a new generation of gaming, even if it’s not all that obvious amid the cross-gen titles. Both consoles are about more than just better graphics – their hardware and features could help influence game design in the future. Let’s take a look at 11 such design choices that will need to change.
Loading Screen Tips
With the advent of solid state drives in consoles, the days of tips and tutorial messages in loading screens are coming to an end. This doesn’t just extend to tips either – lore messages about the world are also in danger of being skipped over. As a result, developers will need to rethink how tutorials and lore are implemented in-game. One great example can be seen in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, where the characters go through a celebratory rendition of their first meeting, performing different actions and familiarizing one with the controls. Quicker loading times also open up avenues for more environmental story-telling as players glean the lore and state of the world by observing their surroundings rather than simply reading it on a loading screen.
Game Worlds Feeling “Alive”
As game worlds have become bigger over the years, one thing that’s obvious is that size isn’t the be-all, end-all standard. Instead, it’s about making the world feel alive. More interactions with different objects, the effect of weather on the environment and player, more characters with nuanced routines and so on are going to contribute to making worlds feel more vibrant and lived in. Various strides have been taken in this regard across upcoming games, whether it’s Forza Horizon 5’s different weather conditions for different parts of the map, enhanced destructibility in Battlefield 2042 and so on.
In many role-playing games, the player progresses through dialogue trees and conversations at a normal pace. What’s going on outside the conversation doesn’t really matter. But in future titles, these conversations will grow to be more dynamic and not just in terms of the effects of different choices. How quickly a player responds, the player’s overall state, the surrounding environment and much more will start playing bigger roles in NPC conversations. We’re already seeing some of this to a degree in RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 3 but there’s a long way to go yet.
Before its launch, Insomniac’s technology director Mike Fitzgerald brought up something interesting regarding Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. By utilizing streaming technology from Marvel’s Spider-Man, the developer was able to stream the world as players are navigating it. This allowed for packing more density and content into each corner of the game since they didn’t have to follow the standard formula of loading levels.
But the PS5’s SSD has an additional effect in that objects, textures and so on are being loaded just behind the player, allowing the developer to devote all resources to things that are in front. The potential for all of this is pretty substantial and could help in redesigning the flow of levels which has had to use hallways and elevators to mask loading times.
Presentation and Cinematic Techniques
Another benefit of the consoles’ SSDs is in how cutscenes are presented. Take the single-take presentation of God of War, which had to employ several different techniques to create the illusion of one continuous take for a scene. By seamlessly loading and unloading assets, such scenes become easier to create from a developer perspective. In essence, it also allows for experimenting more with camera cuts and changes instead of the same approaches that we usually see in games. Of course, being able to more seamlessly go from cutscenes to gameplay with no downtime will also become more common.
Plenty has already been said about the DualSense and how its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers enhance immersion. But it bears repeating – having such nuanced vibration for different effects, having to hold the trigger down fully for alternate fire modes and so on is incredibly beneficial. Even the Xbox Series X controller is worth noting due to its low latency which, combined with 120 FPS support, makes competitive gaming that much more enjoyable while also ensuring better responsiveness in platformers, fighting games and whatnot. Expect future titles to lean more into these aspects, increasing one’s immersion rather than reminding them of the controller in hand.
Lady Dimitrescu is a charismatic and opposing villain but when her AI is unable to decide how to pursue Ethan when he’s on the other side of a table, the immersion breaks a bit. Part of this could be blamed on the lack of interactivity in some of Resident Evil Village’s environmental objects. But there are other instances of Dimitrescu not responding to the player’s actions simply because there are no triggers in certain scenes (like when walking up the stairs and just ducking out of sight).
Don’t even get us started on other games with their AI companions who can’t complete objectives correctly or sit and watch you die. Doing away with set patterns and triggers while leaning more into facets like machine learning for both enemy and friendly AI will become more important as this generation progresses. It will also become essential when programming NPC behaviors to make a world feel more alive.
Another area where AI is making great strides is in quality assurance. Developers like Larian Studios and Mossmouth used AI testers for Baldur’s Gate 3 and Spelunky 2 respectively to run the various complexities of their games. Instead of having human testers constantly playing a build until it’s in a stable state, the AI tester is put forth and manages several different checks, locating crashes and whatnot in less time.
For instance, the so-called World Tester in Baldur’s Gate 3 is capable of managing multiple builds, going through tons of dialogue quickly and even utilizing the UI with all of the data being tracked for the developer’s. When the game is in a fairly stable state, then the human QA team can get involved and sniff out the more nuanced issues. It’s not a replacement for humans just yet but as AI testers become more capable, they’re able to massively cut down on the tediousness and time required for QA on complex games.
Amid all of the shiny new graphical features like ray tracing, 4K and 120 FPS gameplay that are becoming more mainstream due to the PS5 and Xbox Series X, 3D audio is also gaining a following. It enhances one’s immersion and connection to the game world by offering both a wider variety of sounds and more layered sounds. As time goes on, the way that sound is implemented into a game, from audio cues to environmental ambience, will change, adding to its richness all the more even when the envelope has been fully pushed on graphics.
Cross-platform play is perhaps one of the more surprising new features taking over the industry in recent times. There have been numerous hurdles along the way though, especially when it comes to all of the different skill levels and input devices in play. Some titles have taken the initiative by having input-based matchmaking – if you’re using a mouse and keyboard in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, then you’ll be matched with similar kinds of users. Then there are titles like Rainbow Six Siege which will allow PC, Stadia and Amazon Luna players to match together but not with console players.
The sheer number of factors involved, like competitive matchmaking, how controller aim assist is factored, matchmaking times for those who opt out, network stability, anti-cheat, royalties to different platform holders and of course, parity across previous and current-gen platforms, is definitely overwhelming. While there will come a point where every multiplayer title has cross-platform play, there’s no denying that the struggles have only just begun.
As more people start playing games, the need for different accessibility options has begun to rise, whether it’s on the competitive level or in single-player games. Having basic functions like holding down a button instead of tapping it continuously, disabling or reducing screenshake, colorblind options, subtitles for sounds and actions, difficulty options, controller remapping and much more are becoming essential. On top of allowing those who have disabilities to play, it’s also nice to have certain options like auto-aiming, character outlines, and so on.
We’re already seeing strides in this department with the PS5 providing button remapping on a system level and games like Halo Infinite letting players assign different colors to enemies, objectives and so on in multiplayer.