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Insomniac Interview, Part II

insomniac.jpgYesterday we kicked off the Insomniac interview with Part I and some great questions about Resistance: Fall of Man. Today we continue those questions, plus we have some questions about the PS3 in general that I think you’ll find fascinating.

5. Can you tell us what you’re currently working on? I assume Ratchet & Clank PS3 development has started, am I wrong? What about an R:FoM sequel? Any downloadable games?

TP: We’re working on more online content for Resistance: FOM and you can find the details in a recent interview we did on [Editor: I assume he means this interview.] And yes, we’re definitely working on Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction for the PS3 and it’s looking awesome. Amazing what happens when you move into developing the second wave of software on any hardware platform…I’m going to stay mum when it comes to the other stuff we’re doing.

6. Developers mention 1080p and splitscreen support as performance bottlenecks. For example, with R:FoM you went with splitscreen (which is great!) and 720p (instead of 1080p, which is fine IMHO). MotorStorm didn’t even do splitscreen. What kind of perfomance impact does 1080p or 4 player splitscreen support have on a game? Is it really that hard to do splitscreen? (I have a personal axe to grind on this one, because I like to invite friends over to play.)

Rob Wyatt, Senior Engine Programmer: Split screen is a difficult problem from a performance point of view and it is certainly more difficult from an engineering point of view than rendering 1920×1080. Both together, no doubt, requires a serious engineering effort but it’s not impossible. As the PS3 hardware is better understood it will become easier. Rendering 1080 is more performance intensive than 720 simply because it has two and a quarter times as many pixels, which is not only more pixels to render but also more video memory and bandwidth is used for the bigger frame buffers. The general overhead of 1080 is the same for full screen and split screen, whether you are rendering a single viewport or 4 viewports the total number of pixels on the screen doesn’t change. Independently of the resolution, split screen places a different set of demands on the graphics hardware and graphics engine. For each viewport the engine has to more or less reprocess the entire scene, this is a lot of additional work, and ultimately generates a lot of additional polygons for the graphics hardware to process. The combined overhead of the 1080 resolution with the extra polygon processing required for multiple viewports, while keeping in frame and not sacrificing AAA quality, is a very difficult problem. In the limited development time frame of a launch game there were bigger battles to fight but it’s certainly possible and you will see split screen games running at 1080. For Resistance: Fall of Man, split screen with co-op play simply brought more to the table so 1080 support had to wait.

7. There are some features we’ve seen elsewhere that we haven’t seen on the PS3, and I was wondering if it was because the PS3 was technically incapable of doing these things, or if developers or Sony just haven’t implemented the features. Could you help us clarify whether or not the PS3 can do them, and how hard they would be to do? They are: (1) bringing splitscreen players online with you (like in CoD3 for the Xbox 360), (2) linking several consoles together to play local online, and (3) global voice chat.

Eric Ellis, Multiplayer Team Lead: My first reaction to this question is that we haven’t yet seen a large number of PS3 games released yet, so it’s a bit early to be guessing the limitations of the hardware from the current lineup. And none of these features really pose any sort of a hardware challenge, so the PS3 is certainly capable of all of them. However, I’ll be happy to give you some more specifics on each of the features mentioned.

  1. Splitscreen online play is certainly possible on the PS3. Resistance: Fall of Man did not implement this feature because as a launch title we had to make some compromises in the interest of time and that was a feature we didn’t get the time to complete. However, I wouldn’t rule out seeing it in future Insomniac games.
  2. Local-only LAN play is also technically not difficult on the PS3, though we see the demand for this being less than some other features as most people who are doing a LAN party these days also have internet access so they can usually play together that way. Another thing about our game is that we use dedicated servers for online play, so it would be slightly more difficult for us than for a peer-to-peer game or a game using one of the consoles as the host.
  3. When you say “global voice chat,” I assume you mean the ability to voice chat with anyone on your Playstation Network friends list, regardless of what game they are playing? Because we certainly have voice chat in Resistance, and not everyone realizes this, probably in part because of some of the confusion and questions about other games and the PSN as a whole. The only thing I can comment on with respect to the PSN voice chat is that there is no PS3 hardware limitation that would make this any harder than it is on any other console. We also know that Sony is deeply committed to continual improvements and upgrades to their Playstation Network and it is certainly possible that you’ll see this feature announced in some future update.

8. The PS3 has 256MB of fast video RAM and 256MB of normal RAM. But I’ve heard that all memory can be used either by the Cell or the GPU anyway. Is this split an issue? Does it hinder or help? Would a unified memory architecture have been better? Do you have any clarifying comments about that?

Al Hastings, Chief Technology Officer: In practice, the split memory architecture hasn’t caused us many problems. The GPU can access main RAM at high speed and with very few restrictions. And while there are some restrictions when you want the CPU or SPUs to access video RAM at high speed, so far they’ve been easy enough to work with.

For the PS3, I think the split memory architecture was the right way to go. It allows the Cell and the GPU to both do heavy work on their local buses without contending with each other. It should really pay dividends a few years down the road in the PS3’s lifecycle when everyone’s code has gotten more efficient and bus bandwidth emerges as a one of the most important resources.