xbox1/ps4 - any basic level loading improvements?

Discussion in 'Console Technology' started by slapnutz, Jul 14, 2013.

  1. slapnutz

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    With the bump in nexgen comes more data to load per level. Be it larger levels with more objects or higher res maps and more layers of maps (i.e. diffuse, spec, reflect, bump, normal, displace, tessellation...etc...etc..)

    What I'm curious about is how the new consoles will approach these challenges and keep the load times at least the same as the 360/ps4?

    Arent they both still using 2.5" HDD running via sata? Has any new tech been mentioned?

    Just thought I ask this as I went back to playing Foza 4 on 360 found it slightly annoying sitting there before each race for the level to load. Obviously multiply this by "X" for e.g. Forza 5 on Xbox1 and I get slightly concerned that one area that might not appear so "nexgen" will be the load times we face ahead?

    We know PS3 does a decent job with a SSD but will this be enough for the PS4/XB1?

    Just wanted to know if anyone can shed any light?
     
  2. Silent_Buddha

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    In general I expect level load times to increase for both machines. The speed of the internet HDD should be significantly faster than X360/PS3 but at the same time it'll still be just a fraction of the increase that we have in terms of memory and hence assets available for any given level for increasing visual fidelity.

    With that much memory however, you can always use some chunk of it to aggressively pre-load the next level, that doesn't help with initial level loading, however.

    How much longer you'll have to wait will depend a lot of how a developer tackles the problem.

    One relatively easy way (but hugely annoying to a PC player) is to only save at checkpoints. Checkpoints which are very light on level assets. That would allow you to load a person into the checkpoint quickly. You then have some distance the player has to travel before you need all assets for that level which would give you time to load more assets in the background.

    Streaming is an option as well. But if you try to stream too much from HDD, then you'll have incredibly bad asset pop-in. For comparison, even streaming PC games, hosted on a fast SSD feature (IMO) horrible pop-in (Borderlands 2, is a great example). And we're talking about potentially 3x or more data compared to current PC games (limited by 2 GB VA limit of 32 bit games).

    If you want to allow a player to save anywhere, or want the player to load into an area that shows a lot of asset variety, you could easily be looking at level load times well in excess of 30 seconds (potentially a minute or more).

    One benefit that consoles have versus PCs however, is that there is no need for either runtime compiling of shaders or one time shader compilation and caching as the developers have a fixed rendering target for each platform (no need to worry about GPU vendor or generation) which will help with load times compared to PCs.

    Something else to consider is that neither machine is likely to have an advantage when loading assets into memory unless one or the other goes with either a hybrid HDD or HDD combined with flash caching.

    Regards,
    SB
     
  3. sebbbi

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    During the last 10 years, HDD capacity has improved a lot and prices have dropped quite a bit (especially for the larger drives). However HDD speed hasn't noticeably improved. Fast 10K/15K RPM HDDs were quite common last decade, but have now pretty much disappeared, and been superseded by much faster SSD drives.

    This is of course a problem for future games, if the developer intends to load several times more data compared to a game that was designed for 512 MB memory footprint, and their old games already had long loading times. All current PC games are also (without counting a few exceptions) designed for quite small 2 GB memory footprint, because an application running in 32 bit Windows OS cannot utilize more than 2 GB of memory (both Windows 7 and 8 OS still have a 32 bit version). This has been fine so far, because most PC games have been console ports (originally targeting 512 MB RAM). Desktop PCs tend to have slightly faster HDDs compared to current generation consoles, and this keeps the loading times acceptable even if the assets are slightly improved from the console game counterpart.

    I personally consider HDD as a part of the memory hierarchy. Other parts of the memory hierarchy, CPU caches and RAM have improved dramatically in the last 10 years. Cache bandwidths have improved more than the RAM bandwidth, and manufacturers have added more cache levels to compensate (large L3 in K10/BD/Nehalem+ and huge 128 MB L4 in the new Haswells) . Unfortunately the HDD speed hasn't improved at all, and there's no new memory hierarchy level introduced between the RAM and the HDD. PC hardware manufacturers have introduced some proprietary SSD caching setups, but these are not yet widely used, and the SSD drives used are too small (8 GB in Seagate and Toshiba hybrid drives). Many PCs have more than 8 GB of RAM, so the SSD cache drive cannot serve as a true memory hierarchy step (it would need to be at least 64 GB for a 8 GB memory + 2 TB HDD setup). Personally I have always solved this issue by installing only SSD drives to my computers (and we have SSD drives on our office workstations as well). However this is not a solution that a game developer can expect all customers to have. Many PCs still do not have SSD drives.

    It's interesting to see how developers are solving this issue. Data streaming during gameplay is likely more important than ever to prevent long loading screens. Today's people have been used to fast flash based memory devices and instant loading times. Ultrabooks have SSDs by default, Macbooks (Pro and Air) have SSDs by default, iPads/iPods, tablets and mobile phones all have fast flash based memories as well (no slow HDDs at all). No application or game has 20+ second loading screens on these devices. The next gen console game and next gen PC game experience will be compared to these devices. I doubt many players would tolerate 2x longer loading screens, as the current ones are already borderline annoying.
     
