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Anatomy of Game Development 385

Posted by michael
from the code-monkey dept.
CowboyRobot writes "ACM Queue has an article titled Game Development: Harder Than You Think that looks at the complexities of creating a modern game, in comparison with the relative simplicity of doing so ten years ago. My understanding of the industry is that they have too many designers and not enough programmers. From the article: 'Now the primary technical challenge is simply getting the code to work to produce an end result that bears some semblance to the desired functionality... There's such a wide variety of algorithms to know about, so much experience required to implement them in a useful way, and so much work overall that just needs to be done, that we have a perpetual shortage of qualified people in the industry.'"
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Anatomy of Game Development

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  • by Motherfucking Shit (636021) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:00PM (#8419436) Journal
    My understanding of the industry is that they have too many designers and not enough programmers.
    Well, you sure would think the opposite if you take Slashdot's "Games" section as an example...
    • by hyphz (179185) * on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:03PM (#8419454)
      Yea.

      It's the usual story. Companies demand experience on all posts, and then whine about lack of "qualified" applicants. While ignoring the fact that they themselves are creating a qualification that's impossible to get.
      • by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:54PM (#8419946) Homepage Journal
        Although I'm a programmer, I've spent time learning GIMP, blender, Sodopi (and a load of applications from other skill domains) - when no one is regulating your use of software, you're free to teach yourself what ever you want.

        It's not a qualification, but you can easily learn enough to bluff through an interview. (so long as you can tell that the job is really just a programming job with too many requirements written in the spec to make a manager feel like she's doing her job.) ...free software is the way the world *should* work
      • by Naysayer (71120) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:04PM (#8420013)
        (I wrote the article).

        I think in the game industry the situation is actually the opposite of this. Most game companies, despite having been in business for years, still underestimate the difficulty of the task (because it keeps getting harder every year) and hire people who are underqualified (often because they just can't get anyone else).

        Like, all the time I see job listings like "Lead programmer for massively multiplayer game, must have 3 years of C++ experience, must know Direct3D , Visual C++" and I just think "Wow, these guys don't have a chance -- if their stock was public I'd short it."
        • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:19PM (#8420112)
          Every year or so I buy a game that consists of 90% 3D fluff. I just spent an hour at Dave and Busters and really enjoyed the "old" 2D interfaces because they nether helped nor hindered good games. By good game I mean something designed with regards to gameplay and not another over-done FPS maze game or cookie-cutter strategy game.

          The game industry looks like the equivalant of the comic book industry in the eary 90s, lots of eye-candy, gimmick covers, etc and little substance. Seems its a technological arms race to build games that run on the newest hardware and that gameplay is the last thing on the 'to do' list.
          • by Naysayer (71120) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:28PM (#8420162)
            Yeah. This is a problem, but it's actually one that the industry is aware of.

            Of course some of this is due to publishers just being imaginative and wanting to pump out the same old dreck as some other game that did pretty well. But really a lot of it has to do with games being hard to make. Often games have to cut tons of features/levels/testing in order to make it out the door only a year late. So usually the game you buy that is mostly fluff, that you're disappointed with, is not much like the game that the developers originally set out to create.

            As we become more comfortable with basic technology (3D graphics and physics and stuff) it will probably become easier to get the basics done. At some point a lot of the risk will be mitigated, and you'll start seeing more creativity because we start developing with a higher baseline. Hopefully within the next few years!
          • by patternjuggler (738978) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @02:24AM (#8421185) Homepage
            Every year or so I buy a game that consists of 90% 3D fluff

            The game industry looks like the equivalant of the comic book industry in the eary 90s, lots of eye-candy, gimmick covers, etc and little substance.

            I think the way this works is this: there's three types of games- those with fluff, those with substance, and those with fluff and substance (and gradients inbetween of course). Substance, by itself, does not sell.

            The thing about substance or gameplay is that it requires a certain amount of attention that cannot be extracted from an audience until they have bought the product and invested some amount of minutes or hours into it. The sure-fire way to get that investment is to attract the eye- visuals can transmit much more information about something much faster than sound or text, so discerning quality of visuals is easy for nearly anyone. There is no shorthand to communicate gameplay other than simply playing the game, though screenshots and videos and short text descriptions may at least indicate what is to be expected.

            If I'm going to play a crappy game, I'd rather play a crappy game that looks good than the alternative- and the same goes for other visual media.

            An addition to that last statement is that there are a lot of people for which style is substance. The obvious ones are artists, or people with ambitions in that direction or simply an appreciation for it- playing something with really cool level and character design and etc. is the main thing while the story and interface should drive it along- if they're really good, that's a great bonus. Bad story isn't really a showstopper, but bad interface is - so I don't mind seeing the 'cookie cutter' approach get used there because I'd rather not every game try to reinvent the wheel when I just want to move the camera/character/units around.

