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Conflicting Reports of PS3 Programming Difficulty 122

xenongamer writes "It appears there isn't any type of concensus regarding the programming difficulty of Sony and IBM's upcoming Cell processor. From the article: 'Although few doubt the relative power of the Cell microprocessor, many have expressed concern over the chip's asymmetric design, which makes programming for it a potential disaster ... One such man was 3D artist Josh Robinson, who was fired from his position at Sony just weeks after making a public, negative comment about PlayStation 3 development on his Internet blog.'"
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Conflicting Reports of PS3 Programming Difficulty

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  • The Debate (Score:5, Funny)

    by Physician ( 861339 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @04:35PM (#14663582) Homepage
    The debate currently centers on whether it's very difficult or extremely difficult to program for the PS3.
    • Re:The Debate (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Saige ( 53303 ) <evil.angela@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @04:44PM (#14663699) Journal
      I don't see the conflict in the article.

      One group is saying the PS3 is hard to program for.

      The other group is happy that it's so much better than the PS2.

      It can be both. Quite difficult is still better than insanely difficult.
      • by gevmage ( 213603 ) * on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @05:12PM (#14663960) Homepage
        I don't know about game programmer's experiences with the PlayStation 2 console, but I spent some time [uiuc.edu] programming the PS2 under the Linux kit. It was pretty gruesome; lots of writing words to registers with certain bits set to 1 to activate the vector units and so on. Lots of Vector Unit assembly.

        What I've heard is that they have a development environment for the Cell processor (now released [ibm.com]) that has at least a working compiler. If that's true, then they've already gone beyond what was available for the PlayStation 2, at least at the level of programming the Linux kit.

        Craig Steffen

        • Agreed, Sony has always been notoriously deficient in their Devkits - this isn't any surprise. Whereas Nintendo provides alot of support libraries and tools, the Playstation has always been a pain to develop with. For the most part, Sony sends out the hardware and says 'have fun'...
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @06:19PM (#14664588)
          I've written a huge amount of PS2 code for various games sitting on the shelves right now. I will do my best not to sound too harsh.

          Reading your comments I get the feeling what it must be like for a Formula 1 driver listening to someone complain about taking a racing car out for a spin and complaining that it 'hard to drive' and then listing a bunch of silly reasons like no air condition or stereo like he has in his car at home.

          The PS2 and PS3 and two of the most amazing and joy to work with graphic systems ever. Unfortunately the people most likely to talk about the two systems are inversely proportionals to their qualifications to do so.

          Through some crazy reasoning the fact that Microsoft decided to try to build a console around the legacy x86 hardware design seems to have given the green light to every clown who knows a little DirectX to pass himself off as an expert on console hardware and development. And to run his mouth off on the Net about how the 'crazy' PS2/3 is 'stupid' because it isn't anything like his pc he is used to.

          The PS2 and PS3 are machines designed for experienced console engineers to efficiently pipe compact media data from disc to screen for as cheaply as possible. The 8000 or so Sony titles sitting out on the shelves is the only thing that counts.

          I have nothing but pity for people stuck in front of their archaic x86 pcs when I have access to something amazingly cool and powerful as the PS2/3.

          • FYI (just in case you didn't visit the links) gevmage (Craig Steffen) has quite a bit of PS2 programming experience, he's the guy with the cluster of the things at the NCSA. He's got a good rep in the PS2 LInux community.

            • by Anonymous Coward
              I've gone back and looked at my company's engine code just to make sure I wasn't remembering poorly - it's been a year since we moved on to next gen stuff.

              Our last cross platform game's rendering code is roughly the same size in lines for PS2,GameCube, and Xbox.

              Xbox is the largest - tediously wordy DirectXish API
              PS2 is in the middle.
              And the GameCube is the smallest - lovely compact OpenGLish API

              What exactly someone could find "difficult" about the PS2 I can't imagine other than it isn't the same as the API
              • What exactly someone could find "difficult" about the PS2 I can't imagine other than it isn't the same as the API they are used to.

                What was difficult about it was I was trying to write a scientific matrix multiplier using VU1. I made a 28x28 multiplier with a core 4x4 multipier in VU1. What took all the time was coordinating moving the parameter matrices into the VU's data memory at the same time that the VU itself was crunching through the last parameters brought in.

