Genshin Impact is a free-to-play, open-world action RPG that transports players to the stunning realm of Teyvat. Players take on the role of the mysterious “Traveler,” who sets off on a journey to discover the fate of their lost sibling. The secrets of Teyvat are then gradually revealed along the way.
Visit the PlayStation store to learn more about Genshin Impact and add it to your library, or read on for our full interview with the game’s technical director, Zhenzhong Yi.
How did you scale up Genshin Impact for PS5? We’d love to hear about this process.
In terms of content production, the PS4 and PS5 versions are virtually the same. The first step was to fully develop a framework for the PS5, and, by extension, build a brand-new graphics library. On top of that, there were some content enhancements such as the level of detail (LOD) and mapping to consider.
Extensive details are required to fill a world of this magnitude on PS5, so we fine-tuned our usage of LOD groups, which resulted in more draw calls and triangles. We knew that we were going to feel pressure on CPU and GPU, and worked to mitigate this through our LOD strategy to strike a balance. Besides LOD, we increased the resolution of various texture maps for all scenes, characters, and special effects part of the native PS5 version. These improvements made the image quality appear more real and refined. While all these modifications can be rather taxing on GPU, we’ll always optimize the game to bring our players the best possible experience.
In addition, Sony made some major improvements to PlayStation Network for PS5. We carefully prepared for this change, integrated the latest PS5 plug-ins from Unity, and enhanced Genshin Impact’s interactive feature to boost the overall playing experience on PSN.
What were some of the unique challenges that you faced while bringing Genshin Impact to this next-gen console?
One persistent challenge while transitioning the game from PS4 to PS5 centers on our interpretation of the new hardware to maximize its performance. We have a long-term plan for optimizations that will allow us to get the most out of this new hardware; it’s very much an ongoing effort.
We were also more rigorous than ever when it came to stability and completion testing. The goal remains to give our players a playable game, free of any bugs that could get in the way of their experience.
You had done a lot of work to customize the rendering pipeline in Unity for the PS4 version. In what ways did you further customize it for the PS5?
While the built-in rendering pipeline on the PS4 still provides high-quality graphics for the most part, we wanted to take advantage of the stronger hardware performance on the PS5. We’ll continue to improve the entire rendering pipeline to bring better graphics to the game. The PS5 version that we’re launching is just the beginning. Genshin Impact is here to stay, so there will definitely be more new features and versions released after this one.
Did your upscaled graphics library plug into the work you had already done for the PS4 version of the game? How did you manage the workload?
It’s no secret that we were using a version of Unity for our game, but I wrote the graphics library and customized our file-loading system from scratch. Since we developed the entire game in-house, we took on a massive workload and raced against a pressing timeline. But it was precisely because we wrote the whole thing ourselves that we had so much freedom with the details and control over our own codes.
In addition to supporting different graphic features of the game, we were expected to perform several functions that otherwise would’ve been taken care of by the driven layer on PC. On PS5, however, everything must be performed manually. You might collect all sorts of data to draw something, for example, but when you feed that data to the PS5’s hardware, it can alter certain calculations or statuses directly. In other words, an error in the data could make the PS5 crash immediately.
Developing a PS5 graphics library requires a certain level of expertise and deep knowledge of the hardware. I spent almost two months on my first version before moving on to debugging with my team. It all came down to the graphics library; of course, there’s no graphics without the library. All modules depend on it for validation. That’s why the workload for the graphics library development is so much heavier than it is for other modules.
The PS5 has an SSD instead of an HDD. Can you tell us a bit about the customized file-loading system you created to make the most of this upgrade?
PS5 hardware is packed with new, standout features, notably ray tracing and an extra-powerful SSD. With limited resources, we intended to provide a native PS5 Genshin Impact to our players as quickly as possible. Keeping this goal in mind, our thinking was that, even though ray tracing could render enhanced lighting effects, we wanted to make sure the enhancements provided by the technology would complement our game’s artistic style. For this reason, we were cautious when it came to any modifications to the light effects. We needed support from our artistic team to determine the best approach. This can be rather time-consuming for such a massive game with complicated scenes.
