The Last of Us developer talks up PS5 graphics for rendering hair (and hair gel)

The Last of Us
(Image credit: PlayStation)

The Xbox Series X and PS5 are still months away from commercial release – with the initial PS5 unveiling still yet to happen – but that isn’t stopping gamers, developers, and pundits alike from entirely losing their cool over the jump in power over today’s comparatively basic Xbox One and PS4 generation.

The next-gen Xbox and PlayStation consoles will boast twice the power of their closest predecessors – the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro – but many will be wondering what that power actually translates too on the ground. (What even are teraflops? We've been digging into that for you.)

In an interview with IGN, several game developers – including Bruce Stanley, ex-creative director at The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog – spoke about the practical graphical improvements available to them on next-gen consoles, and the kinds of environmental effects that their increased processing power made possible.

Straley talked up the ability of that increased GPU power for rendering “smoke, water, wind”, and especially making sure those elements have a realistic effect on character models: “It’s always been really difficult to make really good hair. And then hair responding to different environments – hair and water, hair and wind, hair and hair gel, are all reactions that can be processed.”

He also touched on the graphical limitations Naughty Dog came across when developing The Last of Us: “We had an ambient shadow system which we had to downrez [decrease the resolution of] significantly, and it sure would be great if we could do that at a higher resolution and get more fidelity in it. Something like this makes that more possible.”

The Last of Us 2: what to expect

Of course, we are getting a version of The Last of Us with improved graphics: The Last of Us 2, which is launching for PS4 in May 2020.

But, given how close that is to the PS5 release date (late 2020) it's all but certain that we'll see a graphical upgrade or remaster for the PS5, as we did for the first The Last of Us game when it made the move from PS3 to PS4.

More power means more photorealistic graphics, which hopefully means more immersive worlds to tell The Last of Us 2's (likely very involving) story. 

PS5 price pre-order bundle deals sales

(Image credit: Sony)

While we haven't heard much about cross-gen support from Sony, we know that Microsoft is running a Smart Delivery program that gives players free upgrades to next-gen versions of games they bought on current-gen consoles. Bought Halo Infinite or Cyberpunk 2077 for Xbox One? You'll get the snazzy Xbox Series X version at no extra cost.

Our instinct says Sony will lag behind on this front – as it did with backwards compatibility on the PS4 – though we're very much ready to be surprised.

Light me up

There's plenty worth reading in the IGN interview, especially on the impact of ray tracing – on consoles for the first time – which helps to render how lighting lands on and bounces off in-game objects.

As put by Elijah Freeman, VP of games at Virtuos: “Yes, improved smoke effects will be great to look at, but the ability to just barely glimpse an enemy if the light catches them right after you’ve thrown a smoke grenade adds a new level of nuance to playstyles.”

Developers aren’t quite giving up their secrets ahead of next-gen game releases, but it’s clear that we’ll be seeing things on console we haven’t before – and that’s really exciting. If you’re worried about making sure you can see all those improvements, though, have a look at our PS5 and Xbox Series X-ready TV guide to find out what setup you need at home to show off the consoles at their best.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.