                It was also amusing because ther

            • He's got a good rep in the PS2 LInux community.
              Really? Cool! I didn't know that.

              The only direct experience I had with the PlayStation 2 Linux community was a bug report [playstation2-linux.com] that I filed and was subsequently completely ignored. This bug was in a low-level memory allocation routine that I needed to work right for my matrix code and it was (as far as I could tell) corrupting the memory page tables on the machine.

              CronoCloud: thanks for the ping-- drop me a note [craigsteffen.net] and introduce yourself.

          • First of all, Anonymous Coward, get off your high horse, or supposed high horse since you listed no credentials.
            Secondly, PS2's market share is a type of snowball effect. They got to market first, and snatched a lot of market share. Developers then had to decide between fledgling Microsoft and Nintendo consoles, or go with the PS2 with a large installed base. Following the statistics, they went for the PS2. No matter what you claim, the majority of developers would find the PS2's media capabilities much mo
          • I've written a huge amount of PS2 code for various games sitting on the shelves right now
            Which is why you straightforwardly posted as Anonymous Coward and didn't tell us your name or any one project you've worked on, while I listed both my employer and the web site for my project.

            If you have real information to offer, please speak up and actually tell us who you are. If your "expertise" consists of playing lots of PS2 games, then please stay out of it.

          • For the record, this reply is not out of ignorance. I am a game engine developer with experience with PS2 and XBox development, at a low and high level. The PS2 is in every measure completely outclassed by Xbox. I'll address some of the big limitations of the GS here, but I can go on about the EE and VUs if you like. The GS is a POS. The biggest limitation of the GS, of course, is the memory. There's just not enough to do anything interesting. But there are many other significant limitations, includi
    • Re:The Debate (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @05:05PM (#14663895)
      Posting as AC to avoid any NDA issues, but:


      The PS3 may be simultaniously difficult to program for if you are expecting a traditional, PC style, system, but not super difficult to program for if you're not. So, PC ports might be a bitch, but ground-up stuff may be easier than you'd expect.


      • No offense, but if you think posting as an AC somehow would help you avoid NDA issues, you're quite foolish. The NDA you agreed to says you won't reveal anything (Non-disclosure), not that you wouldn't reveal who you were when you did reveal something.

        Not that your post was revealing any information to begin with.
    • Re:The Debate (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Oldsmobile ( 930596 )
      I think the problem not understood by the blogging developer is, that it is MUCH BETTER to have unrealized potential at launch than to use up all your potential in the beginning. If the lifespan of the PS3 is 5+ years, then gamers will want nicer and better titles every year on the same hardware they have had for all that time. That can be achieved by squeezing more out of the hardware.

      So I don't see a disaster here, infact, this probably suits Sonys aims quite well.
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @04:46PM (#14663712) Homepage
    Games have gotten much more complicated over the years. Not long ago, anybody could make a game that was on par with the best. Then, It became too hard to make your own game, the best you could do was make mods to existing games. Now, games are so complicated that only people who want to spend tons of time can even learn how to make the mods. Now with the PS3, games will be so complicated, that not even the developers will be able to make them.
  • by Ramble ( 940291 )
    Who wouldn't want 7 SPEs?
    Crazy developers..
    • Somebody who wants 8 SPUs? The CBE comes with 8 SPUs, but for some reason, Sony is disabling 1 of them on the version they are putting in the PS3.
      • Sony are specifying that the PS3 has only seven SPUs as a way to increase yield (and thus reduce costs) of the Cell processor. When processors are manufactured, a more or less constant percentage of the silicon wafer will be corrupted by impurities, specks of dust etc. With a chip as big as Cell there is thus a high risk that some part of it won't work correctly, and by using seven SPUs Sony can take all the chips where one SPU doesn't validate correctly and still use them.

        Once the Cell goes through a proce

        • Here's the problem I have with Sony's public explaination as to why they are only using 7 SPUs. They can't control *which* SPU might have a fault during fab. Therefore, either: 1) They are just hoping that most faults will lie in SPU7 (or whichever they are turning off), or 2) They'll just turn off whichever SPU happens to have a serious fault.

