In many ways, PS4 represents a complete turnaround for Sony. While PS3 was a $599 beast of a console packed with a bizarre proprietary Cell chip, PS4 is a cheaper, developer-friendly system that utilizes familiar x86 architecture. Why did Sony's approach to PS4 change so drastically?
Mark Cerny, system architect of PS4, admits that while PS3 was a powerful console, they had "completely the wrong attitude" going into that generation of hardware.
When first presented the Cell chip, Cerny admits that he "wasn't thinking about the practical reality of making a game with SPUs." Speaking at Gamelab 2013, Cerny said that he was "ashamed" to admit that "I never imagined that the cost of Cell would be one of the factors that caused the PS3 to ship at a price of $599."
"I was just staying focused on the task at hand, which was to best use the chip that had already been designed," he added.
Working with Sony's software development team, he was tasked with trying to figure out how to make games on Cell. By working internally to solve the puzzle of Cell, Cerny said that "we had a tremendous lead over every third-party team that would try to make games for the platform. The third parties hadn't even been briefed yet, let alone start work on their PS3 engines."
"Our feeling was that Electronic Arts and Rockstar better watch out--our proprietary first party systems were going to show them who had the right stuff," Cerny said. "This was, of course, completely the wrong attitude, but at the time, we just didn't know any better."
"We were all working on behalf of Sony Computer Entertainment's US game teams, and we were just thinking about our individual game titles. We weren't thinking about the platform at all," Cerny pointed out. At launch, developers were not happy with PS3.
A few years after the launch of PS3, Sony had to begin planning its next-generation console. With the help of Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida, Cerny became chief architect of PS4. Surprisingly, Cell was still something that Sony was considering for PS4, even in spite of outspoken issues with development. "The most obvious path forward was to continue to use Cell," Cerny said. "Though the learning curve had been steep, it was clear that mastery of SPUs was leading to some amazing titles, like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune... it was definitely an option to continue using Cell, perhaps even enhancing it, making it more powerful and easier to use."
Ultimately, Cerny decided to talk to third-parties about what they wanted from Sony's next console, taking the opposite approach to PS3's design. The early feedback on PS4, so far, has been quite positive.