How to circumvent the memory bottleneck.
A trend has started to manifest in the last few generations of gaming- routinely, the first and most readily apparent bottleneck in game development, and especially console game development, is the amount of memory available. This was the case with the N64 and PlayStation, this was the case with the PS2 an Gamecube, this was the case with the Xbox 360 and especially the PS3- but one would have thought that, with 8GB of RAM each, the PS4 and Xbox One would be immune from memory bottlenecks for a while to come.
In a previous interview, Sampo Lappalainen, COO of Umbra Technologies, had been fairly critical about the memory in the new consoles. At this point, PC games are already surpassing 8-12GB as recommended requirements, so it would seem he was correct. So when we got the chance to sit down and talk with him again, we decided to ask him how consoles would deal with the memory bottlenecks that are already beginning to be apparent.
“Obviously more memory is be better, but in big picture it’s always more complicated than that,” he said. “Larger memories require faster memory bandwidths, otherwise it takes a long time to fill the memory. This problem can already be seen as somewhat lengthy load times and the problem would only be worse if the memories were simply made bigger. The vendors could also install more memory bandwidth, but this adds to the cost. How much more are the big masses willing to pay? Difficult questions.”
That said, Lappalainen did say that Umbra’s solution should help resolve a lot of these problems.
“Our new product will bring remedy to this problem. It will make it possible to stream in the least accurate version of the 3D scene into the memory first, display it immediately and then keep streaming in the more detailed version of the scene on the background. This almost entirely removes the need for load screens and makes hardware upgrades cheaper and less of a hassle too as you could simply plug-in more memory without upgrading the memory bandwidth.”
Whether or not Umbra’s technology holds the answer is something that remains to be seen- but at this point, I think it is rapidly becoming apparent that consoles are about to hit a wall with their capabilities, owing to the cap imposed on them by their memory pool. Somehow, having 16 times more memory than previous generation consoles wasn’t enough of an increase.
As always, I suppose we must hope that Sony and Microsoft are more prescient with how much memory they put into the successors for the PS4 and Xbox One.