          The problem with #2 is this: The EIB. The Element Interconnect Bus is a ring structure, (2 16byte rings in each direction). You get maximum throughput when you t
          • There could be a third option.

            The disabled SPU could be configured to just pass the data through. It's likely that any problems in an SPU will be in the 256KB SRAM which is probably going to take up most of the space physically in each SPU. Passing the data through would add latancy, but probably not much.

            Anyhoo, it's a good point, I'd like to know how Sony is handling this.
  • Conflicting? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @04:50PM (#14663763)
    The guy was an ARTIST fired for for saying less than flattering things not only about an early development box, but the product he was working on. His opinion about how hard it is to program counts for nothing, he's not doing it, everything was heresay. His primarily complaint was that his game was not taking advantage of the PS3 because they were putting schedule before quality. Anecdotally he referred to other companies that may be doing the same. Nor do I give any attention at all to someones COMPETITOR who claims it is "a nightmare".

    I wouldn't give him much air time, I'd rather hear from developers actually working with it. Those who have detailed architectural drawings, APIs etc. Even (especially) if they have to go to great lengths to achieve anonymity. Those guys would know what potential may or may not exist. This article does not give us information on that, the closest we come is a chief architect at a game haus who says he likes it. He's probably closer to development than the others, but still not reliable (since he's on record) and unless title inflation has gone mad, not someone directly doing the work.

    A non-story.

    • I'd rather hear from developers actually working with it.
      The problem is, all the developers are under NDA, and after seeing their co-worker get fired for saying something that didn't even violate his NDA, they aren't about to open their mouths. Just because you haven't heard from the developers doesn't mean it isn't true.
  • I thought all the PlayStations were difficult to program for. I remember reading somewhere this was a reason why games didn't advance all that much over it's lifespan. I imagine it takes a lot more work to squeeze out all the power.
    • Re:I thought... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ekarderif ( 941116 )
      Compared to Sega Saturn's dual processor hell, the Sony PlayStation was leaps and bounds easier to develop on. Of all the games released for the Saturn, only one (Panzer Dragoon Saga) managed to utilize them correctly (and it looks beautiful to boot). Everything else was designed either on one processor or a staggered mechanism that failed to extract the parallelism. This led to the belief that the PlayStation was far more powerful than the Saturn.

      Now, the PlayStation 3 has (God knows what reason) nine c
      • Re:I thought... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jythie ( 914043 )
        Or at minimal, this is difficult if you've been trained to program in a single-processor enviroment. Crow, there are languages and compilers out there built from the ground up for that kind of enviroment. If schools stopped being so scared of teaching little jimmy anything that wasn't "this is in the top 10 skills on monster.com" maybe more people would learn them (I was actually in the LAST class at my university to teach such languages.. after which they were replaced by javascript and perl...)
      • Weird that.
        I was using Occam on paralell processors back in the late 80s.. And it had absolutely no problem with leveraging 12 paralell processors then. Something must have improved in the last near 20 years.
    • The effect was the opposite, games started out very badly but improved a LOT over its lifespan. Stuff like God of War would have been unthinkable when the PS2 was new.
    • PS1: Compare Kileak to Chrono Cross
      PS2: Compare Evergrace to God of War

      The increase in graphical quality over the lifespan of both systems is so amazing it's hard to beleive they're the same hardware.
    • I should say that I've never owned any PlayStation, only played a few games and seen some videos/screenshots for ones that looked interesting. I remember all the stuff about Sega Saturn and what a nightmare it was for the three processors. But it does sound like the PlayStations could have been easier to code for. I remember reading how Sony didn't provide as much help or documentation as they could have to the developers. I have no doubt that there are some technically amazing games for PlayStation, bu
      • The programming I do has no relation to games, and I could be all wet on this, but I do remember reading some things on the subject of PS2 programming. IIRC, Sony offered help/advice to game companies, but I don't know if that cost anything or not. The help would make sense since Sony depends on other companies to make most of the games that keeps the Playstation on top.

