View Full Version : PlayStation 3 chip will go easy on developers

December 4th, 2004, 04:37
The Cell processor that will power the next version of the PlayStation game console will also be adaptable for advanced scientific research, but you won't have to be a rocket scientist to program it. [br][br][br]That is the pledge of one of the chief architects of the Cell, jointly developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, who together on Friday sought to allay fears that the chip would create huge programming challenges for game developers just starting to learn their ways around the complex circuitry that powers the current PlayStation 2. [br][br]"We're very much aware of the need to balance between innovation in architecture and the ability to leverage that innovation," H. Peter Hofstee, a researcher in IBM's Systems and Technology division, said during a break at an IBM press event in San Francisco today. "The learning curve for this platform should be significantly better than previous ones." [br][br]The three companies announced their Cell plans three years ago, describing an advanced processor tailored for demanding multimedia tasks. The companies said earlier this week that they plan to begin test production of Cell chips early next year, with the first Cell-based products--workstation PCs for computer graphics production--set to arrive late in the year. [br][br]Sony and Toshiba both plan to start selling high-definition TV sets powered by the chip in 2006, which is also when Sony is expected to introduce the Cell-powered PlayStation 3. [br][br]Hofstee said the Cell will benefit game developers not only by giving them a stable and easily approachable foundation for games to run on, but also by powering the workstations they use to produce games. The upshot is that developers should be spending a lot less time waiting for their equipment to render the animations they create. [br][br]"We think it's going to be a much more seamless and speedy process for developers using these workstations," he said. [br][br]Besides workstations, game machines, and TV sets, the Cell is also likely to power certain types of scientific supercomputers, streaming media servers, and image analysis systems, all of which have continually expanding needs for processing power. Hofstee said the Cell taps into an emerging "convergence between what we think of as supercomputing and what we use in the entertainment space." [br][br]Beyond that, the sky's the limit, according to Hofstee, who said the Cell development team set out to create a flexible design that would dramatically increase processing power while skirting growing chipmaker concerns about power consumption. [br][br]"We've created something that is very flexible," he said. "Having a more generic architecture will allow people to do new things."

December 4th, 2004, 08:39
I can't help but wonder if Sony ever look at anything outside their own little corner of the universe.

Quick history lesson - the original Playstation development kits sounded very similar to these "Cell workstations" Sony are blathering on about. They were essentially custom build MIPS machines, with similar graphics and sound hardware to a PS1, supplied with hardware manualy, and virtually no software support aside from a simple C compiler. Almost the exact same setup as Sega's Saturn development kits.

The shipped PS1 development kits were originally developed by another company, running on standard PC hardware, using fairly standard C compilers, and providing an extensive set of library functionality and examples. Far beyond what Sony were going to provide, and far beyond what Sega provided with the Saturn.

We all know what happened to the Saturn, how few third party developers it attracted, and how badly they tended to screw things up.

With the PS2, they kept the thing running on commodity hardware, using GCC again as the reference compiler, so you can develop PS2 games on any platform you like. However, because developers were coding for the PS1 as close to the bare metal as they could at the end of the PS1's life, Sony assumed that all developers would want to do the same on the PS2, and thus provided a very thin operating system, and left the developers to do everything themselves. That meant that developers had to learn every aspect of the system, and spend a stupid amount of time working on things that Sony should have dealt with in the first place.

The result - the first PS2 games were utter crap. Even the ones that Sony produced. Compare that with the Gamecube or (especially) the Xbox, where the first generation games were better than virtually any PS2 game, because they both had full development systems, useful and well written libraries to communicate with the hardware, and much simpler system designs which are easier to get the most out of, and lots of guidance on how to do so.

The PS2 doesn't suffer the same fate as the Saturn, simply because of brand recognition, and Sony's marketing ability. Left on their own, I doubt developers would have bothered with the platform. Too much hassle, not enough return.

The PS3 makes the same mistake multiplied by a factor of fifty.

The processor seems to be derived from IBM's POWER architecture, as is the PowerPC that's used in Macs, the Nintendo Gamecube, probably the Xbox 2 and whatever Nintendo are doing next. The only modification I've been able to find, among all the marketing garbage, is that the Cell is intended for "media applications", and that it's intended for use in a multiprocessor environment.

First off, that means it'll have something similar to the math coprocessors in the PS2, or the AltiVec units in PowerPC G5 chips. They work well enough for things like video en/decoding, but they certainly aren't going to perform as well as a hardware implementation would, no matter how much CPU power you throw at them. They work well for 3D math, but most modern video hardware deals with that even more efficiently. They could concievably be used for 3D rendering, but again, dedicated hardware does the job more efficiently, easily, and inexpensively.

The other part that worries me is the multiprocessing part. Realistically, that is of no use whatsoever in a typical game. The main CPU should simply be recieving input from the input devices, running the game for a certain period of time, and then dispatching the appropriate data to the video and sound hardware. Programming anything for multiple processors is inherently more difficult, no matter how hard you may try.