  4. dagamer

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    @sebbbi

    I wouldn't say iOS games are particularly ambitious in what they try to do. If a game takes any time to load on a mobile platform, people stop playing it and a developer loses out on potential revenue from micro transactions. They would rather limit the scope of their game if it means its easily playable in a 5 minute time span. And the flash in those devices is pretty bleh as well.
     
  5. Shifty Geezer

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    Yep. Typical games sizes on touch devices are tens of megabytes, hundreds at a push.
     
  6. aaaaa00

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    Having worked on tablet and mobile platforms for a while now, I can honestly say people vastly overestimate the I/O performance on these platforms (and their performance in general -- CPU, memory, GPU).

    They may be flash based, but high performance they are not. PC SSDs are easily an order of magnitude faster (10x), and compared with many of the cheaper eMMC storage parts, are two orders of magnitude faster (100x).

    I have personally seen an eMMC part intended for a cheaper phone device delivering IOPS four orders of magnitude (1000x) worse than the current state of the art in PC SSDs. It was a really bad part. :)

    The reason people don't see loading times nearly as bad: the developers and platform targeting these devices are aware how badly they suck, so they make the effort to scale down their assets and requirements to match.
     
  7. Arwin

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    I think the fastest memory in an iOS device is about 27MB/s? The Vita has even only 4-8MB/s, depending on what size of memorycard you have or how new the game cart is. Most mobile applications and games are just fairly small.

    The HDD in the PS3 didn't perform that well I think either, due to the filestore being encrypted - I think this was a major bottleneck on the system. I doubt the PS3's HDD performed much better than 10MB/s. I think there's potential to bump this to 50-70MB/s, but we'll have to wait and see. At least in the PS4 we'll be able to upgrade to an SSD just like the PS3, and hopefully the OS/encryption will be less of a bottleneck this time so you get the speed increase you would normally expect from such an upgrade, which you definitely didn't on the PS3.
     
  8. Malo

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    Space requirements will be much larger for the PS4 games though which means even a 256Gb SSD will struggle for space after awhile. Only those with money to burn will be throwing in a 512Gb and $400 extra on a console for loading speed.
     
  9. Lalaland

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    This +1

    eMMC is not your Daddy's SSD, it's more equivalent to the cheap end of the SD card market. I've worked on several devices with a speed of <5MB/s and they have to run Windows 8 too! This is not an experience that delivers speed running legacy stuff, I had hoped Silvermont would correct this on the x86 side but it's looking more and more likely it'll be an eMMC solution too. It really hurts Windows too far more than the lighter, leaner phone O/S which is why I believe Intel is putting all those miles into porting Android. If MS won't deliver a competitive stack for the entry market Intel will
     
  10. aaaaa00

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    Actually, again speaking from personal experience, there is nothing really wrong with the Windows kernel, power management, and I/O systems. I'm pretty confident the Windows kernel can equal or outperform Android on the same hardware (as of Windows 8 / Windows Phone 8).

    Windows Phone 8 actually uses the same ARM kernel binaries (kernel, drivers, filesystems) as Windows 8/RT. Not recompiled, they're actually the exact same binaries.

    Look at the low-end WP8s (Lumia 520, 620, etc), they run well despite their low performance SoC, eMMC and cheap price points, and generally no one complains about bad OS performance on them, nor do they complain about battery life relative to other smartphones.

    WP8 works perfectly well on some of these slow eMMC storage devices, and slow CPUs/GPUs.

    The main problem with Windows 8 performance on low end devices is the user mode -- there's a lot of compromises that have to be made to keep Win32 apps happy, and Vista (when DWM/Aero were introduced) made a lot of decisions to bias the UI for higher performance GPUs rather than resource efficiency.
     
    #10 aaaaa00, Jul 15, 2013
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 15, 2013
  11. Silent_Buddha

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    The increased linear read speed is going to be helpful, of course, but the random seeks won't improve much (higher track density of newer drives will increase linear read speed, but not impact random seeks in any significant way) meaning reading random data won't increase to the same extent as linear read speed.

    And unless you have a significant number of duplicated art assets, random reads are inevitable for a game.

    The vastly increased memory space is going to have the potential for much more detail within a level, but it'll be interesting to see how developer's cope with balancing that along with level load/streaming times.

    Do they go with something incredibly detailed but takes a long time to load (30-60+ seconds), heavy streaming pop-in, or some compromise with lower detail but faster loading/streaming .

