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Emergent technology levels the console development playing field

by Nick Haywood on 23 August 2007, 22:04

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Modular development tools that make things easy

Emergent technology levels the console development playing field Emergent, a provider of middle-ware development tools are showing off a new technology that'll finally kill off that "PS3 is hard to develop for" story. Modular development tools that make things easy Games Convention 2007 Emergent are a development tool provider who's wares you've very likely benefited from but never even knew. Unlike Havok or SpeedTree, two well known dev tools, Emergent have, until now, always been fairly quiet about what they do.

Their Gamebryo modular development kit has been used such varied games as Oblivion, Civilization IV and the upcoming Warhammer Online... which you've got to admit is pretty varied. The thing is, it's not a devkit or engine like Unreal Engine 3 that you get, it's a set of tools to make your own engine more efficient.

Coming out soon is a data monitoring tool called Metrics, which can monitor net traffic in a game to help with optimizing code for lag-free play across a range of connection speeds. It can even measure how often particular weapons are fired and how the game handles that data, perhaps helping to make weapons balancing in online games easier.

But the really interesting stuff is in their new tool, Floodgate.

This is essentially a data manager, which allows developers to load balance data across multiple cores. The impact of what Floodgate can do, whilst simple to explain and understand, is actually mind boggling in it’s potential.

Imagine, with just some C++ coding, being able to slot Floodgate into your engine and let it throw data across multiple cores depending on what your game is doing. In one fell swoop you’ve removed the need to assign data to a particular core and opened up the possibility of using the down-time on less busy cores spreading the data stream across several cores.

But where will this have the most impact? On the supposedly hard-to-develop-for PS3. In one fell swoop a developer can write his code, plug in Floodgate and let it utilise up to five SPUs on the CELL chip, throwing the work around with the developer having to do any laborious load balancing or core assignments.

And, if Floodgate is utilising cores efficiently, that means developer can cram in even more detail, be it procedural, visual or even audio as they won’t have to worry about devoting a core solely to one data stream. In essence, Floodgate is unlocking the power of the CELL chip without the need for intricate and lengthy coding.

Emergent have a demo running on their stand at Games Convention 2007 showing how Floodgate works. The app is running on a PS3 and is jokingly titled Bad Sushi as it has loads of blowfish swimming around on screen. Now, knock the number of cores down to just one using the slider and the framerates tops out at around 20 fps. But whack it up to five cores and you hit 60 fps no problem.

So how about upping the number of fish from 120 to 300? No problem, the framerate dipped to 50 fps but even when fish in the centre of the screen starting morphing into their puffed up versions, the framerate stayed rock solid.

Now I can’t say too much as there’s loads of interested parties looking at Floodgate and I don’t want to skew it for Emergent by talking about stuff I’m supposed to. But I can tell you that when Sony saw Floodgate in action, according to John Goodale Vice President, Marketing and Business Development at Emergent, their jaws dropped. Now if you can impress Sony execs in Japan with middleware on their own console, that’s saying something.

The thing is, Floodgate has also attracted interest from Microsoft for the Xbox 360 and from the PC hardware guys too as it’s not a platform specific tool. But one thing’s for sure, and that’s that Floodgate is most certainly going to be snapped up by devs for PS3 games in the future… which can only be a good thing.





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