        I also remember reading an article where Sony was asking PS2 developers to use the system's resources to better advantage, whatever tha

  • Meh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Perseid ( 660451 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @05:11PM (#14663955)
    The same thing was said about the PS2. The developers of Oddworld switched from the PS2 to the XBOX early on, citing the fact that the PS2 was too hard to code for. There was widespread concern then that the PS2 was going to be too difficult to be viable.

    How about everyone wait for the system to actually come out before making judgments on it?
    • How about everyone wait for the system to actually come out before making judgments on it?
      Meh. Its much more fun passing judgement before we know anything about it.
    • Re:Meh. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      How does that contradict anything though? Maybe the PS2 was hard to code for, and the PS3 is also hard to code for. Nobody is saying that just because it may be hard to code for, the PS3 can't succeed; that's only one obstacle.
      • Well, Microsoft decided to make it a big marketing point.. So now we all think it's very important.
        • Well, Microsoft decided to make it a big marketing point.. So now we all think it's very important.

          That's true enough. To Microsoft, cryptic macros and embedded VBA are features and advantages. The rest of the world writes a little Perl script to do the job. Ah, the power of marketing.

    • Re:Meh. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by metamatic ( 202216 )
      The same thing was said about the PS2. The developers of Oddworld switched from the PS2 to the XBOX early on, citing the fact that the PS2 was too hard to code for.

      And the fact that Microsoft purchased them for a huge wad of cash a few weeks later was a complete coincidence...

  • Interpretations? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by polyp2000 ( 444682 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @05:55PM (#14664357) Homepage Journal
    Point - Multiprocessing systems are the general direction computing is going in. The new Mac's use it (core duo) , the PC's Hyperthreaded dual core's. Xbox 360's and of Course the PS3.

    That said - Asumming the 360 has "Symmetric" architecture and the PS3 "Assymetric" as the guy is implying.

    Lets discover exactly what the difference is between the two.

    My understanding is that Symmetric multiprocessing (Xbox 360) gives each processor identical levels of responsibility for processing tasks. For example - on a linux SMP system the kernel will try to balance processes equally across each processor. Only if an application process is specifically written to thread its own tasks across both processors will it be shared across them. This is why having a multiprocessor computer rarely makes much difference to a uniprocessor machine unless the game is specifically written to take advantage of a multiprocessing environment. Games like this are currently rare.

    Taking a look at Asymettric procesing... (PS3) This allows us to give each processors specific tasks. For example we could dedicate 1 cell chip to running say the AI for a game, another for the Player physics and the rest for graphics and sound. This actually makes the design of the system considerably simpler and easier to abstract - although it could be argued that it reduces the overall performace of the system. Good job then that the PS3 has more than twice the amount of processors as the 360. However the same can be said for the PS3 as the 360 - Unless games are specifically written to take advantage of a multiprocessor environment there is little advantage in having them. Both consoles are going to require a new mindset and learning curve before either will reach their true potential. This has always been the case and so long as technology keeps changing will continue to do so.

    I'd like to add to this that ID Software is not traditionally a Playstation development studio. There are only two releases I can think of - Quake 2 (PSX) and Quake 3 (PS2). They are traditionally a PC studio - and their experience of development therefore lies in this area. XBox 360 is designed with this in mind. It does stand to reason that Carmack's team would agree with this - simply because the Microsoft Development platform is what they have been doing for years. Id like to hear what a tradional Playstation dev studio says about the 360 as a development platform, or Nintendo for example.

    Pick any console from any manufacturer. compare a launch title with another title on the same platform later in its lifecycle. In most cases there will be significant improvements this shows only that it takes time - (and library updates) to climb to the top.

    Despite all of this I have to say that what matters most of all here is not how powerful one system or another is. What really matters are the games. At this moment in time I can't justify buying a new console just because it has better graphics or sound. Those things matter less and less as time goes by- The game plays the same no matter how many more polygons it is or isnt shifting. Lets be honest here - leaving visuals and sound out of the equation - what kinds of gameplay can be created now that could never have been done prior to these next generation machines? Perhaps the answer to that question can hinted at by looking at the kinds of tasks most suited to multiprocessing systems.
    • Re:Interpretations? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Slashcrap ( 869349 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @06:22PM (#14664603)
      Taking a look at Asymettric procesing... (PS3) This allows us to give each processors specific tasks. For example we could dedicate 1 cell chip to running say the AI for a game, another for the Player physics and the rest for graphics and sound.

