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distributed data processing


Baiter
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The concept of distributed data processing is really simple, much like having twin engines on the back of the boat, double the power with a modest amount of overhead (weight in my boat analogy).

 

Sony has been sending out rumors, for years now, that there next system was going to use this system to produce a processing powerhouse at the finger tips of your controller. When I first heard this, I figured it must be a farse designed to throw the competitors off the scent.

 

The big problem with this idea for video games is it needs to be done in 100% real time. If you can imagine your game using a console hundreds of miles away to render shadowing, but then experiencing lag. This design seemed riddled with problems even before you considered the complexity of the software development.

 

Well I think I've figured out a way it could be done without too much difficulty. I recently realized that everyone I play with on LIVE has a pc idling at there mercy somewhere in the house, both hooked up on the same network. If sony and/or ms could write software allowing a console to harness the cpu power of that pc, well voila. You've suddenly developed a console with potentially 10x the processing power of anything on the market.

 

Okay, i've babbled on enough, just an interesting idea i came up with while my mind was wandering, and was curious what u guys thought.

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...but one of the most appealing aspects of console gaming is consistency. Y'know, an XBox is an XBox. A PS2 is a PS2. But if you get in a situation where playing a game is dependent on greatly varying, exterior, virtually uncontrollable resources...then you open yourself up to situations where different users aren't enjoying the same gaming experience, even if they're playing the same exact game on the exact same console.

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I don't see that Sony could pull it off and have it make economic sense.

 

Looking at their competitor's design (Xbox), I don't know what they would be thinking. Microsoft just waits around for 4-5 years, lets PC makers do all the innovative grunt work, then steps in and make specialized volume deals with the ones that show the most promise. Total R&D investment: almost nothing. You end up with a PC centric design for your console, but can anyone really say they have confused their Xbox with their PC? It's a console all the way. Plus they get all the latest and most well supported hardware MS can find and very easy PC ports, it's a great plan.

 

Compare that to spending $$$ to invent the parallel processing scheme that Sony is talking about. It's new, it's unproven, it costs bank to write the software, benefits are dubious and unclear at this point. Maybe it could be the greatest videogame leap of all time, but also maybe the biggest disaster. I like my PS2 but we'll see whatthe PS3 has to offer before I plunk down a pre-order.

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My take on Sony's "Cell Processing" is much more basic. Reading between the lines I just assumed it would be a parallel processing system inside the box of the PS3 -as opposed to using dormant CPU cycles of your neighbor's PS3.

 

Lots of people have read the Cell info and assumed it was some sort of network enabled distributed computing model but I disagree. I just think it's a different take on system design. Rather than the traditional CPU and GPU it'll just be an internal network (all in the same box) of programable processors. If the developer needs more resources for audio then he kicks in more resources for audio.

 

The distributed computing idea is simply impossible for running games. There is now way on earth that is whay Sony is getting at. -though they have been intentionally vague.

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Does this mean that a game might have a horrible AI unless I'm online? Or a bad draw distance without broadband?
If a game was relying on an external processor for those functions, then yes I suppose.

 

And most importantly, what are the specific applications where we might see this in use in a videogame context?
If it was a system like I was referring to, where external processing power is harnessed, the application of the processing power would vary greatly depending on the game, and exactly how much power could be utilized.

 

Your AI example is probably the easiest to comprehend and even develop. For a nascar game, you could connect to 23 different consoles, each controlling an AI car on the track. By doing this, you've given yourself an awful lot of processing power and could therefore make the AI very "smart", but you've also offloaded some processing from your machine, so the other aspects of the game could theoretically be improved.

 

The potential for this kind of technology is pretty mind blowing. Back 6 or 7 years ago, I know the military was able to simulate a helicopter take off down to the molecular level in real time. They did this by allowing each pc to simulate a small piece of space in a virtual environment.

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I think iCamp has the idea, it isn't over the internet but is a 'dencentralized' processing system. Like there are lots of tiny CPUs with memory, bus lines, etc. that make up one great big CPU. So if a game only needs 1/2 of the CPU power, you either shut down the other half or let it do something else. If a game has great graphics but little sound, you allocate 95% of CPU to video and 5% to sound. Vice Versa, playing something like Rez or Frequency, you can let the CPU use 40% for video and 60% for sound. Very similar to what Xbox does with memory allocation, you allow the game to tell the CPU how to process the data.

 

It could still be a horribly complex task for the programmer. After all, now they have to tell the CPU how to do it's job in addition to getting the game running well. For companys like Square and Sega I would expect amazing advances, for little new companies maybe not such a hot idea.

 

Never a dull moment when you have 3 consoles fighting tooth and nail...

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Here's some quick info I found on the cell chip (worked on by Sony, IBM and Toshiba):

 

From http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1103-948493.html?tag=nl

 

Cell will likely use between four and 16 general-purpose processor cores per chip. A game console might use a chip with 16 cores, while a less complicated device like a set-top box would have a processor with fewer, said Peter Glaskowsky, editor in chief of influential industry newsletter Microprocessor Report. Some of these cores might perform computational functions, while others could control audio or graphics.

 

But not everyone thinks this approach is groundbreaking, given that some processors already use inter-chip multiprocessing. "I just don't see that Cell is revolutionary, except in its marketing impact," Glaskowsky said

 

From http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconva...ley/5310853.htm

 

As soon as each processor or team finishes its job, it will be immediately redeployed to do something else.

 

Such complex, on-the-fly coordination is a technical challenge, and not just for Sony. Game developers warn that the cell chips do so many things at once that it could be a nightmare writing programs for them -- the same complaint they originally had about the PlayStation 2, Sony's current game console.

 

Sony officials said that one key feature of the cell design is that if a device doesn't have enough processing power itself to handle everything, it can reach out to unused processors across the Internet and tap them for help.

 

Peter Glaskowsky, editor of the Microprocessor Report, said Sony is ``being too ambitious'' with the networked aspect of the cell design because even the fastest Internet connections are usually way too slow to coordinate tasks efficiently.

 

-j

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