SAN FRANCISCO--It's big, complicated and shares a fair amount of DNA with IBM servers, but there's no reason to be afraid of the Cell processor, Sony technicians told game developers on Wednesday.
That's because Cell, the chip that will power the next version of Sony's PlayStation video game console, will use programming tools that developers should already be familiar with and new tools that should allow them to work smarter, two researchers from Sony Computer Entertainment America said during a panel discussion at the Game Developers Conference here.
"The Cell is a complicated piece of machinery," said Mark DeLoura, manager of developer relations for SCEA. "What we can to do to make it easy for you, we'll do...We don't want to make you learn a new API (application programming interface) every time we come out with a new chip."
Sony has been working on the Cell, in partnership with IBM and Toshiba, for four years. Engineers revealed architectural details of the chip last month, explaining that it will be a multicore processor based on IBM's Power architecture.
Sony shared some of the first programming details on the chip on Wednesday, promising that Cell would adapt many existing development tools rather than force developers to learn whole new languages.
For starters, said DeLoura, Cell graphics will rely on a variation of the standard OpenGL library already widely used for PC games. Sony and software consortium the Khronos Group are developing Open GL/ES, a dialect of OpenGL optimized for interactive content, DeLoura said.
"OpenGL is huge--it has a lot of we just don't need for games," he said. "We've developed something for games, not running CAD (computer-assisted drafting)."
Cell will also use Cg, a language developed by graphics chip leader Nvidia for creating high-level graphics effects. And programmers will be able to control the eight "synergistic processing elements" that account for the bulk of Cell's horsepower using standard C or C++ tools, instead of the exacting assembly-level programming required with the current PlayStation 2.
New tools include Collada, a dialect of XML (extensible markup language) being created by Sony and creators of leading development tools to serve as a standard format for describing game assets. The goal is to save developers the hassle of recreating the same visual elements in different games. Make a great looking pine tree, for example, and you'll have a uniform way to describe the tree to other development tools and game systems.
"The tool vendors are working with us to create the importers and exporters for you," DeLoura said. "It's their job to make sure your stuff arrives intact."
Such reassurances were especially welcome after Dominic Mallinson, research director for SCEA, explained likely programming models for getting the most out of Cell's nine processing units, a task he likened to creating music for a large orchestra. System-level work will be handled by the operating system, but it'll be up to developers to figure out how to slice and dice their computing tasks.
"You, the developers, are the composers," Mallinson said. "It's up to you to assign tasks to get the best possible performance."