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PS3 giving me a hard time / API usability engineer?

I am having a very difficult time developing on the PS3.

If the PS3 is not hooked up from the day before, I spend on average between 15 minutes and 2 hours getting it running again. Today I spent an entire day, and it still does not work correctly. I probably spent 20% of my time dealing with hardware or setup issues preventing me from doing my work.

There’s 3 things I think they need to work on

1. The causes of failures are often seemingly unrelated to the results of failures. Either A has to be done before B, or if you do A, B will not work, and one would not normally suspect that A and B are related. I’ve been thinking a lot about the analogy of how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and in this analogy the PS3 has a very long chain, with many potential failure points. It is actually similar to the difference between gaming on consoles and the PC. On the consoles you plug in the game and it just works. On the PC there are many reasons why a game would not work. Your video card is too old. You did not reboot after uploading drivers. You have some particular combination of drivers the game does not like. If any of these things go wrong, usually you just get a crash with some obscure message that does not necessarily indicate why things went wrong. The PS3 is like that, with some factors variable or semi-random.

2. Errors due to your failure to take some precondition often do not show up until much later, and the manner in which they show up often do not reflect the precondition. It’s like bad pointers when running in release mode. Or put more simply, you try to start it, and it says “Fubar because of 0x8327283” and it turns out it was because you didn’t hold down the reset button long enough when you turned off the machine the day before (that’s a made up example, but if it happened I would not be surprised).

3. On the API, I think a lot more attention should have been given to documentation and generally making things clear. Especially given the name and resources behind it. Or maybe I’m spoiled given the relative high quality of the documentation for the Windows API and DirectX.

I’ve never heard of such a job, but someone ought to make up the job “API Usability Engineer.” If they did I would apply. I would even help Sony if they asked me. I think I have relatively high standards of documentation and what construes acceptable quality for public APIs. A few things come to mind immediately:

* If B relies on A, and there is no reason not to do A, then B should do A implicitly. I can think of some cases immediately where this ought to be but is not true on the PS3
* If 95% of the users would do A the same way, and if that assumption is made B can be written much more simply, provide both A and B.
* If B will fail because A is not done, B should indicate this immediately, and not crash or cause problems later in apparently unrelated code.
* Documentation should cross reference itself, so that if A is related to B…n then B…n is linked to on the same page.
* Failures should not be silent
* All non-trivial functionality should be documented.
* Documentation should not just repeat the name of a function, except in the most trivial cases.
* Samples should be as simple and modular as possible, with an eye towards clarity over repetition or cleverness. By modular I don’t mean just focusing on that one feature, but writing the feature in such a way that the user could copy/paste it and use it with minimal problems
* Error messages should accurately reflect why something went wrong at the API level, not why something went wrong because of some internal reason. Error messages should always indicate how to fix the problem, not just state what the problem is.
* It’s worth spending a day of your time to safe a few minutes of an end-user’s time, because you only have to spend that day once but each end-user will have to spend that time over and over again.

I could think of more but I’m tired and frustrated right now. RakNet is not perfect, so if one wanted to bash me back they could. But I think it reflects these standards more than your typical library and my users sometimes write to tell me how much they appreciate this (And I appreciate the compliments!)

2 replies on “PS3 giving me a hard time / API usability engineer?”

You know, our experiences do not match at all. Once I get to work and I need to develop anything on PS3, I turn devkit on (if it’s off), open Visual Studio, write code, once it’s done, I hit Build, F5, voila – it runs in a debugger automagically in 10 seconds or so.

Also, there’s a lot of different APIs, but generally documentation is good for me, it’s enough to get most of things done, and forums more or less fill the rest. Surely some things are amiss, but so they are i.e. for DX10 documentation. Though MSDN is of better quality, of course.

Also, while on 360 I occasionally run into issues that either Visual Studio or devkit hangs dead, and I’m forced to reset/restart them manually, I’ve NEVER run in such situation on PS3.

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