Sony has admitted that the PS3 – Ken Kutaragi’s epitaphic console of extraordinary power and complexity – can be a big challenge to develop for.
But from the moment the system’s daunting spec sheet was first released, Sony has engaged in an industry-wide rescue mission – one that aims to make the PS3 as simple to design games around as its competition.
And, in a candid interview with Develop, Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida explains that Move – the new PlayStation motion controller – is the next step in that grand plan.
”We [developers] were one of these people that had to go work on PS3 hardware - that was very challenging,” he says.
”It was incredibly powerful, but when we learned about the specifications when the hardware was almost done, we found it was so difficult to program on.”
Yoshida admits regret, and explains that the company called on its developers to revive the PS3’s fortunes.
”We immediately focused our efforts to create the low-level libraries and engines for all our first-party teams to use. In anticipation for very challenging work for PS3 developers, we gathered the most talented engineers from both the US and Europe – so people from Naughty Dog and UK studios – to focus on creating one single engine.”
He adds, ”We decided to pool all those people together and make a really robust engine that all the teams can use. That’s how we changed our approach to making games.”
Problem solved, Sony thought, before another leak appeared.
”We then realised, during the year of the PS3 launch, that third-parties were having difficulties making games on PS3,” Yoshida says.
”So we thought that, ‘okay, we have these engines that we are using, and these engines are built for many different designers to use, so why not give these engines out’.”
It is this collaborative alliance that has pulled the PS3 from the paralysis of its own design. The system, often touted for its ‘ten-year’ support plan, is gradually becoming more approachable for today’s developers. Even Valve, one of the most outspoken critics of the PS3 hardware, has decided to focus its workforce on the platform.
Yoshida explains that Sony’s push to make the PS3 more dev-friendly continues with Move – a simplified motion control proposal that is, surprisingly, winning over the motion control cynics.
”We’ve been waiting for people to try Move,” says Yoshida. “We’ve always wanted to say to people ‘you will see’, but we are a bit more humble! [laughs] We have been really pleased to see some of the articles come out on websites such as IGN. Yesterday two editors tried Move and their captions read: ‘we are finally excited about motion control!’”
Yoshida explains that Sony’s strategy to lure the consumer to Move comes from a wider aim to attract content creators to the motion controller. The theory goes that, if Move can attract more developers, that means more games and a better chance for success.
If the system gets developers “in a sweat” – which is what Peter Molyneux said Kinect has been doing – then publishers will have another reason to turn their backs on what is already a risky proposal.
”The technology we chose for Move was the PlayStation Eye,” Yoshida adds, “and the technology sensors in Move – that’s not just hardware, that’s the software as well. The system uses a fraction of an SPU, and that really is the key.
”The effort and resources that are required for development on Move can be much lower than making Blu-ray games on the conventional controller. Move takes a small fraction of hardware resources – that was a big milestone for us.
”When our software library team was working on Move, they talked to our World Wide Studios developers and asked about how much CPU time and how much memory they hoped would be used.
”The developers’ answer was zero CPU and zero memory! [laughs]
”Of course it’s impossible. So that pushed us to make Move really, really, really compact so many different types of games can adapt it.
”But because Move is a completely new interface, that no one has experienced yet, it’s a great opportunity for developers to take advantage of this new capability.”
Yoshida concludes that Move support for many PS3 games – such as Killzone and SOCOM – is not particularly difficult, because of the small resource footprint.
”We are able to use sophisticated technology on the cameras and the sensors, but that with the combination of the computing power of the PS3, we can make the system really, really accurate and precise.”