DF Weekly: why Ratchet and Clank is crucially important for the future of PC gaming


HomeHome / Blog / DF Weekly: why Ratchet and Clank is crucially important for the future of PC gaming

Dec 24, 2023

DF Weekly: why Ratchet and Clank is crucially important for the future of PC gaming

How can a game based on proprietary PS5 tech work across a range of PC hardware?

How can a game based on proprietary PS5 tech work across a range of PC hardware?

On the face of it, last week wasn't exactly crammed with gigaton news announcements - and so we were expecting a fair light edition of DF Direct Weekly, but the announcement that Ratchet and Clank is coming to PC next month changed all of that. It may not be a game designed to appeal to the core PC audience, but how well the port turns out is crucial to the future of the PC format.

If that sounds somewhat hyperbolic, allow me to explain. The new consoles have much in common with PC: they are based on x86 processors, they use Radeon graphics and they have SSDs. These have been staple components of a mainstream gaming PC for many years before the arrival of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X in 2020. However, Ratchet and Clank leans in heavily to proprietary PS5 components and their equivalents in the PC space have yet to be established nor have they been battle-tested in a triple-A release. Ratchet and Clank looks set to change that.

Let's spell out the challenge here. Insomniac's game is built from the ground up for PlayStation 5. With its rich visuals, ultra-fast loading and portal mechanic that literally zips you between dimensions within the blink of an eye, it's heavily reliant on two aspects of the PlayStation 5: its solid-state storage and its hardware decompression blocks. The SSD streams in data at lighting speeds, the decompression blocks take care of losslessly decompressing the data for the game to use.

On the PC side of things, legacy storage APIs are in desperate need of updating, while there are no hardware equivalents to the hardware compression blocks, meaning that developer Nixxes has to tap into new technologies to produce solutions that will scale across a range of PC hardware. It could go horribly wrong - and it did go horribly wrong with The Last of Us Part 1's PC port, which is far less reliant on the PS5's innovative hardware. So how can Ratchet and Clank work on PC - and across a range of PC hardware, no less?

There have been no official announcements on how Nixxes plans to make this port happen, but adopting Naughty Dog's 'solution' in The Last of Us Part 1 simply won't work. In that case, the decompression work carried out 'for free' on the PlayStation 5 hardware was instead sent to the CPU instead, resulting in an extremely heavy processor overhead that meant that the 60fps standard established in the PS5 version was off the table for equivalent PC components. The game streams in and decompresses data as you play, which can overwhelm less capable hardware and reduces performance on all CPUs. It's a solution that isn't ideal in that game and totally unfit for purpose for Ratchet and Clank.

From our perspective, the only logical way to make Ratchet happen on PC in an optimal state is to leverage Microsoft's DirectStorage API built for DirectX 12 Ultimate. This supports both CPU and GPU decompression and right now, we'd hope to see Nixxes use the GPU decompression side of the equation deployed in Ratchet and Clank. In essence, the job carried out by the hardware decompression blocks on the PS5 is taken over by the GPU in a PC, which should produce very similar results. Forspoken on PC showed some interesting results from DirectStorage, but that was actually using CPU-driven decompression to get the job done. If Nixxes is indeed using GPU-based decompression, that'll be a first in the triple-A PC space.

It'll also be essential, foundational work going forward because Sony's first-party studios are only going to push the hardware further and demand more from both the SSD and the decompression blocks. It's worth remembering that while Ratchet and Clank is a showcase for the PS5, our own experiments with an artificially slowed down PCIe drive in the console reveal that even with limited bandwidth, the game plays just as well. It's likely that it's the decompression hardware that's doing most of the heavy lifting. Translate that across to DirectStorage now and the work will be done in doing it again on the PC ports to come.

Assuming Nixxes is using GPU-accelerated DirectStorage in Ratchet and Clank, we are expecting to see a range of testing across a lot of different storage solutions - from SSDs to SD cards to the same 5400rpm laptop HDDs used in the PlayStation 4. But equally important will be to test with a range of graphics hardware too, because fundamentally there are two parts to the equation in making GPU-based DirectStorage as performant as the solutions found in both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles. Put simply, we can't wait to check this out and to see just how scalable it is: remember, Ratchet and Clank can't just work on console-equivalent PC hardware or better, it needs to work across a multitude of different PC components. Thankfully it is Nixxes on the job here and they do know a thing or two about scalability on PC hardware but suffice it to say - we cannot wait to check this one out.

The implications of this port dominate discussion in DF Direct Weekly #114, but there are other topics too - not least Nvidia's demo showing a player literally talking to an NPC, whose responses (and even matching facial expressions) are driven by AI. We spend some time discussing the implications, whether this is even desirable and debate the pros and cons of literally talking to AI characters. Of course, I'd be starting with 'who is the best lord' (Alexa actually has the correct answer). We also share our own reactions to Jason Schreier's recent Redfall report and talk about the recent HDMI 2.1 capture card announcements - which, alas, don't allow for HDMI 2.1 capture, but do support passthrough features.

I've also included DF Direct Weekly #113 on this page as there was no accompanying article for it last week, owing to the public holiday in the UK. You get fewer ads watching on the Eurogamer in-house player, which is worth thinking about! Also worth thinking about is joining the DF Supporter Program, where every backer gets early access to every Direct in both video and podcast form, along with the ability to submit topics and questions and to help shape the show. You'll also be helping us to produce 'content' like John's excellent System Shock remake video, which simply wouldn't happen without your help, certainly not to the same degree of quality. Join us!.