If you've watched the stunning Unreal Engine 5 PlayStation 5 tech demo, you may have noticed a few seconds when the character shimmies through a tight crevice.
Gamers have come to understand these moments as loading tricks. That is, rather than present us with a boring loading screen to sit through, developers have us slowly squeeze through a tight area, the camera up-close at all times, as the next area is loaded into the action.
With all the talk of fancy next-gen visuals, technology and the promise of the end of the loading screen, some said this Unreal Engine 5 tech demo squeeze was evidence that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Can we talk about how funny it is that even next gen is continuing the "camera eats ass while you shimmy through a crevice" approach to load zones?— Megan Fox (@glassbottommeg) May 13, 2020
Just... give me a door and a loading screen. Please. Then you can make it more visually interesting than a buttcrack of loading. pic.twitter.com/hgeAruemDI
But this section of the demo is not a loading trick, Epic has insisted. Rather, it was a deliberate attempt to showcase the detail in the environment, the animation, audio and also had to do with "demo flow".
That's according to Jeff Farris, special projects technical director at Epic Games, who in a tweet said the developers had "a tiny worry" people would think it was necessary to hide loading.
According to Epic marketing chief Dana Cowley, the video originally had a callout from the developers to explain what was going on, but the line was cut.
The squeeze served several purposes for us (close-in detail, animation, audio, demo flow), but we did have a tiny worry that folks would think it was necessary to hide loading. It wasn’t. :) https://t.co/Ryp7FBGmEK— Jeff Farris (@Byooler) May 14, 2020
Both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X promise to significantly cut loading times. In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Xbox Series X development chief Jason Ronald said "you can never say the complete end of loading", but predicted great things as a result of the tech. Similarly, PS5 has an instant loading strategy, outlined by PS5 architect Mark Cerny in a recent article by Digital Foundry. Epic boss Tim Sweeney has said: "The world of loading screens is over. The days of geometry popping up as you're going through game environments are ended."
Will the next-generation of consoles end the "loading trick"? We'll have to wait to find out, but Digital Foundry chief Richard Leadbetter told me this morning "there really is no need for it", as the entire system memory can be filled in two seconds. Obviously "loading trick" sections won't be removed from current-generation or cross-generation games, as they are part of the design.
But, as Leadbetter says, "maybe you'll get Star Trek style 'turbo lifts' on next-gen". There's a great moment in the first JJ Abrams-directed Star Trek movie where in one shot the crew members enter the lift, then without a beat they immediately arrive where they're going and leave.
Now that's hardcore tech.