[UPDATE] PlayStation 3 Programming Predicament?

Written By: Scott Gualco | Tags: Playstation 3, SCEA

February 7,2006 –
According to an article published in an upcoming issue of Forbes Asia, Sony’s Cell microprocessor, which will appear in the company’s PlayStation 3 video game console, will spawn “the next generation of growth in the industry.”

“This chip will give you performance that is not achievable with any other architecture,” H. Peter Hofstee, an IBM scientist, told Forbes. “We’re talking about everything from making TVs to shooting things up into space to building huge supercomputers.”

IBM envisions Cell as the brain behind mobile phones, video players, high-definition televisions, and more. Stanford University scientists are currently building a supercomputer by joining several Cell processors together, while Toshiba plans to incorporate the Cell into televisions. Reportedly, Cell-based displays could let users select from varying camera angles and usher a new era of interactive TV.

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.

“Let me first just say, all I really did was write a few paragraphs that gave my opinion on publicly released information,” said Robinson. “I never actually released any information. After reading my small article the reader is not any more informed about the PS3 than he was before the article.”

Marc Tremblay, chief architect of Sun’s rival chip Niagra, told Forbes the Cell’s uncooperative design will stifle adoption outside of the gaming world and said “the programming model is a nightmare.”

Others, however, have praised the PlayStation 3 development platform. “Anyone who worked on the PlayStation 2 is jumping for joy,” said Jeremy Gordon, chief executive of Secret Level, a studio working on a remake of a classic Sega game.

But in an interview with PC Gamer UK, John Carmack said the Playstation 3 was not a “mature enough platform right now for us to be doing much work on.” Later in the interview he praised the Xbox 360 and called it “a really sweet development system.”

While the Cell is undoubtedly a powerful chip, conflicting reports do raise questions to programmers’ satisfaction with the development tools currently in hand. Sony suspiciously downplayed the console’s appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January 2006, though the company does promise to reveal new details when such information is finalized.

The Cell microprocessor cost over $400 million to produce, yet it is only one small part of Sony’s plan to dominate the video game industry. Though rumors are not yet confirmed, several media outlets including Amped IGO picked up on leaked page scans from PlayStation Magazine, indicating Sony’s intentions to launch an “Xbox Live killer” alongside the PlayStation 3. Such features as a single, unified identity for all online games, an Xbox Live-like media center, chatting capabilities, and even a music service similar to iTunes are reportedly part of the package.

We’ll have more on the PlayStation 3, the Cell chip, and the rumored multiplayer service in due time, so stay with us.

[UPDATE] Some gracious readers found a transcript of Robinson’s blog post and sent it our way. The controversial statement from his spiel was when he wrote that the general consensus was the Xbox 360 was a better development platform.

“Realistically one of them will be better over all. Now I’ve spoken with people who are on the technical side of the PS3. I’ve also talked with people on the technical side of the XBOX 360. The consistent comment I am hearing from people on my end is, “The XBOX 360 is better”. They are saying that it is capable of just doing more,” wrote Robinson.