PS4: Cerny and Ito talk about Backward Compatibility and x86 Architecture
Sony’s decision to cut out backward compatibility for the PlayStation 4 was apparently not an easy one. True, Dave Perry (founder of the cloud gaming platform Gaikai) suggested during the PS4′ s reveal back in February that it’s Gaikai’s goal to include the full spectrum of the PlayStation line-up of titles (as detailed in the latter of part one of our report on the PS4’s announcement), but – unfortunately – it seems that PS3 gamers will not be able to play their PS3 games on the new machine via traditional means.
A shame, really, but the PS4’s system architect Mark Cerny explains why. When speaking to a Japanese press recently, Cerny told his story of how he started thinking about a next-generation console in 2007, and how he spent the entirety of his Thanksgiving weekend trying to bounce about ideas of what kind of technologies could be used for it, and how the difficult decision of losing backward compatibility would be done in favour of x86 architecture (a thought in particular which took up most of his weekend). It was during that same interview that Cerny talked about 4K gaming.
The interview was translated thanks to a boffin over on NeoGAF.
“I had started discussions regarding the next generation following PS3 in 2007. At that time, I was investigating what should be done for next generation [technologies]. It was at that time, I wondered if we couldn’t use the x86 architecture for the next generation. I used the entirety of Thanksgiving weekend looking into this. For Americans, this holiday is extremely important. But, that’s how I sacrificed the holidays to think about the future and what possibilities this might bring for our organization.”
“After that, I went to Phil Harrison since he was at the top of the game development division. I was also introduced to Masayuki Chatani who was SCE’s CTO at that time and was directing the next-gen project. What was surprising was that he said “yes” to me being involved with the next generation console.”
Switching to the more developer-friendly x86 meant losing backward compatibility. Cerny admitted that this point was a struggle for Sony. However, they decided to focus on the “positive aspects” that arose from switching to x86. According to Cerny, x86 has “instruction sets which are of significant importance for games,” and that moving to x86 had an “extremely complex set of requirements.”
Masayasu Ito (Sony’s Senior Vice President) added how even though backward compatibility is important, the long thought-out decision would have saved manufacturing troubles later down the line. Simply put, in order to support backward compatibility, the PS4 would have had to have the PS3′ s CELL Broadband Engine inside it, which is something that’s doable but not overall practical.
“Backwards compatibility, particularly in Japan, is something that is strongly brought frequently, so we thought long and hard about this. Realistically, to support backwards compatibility with PS3, the CELL Broadband Engine would have needed to been part of the new console. Currently, it’s not possible to simulate this via software. If CELL were the only requirement, that wouldn’t have been much of an issue.”
“We would also need to support the supporting hardware indefinitely. We can freely manufacture CELL if the decision is made that it is needed. However, that’s not the case with supporting hardware. There are parts which will become difficult to obtain since 7 years is already considered to be long in the IT industry…”
It is a real shame that backward compatibility had to be axed. Having said that, it’s not really the end of the world. As well as x86 being more user-friendly for developers, If Gaikai hold their promise and manage to get the full spectrum of PlayStation titles onto their cloud service, then gamers will still be able to play their PS3 classics, as well as whole lot more!
Granted, of course, if gamers wanted those classics on their machine, they’d most likely have to buy them again. However, Perry did say that you will be able to “try for free, and pay only for games you fall in love with.” Regardless of how generous that sounds, though, I think PS3 gamers will still have to fork out X amount of money to actually buy their classics on the PS4. Exactly how much they will have to fork is unknown to me. It’s a digital service, so maybe not too expensive, but that’s wishful thinking on my part.
If some gamers are still uncertain about how they feel about this, they may like to think about it this way: if they already have a PS3, then play PS3 titles on that, and play titles they don’t have (or heard of) on the PS4. That’s just what I’d do, though.