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Bethesda open the streaming floodgates with new Orion tech

In between your Deathloops and your Doom Eternal announcements this morning, Bethesda announced something called Orion. It wasn’t a game, but rather a sexily-named “group of patented technologies” designed to make game streaming a heck of a lot faster, cheaper and easier for both developers and players alike. It’s not their answer to Google Stadia. Far from it. Instead, it’s an underlying bit of tech designed by the folks at id Software to work with Stadia (and Microsoft’s mobile-based Project xCloud, or indeed any streaming platform) to help address the two biggest problems facing streaming services today: latency and bandwidth.

“[Orion is] our name for a group of patented technologies that optimise game engines for performance in a cloud environment,” Bethesda’s director of publishing James Altman proclaimed on stage. “It can work with any game engine, and will improve player experiences no matter which game you’re playing, or whether you’re streaming on Stadia, on [Microsoft’s] xCloud, or another streaming platform.”

So how does it work? Well, if a developer wants to make their game playable on streaming services, they can integrate Orion straight into their game engine. This will optimise the game on a software level, and allow for streaming speeds up to 20% faster per frame, according to id’s chief tech officer Robert Duffy, leading to a dramatic reduction in latency – which for a long time has been the ‘big bad’ hampering every streaming service known to man. He also added that it shouldn’t matter how far away you live from your nearest streaming data centre, either, as Orion-enabled games should still let you stream at max settings.

Orion also cuts down the amount of bandwidth you need to get the game down your internet pipes, too, requiring up to 40% less than a non-Orion-enabled game. This is good news for anyone with an internet data cap, as it means streaming games won’t eat up as much of your monthly allowance – which is another one of the big hurdles that might prevent Stadia and other streaming services from really getting off the ground.

“We leveraged our extensive experience in game engine technology to tackle streaming from a different angle – the game engine itself,” said Duffy. “We wanted a faster, better streaming experience for players, at the level of performance intended by the game’s developers, and at reduced cost and expanded reach for streaming providers. Orion delivers on those goals and will vastly improve streaming video games.”

And to really show what Orion’s made of, Altman and Duffy showed off a live demo of Orion-enabled Doom (2016) on stage. Streaming to a mobile phone clamped to a controller mount, it looked pretty damn smooth – although without a direct feed to examine in more detail it’s hard to say exactly what was going on with regards to quality. Still, the sheer speed of the thing looked impressive when I watched the conference back this morning, and I’ll be keen to try it out for myself when Bethesda’s public trials start later this year.

I mean, you’d sort of hope that game developers and publishers would be working on tech like this to make their games more playable over a stream, but it’s reassuring to see it in action nonetheless. Of course, it’s only going to make streaming more viable if enough developers decide to cough up for the Orion SDK, but if Bethesda’s claims about easy integration “with minimal additional effort” are to be believed, it could just be the ticket a lot of devs are looking for to get their game onto things like Stadia and xCloud.

If you’d also like to try out streaming Doom (for free, no less) then you can sign up to Bethesda’s Doom Slayers Club. The first trial will only be for iOS 11+ devices, unfortunately, but PC and Android streaming trials are also coming further down the line.

See our E3 2019 tag for more news, previews, opinions, and increasingly surreal liveblogs.

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Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests. She's also RPS' resident deals herald.

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