Is the PS3 Really Harder to Develop for?

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Our friends over at GamePro.com have written an interesting article on a topic I get asked about all the time — Is the PS3 harder to develop for than other systems? I gave them some feedback on this and the reporter, Blake Snow, does a nice job of presenting a well-rounded story. For this piece, I spoke to our PD group and asked them for input on this question and thought you might be interested in reading their full reply:

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.

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.

BTW: Glad you guys and gals are enjoying the new blog!

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