        • by Grant_Watson (312705) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @04:26AM (#8421495)
          Most game companies, despite having been in business for years, still underestimate the difficulty of the task...

          Isn't that pretty much the state of the whole software industry?
      • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:15PM (#8420092) Journal
        It's the usual story. Companies demand experience on all posts, and then whine about lack of "qualified" applicants. While ignoring the fact that they themselves are creating a qualification that's impossible to get.

        Reminds me of the ads I used to see when Unix was first catching on. Entry-level pay jobs requiring 5 or 10 years of Unix experience, obviously written by HR people with no clue.

        I guess Kernighan, Ritchie, Thompson, Bourne, and Plauger weren't tempted into leaving Bell Labs by the pay scale. B-)
      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @12:32AM (#8420696)
        Companies demand experience on all posts, and then whine about lack of "qualified" applicants. While ignoring the fact that they themselves are creating a qualification that's impossible to get.

        Or it could just be that many games programmers work stupidly long hours, particularly as stupidly close deadlines approach, while being expected to write code of a quality unseen in most of the programming industry because of the need to keep performance up and support the latest and greatest AI algorithms, without much of the fun and glamour they thought would come with the job because the production people get most of that, in exchange for financial compensation that barely beats what a Mickey Mouse business apps developer can pick up in his first job, assuming the company lasts long enough to get the game finished and published so there's any pay cheque at all. Nah, that's a silly idea...

      • by coopaq (601975) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @05:19AM (#8421603)
        Companies demand experience on all posts, and then whine about lack of "qualified" applicants.

        Actually everything I've read in the press and in B&N game books is that the industry can't keep it's top dogs, because they get burnt out.

        I would say not only that, but since EA just closed office(s) in Austin... of forget it. Game Publishers close offices all the time after a great game is shipped,etc and this article states there aren't enough programmers?!

        Well I personally know of a great programmer who left for the business world since it payed double what he was worth and the corporate bullshit stings pretty bad in game companies.

        Maybe that's what happens when real greedy CEOs and businessmen collide with very immature geeks and developers.

        The industry needs to reward better it's programming heros and keep them in the game.

      • Making Game (Score:5, Interesting)

        by essreenim (647659) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @08:47AM (#8422003)
        Yeah, I totally agree. The games business is really a trade. I'm a qualified Software Engineer but I know that means nothing in the games business. The amount of exposure you get to games creation as a whoole in college for me is minimal. I work for a games company, and I have been exposed to the madness of build fever etc. Its organised chaos. The article is excellent and its actually very nice for me to read as I would have to concider myself as a pawn on the chessboard of the games creation business. The best thing is it's honest. Games creation for modern MMG's is a miraculous thing. Notice the graphs that this guy - an expert - has put together. Along way from UML aren't they??. And in their heart, the really top-level engineers / designers will all admit that they could not put a logical coherant uml spec for an mmg at the initial stage, that will end up looking anything like the final one. What was best, was he pointed out the problems with the business. In particular, I liked this quote:


        We would much rather have that manpower spent to make the system compile programs quickly, or generate efficient code,


        Bingo, I think the future of mmg's depends on this. People increasingly will want more variation in gameplay. Concepts like an Architecture Generation Engine (AGE) would benefit greatly from this. An AGE makes a multiplayer map/scenario different every time you play it, so you have to adapt all the time. The ability to randomly generate and compile the new map very quickly, is very important. This for me is the neatest thing in gaming going on right now. Great article!

    • by edwdig (47888) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:26PM (#8419851)
      Well, the problem with too many designers is simply that almost anyone that's ever played a game feels they could design their own great game. I'm sure you know at least a few people that played a few Mega Man games and then came up their own ideas for Mega Man bosses. Heck, the bosses in the last few NES Mega Man cames were all entries submitted into a design a boss contest.

      There are plenty of game programmers too. Look around at the console homebrew development websites. Plenty of programmers there.

      What's really lacking is artists. You generally need a huge amount of artwork for a given game, and you need talented artists for a game. Someone who simply knows how to use Photoshop filters won't cut it.

      The worst part of doing a homebrew game is finding people to do the art. Very few artists are willing to get involved in a project without money up front, and those that do are often hard to keep motivated enough to get things done.
      • What's really lacking is artists.

        With respect to open-source projects, that's certainly true.

        I think it's harder to collaborate on art- Software forces a certain degree of conformity, while in art freedom is absolute- there's a huge proliferation of different styles that wouldn't look good next to each other in the same game.

