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The notorious Cell processor inside the PlayStation 3
The engineers behind the Cell processor lend a hand to the people behind the PS3 games

It’s no secret that the Cell processor makes the PlayStation 3 a very powerful machine, but its complex architecture also makes it difficult for developers to program their games. While Sony is likely doing its best to improve software tools, some developers are longing for lower-level detail on the Cell.

IBM, one of the creators of the Cell architecture, is stepping in and giving developers tips on how to better harness the PS3 processor. According to Next Generation, IBM engineers are participating at a game developer’s workshop at High Moon Studios in Carlsbad, Calif. with Vivendi Games studios' Radical Entertainment and Swordfish to learn the ins and outs of the multi-core Cell.

High Moon chief technical officer Clinton Keith says that that IBM's expertise goes beyond what Sony's support can offer in regard to the Cell. “We’ve been talking to Sony for almost two years now, but they didn’t create the Cell,” he said.

“They created the architecture for the PS3 and they’ve created a lot of the developer libraries. We’ve had access to those [Sony] engineers… but they’re not the hardware engineers,” continues Keith. “We want to hit [the Cell] on all fronts. We’re talking to the guys [IBM] who designed this chip and have been working on it for five years now.”

As part of the workshop, programming teams will use software development kits from IBM’s Global Engineering Solutions labs to create the best Cell-based game development algorithm. The teams will share their knowledge and findings from their work on the processor.

Sony’s Phil Harrison said that the current PS3 launch window titles use “less than half” of the system’s computational power, and that “nobody will ever use 100 percent of [the PS3’s] capability.”

Developers haven’t kept quiet on the challenges for making games on the Cell. John Carmack, lead programmer of the Quake and DOOM 3D engines, has expressed his thoughts, saying, “I think the decision to use an asymmetric CPU by Sony was a wrong one. There are aspects that could make it a winning decision, but they’re not helpful to the developers … It’s not like the PlayStation 3 is a piece of junk or anything. I was not a fan of the PlayStation 2 and the way its architecture was set up. With the PlayStation 3, it’s not even that it’s ugly--they just took a design decision that wasn’t the best from a development standpoint.”

Japanese developer Hideo Kojima shares Carmack’s sentiment, though his team was able to achieve stunning results on the PS2 with Metal Gear Solid 3. “Overall I think it is difficult, of course. But if it's easy and simple, then how can you differentiate from other games?” posed Kojima. “Other people will do the same thing as you. Therefore, we're trying to use [the Cell's] difficulty to create something different.

“If I say too much, Mr. Kutaragi might get really upset. I think that the PS3 is difficult to work with, but so was the PS2.”





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