March 04: If your interested in more details of running
PS2 Linux, John Littler has written an article for O'Reilly on the
subject ... Here
As well as that, Sarah Ewen has written a coding guide.
Sony's PlayStation 2 will run Linux for fun or for learning.
Here we talk to Sony's Sarah Ewen about the setup and what you
can do with it.
When I first heard of Linux for PlayStation 2 I thought it was just a
clever hack but it looks like you've made it into something a bit more
usable than that. Who are your target users?
Yes, the Linux kit specifically includes hardware that Sony always intended
to create as an expansion for the PlayStation 2, so that the Linux
distribution we can offer is pretty much fully functional and complete.
The target users fall into two groups. The first group are Linux
enthusiasts, who played a large part in encouraging Sony to produce the kit
(they began a petition in Japan), who find it fun and interesting to run
Linux on their PlayStation 2.
The second group of users are those interested in learning to develop for
the PlayStation 2; there is a lot to learn about the hardware in order to
do this, and all of this information is provided with the kit. Disc 1 of
the DVD set includes pdf versions of the hardware manuals which we give to
professional PlayStation 2 developers - literally hundreds of pages of
information about the Emotion Engine, Vector Units and Graphics
Synthesiser. Consequently the kit provides a great chance for individuals
to get their foot in the door of the games industry, where familiarity with
the PlayStation 2 is a great asset, but also provides a very affordable way
for developers of all interests to experiment with a totally different
architecture from that of the PC.
So we have both Linux enthusiasts and graphics programmers / PS2 developers
in our community.
The kit includes a hard disk, a network adaptor, VGA monitor cable,
keyboard and mouse, and a disk and manual set. How do you get dialup
internet with that setup?
Out of the box, you don't - however there are pretty affordable USB modems
available on the market that are supported by Linux. Otherwise internet
access is available either by via LAN, or through an ethernet cable or ADSL
modem. The network adaptor which SCEA (SCE America) released included a
modem as well as an ethernet connection, and we have made a driver for this
available for download from our website playstation2-linux.com; however in
Europe, the modem will not be included, so the USB modem will be the only
option for those without a PC. I suspect that the majority of Linux kit
owners will also own a PC, however, which makes this less of an issue.
I noticed that, for installation, you need a sync-on-green monitor (but
not afterwards). How can someone tell if they have one of those around?
The best way to check is to look at our database at
We have hundreds of monitors listed there now, contributed by users of the
kit. It's also worth checking your monitor manual, although we've found
that not all manufacturers bother to even list sync on green compatibility,
which is a little frustrating. There are certainly a good spread of sync on
green compatible monitors available; I'd say at least 50% of those on the
market, though that is a guess on my part.
I notice that the kernel is loaded from a memory card. Does this speed up
No; the kernel is stored on memory card because it'ts an easily
transferable, fairly non-volatile medium. Access times to the memory cards
are actually quite slow; however once the kernel is loaded into memory
once, it doesn't matter. The convenience of using the memory card for boot
files is that it becomes possible to configure one memory card to boot
using PAL video for using with a TV, and another with VGA for using with a
monitor, without changing any configuration files; simply boot with the
desired memcard in. Of course it also means that you can have as many
different kernels compiled as you like; if you fill up one memory card, you
can easily start using another (though this is hardly necessary! one is
more than enough)
Going to the attractions for budding games programmers ...
Is there a development environment people can get from Sony?
The Linux kit provides the development environment:
- The hardware manuals (as pdfs)
- The compiler (gcc 2.95.2)
- Libraries to access the PS2 specific hardware such as the memory cards,
joypads, and the Vector Unit processors (check out /usr/doc/PlayStation2
after a full install)
- Some example code (though not reams of it - but you have all the projects
on our website too!)
Additionally, you can download a cross compiler for use on a PC to speed up
development, and we have included a utility called vcl on the DVD discs,
which is an optimiser for assembly code for the Vector Unit processors.
The only alternative until now has been the development hardware
professional game developers lease from us under license, with accompanying
What sort of platforms do games developers normally work on?
Windows is very popular among the professional PlayStation 2 developers;
there are a number of commercial compilers and development environments
that have been developed for the PlayStation 2 under Windows, such as
Metrowerks' Code Warrior. However, a development tool chain has always been
available for Linux too, so it'ts perfectly possible just to use KDevelop or
something similar, and gcc.
If someone is interested in games development and specifically
PlayStation, where should they start (assuming they have some
It's fair to say that there is a fairly steep initial learning curve when
familiarising oneself with PlayStation 2 development; however we are
beginning to publish tutorials and sample code on our community website.
I'd recommend reading the developer forum on our website, working through
the existing documentation under the "Guide" package of the "Compiled for
your convenience" project at playstation2-linux. com/projects/cfyc
This should be enough information to get a budding developer with
programming experience spinning triangles on the screen; the next step is
simply to pick a project on our site that interests you, or create on, and
start experimenting yourself. The irc channel on freenode.net and
discussion forums on our website provide good resources for people looking
for help and advice.
Are there generally separate paths for those who think up and visualise
the games, and those who actually do the coding?
That's a very general question about game development! I'd say that the
majority of people who code games base their development on ideas of their
own; however these can have been inspired by anything. Certainly most
successful titles have dedicated artists and dedicated developers, and they
have to find a way to work together. Very few titles now hail from the solo
bedroom coder who fulfils all roles of game development teams - game design
and complexity has grown to a point where that is very challenging to do
Thanks a lot Sarah.
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