Why Sony (probably) will not emulate PS3 – IGN

Sony’s big upcoming update for PlayStation Plus consolidates its existing services into three levels, the two most expensive of which offer players hundreds of games from PlayStation’s current and back catalog. As the PS5 is only backwards compatible with the PS4, these new plans are the only way for gamers to access PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP games on their latest PlayStation systems. Most of these libraries will be available for direct download, but there is one major outlier: PlayStation 3 games will only be available for streaming, as has been the case on PlayStation Now.

This difference is disappointing, especially for fans with poor internet speeds who can not reliably stream games. Following the lack of PS3 backward compatibility on the PS4, the announcement once again raised the question: Why will Sony not emulate its The 2006 console, which has a fantastic game library, and could there be technical issues that prevent them from doing so? To find out, I spoke with the developers of fan-made PS3 emulators to understand why the unique design of the PS3 hardware continues to haunt PlayStation. IGN has also contacted PlayStation for a comment on the lack of PS3 downloads for PlayStation Plus, but did not hear back at the time of release.

Development Hell

The primary roadblock for proper, official PS3 emulation could be that the console was built differently. PlayStation 3 used a unique structure that differed from the relatively simpler Xbox 360 and PC architectures at the time that Sony called “Cell”. The PS3 console’s CPU was comparable to the Xbox 360 running at 3.2 GHz, but Sony aimed to strengthen the CPU’s capabilities by including seven floating co-processors, also known as PS3’s synergistic processing units (SPUs), which was notoriously complex for developers.

Here’s a brief overview of how it worked. The processor setup allowed the central power management element (PPE) to read complex code to the additional cores. These SPUs could handle parallel mathematical calculations, making them perfect for intricate physical simulations, such as collisions, clothes, and particles. Sony flirted with the concept in PlayStation 2but boosted the power of the PS3 at a floating speed that was forty times faster than its predecessor.

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Unlocking the potential of the PS3 – then and today – was not easy, in large part because the process described above was not automatic. Developers had to code this transfer themselves, creating a multi-step process that resulted in a steep learning curve for programming on PlayStation 3. We are all familiar with time pressure developers face and the predominant problem of crunch that can arise as a symptom of this time pressure. When developers developed for multiple platforms, developers regularly ignored the complicated SPUs and just used PPE. When it was time for port Bayonetta for PlayStation 3, Platinum Games producer Atsushi Inaba described to Edge Magazine how Platinum handed over the project to an internal team at Sega. A bug in using the SPUs resulted in horrible performance compared to other platforms. Inaba called it at the time “the biggest failure so far for Platinum, the one that really sticks in my mind.” A similar story surrounds the problematic PS3 port of The orange boxWhich one Valve delivered to EA rather than tackling it yourself. Simply restructuring games to a whole new system as opposed to anything else was a time consuming and costly process, which meant that the Cell processor was not used near its full extent.

Despite lowering millions in the Cell architecture, the complexity of its SPU hardware contributed in part to a slow start for PlayStation 3. Add to that the PS3’s much higher retail price and the extra year the Xbox 360 had before for the release, and the potential of the PS3 was not realized until late in its life cycle.

Simulation of synergy

Sony was aware of the problems its console was causing developers, but was not very apologetic about it at the time. “We do not provide the ‘easy to program’ console,” said CEO Kaz Hirai told the official PlayStation Magazine in 2009. “A lot of people see the negative in it, but if you turn it around, it means the hardware has more to offer.”

Some developers were not pale in criticizing Sony’s choice for PlayStation 3’s architecture at the time. Gabe Newell, speaks to Edge Magazine, labeled it as a “waste of everyone’s time.” Kazunori Yamauchi, the creator of Gran Turismo, recently told TheGamer that “PS3 was a nightmare” and that “the hardware was so complex and difficult to develop.” A doctoral study from 2007 by Daniele Paolo Scarpazza, Oreste Villa and and Fabrizio Petrini supported this and found that “software that exploits the potential of the cell requires a development effort that is significantly greater than traditional platforms.”

Thirteen years later, the PS3 architecture still gives headaches.

There are several unofficial PS3 emulators available today. On one of them, RPC3, 65% of the PS3’s catalog can currently be played. I asked its developers about the problems with emulating the PS3.

One of RPCS3’s developers, Whatcookie, pointed to PlayStation 3’s “128 byte read / write as well as the quirky floating-point format that SPUs support” as the biggest bottleneck in achieving RPCS3’s stated goal of 100% compatibility. PlayStation 5 runs on an x86 CPU like most computers. This is one of the reasons why the PS5 is backward compatible with the PS4, another x86 system. Both have 64-byte cache lines, as opposed to the PS3’s 128 bytes per second. line.

“128 bytes of data can be written ‘atomically’ on PS3, which means it appears as a single event, while on a 64-byte cache system it appears as two events,” Whatcookie explained.

Thirteen years later, the PS3 architecture still gives headaches.

Cache in this context is essentially bits of memory. Dividing the data into blocks – often called lines – makes the size of this memory more manageable. But that means the PlayStation 3, which can read and write 128-byte cache lines, can assimilate its own data much faster and more consistently than the PS5, which reads and writes in 64-byte blocks. This incompatibility can cause major performance issues beyond those already caused by attempts to simulate the cell structure of the console.

An alternative would be to install SPU furniture on the PlayStation 5 motherboard, which basically means building PS3 hardware into the PS5. It’s a method Sony implemented on PlayStation 2 and early models of the PS3, both of which included CPU architecture from their predecessors to allow backward compatibility with previous models. But of course, Sony removed these items from the PlayStation 3 after initially trading at $ 300 more than the Xbox 360 in its previous series of consoles. Adding that technology now would not only drive up console prices, but leave those who already own a PS5 without access to that functionality.

A user on RPCS3 Discord told me that “developing an emulation solution for the SPUs would be ridiculously expensive [for Sony] and makes no economic sense. “Whatcookie also believed this was the case, citing that Sony has only managed to emulate the PS1, PS2 and PSP for two generations.

“If they made huge money on these emulators, then I think they would have put huge money into it,” Whatcookie said.

Depending on how you look at it, Sony’s battle to emulate the PlayStation 3 is complex or incredibly simple. On the one hand, an expensive maze of technological problems makes it appear like a swamp of complications. Still, it all seems to go down to the fact that the whole process is most likely prohibitively expensive, at least in terms of interest and profits for PlayStation. This leaves PlayStation players with only a few options: Stream PS3 games through PS Now (and ultimately PS Plus) or chase an old PlayStation 3. Either way, it’s more complicated than just being able to download games to current consoles, which players will be able to do with PS1, PS2 and even PSP games.

Either way, you may not need to get rid of your PlayStation 3 yet.

Geoffrey Bunting is a disabled freelance journalist. In addition to IGN, he has written about gaming, entertainment, accessibility and more for Wired, Rock Paper Shotgun, Inverse and others.