|PS3 vs Xbox 360 - a developer speaksPublished by forahobby on Monday, December 11, 2006
The debate over which is the more powerful next-gen games console has been raging for over a year, but in the last few weeks we've finally been able to pore over some first-hand evidence. The Call of Duty 3 conversions to Xbox 360 and PS3 are more closely comparable, perhaps, than many fanboys on either side would have predicted. More interesting is the unspoken rivalry between Gears of War and Resistance: Fall of Man - two showboating FPS titles with similar themes and environments.
One thing has become clear. Totting up specs isn't going to help us choose a winner. On paper, PS3 has more raw processing grunt than Xbox 360, but at the moment - with second generation titles under their belts - developers seem to be extracting more performance out of Xbox 360. That's natural considering their greater experience with the platform. The question is, how much further can Xbox go?
Frankly, the only views that matter in this debate are those of programmers who have experience with next-gen hardware. So this week I spoke to Richard Hackett a head of technology at Blitz Games about his experiences with both machines. He feels that CELL has an ace up its sleeve and it's not something you might have predicted...
The debate over graphics on Xbox 360 and PS3 is still raging online, with developers coming out on both sides to claim superiority. As an independent developer how do you compare the two formats in terms of visuals?
In essence the two systems are actually fairly closely matched in terms of graphics. The jump to HD is a major step up in visual quality and that is delivered by both systems. The difference between 720p and 1080i will be fairly academic for some time as there are very few mass market TVs out there at the moment that support native 1080 resolution, and I'm not sure the average consumer sees the difference between them anyway.
At Blitz our cross platform technology enables us to develop simultaneously for both systems and spend our time playing to the strengths of each. Of course developers have had longer to get to grips with the X360 but you can be sure we won't see the full potential of the either system and especially the PS3 for some time yet.
One developer has publicly (although anonymously) stated that Xbox 360 - in games programming terms - is the better machine as the GPU is more powerful, providing greater pixel and vertex processing horsepower. Do you concur at all? Is this really what it all comes down to?
The X360 GPU is slightly more flexible due to the subtle differences between the respective architectures of the nVidia and ATI chipset. Certain shader restrictions are lifted or easier to work around on X360. The bandwidth of the X360 GPU is pretty massive too, though partly this is balanced out by the differences in VRAM layout of the two systems that means the Xbox needs to move graphics data around the system more than the PS3 does. While the GPUs are fast and have a big impact on the visual quality and level of game effects, other factors such as general processing power and memory architecture also come into play.
I've heard that third-party PS3 developers are currently under using the machine's seven 'SPE' processors. How are you planning to employ them? Do you have specific tasks in mind for specific SPEs as some first-party developers seem to be doing?
It does seem that developers have been slow to make use of the SPEs, especially those coming from other platforms perhaps with existing game engines.
At Blitz we are not reserving SPEs for specific tasks but have implemented a more dynamic system that automatically dispatches processing to each SPE making best use of the available resources. It works something like a distributed computing system, SETI@home being a famous example of that kind of technology. For instance in one of our projects we have hundreds of enemies on-screen and the processing for their animation and AI is split up and automatically sent to each SPE dynamically whenever there is processing time available.
So how do you see PS3 titles developing, visually, as we see the second and third generation of games? What specific new visual elements will we see?
As a result of the kind of processing power we have available we're going to see a lot more procedurally generated effects and dynamic visuals than we've seen before. This means not all game visuals will be created by an artist in the traditional way, an increasing amount will be created in real-time from algorithms and parameters.
To make sure the artists stay in control and we don't resort to graphics created only by programmers (which is often a bad thing), we're working on systems for artists to create and edit these systems themselves without needing a degree in Software Engineering.
Is there anything you're able to do, visually, on PS3 that you can't on Xbox 360?
Certain procedural effects are easier to create on the PS3 because of the power of the SPEs. Effects like water simulations, especially when you move beyond simple surface effects to fluid dynamics require the kind of algorithms that are really suited to the CELL architecture. Having said that the slightly more flexible GPU and unified memory model on X360 allows some neat tricks that level the playing field somewhat. It will be interesting to see what emerges with video processing and EyeToy as well - CELL is designed for streaming and image processing applications in mind. I think we'll see both new visuals and game play out of that.
As an aside the audio technology running on CELL created by the guys in the SCEE Technology Group in London is pretty amazing, opening out loads more possibilities for real-time audio effects to enhance the visuals, something that is often overlooked but is an important part of increasing gamer immersion.
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