Chris Grannell spent almost 14 years at PlayStation’s European arm, working as a senior designer for Formula One and WipEout titles at the now-defunct Studio Liverpool. He also spent a period working at Guerrilla Games, before going freelance and most recently founding a technology company.
Grannell attracted some attention on social media last month when he tweeted to say that a few of his development sources had told him the power difference between the next-gen consoles was “quite staggering”.
His comments followed a PS5 hardware reveal presentation in which the next-gen console’s on-paper specs were revealed to be slightly below Xbox Series X’s in terms of both CPU and GPU power (although the numbers reportedly don’t tell the full story).
Elaborating on his comments in a new RDX podcast, Grannell said: “PS5 is not a bad console, it’s an absolute beast of a piece of hardware, but it’s just a piece of hardware which is slower on numerous kind of paths than what Microsoft has put together”.
The PlayStation veteran claimed that the consensus among the developers he had spoken to about the next-gen consoles was that “the machine that Microsoft has put together is a beast compared to what Sony has put together.”
He added: “I think Sony has kind of rested on their laurels a little bit. They’ve got this massive market share and lead and they’ve done a kind of PS3 is what I’ve been hearing. It’s not that bad in terms of hardware and complications and things like that, but just a little bit of they didn’t really kind of appreciate what Xbox were going to try and do in terms of this power narrative.”
Microsoft has been positioning Xbox Series X as the “most powerful” games console for a number of months – in January the company moved to secure its official marketing slogan: “power your dreams.”
Xbox Series X will feature an eight-core CPU with 16 threads, allowing for speeds of up to 3.8ghz when hyper-threading is disabled. It will also include a GPU capable of 12 teraflops of compute performance.
In comparison, PS5’s CPU is said to be capable of speeds of up to 3.5ghz and a GPU that can push compute performances of 10.28 teraflops.
However, these on-paper numbers do not tell the full story, as PS5 utilises variable frequencies – referred to as ‘boost’ – which theoretically allow the console to hit GPU frequencies far higher than expected, with more compute power able to be extracted.
Asked if Sony would have been surprised by the Xbox Series X specifications announced a few days before the PS5 reveal in March, Grannell said: “There’s no question that they got caught off guard. There’s no question that Microsoft have been working a little bit closer with AMD on some of the technologies that they’re working on.
“I’m sure that’s going to cause a stir with a lot of people out there for me saying that, but there was confidence from Microsoft and Xbox in what they’ve put together, you only had to see that with Phil [Spencer] when he started talking about the PS5 reveal and they kind of knew that they’d made the right choices.”
Grannell added that one of the most noticeable differences he had heard from those working on next-gen games involved real-time ray-tracing.
“If you look at the throughput and ray tracing capability [of Xbox Series X] then you start to… understand why developers would be saying it’s kind of staggering,” he said. “So you’ve got the maths, then you start looking at the real-time ray-tracing capability… that’s where Sony has been caught off guard.”
The PS5’s high-bandwidth SSD has been highlighted as one of its most important features, with a raw throughput of more than double that of Xbox Series X’s drive.
The raw speed of PS5’s SSD could have significant repercussions not only for game load times but could also fundamentally change how developers build their game worlds. According to architect Mark Cerny, PS5 games will no longer need to implement cinematics or lengthy corridors purely to hide asset loads, as is often the case in many modern open-world titles.
Another advantage for PlayStation is its unique DualSense controller, which includes innovative features such as haptic feedback and ‘adaptive’ triggers. In comparison, Xbox Series X’s controller looks similar to its predecessor – and Xbox One pads will even be usable on the new console.
Former Sony employee Grannell said he was confident that PlayStation would also deliver a strong first-party PS5 line-up.
“It’s going to be the first party studios that are going to shine and it always is the first party studios that shine until the third parties start to really get their head around things.”
He added: “You’re still going to see absolutely incredible work from Guerrilla Games, you’re going to see incredible work from Insomniac – the usual suspects.”
He went on to suggest that early first-party PS5 games would make strong use of PS5’s compression architecture, Kraken, a technology designed for games to stream more visual data into game worlds.
“You’re going to see Sony’s first-party games utilising Kraken a little bit better and quicker [due to] having access to those kind of tech departments and things at Sony, similar to what we were doing with [PS3’s] Cell,” he said.
“So there is going to be a benefit for those kind of first-party studios but it’s not as plain sailing as it could be in terms of what I’m hearing and there’s a whole reason why they’ve been a bit quiet [and] we’re not seeing finalised hardware and things like that.”
PS5 and Xbox Series X are both scheduled to launch during the 2020 holiday season.