Now, when you consider that last comment, I think they're probably going to try using the main CPU to generate sound and graphics. Which means a return to software rendering. Software rendering is a lot more flexible than typical fixed-pipeline 3D accelerators, but also requires far more raw power, and therefore costs a lot more.

Sony really do suffer from a serious dose of Not Invented Here. Everyone else is moving toward hardware-based rendering systems with programmable pixel and vertex pipelines. These can do virtually any effect you care to think of, because you can change the way each vertex is processed, and the way each pixel is processed. Assuming a sufficiently powerful implementation of programmable pipelines (Vertex and Pixel Shaders in Microsoft jargon, vertex and fragment programs in OpenGL jargon), virtually any effect is possible. Combined with a sufficiently powerful driver system and API (such as DirectX 9 or OpenGL 2.0), these would be far easier to use, far easier to get decent performance out of, cheaper to manufacture, and generally more suitable for the job. These systems are getting cheaper, they are well understood, fairly easy to grasp, and they are extremely flexible. We already know how to get good performance and good results out of them.

Intel made the same mistake when they were designing the Itanium. They assumed that they could completely change the entire architecture, and even the principles on which the CPU worked, and still be able to get decent performance. Admittedly, a 1GHz Itanium beats a 3GHz P4 or a 3000+ Opteron for certain specific tasks, but in most cases it performed abysmally, because it was just too different.

The only way Sony could possibly pull it off is if they implement a vast software library to deal with this stuff on behalf of the developers, filling the same gap that DirectX fills on the Xbox. But they won't do that. Sony really do not seem able to create any kind of software, probably because they're a hardware company, not a software company.

December 15th, 2004, 09:38
Well, I couldnt have put it better myself. It would appear that Ken Kit has a major bullshit problem when it comes to specific "leaks" about the PS3, and why don't sony just get back to making Games consoles that are fun to programme, fun to play??? The PS2 has been a roaring success, but I'll be honest here, Ive got one, and a dreamcast and cube, and I can honestly say I've never seen such a pile of utter shite when it comes to flooding the games market with pretty shoddy games the PS2 leads the way. NOW NOW, BEFORE ANY FANBOYS GET ON THIER HIGH HORSE, I am in love with so many games on the ps2 most notably the GTA series (especially San Andreas, just cant get enough of that GANGSTA SHIT HOMIE hehehehe) I LOVE GAMES, I just get sick of Sony trying to crush everyone with the Playstation Brand, STOP THE ROT JUST MAKE A CONSOLE, NO BELLS NO WHISTLES JUST GAMES, that rant was brought to you by the number 31 and the words Birthday and man where did it all go....

December 19th, 2004, 12:09
BlackAura, I read everything you typed and I agree. A video game console can have all the power in the world but if programmers don't know how to use the resources available to them then its pointless. It will just result in lack luster games. Whatever few good games get developed will be cool and all. But other game developer companies that don't have enough money to develope new engines will just license the same old engines over and over.

I will buy Playstation 3, Xbox Next and Nintendo Revolution just because I love video games.

December 20th, 2004, 14:53
Problem is brand recognition, sony know their console is going to outsell everything, it appeals to casual gamers, which now outnumber the hardcores in the gaming world. Casuals will buy the PS3 and tolerate shoddy graphics, and even say they're better (believe me this happens all the time). I recently played burnout 3 on ps2, and its nowhere near as good as the xbox version. But people would still rather buy the ps2, why? Brand recognition. Now there are some good games on th ps2, but lets face it, xbox/GC are alround better consoles. Now xbox needs some eyetoy goodness...

December 21st, 2004, 14:52
Mental2k, well XBOX and even Gamecube came out after PS2, they needed to BEEF up the graphics or else they would not have been popular. PS2 can get away with having the weakest graphics engine, because like you said, the brand. I still don't have an XBOX yet, I am waiting for the new one.

December 23rd, 2004, 05:28
shaypi, those consoles were in developement for years. They didnt suddenly just bump the graphics card up in 10 minutes, that would have required games reprogrammed, firmwares reprogrammed, plus even though the xbox is basicly x86 the board is a custom board, this would have had to be completely redisigned, witht he help of nvidia among others to "beef" up the graphics, and plus the infos on the consoles were released long before the consoles themselves were released.

December 23rd, 2004, 09:40
Oi BlackAura! Nvidia are doing the graphics for PS3, dedicated GPU not software rendering. tsk tsk!

December 23rd, 2004, 14:23
About the multitasking:

I've actually talked to some ps2 programmers, and they explained how they liked the way the ps2 can run two lines of asembly simultaneously and that "can create some pretty neat effects."

I'm not sure if they were talking about a particular part of the processor or something, because it was about 3 years ago and I'm not familiar with the ps2 hardware.

As far as directx libs and such to speed up development \ make it easier, the company I was talking to (and maybe working for this summer) explained that they have lower level programmers make all the uper level graphics routines, and if a game should call for something not yet implemented they can add it to there own graphics libs... plus if they clone dx like KGL did of OpenGL their games become portable across the different systems.

Anyway that's my 2 cents, hopefully PS3 will kick ass to play and develop for (and homebrew for)!