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PlayStation Meeting Report: PS3 hardware, dev kits, new games

Sony shows off new games, tools, and demos, promises massive developer support...but Ken Kutaragi warns the console won't come cheap.


TOKYO--This week at Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation Meeting, company president Ken Kutaragi appeared onstage to discuss further information on the current status of the PlayStation 3, and he gave a glimpse of some new games in development.

Kutaragi started out by reconfirming that the PS3 will be backward-compatible with PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games and will support high-definition TVs. "We're looking at a life cycle of 10 years with the PlayStation 3. We're currently shifting from standard TVs to HDTVs," said Kutaragi. "But in the next couple of years, most flat-panel TVs will be full HD. We're releasing the PS3 with full HD features from the start so that consumers won't have to buy another version of the console in the future. For the same reason, we're using Blu-ray as the PS3's disc format."

"I'm aware that with all these technologies, the PS3 can't be offered at a price that's targeted towards households. I think everyone can still buy it if they wanted to," said Kutaragi to a mostly Japanese crowd. "But we're aiming for consumers throughout the world. So we're going to have to do our best [in containing the price]."

Then Kutaragi issued a somewhat ominous warning. "I'm not going to reveal its price today. I'm going to only say that it'll be expensive," he stated.

The rest of the discussion on the PS3 during the meeting was mostly oriented toward developers. Kutaragi began by showing a few slides of the PS3's development kit hardware, the first time it was officially unveiled. The preliminary development kit, code-named "Shreck," was a huge square metallic machine that ran with a 2.4GHz Cell chip and 256MB XDR memory. The machine got a face-lift during spring and was renamed to "Cytology," and it is currently about the size of a normal PC. Though it still runs at 2.4GHz, it comes with an upgraded memory size of 512MB.

Kutaragi revealed that Sony plans to shrink the developer kit to the "rack mount" size of a server (around 19 inches wide) when the next, near-final version is released in December. Called the "PS3 Reference Tool," the kit will run at 3.2GHz, equal to the PS3's spec. Kutaragi commented that he also plans to offer a free-standing PS3 reference tool.

Kutaragi surprised the crowd by revealing that, to date, only 450 PS3 dev kits have been shipped worldwide. Sony plans to release an additional 200 units in August and 300 more in September, but most developers probably will have to wait until October, when the company will ramp up its production to 3,000 units per month. For the time being though, Kutaragi admitted that the current shortage is a problem. "We've been getting a lot of requests from developers since E3 that they want more development kits for the PS3," he said. "The demand for the kits has gone beyond what we can handle. We've been discussing what we can do about it."

Ever since the PS3's debut at E3, the biggest concern among publishers has been a rise in development costs due to the complexity of making games for the console. Currently, developers lack familiarity with the console's technology, such as how to use the seven synergistic processing elements (SPEs) of the PS3's Cell CPU. Those fears returned during the meeting, as Kutaragi showed the "duck in the bathtub" demo from E3 and explained that it uses a total of 16 programs, including eight physics simulations and eight programmable shaders.

To assuage the audience's fears, Kutaragi said Sony has been looking into ways to make PS3 development easier and to support game designers. Kutaragi revealed that SCE has signed licensing agreements with a number of renowned development-tool companies to include their programs as a part of the software developer kit that will be provided to PS3 game developers.

Sony has signed licensing agreements with two of the leading developer middleware providers, Havok and Ageia. Based in Dublin, Ireland, and San Francisco, Havok has seen its physics engine used in Max Payne 2 and Half-Life 2. The agreement will let Sony include a "Havok Complete" middleware suite in its PS3 development kit, which will come with an optimized physics engine, animation engine, and other tools, including linkers and debuggers.

Ageia, based in California, is a developer of physics tools and hardware and is best known for its Ageia PhysX physics library, also known as NovodeX. According to Sony, the PhysX's multithreaded capability makes it ideal to leverage the power of the Cell. Sony's licensing agreement with Ageia will allow a PhysX optimized for the PS3 to be included in the third-party publisher software development kits (SDKs).

Sony chief technical officer Masami Chatani was also present at the PlayStation meeting. He disclosed that Nvidia, maker of the PS3's RSX graphics processor, is currently working on a lineup of programmable shader tools for the console. These include a CG compiler, which is a standard for PC graphics that's oriented toward C language; an FX composer, which is a program for creating shaders of various textures, such as skin and hair; PerfHUD and ShaderPerf, which are evaluation tools to optimize the quality of the shaders; and Melody, which lets normal maps be used to drop polygon volumes without lowering graphics quality.

Chatani reconfirmed that the PS3 will support Open GL/ES as its standard API, and he also revealed support for Collada, an open-interchange file format for the interactive 3D industry.

