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Game Developer Claims One-Second Load Times Are Coming

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With the arrival of the DirectStorage API for Windows, game developers have started talking about what it could mean for future games. The technology is currently used on the Xbox Series X and is part of the console’s Velocity architecture. It enables faster loading and unpacking of game resources, fast resuming of paused games, and eliminates various I/O bottlenecks. Since game developers need to implement it in future games, it will be some time before we can experience it. However, Forspoken is a game currently in development that uses it, and it will arrive in October. At the Game Developers Conference this week, the game’s technical director, Teppei Ono, share some of its possible benefits.

According to Forspoken’s Ono, one-second load times are within the realm of possibility. The bad news is that they couldn’t show it in-game. Plus, there’s also a big caveat: those speeds are only possible if you have an M.2 NVME SSD capable of speeds of 5 GB/s transfer (and a Windows 11 PC). This level of performance is exclusively in the realm of PCI4.0 SSDs at the moment. Therefore, much of the discussion was speculative. The edge documented Ono’s GDC presentation, which showed a variety of game loading comparisons. The presentation included comparisons between drives with and without DirectStorage, versus an HDD. As the numbers show, there currently doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the different configurations (below).

I/O gains versus in-game advantages. (Image: The Edge)

As you can see, the actual DirectStorage I/O numbers are impressive. Going from 2862MB/s without DirectStorage on an M2 drive to 4829MB/s is a big deal. But then look to the right, on the same discs, and the difference is 1.9 seconds versus 2.1 seconds. The other comparisons are even more disappointing, as they show almost no difference.

Comparisons of game load times. (Image: The edge)

One of them also showed footage from the game, which consisted of gameplay and cut scenes. Curiously, the numbers displayed were also disappointing. While a 1.9 second load time for an M.2 SSD with DirectStorage is decent, the same drive without it only took 2.4 seconds. This is hardly a convincing comparison. The same goes for going from an M.2 SSD to a SATA drive, which only adds 1.5 seconds to the total time. When we first reported Direct storage we noted that an M.2 NVME SSD has vastly superior I/O performance compared to SATA. Yet we don’t see those benefits in this pre-release footage.

Ono said that over time, more improvements will come. The problem seems to be that DirectStorage is currently designed to eliminate SSD I/O bottlenecks. However, there are other causes of slowdown that also need to be refined. CPU bottlenecks are still a thing and will remain an issue in the future. Also, he said, most games aren’t built with fast NVME SSDs in mind. As the gaming population continues to embrace faster PC storage and more next-gen consoles are sold, that’s going to change. Also, since Forspoken is the only title using the technology so far scheduled for release, it’s still very early days for DirectStorage.

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