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Console Developers Should be Terrified

Valve boss Gabe Newell gets right into it. “Technologically, I think every game developer should be terrified of the next generation of processors. Your existing code, you can just throw it away. It’s not going to be helpful in creating next generation game titles.”

Bold words, maybe just a tiny bit sensationalistic. There’s lots of code programers can keep for the next generation, but Mr. Newell is trying to make a point. The next generation of consoles will rely heavily on multi-threaded programming. The consoles will be able to execute more than one thing at the same time (not to be confused with multi-tasking, whereby the processor just switches between all the applications really quickly). And programming for a processor that can execute several processing threads at once is a very tricky task. Problems include getting the threads to communicate, getting them not to wait on each other (deadlock), and managing them. Mr. Newell says “Really good engineers are going to be much more valuable and engineers who used to be valuable writing game code in the previous generation may end up becoming thorns in the side of key programmers who can write multi-core game code.”

But you know, the main core of the PS3’s Cell is a powerful PowerPC based processor. The Xbox 360 has three of them. The Revolution has two. And the graphics chips in these consoles are very powerful. There’s nothing to stop developers from using just one core and ignoring all the others. Doing this, the games will still be a lot better technically than anything on the market today. So my guess is that this is how most developers will start. Create some cool games that don’t even begin to tap the full potential of the hardware. As they get familiar with the hardware, they’ll start using it more.

Usually, as a console progesses towards maturity, the games get better and better. That’ll happen again with this generation, but probably to a larger degree because there’s so much more to learn and use.

So hats off to Mr. Newell for trying to scare developers, but I don’t think they’re cowering in any corners.

Link: Next-Generation“Your Existing Code? Throw it Away”