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Ridge Racer boss takes wheel at Sony-BandaiNamco venture

Posted by: Kenji Hall on January 24, 2007

Plenty of techies have weighed in about the potential of the Cell, the uber-chip that debuted in Sony’s PlayStation 3 video game console. Developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, the chip takes PS3 games to a new level with ultrarealistic 3-D graphics and lightning-fast action. In time, it’s expected to offer the kind of instant number-crunching computing power that’s needed for the medical and defense industries. But what about entertainment? That task has fallen to Isao Nakamura, the 41-year-old creator of Namco’s acclaimed Ridge Racer game series.

Nakamura, who is also a prof. at Tohoku University of Art and Design, has just been tapped to head a new venture formed by BandaiNamco Games (51%) and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (49%), Sony’s video games unit. He has about $1 million in seed money and a daunting mission. From March, he’ll be asked to dissect the Cell and come up with new ways for it to digest and deliver digital content.

Sony and BandaiNamco say this isn’t a game software venture. But they’re not very helpful in explaining what Cellius, Inc. will focus on besides software. “It will be a small, efficient operation of about 30 hardware and software engineers from both companies,” says a BandaiNamco spokesman. “We can’t say what this venture will come up with because we don’t know how the Cell will transform the world of entertainment.” In a nutshell: Nobody knows what the Cell will eventually allow PS3 users to do but somebody has to find out. For now, the PS3 is a gaming machine on steroids. Sony’s games guru, Ken Kutaragi, will keep a close watch on things as a director of the venture. That’s to be expected since he’s been the Cell’s biggest booster for the past six years. If you believe him, the Cell—or more accurately, a later version of it—will find its way into TVs, set-top boxes and mobile gizmos, turning ordinary consumer electronics into mini-supercomputing devices. But then, if that’s the case, shouldn’t Sony, not its games unit, be looking into this?

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