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PS3 Attitude

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

10 Questions with Qube on 'Q'

Qube Software recently announced a new middleware offering for all current platforms including the PS3.

The product, simply named 'Q', is being officially launched at GDC this month. Founded by Servan Keondjian and Doug Rabson, the software pioneers who between them created Reality Lab and Direct3D, and based in West Hampstead (London), Qube has designed and built Q to provide a consistent software framework for development studios.

"We've designed and built Q so it rocks on the current generation of platforms; the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and hi-spec gaming PCs. It positions us well for next generation mobile devices and it’s both fast and compact enough so that last generation devices can handle it. It’s a solution that works for every genre; RPG, MMO, FPS, racing, sports, action and even the latest stars like rhythm action games.” - Servan Keondjian, Managing Director


We caught a few moments with Qube Software's Program Manager, Jamie Fowlston, and asked him 10 questions on 'Q':

[PS3A] What does 'Q' bring to the PS3 development community?

[JF] Q brings a number of high-end technical features to the PS3, including background data streaming for huge seamless worlds, a texture manager that allows scenes to have gigabytes of visible texture and a novel n-dimensional animation blending system.

But Q's real innovation is its extensibility, the extent and ease with which it can be customised and specialised by developers.

Extensibility may be much less glamorous than a shiny graphics feature, but it is vastly more important to the process of creating a game. Q has been designed and built to let developers in at every level so they can make the PS3 hardware sing.

[PS3A] Why is it different to other middleware offerings?

[JF] The real problem for middleware has always been the difficulty of customising it.

Existing middleware typically comes in two flavours: game engines and low-level renderers. Game engines give you a naked game and the tools to clothe it; if the game you're building is similar to the original, it'll work great.

But if a developer wants to do something differently, it takes a huge investment in understanding and re-engineering the original game. For low-level renderers, there's lots of work to be done on top of the renderer to complete the game.

Q is a totally different beast.

Q provides high-level features and tools like a game engine, but it is built from small, modular components. Developers can pick and choose the standard components they like, add their own when necessary and even bring in pieces from other developers. We don't know of any other middleware that gives developers such freedom to mix and match the pieces they need.

[PS3A] What challenges did you face in bringing your platform to the PS3, and how was it different to other platforms?

[JF] We actually found the PS3 pretty easy to work with. I don't recall any major challenges. It took us about a month to get everything up and running.

We brought Q up on a PS2 first to make sure it was small and fast so when we ported to PS3 everything went like a rocket. We had some minor performance issues running expensive shaders on early dev kits, but that's ancient history now.

The Cell is obviously quite different to anything on other platforms, but that's just given us the opportunity to offload various tasks onto the SPUs, which is nice.

[PS3A] Which titles are already in development using 'Q' and are any of the PS3-based?

[JF] I'm afraid we can't say anything about the games in development using Q at the moment as they belong to our customers, not us. But I can say that Q's PS3 capability has played an important part in the decision making process for a number of developers.

[PS3A] After seeing the videos of 'EarthSim 2' my immediate reaction was two words - David Braben! What would it take to bring a next-generation 'Elite' sequel to life using 'Q'?

[JF] Earthsim 2 adds a number of custom plug-ins to Q to bring its planets to life, using dynamic tessellation and procedural detail techniques. To build something like Elite on top of that base wouldn't be hard - the technology's been done, the rest is gameplay!

[PS3A] How well will 'Q' work alongside other exciting middleware offerings, such as the Havok 'ragdoll' physics engine or the forthcoming HydroEngine that allows developers to 'flood' levels with realistic water?

[JF] We haven't worked with those specific middleware offerings, but from our point of view integrating another middleware component is just like a developer adding their own components: it's what Q was designed for.

[PS3A] How many people are there in your team now?

[JF] There are 7 of us working on bringing Q to market right now. There are another 3 engineers on the Earthsim 2 team who make sure what we do is useful.

[PS3A] What's the most amazing part of your life?

[JF] Finding out that BAFTA awards bend when knocked off a table.

[PS3A] Where is the best place to eat in West Hampstead?

[JF] The Banana Tree Canteen: the chicken laksa noodle soup is a marvel.

[PS3A] What does the future hold for Qube and what's at stake if you don't reach your goals?

[JF] We're currently working on Q and Earthsim, we think both projects are now ready to take on the world, so we're working hard to make them successful. If we don't reach those goals, we'll have to see what happens; we're not planning for it!

We'll wait to see what Q has to offer when it is fully launched at GDC. In the meantime, take a look below at the three-part Earthsim 2 run-through.

Many thanks to Jamie and Qube Software for sparing us their time - PS3 Attitude will watch what happens next closely.











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