Games

The Race for a New Game Machine: Eight is Beautiful (Book Review, Part 2)

It's not a perfect book, but those interested in the story of how the current generation of consoles came to be will find plenty to capture their interest.


The Race for a New Game Machine

Publisher: Citadel
Subtitle: Creating the Chips Inside the Xbox 360 & the PlayStation 3
Author: Mickie Phipps
Price: $21.95
Display Artist: David Shippy and Mickie Phipps
Length: 256
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780806531014
US publication date: 2008-12-30
Website
Amazon
Amazon

Note: This is part 2 of a book review I started over a month ago. Personal life got in the way of good intentions, and I never got around to posting this until now.

"Eight is beautiful".

This is where The Search for a New Game Machine caught me. Those three little words capture the ridiculousness, the arbitrarity nature of working for a customer driven by the vision of a single person. Because, you see, to that single person, the very idea of something like "eight is beautiful" is not even close to arbitrary; it makes all the difference in the world.

In The Search for a New Game Machine, the processor that would someday run the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox was designed to have six "synergistic cores" -- basically, the part of the processor that does math operations -- and those would have to be meticulously designed such that they would all fit on a single chip. When narrator David Shippy presents his final design to Ken Kutaragi, however, Kutaragi is pleased but not satisfied. He wants eight cores. His reason? "Eight is beautiful".

Shippy is, of course, furious, but what can he do? He has to acquiesce.

(Of course, word is that the extra two cores are dummy cores, there only for the purpose of satisfying Kutaragi, but still -- at the time, it must have felt like an unanswerable request.)

The Search for a New Game Machine is full of stories like this, which is what makes it a worthwhile read for anyone interested in not just game hardware design, but game history in general. It's so easy to take for granted the little boxes that make our favorite games run, but most of us have no idea of the circuitous paths that the chip designers, producers, and management teams take in order to actually get them made. All we read about here is what would become both Sony's PlayStation 3-bound Cell processor and the processor that would eventually run the Xbox 360, but one can imagine how the rest of it came to be by extension.

Of course, the real drama here is how a chip commissioned for the PlayStation 3 ended up in the Xbox 360 as well, a year earlier no less. Shippy's matter-of-fact tone throughout the story somewhat minimizes the drama that comes about when Microsoft enters the picture, but he does do a fine enough job of relaying just how uncomfortable he was with the whole situation, on top of being excited in the knowledge that no matter what happens, his chips are going to be running the game machines of the future. Still, there's very little "drama" to be found, other than the shift in workplace attitude that came about once the Microsoft guys showed up.

There are small tragedies, there are triumphs, and there's a lot of talk about chip design, most of it specifically designed for a lay audience. Shippy and Phipps have crafted an interesting book, if not really an exciting one, at least in its narrative structure; it's the type of thing that any corporate drone will recognize, told from the point of view of middle management. If you're okay with the fact that it is by all means told from the point of view of a hardware guy (which did get in the way for me an awful lot), and you're interested in the history behind the game machines you play, The Search for a New Game Machine may well be your cup of tea.

Unfortunately, the infuriating bits too often get in the way, and Shippy's matter-of-fact tone tends to grate on the reader. For these reasons, despite the informative and dramatic nature of the tale being told, it's just not that enjoyable. A book doesn't have to be enjoyable to be fulfilling, however, and The Race for a New Game Machine actually just manages the latter in spite of its failure in the former.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image