IBM Shops Cell to Indie Game Developers

Cell BE processor co-manufacturer IBM may be eager to find new channels for exploiting the CPU that currently resides at the heart of Sony's PlayStation 3 - but few other places. This morning, IBM, in conjunction with Vivendi game developer High Moon Studios and Canadian high-performance developer RapidMind, launched a coast-to-coast event for the remainder of this week, taking place simultaneously in Armonk, NY, and Carlsbad, CA. Their intention is to interest developers into building a new gaming platform around the Cell.

High Moon produces a first-person shooter for PS2 and Xbox, set in a hybrid vampire/Western theme, called Darkwatch. Meanwhile, RapidMind has already been managing a series of what it calls "hack-a-thons," in conjunction with the Colorado-based producer of Yellow Dog Linux, Terra Soft Solutions.

Previous hack-a-thons helped RapidMind demonstrate its PS3 development tools, which are built on the Yellow Dog platform directly on the PS3. In fact, Terra Soft actually resells PS3s with Yellow Dog Linux pre-installed.

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With IBM stepping into the act and bringing Vivendi with it, the company may be taking more serious steps in exploring the potential of a Cell-based Linux computer for the home. In IBM's statement this morning, the company refrained from using the word "Linux," and also paid appropriate respect to the PS3.

However, clearly signaling the fork in the road, IBM consumer division vice president Hal Lasky pointed toward a new and divergent path for the Cell: "Our focus is also on enabling the broader eco-system of game developers to fully utilize the power of the Cell Broadband Engine," Lasky said in a prepared statement. "We hope this takes us to a plateau that has never been approached before."

The identity of the party likely to lay claim to this plateau once it's discovered, wasn't explicitly stated. Last week, a Sony executive announced the company is considering pulling out as a producer of the Cell, letting IBM, Chartered Semiconductor, and others produce the design to which Sony contributed under license. Sony has been on record as not too willing to explore the possibility of expanding the PS3 into a home computer, though officials have previously acknowledged it would take little more than a cheap keyboard and mouse, and a decent Linux distribution, to make the PS3 into an unprecedented, powerful home system.

But Sony may not be entirely opposed to the idea, either. It still plays a major role in Khronos Group, the alliance which develops the OpenKODE series of libraries (which include OpenGL and OpenGL ES). To that end, in 2005, Sony folded into Khronos' activities its Collada project, which involves the creation of open-source tools enabling game developers to transport their assets (their graphics, scenery, and environments) between platforms, such as from PS2 to PS3 or PlayStation Portable. RapidMind's development tools are developed around C++ and Open GL, which makes them quite complementary to Collada.

Perhaps you already see the path opening up here. Conceivably, a Yellow Dog Linux-based Cell computer -- whether it's a PS3 or something else -- could be marketed to enthusiasts, maybe as a new brand. And if enough developers were interested in supporting this new platform, then the tools may become available to them for rapidly porting their PS3 games. Almost instantly, the new device would have a software base.

"The opportunities and applications for Cell technology continue to grow," an IBM spokesperson told BetaNews. "Once developed just for the Sony PlayStation 3 system, IBM has been looking at opportunities outside of the gaming system itself, to where Cell could be applicable."

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