Skip to main content

PlayStation 4 lead architect reveals secrets behind Sony's next console

PlayStation 4 lead architect reveals secrets behind Sony's next console


Mark Cerny explains the technical philosophy that informs the PS4's design

Share this story

When Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4 two months ago, many were impressed to see Mark Cerny fronting the presentation as lead system architect; the industry veteran first made his name by designing the classic Marble Madness at the age of 18, and has since been described as "the closest we have come to a modern-day da Vinci." Cerny hasn't spoken much about the PS4 since, but now a lengthy, in-depth interview with Gamasutra does a lot to explain the thinking behind the system's design.

"We didn't want the hardware to be a puzzle that programmers would be needing to solve."

Cerny traces the initial PS4 blueprint back to Thanksgiving 2007, when he read a book about the history of the x86 system architecture and decided it would be powerful enough for the PlayStation 3's successor. "The biggest thing is we didn't want the hardware to be a puzzle that programmers would be needing to solve in order to make quality titles," he says, explaining that many developers had difficulty with the PS3's unique Cell processor. "There was huge performance there, but in order to unlock that performance, you really needed to study it and learn unique ways of using the hardware." Cerny says the goal with PS4 was to employ a familiar architecture that would also have a lot of power. Addressing a question about whether Sony gave consideration to developers who would have to create games for multiple platforms — the next Xbox, codenamed "Durango," is widely believed to use a similar x86 processor to the PS4 — Cerny says, "When I say that our goal is not to create puzzles that the developers have to solve, that is how we do well in a multi-platform world."

PS4 uses a "supercharged PC architecture"

Cerny describes the PS4 design as a "supercharged PC architecture," and a big part of that is the 8GB of fast, unified GDDR5 memory that both the CPU and GPU can call upon. "If [a PC] had 8 gigabytes of memory on it, the CPU or GPU could only share about 1 percent of that memory on any given frame. That's simply a limit imposed by the speed of the PCIe. So, yes, there is substantial benefit to having a unified architecture on PS4, and it’s a very straightforward benefit that you get even on your first day of coding with the system." He believes that the design approach will result in a very future-proof console, and expects developers to eventually make use of "asynchronous compute" — harnessing the power of the GPU for tasks beyond rendering graphics, such as physics modeling. While most developers will probably use the GPU for graphics alone at first, Cerny says that, to maximize the PS4's potential, they should be exploring other methods of resource management by the midpoint of the system's lifecycle. This shouldn't be too difficult to adopt, either, with the PS4 development tools offering some "very simple controls" to adjust compute on the GPU.

Launch lineup will be "stronger than any prior PlayStation hardware"

On the subject of the PS4's games, Cerny says that the launch lineup will be "stronger than any prior PlayStation hardware" because of how easy the system is to develop for, and claims that game engines will take "weeks, not months" to port to the console from PC. That's not to say that there won't be challenges, however, and he addressed some potential pitfalls that creators might run into. "With graphics, the first bottleneck you’re likely to run into is memory bandwidth. Given that 10 or more textures per object will be standard in this generation, it’s very easy to run into that bottleneck," he says. "Our strategy has been simply to make sure that we were using GDDR5 for the system memory and therefore have a lot of bandwidth." Sony is also working on a PS4 version of its Razor performance analysis software, which is used in PS Vita development.

While Sony is yet to even reveal the box that all this hardware will fit inside, Cerny appears confident and eager to assure the world that the PlayStation 4 will right the wrongs that led to a difficult launch for its predecessor. But with the console's release scheduled for this holiday season, there's a lot of work to be done to make sure the finished product matches his works. "I have not been this busy in 20 years. It's nice," he says. "But, definitely, I'm very busy right now."

For more detailed discussion on the PS4's technical makeup, make sure to read the full Gamasutra interview.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.

External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.