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Sweeney Talks Cell Difficulties, PS3 Online Inclusivity

Sweeney Talks Cell Difficulties, PS3 Online Inclusivity

September 22, 2006 | By Simon Carless

September 22, 2006 | By Simon Carless
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As part of a Q&A at the CEDEC Premium event during Tokyo Game Show 2006, Epic's Tim Sweeney has spoken forthrightly on topics including the challenges of multi-core processors and PS3's Cell chip, and Epic's plans to allow modders to make PS3-playable Unreal maps via Sony's open online protocols.

In an in-depth question and answer session led by the IGDA's Kiyoshi Shin, from which Gamasutra will reprint more specifics from in the near future, Sweeney was particularly interesting when discussing the advantages and learning curve for multi-core and otherwise complex processors.

Firstly, Epic CEO Sweeney stated that he had a "very positive opinion of multi-core processors," noting: "For the first 30 years of our industry, CPUs would increase by a factor of 2 every 18 months... It's clear that all future increases in processing powers will come via having more cores."

But he did comment specifically on how difficult it is to program for multi-core processors and the even more complex Cell chip used in the PlayStation 3. He noted that it "takes about twice the effort and development cost to develop for a multi-threaded CPU," compared to a single-core CPU. Even more than that, according to Epic's analysis, fully exploiting the PS3 Cell chip "required about 5 times as much cost and development time than single-core."

Sweeney did note that Epic had licensed Ageia's PhysX physics middleware, which is very well optimized for Cell already, and Unreal Engine itself was using Cell-specific parallelized functions for "accelerated physics and some aspects of character animation and shadowing." He noted: "Over time we're expanding more of the game elements onto Cell."

But the Epic co-founder described the process of building hardware such as the Cell and the games to debut on it as a "two-way learning process", suggesting that "companies are learning to design hardware that's more productive for development." He concluded this section of his Q&A by arguing that the extra cost in fully fleshing out content onto the complex Cell architecture "introduces some economic difficulty for developers," due to the increased cost.

While Sweeney seemed to be disquieted by the complexity of developing for Cell, he did praise Sony elsewhere in his keynote for an "enlightened business model" when it comes to online PS3 capabilities - one that will apparently allow Epic's users to create Unreal Tournament 2007 levels and content on the PC, and distribute them via the PlayStation 3.

He notes that the mod community was "an essential part of [Epic's] success", and commented: "We would love to transfer this mod community over to the console platforms." Of course you'll need a PC to create levels for the upcoming UT2007 for PS3/PC, but Sweeney believes that everything will be in place so that modders can make new levels on the PC, "download them to the PlayStation 3, and distribute them online."

In fact, he was very positive on Sony's open attitude to networked content compared to the Xbox 360 - he commented of Microsoft's platform: "Unfortunately it's more of a closed platform," and even noted that Microsoft seems to be "quite negative toward user-created content" under certain circumstances Epic has encountered.

Elsewhere in the same Q&A, Epic's Jay Wilbur gave an update on the shipping date for Unreal Tournament 2007 elsewhere in the same Q&A session, noting of the delayed release of the Midway-published product: "We are planning on shipping [in] Q2 or early Q3, 2007."

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