      Sorry, that's not how it works. You're thinking that the developers have 7 processors to play with, each capable of running a complex task like AI or the graphics engine. In fact the SPUs are more like DSPs or specialised co-processors. Last time I checked, no-one was designing AI algorithms to run on DSPs.

      I'm sure that a sufficiently motivated person could write a multi-threaded AI algorithm to run on a conventional CPU with 7 co-processors. But it would be really hard to develop.

      PS. If the Cell architecture is ideal for graphics rendering, what's that honking great Nvidia chip doing in the PS3? Providing ballast?
      PPS. You can save time when typing out plurals by not adding an apostrophe every time.
      • Re:Interpretations? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by apoc06 ( 853263 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2006 @01:42AM (#14667473)
        the gpu is there to offload graphic-specific code to be handled there. leaving graphical duties to the main processor was a big part of the emotion engines' failing. personally, when i read that they brought nvidia aboard i just figured that sony wanted to correct their mistakes from the ps2 days.

        its great having a processor that can process the graphics at x speed. but if you offload the majority of the graphics processing to another really fast chip [the GPU] specifically designed to spin triangles, you can get x*y speed out of your main processor thats now freed from the burden of churning away at 3d calculations.
    • That said - Asumming the 360 has "Symmetric" architecture and the PS3 "Assymetric" as the guy is implying. Lets discover exactly what the difference is between the two.

      In this case, symetric vs asym is far more about the capabilities of the cores than how software needs to be written for them.
      In the XBox360 each of the cores is the same. Not that different than what's found in G5 (a bit stripped down to make 3 fit on a die more feasibly), each of them can handle any task you apply to them. It's not me

    • It's interesting how people cannot visualise the most efficient method to utilise multiple CPU's present in next gen consoles. You do not allocate one CPU for physics, one for sound, one for graphics and so on, since these are not independant parallel tasks. Only when the physics calculations are complete can you do the AI, and only then do you draw/play world objects (graphics / sound). This is relatively sequential, since for drawing all you're really doing is queueing commands to a graphics processor,
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's been five years the PC/Dreamcast/Xbox crowd has been hoping that tired old "hard to program" bullshit would have some effect on the console market. I guess they believe if they keep repeating it's gotta 'stick' eventually.

    Having worked on console games for a very long time, I've watched people desperately try to get console developers and publishers to believe that meme.

    I have first had knowledge of and a rough idea of a huge number of console project budgets and schedules from a mix of projects I've w
  • It could well be both at the same time.

    After all, the Cell sounds complicated and powerful enough that there's probably some quantum in there somewhere.
  • Luckily the PS3 now uses OpenGL as its graphics API, which should make it a bit easier to code.
  • by Neo-Rio-101 ( 700494 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @11:39PM (#14666877)
    With all this programming power, and graphics and sound all sorted out, what's needed is a game that makes full use of the processing power needed for AI.
    I present to the next-gen game genre:- The Too-many-things-on-the-screen-requiring-calculatio n genre

    TMTOTSRC games for short

    So what we need are next-gen versions of

    http://kevan.org/proce55ing/zombies/ [kevan.org]

    and an updated version of...

    http://www.classicgaming.com/rotw/crossroads/ [classicgaming.com]
  • Threads have never been fun to work with for most CS students. Be it Java or C++, they can be a pain. But with the most recent CPUs and the dreaded CELL processor, It's time to learn how to work threads beyond splitting processor time, and learn how to use multiple cores at once..... I see no way it can't be more difficult then previous generations if the developer has access to what each SPU does (I think that's the name of each sub-core), and programs for the system properly. The degree of increased d
  • ...that's all. While working in the Game-Industry as a programming-lead, I found out that there a two mindsets prevalent:
    1. abstract
    2. on the metal

    Type 1 thinks in "i_unknown" theoretical concepts, tries to create a framework to rely on and then starts looking what the metal is capable of.
    Type 2 looks at the metal, plays around with it, reads the manuals, plays around a little longer to make sure everything needed is understood, and then evaluates the possibility to use either a supplied framework (customized if

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