Every year, the Game Developers Conference hosts over 300 lectures, workshops and panels led by designers and technical wizards from every part of the game industry. On the hardware end, the two most exciting lectures that took place last Thursday were separate talks by the chief technical officers of Microsoft and Sony Computer Entertainment. While Microsoft took the moment to overview how the Xbox has fared up to now, Sony CTO Shinchi Okamoto discussed instead the far-flung future of the PlayStation system.
What will the PlayStation 3 look like? Although still in a very early research phase, statements by SCEI president Ken Kutaragi seem to suggest the PS3 will be both extremely powerful and seamlessly integrated with the Internet to create a complete entertainment centre for consumers. The problem, according to Okamoto: technology isn't advancing quickly enough to make this a reality.
"Moore's Law is too slow for us," he said, referring to the informal industry rule that computer power generally doubles every 18 months. "We can't wait 20 years for a major increase in performance."
The solution SCEI is working on may involve distributed computing, a system that spreads computational tasks across multiple computers on a network. Sony is currently working with IBM to apply the computer giant's technology to their next game system, which implies that PS3 systems connected via the Internet will share processing power and data to build games like we've never seen before. Maybe. Okamoto also said they may be using biotechnology by the time the PlayStation 6 or 7 comes out, but is doubtful that will happen until we're all flying to the Intergalactic Shopping Mall in our personal jet speeders.
Meanwhile, Pete Isensee, technology head of Microsoft's Xbox project, discussed the recent past and near future of his company's game system. With the system launching on time without serious problems, Isensee was positive about how the first few months of the Xbox have passed.
"Microsoft has this stigma about not getting it right until version three, we didn't have a choice with Xbox. If we didn't get it right with version one, Sony and Nintendo would eat us alive."
Although the US launch couldn't have gone better, Isensee admitted that Microsoft should have made more preparations for overseas gamers. The American Xbox controller, too big for most Japanese gamers' hands, was replaced with a smaller version in Japan (going on sale here as Controller S later this year).