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Sony’s Mark Cerny explains how ‘brutal’ developer meetings influenced the PS5’s design

PS5’s lead system architect breaks down Sony’s design process

Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

The PlayStation 5 started with a simple brainstorm. Or at least, that's how Mark Cerny, the console’s lead system architect, puts it.

In a new video from Wired, Cerny explains how Sony built the PS5 was built, and goes into detail on why each component was chosen and how they all help power the system. Beyond all the technical talk of graphics processing units (GPUs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and the computation behind real-time ray tracing, Cerny shines a light on the kinds of people who helped Sony prioritize what should (and shouldn’t) be included in the console.

Cerny begins by talking about his own four-decade career as a game developer on titles like Marble Madness and Crash Bandicoot, before shifting to a discussion of how Sony considered input from developers in designing the PS5’s hardware and software.

“It’s great to have worked with a lot of teams over the years, and understand a bit about what helps them and what just gets in their way,” Cerny says.

In its initial brainstorming session, Cerny’s team made a list of desired features for the PS5: all the features that didn’t make it into the PlayStation 4, plus a bunch of new ideas. In addition, there was a longer list of “all of the things that the game development community would like to see,” according to Cerny.

For example, one of the top requests was an NVMe SSD with a read speed of at least 1 GB per second; Cerny cites Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, among others, as saying that the slow hard drive technology in previous consoles was holding developers back. Sony decided to go for a much faster drive to give developers some headroom — the SSD in the final console is capable of reading raw data at 5.5 GB/s.

It’s a “pretty recent” phenomenon for hardware developers to bring software developers into the design process, according to Cerny. But he says he personally wanted to have conversations with developers because he has worked on games himself.

“I’m looking for the developers that give me the hardest time, and the ones who really have strong opinions about what it is that they need to make the game that they’ve been dreaming of,” Cerny says. “Those are just brutal meetings to be in, but they’re good to have, because at the end of the day, you’re making a stronger console.”

Much of the video is fairly technical as Cerny breaks down the PS5 hardware part by part, but it’s a fascinating look into how the console design team actually went about building the latest generation of PlayStation consoles and its DualSense controllers.

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