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Postcard from GDC Europe 2005: Developing for PlayStation 3


September 1, 2005
 

Each Cell chip will feature eight SPEs but this was purely to guarantee seven working elements – even if the eighth SPE did work it would be fused during the manufacturing process and cannot be used in any way

Although the release date of the PlayStation 3 remains a closely guarded secret, Sony has been less reticent in drumming up developer support for the nascent format. This afternoon session at the Game Developer Conference Europe event in London was relatively short on new information but provided a useful overview of the system architecture and the development tools Sony intends to provide for its developers.

The sole speaker for the session was George Bain, the Developer Support Manager at SCEE (Sony Computer Entertainment Europe) Technology Group. He started by giving a quick recap of the PlayStation 3's technical specifications, apparently using figures taken directly from press releases originally released at E3. Bain joked about the description on one of his slides, describing the new console as a “system utilizing the Cell processor with super computer like power”, but insisted that despite the marketing spiel the description was accurate.

After running through the statistics for the Cell processor and NVidia's RSX GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), Bain paused to discuss the new controllers in more detail. He reiterated that the new boomerang designs were concepts only and were not necessarily representative of the final retail models. He clarified too, that the odd numbered limit of seven wireless controllers per console were a product of the way in which Bluetooth 2.0 operates, where the console itself is considered to be the eighth device in the network.

In answer to a later question from the audience Bain admitted that the wireless signal could be interfered with by another nearby PlayStation 3 console and in those instances where many consoles would be close by, such as at a LAN party, it would be necessary to default to using wired controllers via the console's USB ports. It was also mentioned that keyboards, mice and other devices could also be used as games controllers but that Sony would always insist that any game could also be controlled with the default controller.

Bain also touched upon the PlayStation 3's removable hard drive, confirming that Sony did consider it an important peripheral, but saying that the company had not yet decided its price, its size or – most importantly – whether it would be bundled with the console or available only as a stand alone extra.

Moving on from the basic technical specifications of the PlayStation 3, Bain referenced the Cell Broadband Engine documentation recently made public by IBM and Sony. In doing so he emphasized the impressive bus speed of greater than 200GB/sec or 25.6GB/sec for each device, making for an external bandwidth faster than current high specification PCs.

Concerning the individual SPEs (Synergistic Processing Elements) of the Cell chip, Bain emphasized that it was no longer necessary to program in assembly language to achieve superior performance, although this did still exist as an option. In response to an audience question it was also confirmed that although each Cell chip will feature eight SPEs this was purely to guarantee seven working elements – even if the eighth SPE did work it would be fused during the manufacturing process and could not be used in any way.

As Bain began to move on to the topic of actual development techniques for the PlayStation 3 he quoted the famous Spider-Man line of “With great power comes great responsibility”, in apparent reference to Sony's determination to provide as much technical support as possible to developers. As Phil Harrison had said earlier in the day, he acknowledged that the PlayStation 2 had proven difficult to program for and assured the audience that Sony had learnt its lesson. Bain suggested that this was one reason for using NVidia's graphics technology, since it would enable the use of more widely familiar APIs. OpenGL ES, described as a lightweight subset of OpenGL, was being used for the same reason and was part of what was explained as a very different approach to graphics when compared to the PlayStation 2.

Although no PlayStation 3 development kit was present at GDC Europe, Bain did show a few slides from the E3 duck demo before moving on to the topic of development tools. This was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the session with a major SDK update promised that would include all existing PlayStation tools as well as fully licensed versions of physics tools Havok Complete and AGEIA's NovodeX. These will be available free to use for developers and will require no additional licensing fee to publish games using the technology.

After admitting that the PlayStation 2's default compiler was “rubbish”, Bain also indicated that SN System's new compiler would also be included in the SDK, along with support for (but not free licensing of) Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3. He emphasized that the Unreal Engine 3 demo shown at E3 was “real” and proceeded to display some new screenshots using the engine which if they were, as claimed, real-time were certainly on a par with the kind of imagery seen in the infamous E3 Killzone demonstration.

Bain ended the session by encouraging the attendees to register as PlayStation 3 developers, suggesting that current PlayStation developers talk to their local third party account manager and that those European developers new to the PlayStation range should visit the SCEE developer website or the more general SCE site.

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