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Q&A: Factor 5's Eggebrecht On Next-Gen Consoles

With 2006 drawing to a close, we talked to Factor 5's Julian Eggebrecht (Lair) to divine his own opinions of next-gen consoles, his tips for programming on the PlayStation 3, and what he's looking forward to in 2007.
With 2006 drawing to a close, we chatted to Factor 5's Julian Eggebrecht (Lair) to divine his own opinions of next-gen consoles, his tips for programming on the PlayStation 3, and what he's looking forward to in 2007. Eggebrecht is co-founder and president of San Rafael-based Factor 5, which started life as a small German developer in the late '80s. It was particularly known for the Turrican series, before moving to California to begin a long association with LucasArts and Nintendo on the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series for both Nintendo 64 and GameCube. More recently, its deal with Sony has produced PlayStation 3 dragon combat title Lair. Gamasutra: Now that all three consoles are out, what do you think of each one? Julian Eggebrecht: I think for the PS3, the potential is huge. I'm blown away by the multimedia capabilities. I mean, I tried HD DVD before, and then I tried Blu-Ray, on a good plasma I have to admit, and it's just amazing. I'm really positively surprised about the online service. I was very skeptical about that and how Sony would pull it off, and it's pretty damn close to Live, and actually some of the usability I prefer to Live, quite frankly. So I think that all went extremely well, and the potential is just huge. Now, what is a little bit of a disappointment, and we're partly responsible for that, is how few games are out. That's the thing, and hey, I'm one of the guilty people there, because we sure should've been done by launch! So that was the bummer there. For Xbox 360, I have to say Gears of War is massively impressive. Really really cool game, kudos to Cliffy. It just keeps going – it's a little awkward that the 1080p is kind of ratcheted in there, so I'm not too excited about that, it seems kind of tacked on so I don't know how much potential is out there, but the 360 is a solid system by now. And the Wii of course, as an old Nintendo guy, I love the Wii. I love the Wii as much as I love the PlayStation 3 but for completely different reasons. The Wii is – well Zelda is what I expected, but Zelda isn't even it for me. For me, it's Wii Sports and the casual stuff. Personally, as a gamer, I see people buying an Xbox [360], I see lots of people buying a PS3, but I think it's really cool to have the Wii as a second system, just for completely different games. It is a problem for third parties, because I think they will be victimized by that, because it very much seems to be a Nintendo-centric system yet again. But I think nobody should be without [the Wii]. And quite frankly if you want to be really secure in the future, and if you're a real techno geek, I think the PS3 has a lot more to offer than the Xbox [360] at the end of the day. But when [the PS3] comes to games, right now, it's a little bit weak. GS: I've been talking to people recently who said that they're actually trying to get the PS3 version of their game up to speed with the Xbox 360 version, because it's a different way of developing – cores versus multithreading, and all. JE: The way you should start out programming on the PlayStation 3 is probably not by jumping on to the SPUs like crazy, and trying to write everything on the SPUs right away. The PPU in the PS3 is essentially identical to one of the cores in the 360, so your multithreading even comes in handy if you do PPU code first on the PS3, the same way it works on one of the cores on the Xbox. We're doing quite a bit of multithreading on the PPU. Then of course, when you're done with that, and you've got your initial stuff up and running, you say: "Oh yeah, ok! So now I can move 80% of my game onto the SPUs". Of course, for us as a first party developer, this is easier, and we can just totally focus on that. But it's not like the PPU and multithreading are useless or anything. It's a great first start - then you analyze what exactly goes into SPUs and so on. GS: What are you most looking forward to in 2007? JE: Actually I'm really looking forward to 2007, because we're going to finish Lair, which is my biggest concern right now, but also, I'm really looking forward to working on a couple of smaller projects [for PlayStation 3], with the so-called EDI [E-Distribution Initiative] from Sony, which I think has huge potential, and personally as a director, I think it's one of these things that we in the creative community need a little bit." "People who work on these two and a half year, three year projects have a chance, even within an organization like Factor 5, which usually works on these large games, to work on something small again. That's the biggest thing I'm looking forward to in 2007, which is also going to be a challenge, because of course we were there about 15-20 years ago doing these small titles, so suddenly you've got these production challenges with working on something really, really small."

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