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Lord Regulus

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LONG BLOG

User (Un)Friendly: Devkit Adventures!

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As some of you (17, according to the comments) are probably aware, back in November I was "restructured" out of my job as a video editor for Atari, Inc. It sucked, but only for a week or so, because soon after I was offered a new job as a video editor for...

Atari, Inc.

Ain't life funny sometimes? Evidently, someone decided that letting me go wasn't a particularly cost-effective way to manage their video content, so here I am once again. I'm currently finishing up some new gameplay videos for N+ (the site is going live in a few weeks), and the time is nigh to begin capturing footage for the big console franchises.

<BORING BUSINESSY CRAP>

As part of the restructuring, Infogrames has driven a wedge between Atari, Inc. and Atari Interactive (the holding company for our intellectual property), shifting all production responsibilities to Interactive and leaving Inc. with just marketing and distribution. The end result is that I'm now one of the only people left at Inc. who knows how to beat a finicky devkit into submission.

</BORING BUSINESSY CRAP>

So in order to work on the PS3 build of DBZ: Whateverthefuckwe'recallingitnow, I needed a PS3 devkit. I dug one out of the sub-basement where it's been lurking ever since the relocation of our Santa Clara office, hoisted the 50-lb slab of metal out of its box, and embarked on a journey of self-discovery through SCEA's developer support.


The surly bastard on the right is a PS3 Reference Tool.

As required by my job, I have access to the developer sites for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo (don't ask for any information, or I'll print out my NDA and glue it to your face). Nintendo's site, also known as WarioWorld, is incredibly developer-friendly. The toolchains are logically organized - barring some minor Engrish - and my support requests are nearly always addressed in less than a day. Microsoft is pretty solid as well, but not quite so chilled-out and groovy. Sony gets a bit more confusing - open-source libraries and Unix terminology abound - but their support people are like ninjas. Even the most trivial question will be answered in a matter of hours. And today, I found out why:

If Sony's support people weren't so fast, developers would just give up.

Valve's Gabe Newell famously tore the PS3 apart in a Game Informer interview a while back. His complaints, and those of most developers who hate the shiny black monolith, seem to revolve around the Cell Engine's mystifying architecture, which demands so much machine-level micromanagement that all but the most optimized code will just choke upon execution. My jury's still out on that; some developers have had moderate success with the machine, and I figure it'll become less of a problem as time goes on. What concerns me about Sony's hardware is its sheer, unadulterated, ass-backwards disregard for convenience.

-----

PRO TIP: Did you know that PSP debug units only have VGA out? That means if you want to capture decent video, you need to drop $1,000+ on a medical imaging card, which for some reason is the only device on the goddamn planet that can record a VGA signal. So every time you see direct-feed video of a PSP game, you can be pretty sure that some hospital-supply reseller is laughing all the way to the bank.

-----

Thanks to my experience with the PSP kits, I had expected some minor annoyances with the PS3. I had not expected to spend 4 hours figuring out how to boot the damn thing.


Our PS3 devkit gives me the Sony equivalent of the middle finger.

To make a long story short(er), a PS3 debug has three different kinds of firmware, two of which have to be updated via Ethernet from a host computer before the finicky bugger even gives you video output. I was halfway through the second update when the power light flashed red, the beast locked up, and two hours later an email to Sony's developer support revealed that the machine is so old that the new firmware won't even install on it. It's a year overdue to be exchanged for a new unit, and until that happens I am the proud custodian of a $20,000 doorstop. Sloppy inventory management FTL.

So yeah, uhh, Sony? Listen, props on the tech support, really, but I still think you need to address your debugging architecture. If a drunken business development analyst can set up a 360 debug in ten minutes during a Christmas party, do I really need a degree in electrical engineering just to turn your product on? I honestly think developers would get better results if they didn't constantly need tech support for the most mundane crap.

Long post is long, I know. My bad.
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About LordRegulusone of us since 12:22 AM on 04.05.2007

Founder and Sole Member
Midgaard Studios


PRO TIP: Regulus was the ice boss in
Bomberman 64, a great game that was
nonetheless forgotten so quickly that I
currently own half of all the existing
cartridges. The other one belongs to a
seal trapper in Finland, and if the two
are ever brought together, it will bring
about the End of Days.