If you were worried about the size of the SSD in the Xbox Series S, then Microsoft have some mildly OK news for you: game installs should be about 30% smaller on the Series S than on Series X. That’s in addition to the space savings that can be found elsewhere through the shift from spinning disc drives to standardised SSDs across all next-gen consoles.
Xbox director of program management Jason Ronald was speaking to IGN about the Xbox Series S, discussing some of the decisions made in the lower-powered console’s design and how they’ll impact consumers and game developers.
Of particular note is the 512GB SSD, which will quickly be filled by games, and the 8GB of fast RAM from the pool of 10GB. Consumers have worried that 512GB will be too small, and developers have expressed concern about the amount and speed of the RAM. However, According to Ronald, these have both been able to shrink in tandem thanks to the lower performance target.
“With a performance target of 1440p at 60fps,” he says, “our expectation is that developers will not ship their highest level mipmaps to Xbox Series S, which will reduce the size of the games. Ultimately the controls in the developer’s hands. We’ve had this technology for a while that allows developers to intelligently choose which assets to install on which device they’re playing on. So the flexibility is in the developers’ hands to make sure the right assets are there.”
In other words, if the Series S can’t really make use of the higher detail textures designed for 4K, those simply won’t be included. It’s the same story on Xbox One, with Xbox One X enhanced games being larger than base console through having larger textures in particular. Textures also make up the majority of RAM usage, so the Xbox Series S can have less RAM, and not as much memory bandwidth is needed to get the best out of the smaller 4TB GPU.
Through it all, developers still have the sheer speed of the SSD and hardware asset decompression, as well as the more powerful CPU, 3D audio engine and other advantages of the next generation. They also have the flexibility to do with this what they want:
“The way that we designed the developer environment was that a developer would ideally target 4K at 60 fps, up to a 120 fps on Xbox Series X, and then they could easily scale down to the Xbox Series S by reducing the rendering resolution to 1440p,” Ronald said. “But they’re not locked into that. So the developer can choose to use the power of the Xbox Series S in the way that they see fit. So in some cases they may choose to render at, say, 1080p, and then use the extra GPU headroom for things like better anti-aliasing or better graphical effects. On the other hand, the developer may choose to go after something like 120 fps, if that’s right for the title, and that might result in resolution tradeoffs.”
Speaking of which, one of the key graphical effects of the next generation will be ray tracing, but this will be optional, and seemingly could diverge between the two consoles in order to preserve the core gaming experience.
“In some cases with a lower resolution, they’ll be able to deliver the same ray tracing experience they have on Series X,” Ronald said, “and other cases, they may choose to disable that in order to turn on other effects that improve the overall experience.”
All of that said, I’m sure that many developers were looking at the next generation as a time where they could feel liberated by the sheer power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, exploring ray tracing, much larger worlds and more without worrying about lower powered hardware. Now, as much as Microsoft say otherwise, they will have to consider the Series S in their game designs, even if their first step will be to reduce the game resolution, lower asset detail and see how performance holds up. That will be fascinating to see unfold as we shift out of the cross-generational period in a couple years time.