Speaking at the recent Game Education Summit in Dallas, Senior Manager of Developer Support at SCEA Mark Danks discussed the skills required for working on PlayStation hardware before going into detail about the recently announced PlayStation-edu initiative.
This newly announced concept
is orientated towards teaching students how to specifically understand Sony hardware such as the PSP and PlayStation 2, and how to code assembly over general programming skills.
Danks introduced the concept for PlayStation-edu -- "It's mostly about getting schools hardware, to learn how the actual platform works. Not for research and development, for computer science and engineering, and not for art. The goal is to reach the people who care about the metal -- engine level coders who like to write in assembly."
"Consoles and multi-core are here to stay," continued Danks. "Beyond that all things change and you need to learn the basics at the low level. So Assembly is here to stay!"
"A lot of schools are treating game education like trade school," argued Danks. "Too many students can’t explain a pointer, can’t explain memory caches, can’t explain bus contention, can’t explain how a complier works, cant explain a software rasterizer, can’t explain a race condition…"
"Skills for new hires should include understanding the hardware," he explained, giving a checklist of required knowledge: assembly -- most games like Ratchet and Clank
, for example, are written in assembly -- L1/L2 cache, registers, DMA -- moving data around on a console, developers continually do this for PS2/PS3 titles -- SIMD, dual issue instructions, instruction latency, branch hints and texture lookup throughput.
"I started the program because I have a harder and harder time finding engineers," explained Danks. "Only two out of a 40 person team understood the hardware! Even if your students don’t go into games, the embedded world is huge, and fundamentally a console is an embedded device."
"You develop on a PC and move the code via Ethernet to the PS2/PS3," said Danks. "We’re giving you access to the hardware, but you still need PCs and TVs. To write for the PS2/PS3 you need to write dual column Assembly. Most programmers write in excel and then move it to a text editor."
"We want to work with universities to train students on the PlayStation platform," continued Danks, emphasizing, "We want to actively work with them. We recognize this is a long term commitment. This is not a quick fix. Change with universities also takes a very long time. I would love it if a lot of schools were teaching our hardware in the fall, I know that’s not realistic."
"We see it having 3 phases," described Danks. "Advisory, where you have us as an advisory board member. Collaborative, where we provide lectures, etc., to talk about the PlayStation platform and game development. And finally, where we develop and give the hardware, provide access to our development kits."
"There is a very formal arrangement with legal agreements required," he warned. "Some schools may not want to do this but there are other ways to get access to us and our knowledge. PSP dev kits are $2,000, PS2 $1,500 and we also provide access to our website, forums, etc. All students and faculty would be expected to have access to it and the school would have the power to add and remove students."
"We'll provide feedback and advice," he continued, "but we do have a specific vision so take what we say with a grain of salt. There will be no paperwork, only phone calls and e-mail. And I have full control over the program."
"Any caveats?" asked Danks. "It's not free. I wish we could just hand them out but we can’t. PS2 kits originally cost $20,000. There are, however, developers willing to donate the dev kits once the legal paperwork has been signed."
"Dev Kits must be in a secure area, too," continued Danks. "Fundamentally you must take responsibility for your students. No reselling on eBay, no SDK’s and compilers on BitTorrent. One agreement between Sony and the school, a second between the school and student. We recognize some schools will not sign this, but sorry, the lawyers have me on this one. However, IP is whatever your student IP agreement is. Sony does get right of first refusal for publishing and will put you in touch with the worldwide studios. If the worldwide studios aren't interested in it, students are free to sell it to anyone."
In conclusion, Danks explained his feelings on which systems would suit which students. "PSP is better for primarily collaborative content teams, but PS2 would be better for engineering students in general. That said you should really work with us to determine which’ll be best!"