        Tools are partially to blame- they are prohibitively expensive and hard to master. There are some good open-source solutions: Gimp is okay for 2d stuff (please someone give it a d
  • by SisyphusShrugged (728028) <me AT igerard DOT com> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:05PM (#8419465) Homepage
    As a programmer and game developer myself I have experienced first hand the level of complexity that game design and development has approached in recent times.

    It used to be, and back in the day when I started programming my first games, that a single "Lone Wolf" programmer (Like I have always been) could develop his own game.

    However, now with the crazily complex 3D games, there has to be a whole army of developers, artists, designers, programmers, etc. just to create a game.

    Unfortunately that damages lone wolf developers such as myself, in that we cant keep up with the demands of such a large production budget!

    Anyway, I have attempted to work as good as I can, see what you think of my game, it is a bit difficult to wear the hats of Programmer, Designer, Developer, Musician, and Artist!

    http://abaddon.igerard.com [igerard.com]
    • by nzkoz (139612) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:25PM (#8419573) Homepage
      Just outsource your development to india. That way you can hire 35 guys at 2 bucks an hour and voila! Instant complex 3d games.

      You developers need to think more like managers.

    • by Anthony Boyd (242971) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:30PM (#8419600) Homepage
      I have attempted to work as good as I can, see what you think of my game, it is a bit difficult to wear the hats of Programmer, Designer, Developer, Musician, and Artist!

      Well, I just downloaded your game. One of the things I like about this is that I take your comments at a higher value seeing that you're actually "down in it" building games on your own. I think your kind of game could really appeal to a lot of people.

      First of all, as the article describes, the industry is really stretched by new 3D worlds that require huge investments of time, staff, and money. Getting back to the lone developer model of gaming, or even a 2 or 3 person development team, could be one solution. Also, if you visit Usenet groups like comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.rpg, you'll find a lot of people who miss isometric games with smaller, tighter storylines. I personally would love to buy a few games like Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, but which had only maybe 20 hours of gameplay, instead of 60. Those games would be more "complete-able" by 30-something and 40-something parents (like me), and more "build-able" by developers like you. And we seem to be a bigger part of the market nowadays anyway.

      Garage Games [garagegames.com] is also catering to this market, at least in part. Smaller games, simple in scope, faster development & deployment, but great gameplay. I would encourage you to do more of this. I think the only difficulty is getting the word out, especially if you hope to charge money for the game. I don't know how you'd draw in traffic, except to say that Google's AdWords might be useful.

      • by LordZardoz (155141) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:05PM (#8420022)
        For what it's worth, Yes, I am a professional Game Programmer.

        From a programming standpoint, 20 hours of high quality game play is just as difficult as 60 hours. The bulk of the work for an additional 40 hours is done by artists and level designers creating the additional content.

        And a shorter game does not aid its 'beat-ability'. It just aids its re-playability. Most 60 hour games can be beaten in 20 hours or less, typically, you just skip the side quests.

        And doing a 20 hour game, but making more of them reeks of what EA does with expansion packs. Its a very shallow marketing ploy.

        I would rather play one long well made game, then 1 short well made game and 4 short crappy games tossed off with the aim of turning out a profit.

        END COMMUNICATION
        • From a programming standpoint, 20 hours of high quality game play is just as difficult as 60 hours. The bulk of the work for an additional 40 hours is done by artists and level designers creating the additional content. But whether we're talking about the forementioned Lone Wolf or a Huge Company, level design and art are still expensive, no? I would rather play one long well made game, then 1 short well made game and 4 short crappy games tossed off with the aim of turning out a profit. I'd rather play
        • by ZhuLien (150593) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @01:57AM (#8421067) Homepage
          It is hard to compare games by time it takes to play them. I spend large amounts of money on great (to me at least) arcade games and I really only like arcade games. How many hours of gameplay do you consider Galaga to have for example? 2 minutes? 1000 hours? Does it matter if it is a great game? The replay value in great arcade games is priceless. I have found in the majority (not all) of 3D games of the last few years, they have almost zero replay value. Why pay for a game you are only going to play once or twice? I am sure I will get more replay value from Metal Slug 3 or R Type Final than the majority of other recent releases - garaunteed!
      • I don't know how you'd draw in traffic, except to say that Google's AdWords might be useful.

        That and, you know, posting +5, Insightful comments on slashdot with a link to your site :)
  • by in7ane (678796) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:05PM (#8419471)
    No, really...
    • by swimmar132 (302744) <joe@pin[ ]cker.net ['kpu' in gap]> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:36PM (#8419624) Homepage
      Outsourced games.. ewww.

      You come across Wumpus!
      What you do?

