The first phase of the Death Stranding embargo has passed, reviews are out and we have some measure of the game, but the announcement of a PC version coming in the summer of 2020 has left us somewhat baffled. For starters, there’s the timing – the news was announced prior to the release of the PlayStation 4 game, which makes little sense. Then there’s the fact that 505 Games will be publishing, while the extent of its participation in the project remains unknown. But dwarfing that is the fact that Death Stranding is effectively a collaboration between Kojima Productions and Guerrilla Games – meaning that around 70 first-party Sony staff are contributing to a PC release, one way or another.
Not only that, but the basic existence of a PC port means that Guerrilla’s Decima Engine is breaking free from the bounds of PlayStation hardware, which may present some challenges bearing in mind how closely wedded its architectural make-up is to PlayStation hardware. A specific case in point concerns the 30 frames per second frame-rate. There’s a reason why Guerrilla never released an unlocked frame-rate mode for Horizon Zero Dawn on PlayStation 4 Pro: fundamentally, the engine is designed to operate at 30Hz – CPU resources in particular are designed to offer as smooth a 30fps experience as possible, to the point where spare CPU cycles are allocated to predictive world streaming. It’s one of the reasons why a Decima open world doesn’t have the hitching and stutter many other games have, but it’s also a system that would likely need to be unpicked for a PC port.
Then there’s the whole question of how much efficiency may be lost in porting the graphics side of the project away from the PlayStation platform. Terrifically optimised shaders should remain optimal on any modern PC GPU, but Guerrilla’s code is designed to exploit the PS4 family of consoles specifically – and it’ll be fascinating to see the extent to which bespoke optimisation for, say, PS4’s asynchronous compute functions transfers across to PC. All of which makes us wonder which graphics API the port will use. Historically, Guerrilla has run a PC version of its engine for internal use only under OpenGL – but Vulkan would be the more logical choice, and certainly a closer match to PS4 development than DirectX 12.