    Regards,
    SB
     
  12. sebbbi

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    Yes, if we only consider Angry Birds and other simple games. But games that have 3d graphics and high quality UIs designed for 2048x1536 iPad Retina display are usually much larger. RedLynx Draw Race 2 was over 300 MB in size (a big portion of that data is actually UI graphics). High end games such as Rage, Modern Combat 3, Order and Chaos Online, Max Payne, etc are all over 1 GB in size.
    PC SSDs are of course much faster than eMMC, but HDD has much slower seek time than either of them (~10ms on average 5,400 laptop drives), and seek time is the most important thing for data streaming (random access based on player actions). For example if you are using virtual texturing (and are loading 32 KB pages from random accesses) HDD seeking takes considerably longer than actually transferring the data. Of course a good virtual texture system is designed to reduce seek time problems (by data layout analysis, request address sorting & combining & prediction). If you have extra HDD bandwidth and RAM to spare, you can prefetch more aggressively and hide some latency, but nothing beats good seek time in simplicity (less development time), memory usage and quality (popping is guaranteed to be minimal).

    For example if you install our latest Xbox 360 game Trials Evolution to a slow and cheap USB stick instead of the Xbox 360 HDD, there will be zero texture (and object) popping.
     
  13. Shifty Geezer

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    I did say typical. ;) And when you get into those larger games, are they really without load loading times? I just Googled this and the load times seem very comparable to console titles. Multiple seconds to get to the menu, and >10 seconds to load the level when the game starts proper. So I'm not sure your evaluation of load times is accurate. On the whole, because the majority of games are small, load times are short. Where the games get larger, so do the load times, unless there's evidence to the contrary that I'm unaware of. Certainly tablets aren't instantaneous unlike games on carts all those years ago, and I'm not seeing a massive difference between them and HDD loaded games. The game Dungelot on my Android tablet takes some seconds to load (when not resident in the background), and it's only 25 MBs.
     
  14. Arwin

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    Still small compared to even previous gen, let alone next-gen.
     
  15. Sigfried1977

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    Well, despite often sporting vastly superior assets, multi-platform games on my PC (basic I5 quadcore, 4GB DDR3, GTX 570 and a bog standard 7200 RPM hard disc) load a great deal faster than their respective console versions, so I'm not really all that worried.
     
  16. sebbbi

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    Yes, I fully agree that some tablet games are not instantaneous in loading (not comparable to 8 bit NES/Famicom). However in general even the bigger games have faster loading times compared to console games, and you can swap between multiple games and internet browser instantly. As the games are often already loaded in the background, you do not always have to load them (loading feels instantaneous). Being smaller in size of course helps (7 GB games installed from DVD are obviously larger than 1 GB tablet games).
    Why optimize the loading time if nobody complains about it? Our testing shows that everything under 5 seconds is generally OK for the player. In smaller teams (Android & iOS development) you do not have that much time allocated to optimize loading times. However in console development loading time optimization is a big task and teams spend lots of resources to make the game experience as smooth as possible. HDD and disc are quite fast in transferring data if you make you make your data sets linear (no seeking required), but this requires lots of extra work, and duplication of assets. It's a trade off between disc space and loading time (and development time). Flash based solutions make things easier (save time, space and money).

    However if you want to stream data during game play, flash based (low latency) memory devices are highly preferable to HDD. Streaming was very important in current generation AAA console titles, and it will be even more important in future, as data sets grow. You just cannot increase your loading screen duration without degrading the game experience.
     
  17. Silent_Buddha

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    Yes, a 7200 RPM 3.5" drive brings an increase not only in linear read speed but random read speed as well (shorter time required for a random seek, although 2.5" versus 3.5" mitigates that somewhat).

    All well and good. But if PC is to maintain parity with consoles in the next generation coming up, you're going to potentially be increasing your data on load by 200% or more depending on whether a developer requires more system memory than console in order to maintain that parity in features/detail. That is, of course, if the developer bothers to offer a 64 bit executable of the ported game (hopefully they do or next gen games will look far worse on PC than console).

    That's going to potentially affect everything from streaming to level load times.

    For myself, I absolutely do not mind increased load times even if they were 500% longer than currently if it means we'll finally have some real advances in texture quality, texture variety, asset quality, asset variety, etc. in games. Then again, a lot of that will also come down to whether developers have the time to offer greater variety, or if it'll be simpler just to increase detail while variety offered remains virtually unchanged.

    Regards,
    SB
     
  18. hesido

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    Maybe mini-games during initial loading will be back! Even Rayman Origins on vita does a real nice job of hiding loading by displaying your character running on a silhouette background, not necessarily a mini-game but while you control your character, you forget the game is even loading.
     
    #18 hesido, Jul 16, 2013
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2013
  19. Lalaland

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    This. I have always believed that Texture Detail > Geometry Detail for making a game look good. To this day I will fight you if you try and claim that Quake 1 looked better than Dark Forces 2 (please Disney I will make you a money hat of my pension, make more Dark Forces games).
     
  20. Silent_Buddha

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    I wouldn't go that far. As much as I'm dying for greater texture detail and variety, geometry is just as important. Looking as well tessellated scene geometry has me dying for that as well, only a very few games have bothered to use it which makes all other games look incredibly dated and bland to me.

    Regards,
    SB
     
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