Ultimately, we knew that we could take advantage of the SSD performance enhancement and shorten the loading time for better gameplay if we turned our attention to a customized file-loading system – so that’s exactly what we did. We chose to develop a customized file-loading system for SSD. SSD hardware features are strong enough on their own, but when you couple them with a loading system, they show their full potential.
Why did you want to maximize this SSD feature?
Genshin Impact is an open-world game – and loading is always an issue with open-world games. This is because, unlike other game genres, they are not linear. So to provide a better experience for Genshin Impact players on PS5, we sought to shorten the loading time for the game using this SSD feature. As such, players could spend their time enjoying the game instead of waiting for it to load.
You can actually compare the loading time when running PS4’s Genshin Impact under compatible mode on PS5 with that of the original PS4 version. Even under the compatible mode, it still beats the PS4 native version by a mile. There is truly a stunning improvement in speed when looking at the percentage. Based on this figure, we decided that our time would be better spent on a customized file-loading system to augment the gaming experience for our players. This was the decision we made and it was worth it in the end.
How did you develop this feature?
The SSD on PS5 was fast, with an incredible read speed. Even more, the files waiting to be read were small (and we would never let SSD read a large chunk of files at once). We efficiently organized commands for reading SSD to allow the hardware to take full advantage of SSD features with faster loading.
With the files loading at a fast speed, we ensured that the CPU carefully processed those files into essential data for the duration of the game. This workload was lighter compared to the complete rewrite of the graphics library, but it was nonetheless a brand new hardware that required ample research and testing.
Why was it important for you to make Genshin Impact available on PS5?
Developing for the PS5 gave us an opportunity to experience the future trend of gaming technology up close. The console is becoming the main playground for a considerable number of gaming developers overseas. It is also situated at the center stage of a number of technological advancements. Preparing Genshin Impact for this next-gen console was certainly a huge boost for us in terms of upgrading our own technology for the future.
Following the initial release of Genshin Impact last year, we took care of some urgent issues and rapidly moved on to PS5 development. Our first step was building out the game’s architecture for PS5, including the graphics library and file-loading system, as a small team. Once we completed the architecture, more people joined us.
In fact, there are even more new features that we plan to unleash down the road, to realize the full potential of PS5’s hardware.
What are you most proud of in this version of the game?
Overall, our players are happy with the new version. Right now, my favorite thing to do is wander around the open world. I especially love Mondstadt and Liyue at night; the lighting effects are better then.
In addition, we recently released version 2.0, which includes Inazuma, an all-new massive area, along with a series of functions and optimizations like the haptic feedback support on PS5 and better character shading.
Haptic feedback is great for making players feel more connected, which enables us to keep adding new sensations to the game. It uses more intricate and advanced vibration patterns to convey information to our players, so we’ve been recreating an entire set of assets for vibration to support haptic feedback on PS5.
How do you choose which engine to use at the beginning of a project? What do you think of your collaboration with Unity?
At the beginning, we decided that Genshin Impact was going to be a cross-platform game. It was absolutely essential for us to keep that cross-platform direction in mind, so we planned ahead to avoid repetitive work. Thanks to all that planning, our in-game activities are now able to go live across all platforms at the same time.
Unity’s versatile engine is great for cross-platform development. It offers extensive multi-platform support, and is clear and concise in terms of flexibility on the application level, as well as its lower-layer architecture. This accelerated our development. Plus, Unity’s teams in China and the United States remained supportive of our endeavors. They would actively seek our feedback, and I personally benefited immensely from their insights into the future trends of gaming technology.
For our PS5 version, we had a limited window of development and were largely dependent on ourselves. In the long run, as Unity keeps on developing new technologies, we’re definitely open to learning from them. During my discussions with the US team, they mentioned that Unity added a number of new features in 2020, and plenty more in 2021. We definitely want to know more about that.
Are there any new Unity technologies that you’re particularly excited about?
Genshin Impact is a live-service, cross-platform game, so it’s important for us to work on an evolving engine with a knowledgeable partner like Unity. My whole team is passionate about learning new technologies. Unity’s development team introduced us to the software’s terrain system, along with some modifications to post-processing, and system improvements to asset management. These all sound great to us. Technological advancement is always positive.