In terms of supporting developers in their use of the Cell processor, Sony is forming an alliance with chipmaker Transmeta Corporation, a company renowned for its software emulation technology and its x86-compatible, software-based microprocessors. Transmeta will be offering an SPE optimizer and software that will let developers effectively program for the Cell processor and its seven SPEs. The tools will allow statistical process control (SPC) simulation on PCs and will also let programmers debug and tune their programs with runtime info. Transmeta's tools will be shipped to developers in Q4 2005.

As reported yesterday, Sony has acquired SN Systems Limited, a leading middleware supplier best known for its renowned ProDG tool. The company has had a 10-year-plus relationship with SCE. With its agreement to become a part of Sony, SN Systems will continue to deliver upgraded editions of its ProDG and other development tools as well as provide extensive support to developers.

Chatani revealed that there are already nine major middleware vendors that will be releasing development programs for the PS3, including Metrowerks, CRI Middleware, NDL, Web Technology, Alia, Dolby, Softimage, Autodesk, and RAD. He said that there are currently 2,000 SDK libraries available for development of PS3 games, but that number will expand to more than 20,000 libraries when new licensing partners such as Havok and Ageia are added.

For developers who want to learn the basics of how to program for the PS3, Sony will be releasing the source code, documents, and graphics for the "duck demo" in August. According to Chatani, the demo is a good example of how the PS3's physics and shader programs can be used; if even just one duck in the bathtub moves, it impacts the movement of all the other ducks in real time.

Also as reported earlier, Sony has signed an agreement with Epic Games. It has obtained sublicensing rights to Epic's Unreal Engine 3, a game development framework that was the basis of the flashy "man versus machine" technical demo at E3. Unreal Engine 3 includes a programmable shaders tool, a physics engine, and a GUI-based physics attribution tool, as well as other tools, such as scenario development, movie-scene development, and particle animation tools.

Unlike the other development tools, the Unreal Engine 3 will not be free. Publishers will be given an evaluation version in September, and they can choose whether to purchase the suite at the end of November. Sony did not disclose the Unreal Engine 3's price during the meeting, but he assured developers that it will be "extremely affordable."

Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney appeared onstage to show the powers of the PS3 and the Unreal Engine 3's programmable shader tool, using the "man versus machine" demo from E3 and a new first-person demo that featured a corridor with different effects. With the Unreal Engine turned on, the graphics looked like they were taking full advantage of the PS3's capabilities, with realistic shadows and water effects. With the engine turned off, the graphics looked much blander, like PS2 games with higher resolutions. "The shader programs here [in the demo] are typically about a hundred instructions long [per pixel]. With the PlayStation 2's graphic capabilities, it was about one to one, or two shader instructions [per pixel]," explained Sweeney, emphasizing the PS3's power.

Following Epic Games, Bandai showed off a real-time demo of its PS3 Gundam game. The game is clearly still in development--the demo featured a low frame rate but high-resolution graphics and detailed mechs. Bandai Games company president Shin Unozawa revealed that the demo is using only one of the Cell's SPEs and that he was amazed at the power of the PS3. The demo was developed by Bandai subsidiary BEC and was made solely with in-house developed engines and shading programs.

After Bandai, Koei showed a real-time demo of its PS3 game, Ni-Oh, which featured a Dynasty Warriors-esque character fighting multiple enemies. Pausing the game and changing the camera angles, Koei chairman Keiko Erikawa zoomed in on the character's face to show its detail, which even showed the pores on the skin. Flanked by an assistant wielding a PS2 controller, Erikawa explained that with the PS2, developers were able to allot about 1,000 polygons to a character's face. With the PS3, Erikawa's team was able to allot up to 1.5 million polygons. Erikawa explained that additional polygons allow for more subdivision surfaces, so faces can have more wrinkles and personality. Erikawa also zoomed in on the door of the room in the demo and showed how the PS3 allows the reflection on the floor to change naturally when the camera's angle is shifted around. Like Bandai, Koei developed its demo using its self-produced program engines for the PS3. "Our challenge will be to create a game that is as high quality as the graphics the PS3 can create. We look forward to the Tokyo Game Show," commented Erikawa at the end of her presentation.

Following the real-time demo presentations, Sony announced a number of new PS3 games and showed their trailers, which were created solely with in-game footage. New games announced at the meeting were Lair, developed by game studio Factor 5 and Sony Computer Entertainment America; Endless Saga, developed by Korean maker Webzen; a new Genji title, developed by Game Republic; a new mech game tentatively named "Project Force," developed by From Software; and Resident Evil 5 by Capcom. The trailers are available for viewing below.

In his final remarks, Kutaragi hinted that PS3 demos of games will be playable at the Tokyo Game Show in September. "We hope to use the Tokyo Game Show as a chance for everyone to get to know, or possibly experience, what next-generation entertainment is all about," he said.

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