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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Your Existing Code? Throw it Away

Your Existing Code? Throw it Away

"Valve boss Gabe Newell is shocked at the lack of appreciation for the giant hurdles involved in next generation console development.

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"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," said Newell.

"Most of the problems of getting these systems running on these multicore processors are not solved. They are doctoral theses, not known implementation problems. So it's not even clear that over the lifespan of these next generation systems that they will be solved problems. The amount of time it takes to get a good multicore engine running, the Xbox 360 might not even be on the market any longer. That should scare the crap out of everybody."

Newell cautions "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."

Is this different?

But learning curves for new hardware have been par for the course for the past several generations of hardware. How exactly is this different?

"Yes, it is different. It is much more difficult now to write code that will have predictable behavior. We have performance problems now in the out-of-order universe because we have programmers who can't figure out why the changes they made caused the system to behave the way it does.

"So one of the people who has a deeper understanding of the overall architecture has to come in and tinker around, more or less blind, because there aren't a lot of performance tools that give insight into what's happening in the cache memory, where a lot of this stuff goes wrong. It goes a lot worse in a multicore world, where there's a whole bunch of stuff going on in these separate [cores], can suddenly have an impact on the entire system.

"If writing in-order code [in terms of difficulty] is a one and writing out-of-order code is a four, then writing multicore code is a 10," cautions Newell. "That's going to have consequences for a lot of people in our industry. People who were marginally productive before, will now be people that you can't afford to have write engine or game code. They can't get a big enough picture of what's going on in the box so they'll be a net negative on the project."

Hardware claims

Newell is also scathing about hardware manufacturer claims regarding perormance.

"Statements about 'Oh, the PS3 is going to be twice as fast as an Xbox 360' are totally meaningless . It means nothing. It's surprising that game customers don't realize how it treats them like idiots. The assumption is that you're going to swallow that kind of system, when in fact there's no code that has been run on both of those architectures that is anything close to a realistic proxy for game performance. So to make a statement like that, I'm worried for the customers. And that we view customers as complete morons that will never catch on and that we're lying to them all the time. That's a problem because in the long run, it will have an impact on our sales."

Gabe Newell has shared his opinions and experiences with us. We'd like to hear from more developers what challenges and solutions (if any) you're facing with your next generation console projects."

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