Bethesda Softworks has announced a software platform that’s supposed to dramatically improve cloud gaming performance. The system, called Orion, could be added to a wide variety of games across different game streaming services. Bethesda promises that it will give players a higher-quality experience that’s accessible on slower internet speeds, and it’s opening a limited beta test later this year.
Bethesda announced the news at the 2019 E3 show in Los Angeles, where cloud gaming hype is intense. Among other services, Google recently revealed the pricing and release date for its Stadia game streaming system, and Microsoft announced details about its xCloud platform earlier today.
Orion is supposed to complement, not compete with, these kinds of services. “This can be put into any game engine, it can be used with any streaming platform to provide a better experience for any consumer playing that game on that platform and to deliver it at a lower cost for whoever’s serving the data,” promises Bethesda director of publishing James Altman. Essentially, it works by delegating some processing tasks to the game engine locally, rather than performing them as they’re transmitted to the player over the internet.
Bethesda says that turning on just one of several Orion features cuts the bandwidth that’s required for a high-quality streaming experience by 40 percent. It also supposedly reduces the time it takes to encode a frame of video (which is then streamed to the player) by 30 percent and trims the compute work that’s required by 20 percent. The company didn’t say how much turning on all Orion features would improve a stream, although Altman says that various kinds of games will benefit more from different features.
Theoretically, Orion mitigates some of the biggest problems facing cloud gaming. It could lower the minimum internet speed for a platform like Stadia, which currently suggests a 25Mbps connection for 1080p gaming. (It has a minimum bandwidth requirement of 10Mbps and a recommended maximum of 35 Mbps for 4K gaming.) It could make your physical distance from a server less important, so services could run fewer data centers; that’s good news for companies that don’t have the massive resources of Google or Sony. And since we don’t know how well most of these services perform yet, anything that cuts latency and improves image quality could turn a mediocre experience into a good one.
Streaming platforms will need to enable Orion, but Altman says it won’t be an onerous process; developers will be primarily responsible for integrating it into their games. He wouldn’t confirm whether any specific companies were on board, but he suggested that Bethesda was in talks with studios and platforms. Bethesda already committed to bringing its titles to streaming services, including the upcoming Doom Eternal, which will run on Stadia. However, Altman said that Orion wasn’t turned on during our brief glimpse at that game in March.
The Orion test later this year is being run independently, not in conjunction with any existing streaming service. Users will be able to run the 2016 game Doom at 60 frames per second in 4K resolution; they can sign up starting tonight by registering for Bethesda’s Doom Slayers Club.
Update June 10th, 11:00AM: Added minimum and maximum recommended speeds for Stadia.