PlayStation Universe Interview: Emergent Game Technologies

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Recently PSU had the opportunity to interview Ed Holzwarth, lead PS3 Software Engineer at Emergent Game Technologies, on their game engine Gamebyro for the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles.

If you are not familiar with Gamebyro, it is a flexible game engine that allows developers to create the most beautiful and graphically rich games. Their engine can be found in games like Oblivion and Civilation IV and will soon be found in PS3 games near you.

In the interview we cover the technology itself, which games it powers, what the PS3 is like to develop for and the relationship of the RSX and Cell. Images and videos available at end of interview

Part 1: Gamebryo

1. How long has Gamebryo Element been in development?
Gamebryo has been available for use since 1998. Since then, more than 200 titles have shipped or are in development using Gamebryo.

2. What are some key features that set Gamebryo apart from other game engines?
What really sets Gamebryo apart is its flexibility—it’s been engineered for developers making any type of game. Not just, say, first-person shooters. And I think you see that flexibility in the range of titles using the engine – everything from role-playing games like Oblivion and Dark Age of Camelot to strategy games like Civilization IV. Because of that flexibility, every Gamebryo title can have its own unique look.

3. What are some next-gen games using Gamebryo? Any PS3 titles?
Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is by far the most well-known next-gen game using Gamebryo. There are a number of PS3 games in development now using Gamebryo, but we can’t disclose those at this point. We’ll make some interesting next-gen announcements over the next couple of months.

4. In a brief summary, how does the scene designer of Gamebryo work and save game developers time?
The Scene Designer makes it easy to get a game up and running in no time. It lets developers place objects and lights in a scene, assigning a range of attributes and features to those objects. You can instantly see the scene running in Gamebryo, and save scenes and entire levels for importing them into Gamebryo apps. Basically, you can very quickly pull together a scene, have it running in the engine, and poke and prod until you’re happy with it. It’s an amazing tool—and again, it’s very flexible.

5. Will there be features of the engine specifically for the PS3?
There already are, in fact. We optimize and customize the engine for each platform so that the developer can access all the features and performance in the raw iron. Gamebryo now ships with Floodgate, an API that helps you squeeze the most processing power out of every core. Once the programmer specifies the operations to perform and the associated streams of data (think graphics, AI, sound and physics data, etc.), Floodgate executes those operations with maximum efficiency—meaning that you can harness the power of idle SPUs on the PS3. Floodgate also allows users to create entire workflows of interconnected tasks – which are then analyzed, broken down, and scheduled for execution across all available cores. Workflows can be created during execution based on information at runtime, or they can be cached for execution multiple times. With this flexibility, developers can combine scores of small operations in a very simple way to achieve complex objectives. You don’t have to predefine everything at compile time—the game can adjust dynamically during execution.

6. I see you have a version of Gamebryo for XLA developers...will there be a version for PS3 network developers?
We unfortunately can’t talk about future versions of the platform. That said, we’ve always made Gamebryo available for the major platforms.

7. Are there any other tools from Emergent Game technologies that are being developed for the PS3?
All our software tools are made for cross-platform development—including for the PS3. Gamebryo is just one part of Emergent Elements – a whole family of modular tools for game development—from building and testing every type of game to launching, hosting and managing online games. Our Metrics Element, a tool for extracting, displaying and managing game data, is built to work with every major platform, including the PS3.

8. Any plans to provide the game engine for the Wii, EVO:Phase One, or Infinium Labs Phantom?
We don’t currently support those platforms.

Part 2: Developing for the PS3

9. How are you utlizing the power of the PS3 to get the most for your games?
Most of the PS3’s power comes from the SPUs, but taking advantage of that power can be a tremendous challenge. It’s easy to get into a situation where the PPU is 100%% utilized while the SPUs are waiting for work to do. Avoiding this requires careful SPU task scheduling and optimal asynchronous data transfers. Floodgate provides this ability.

In addition, when Floodgate is used in conjunction with the Gamebryo for PS3 renderer, it can take advantage of a cool feature of the RSX to verify completion of graphics data transfers. That avoids having the Cell wait for such transfers to complete before issuing draw calls. Gamebryo for PS3 already does this automatically when it renders particle systems, but it can be used all kinds of of dynamic or procedural data, whether it’s geometry or textures.

Floodgate really breaks down the challenges involved with getting work done on the SPUs. The bonus for cross-platform developers is that when you use Floodgate, you see benefits on all multi-core platforms—not just on the PS3.

Our Metrics Element product makes it easy to gather and analyze any of the thousands of performance metrics that can be queried on the PS3.

10. What's your opinion on the PS3 being difficult to program for? Strengths, weaknesses?
If it were really easy to program for the PS3, developers wouldn’t be looking to us for better answers. Multicore development is tough work. And it always takes time for good development tools to emerge for a new platform—compiling, debugging, and performance analyzing tools are still evolving for the PS3, which adds to the challenge.

11. How would you descibe the RSX and its ability to work with the Cell?
I think Sony and nVidia did a great job with the architecture. There are quite a few details that can be tricky, and performance will suffer if you’re not careful—but when used as designed, the RSX is a great match for the Cell.

12. How long do you think it will take to truly tap into the PS3's power?
It will take a few years of developers finding innovative ways to squeeze more out of the PS3, just as it did with the PS2.

So thats the interview - we hope you enjoyed it. Just to add a bit more, TimeGate Studios has recently signed a deal with Emergent Game Technologies to use their game engine in an upcoming next gen MMO. It has yet to be confirmed it the title will appear on the PS3 or not but will keep you updated as more information is available.

We would like to thank Ed and the rest of the team at Emergent Game Technologies for working with us on the interview.

Blaster Effect Movie (7.18 MB)
Depth of Field Movie (20.47 MB)
Post Processing Movie (8.58 MB)