With the arrival of the DirectStorage API for Windows, game developers have begun talking about what it could mean for future games. The technology is currently in-use on the Xbox Series X and is part of the console’s Velocity Architecture. It allows for faster loading and decompression of game assets, quick resumption of paused games, and eliminates various I/O bottlenecks. Since game developers have to implement it in future games, it’ll be awhile before we can experience it. However, Forspoken is a game currently in development that uses it, and it will arrive in October. At the Game Developers Conference this week, the game’s Technical Director, Teppei Ono, shared some of its possible benefits.
According to Forspoken’s Ono, one second load times are within the realm of possibility. The bad news is they were unable to show that in-game. Also, there’s one big caveat too: those speeds are only possible if you have an M.2 NVME SSD capable of 5GB/s transfer speeds (and a Windows 11 PC). That level of performance is exclusively in the realm of PCI4.0 SSDs at this time. Therefore, a lot of the discussion was speculative. The Verge documented Ono’s GDC presentation, which showed a variety of game-loading comparisons. The presentation included comparisons between drives with and without DirectStorage, compared to a hard drive. As the numbers show, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference currently between various configurations (below).
As you can see, the actual DirectStorage I/O numbers are impressive. Going from 2,862MB/s without DirectStorage on an M2 drive to 4,829MB/s is a huge deal. But then look on the right, at the same drives, and the difference is 1.9 seconds compared to 2.1 seconds. The rest of the comparisons are even more disappointing, as they show almost no difference whatsoever.
One also showed some in-game footage, which consisted of gameplay and cut scenes. Oddly, the numbers shown were also underwhelming. Though a 1.9 second load time for an M.2 SSD with DirectStorage is fine, the same drive without it took just 2.4 seconds. That’s hardly a compelling comparison. The same goes for going from an M.2 SSD to a SATA drive, which just adds 1.5 seconds to the overall time. When we first reported on DirectStorage we noted an M.2 NVME SSD has vastly superior I/O performance compared to SATA. Yet, we’re not seeing those benefits in this pre-release footage.
Ono said over time, more improvements will be forthcoming. The issue seems to be DirectStorage is currently designed to eliminate SSD I/O bottlenecks. However, there are other causes of slowdowns that need refinement too. CPU bottlenecks are still a thing and will remain a problem in the future. Plus, he said, most games aren’t designed with fast NVME SSDs taken into consideration. As the gaming population continues to adopt faster storage on the PC, and as more next-gen consoles are sold, that will change. Plus, since Forspoken is the only title using the technology thus far that’s slated for release, it’s still very early days for DirectStorage.