Dave Karraker: There is a big payoff for the PS3 being harder to program for

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Unless you’re living under a rock, or despise Sony, you’ve been enlightened many times over to the fact that Sony now has its own official blog. What makes this so nice, is that it has become a great resource for tapping into the minds of those who make those nice quotes we like to use here so much at Destructoid. As you’ll soon see, we’re at it again.

Dave Karraker, the Senior Head of Corporate Communications was kind enough to bless us with one of those insider answers to a question that has been haunting the internet for a few days now: is the PlayStation 3 truly harder to program for, and more specifically — is it worth it? Well, according to Dave, the PS3 isn’t your average gaming console, and thus requires a little more effort on the developer’s parts for good reason. You see, the PS3 can do so much, and is loaded with all kinds of nifty features for developers to wrap their heads around. Don’t scoff yet, as you weren’t expecting the PS3 to be something the next door neighbor’s kid could write code for, were you? Oh, and here’s one of those quotes we promised you right after this loaded question. Is the PS3 hard to program for?

This is an interesting question and hidden within the question is an enormously complex subject! If the game starts life on PS3, then man-hours per feature or costs related to asset production are comparable with industry norms. For that, you can include Xbox 360 and high-end PC games, and exclude PS2 and Wii. However, since PS3’s Cell processor allows MORE features – better physics, more complex graphical processing, lighting or sound, etc. — there is inevitably going to be more cost in supporting those extra features. It’s not that PS3 is harder to write for, it’s just that you can do more with it.

Don’t stop reading now — there’s so much more. Hit the jump, and continue to hear the real story straight from the horse’s mouth.

Middleware tools like Havok and other specialist graphics tools are now customized to exploit Cell’s SPUs. These mean that developers don’t have to reinvent those particular wheels themselves. Also, PlayStation Edge does some very difficult and performance-critical aspects of the graphics pipeline on the SPUs: geometry processing, animation, compression – delivering performance unachievable on other systems. This is available for free to all developers from SCE. So, given that PS3 can draw more on screen, the assets required to fill that capacity go up, too. This can, but not always, require more people – however depending on the game, much of that extra content can be produced automatically – procedurally in software, not by hand. Compared to PS2, the SPUs are much easier to code for. In PS2 we had some custom chips called VU0 and VU1 which were powerful, but tricky to write for. The SPUs use a more standard programming language.

Now, it’s not without challenges:
1) SPUs are not ‘normal’ processors like the PPU. There is a trade-off between performance and versatility. A Ferrari is not the best car for a visit to Home Depot…

2) If you are porting:
If your game starts on Xbox 360 you will have to re-engineer aspects of the game to run properly on PS3. This means additional effort. Some developers have been complaining about this but I don’t believe we can solve that. Xbox 360 is a different machine with good, but lower powered hardware in a different architecture. Developers have to view them as two different machines not as a common platform.

3) If your game has heavy online use:
XBL provides more and better standard libraries for online gaming to developers. For the same features on PS3, developers have to do some extra work. We’re catching up, but there is a difference.

Ports usually suck anyway, so I don’t see that is being much of an issue for gamers. Then again, we don’t spend the countless man-hours and money to make it all happen. We just play the games. Now that online use thing? That could be a bit of a problem. I like that Dave is honest enough with us to admit that they have a while before they can hope to match Xbox Live. Still not happy that they built the system from the ground up and admitted that they cause extra work on the developers’ part, but such is life. Never mind that they had a few good years to reverse engineer what the Xbox guys were doing, and make improvements on it. That might be considered progress.

Is it safe to assume that everyone is on the same page now? With great power comes great responsibility coding issues to overcome. Much like the PS2 that preceded it, the PS3 promises to make your troubles all worthwhile. We just need to wait for everyone to hit their stride, and get over the extensive learning curve. 

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