‘Photorealism is a moving target.’
Although the Xbox One Scorpio and PS4 Pro may end up extending the span of this generation by a few years, the fact of the matter remains that a proper next generation PlayStation 5 (and, who knows, a next generation Xbox as well- in spite of Microsoft’s claims to the contrary) will end up coming eventually.
If it does- what can we expect from it? 10 TFLOPs GPUs? Full photorealism in graphics? That was the question we asked Jakub Mikyska of grip-digital, the developers of Mothergunship. His response? Photorealism is, in the end, a moving target- a potential PS5 may bring us closer to it than we ever have been before, but actually hitting it is no guarantee.
“Closer? Sure. We’re always moving closer,” he said. “People thought that we had “hit” photorealism with the 360 generation. And then again with the Xbox One generation. But “photorealism” is a moving target that rushes away from you as fast as you run toward it. We’re not even “there” with offline rendering yet in film. In games, we’re getting environments much closer, and a better GPU helps that tremendously (have a look at Quixel Megascans for some teasers of the future), and we’ve made great strides on faces too (particularly on subsurface skin shading and hair shaders), but now we’re going to start realizing just how limited our animation tools are, and how stiff and unrealistic those faces are..or how choppy our shadows look or how ghostly the screenspace-AO feels in motion. There’s always room for improvement.”
Certainly he is right- there was definitely a time when people thought returns on graphics had hit a plateau back with the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube- but as we all know, graphics have continued to greatly advance since nonetheless. What kind of jumps in visual fidelity are brought to the table by the hypothetical PS5 remains to be seen- but we can hope they will be as impressive as every new generation of graphics tech has been so far.