      > Shoot Wumpus

      Wumpus die.
    • All your base belong to us!
    • Re:Outsource it! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daetrin (576516) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:52PM (#8419695)
      Actually game developers are probably insulated more than many other industries from the dangers of outsourcing.

      Games are art, more specifically they are art of the same kind as books and movies in that they have a strong cultural bias. Paintings and music are also culturally baiased, but they're much more open to apprecation by members of other cultures. Video games, books and movies all tend to make assumptions about the backgrounds and experiences of the audience that are necessary to fully understand the work.

      Sure, EA could set up a team in India to develop games for a lot cheaper than a team in the US or Japan, but the resulting games probably wouldn't sell very well. Even games transfered between the US and Japan tend not to sell very well statistically speaking (and i say this as an american who likes Japanese RPGs, but i know i'm part of a small group.) Companies in one country have tried to design games that they thought would appeal to the other, and as often as not they have bombed. I believe Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was one such experiment.

      So in order for the game to have decent odds of selling well in the targeted area, the designers need to be from the targeted area or an area that has close cultural ties, such as US and the UK.

      Ok, so keep the designers in america, and ship everyone else off to India. There are probably people capable of doing the work in India, but you'll run into another problem. Designers frequently don't know what the hell they're doing. I appologize to any designers out there reading this, but all the ones i've worked with know it's true. The programmers will write some tool for the designers to use, and the designers will get lost and come to us for help. We'll tell them how to do that, and they'll be fine for a few days until they run into another problem. Sometimes the problem will be something they can deal with if they just learn the scripting lanague or whatever the issue is, sometimes it will be something new that we need to implement, and sometimes it will be something we told them to do or not to do weeks earlier. They'll do A and complain that the enemy does blah, and we'll tell them that they can't do A, they have to do B or C instead. Then they'll come back a week later saying if they do A, the enemy does blah. You'll explain again, and they'll say "Oh yeah, you told me that before didn't you?" Designers just seem to think differently than programmers, which is why designers are designers and programmer are programmers i suppose.

      So if you attempt to outsource the programmers, you're going to run into huge communication difficulties between them and the designers, both in terms of developing what the designers want and explaining to them what they're doing wrong. You'll have possible langauge barriers, time delays from emailing back and forth across multiple time zones, the difficulty of not being able to actually _show_ the other person what you're talking about, etc. The reason why companies frequently have onsite QA even when there's an offsite QA team is because often you can't figure out what the offsite QA team is talking about just based on the write-up they email you. You either need to fiddle around for it for a long time yourself, or have local QA spend the time reproducing it and then show you.

      There are similar issues between artists and programmers, and i imagine there are also issues like that between designers and artists. If you seperate any section from the others you're going to introduce masive delays and complications to the project.

      The only area that i've seen effectively outsourced is sound. However it's interesting to note that the only company i worked for which had it's own in house sound department was frequently cited for the quality of the sound effects in the reviews of the games. And this is just with outsourcing the sound to another american person or group, even within the same state.

      So yes, they could save money if they outsourced the labor to India, but if they only out-sou

  • by Ga_101 (755815) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:07PM (#8419481)
    Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  • by Frogbert (589961) <frogbert@@@gmail...com> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:11PM (#8419498)
    Page 1 [acmqueue.com] Page 2 [acmqueue.com] Page 3 [acmqueue.com] Page 4 [acmqueue.com] Page 5 [acmqueue.com] Page 6 [acmqueue.com] Page 7 [acmqueue.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:13PM (#8419511)
    Or is the author of this article really called Joe Blow?

    Nice pen name
  • He's wrong (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:17PM (#8419529)
    The hard part is not the engineering. The hard part is the game design, story line, and content creation.
    So in a sense, the author is correct: game development is hard; but its about 10 times harder than he is making it out to be because he is focussing on the 'easy' bits.
    • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tc (93768) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:23PM (#8419564)
      The balance depends on the kind of game. The engineering is getting pretty tough, because games are becoming more complicated.

      Story lines, I don't think are that tricky, or important, at least for many game genres. To quote John Carmack: Story in games is like story in porn movies, you expect it to be there, but it's really not that important.

      Game design is hard, because that's the thousand little decisions you have to make that separate the great from the merely average. There's just no substitute for talent here.

      Content creation is hard, in the sense that you need an awful lot of it. And because there's a lot of content, then managing that content becomes a problem in itself - but that's basically an engineering problem. Artistic talent is certainly required in content creation, but ultimately this is not something that's become harder, just something that you need a lot more of.
      • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Mr. Piddle (567882) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:51PM (#8419689)
        "To quote John Carmack: Story in games is like story in porn movies, you expect it to be there, but it's really not that important."

        For Doom, sure, but in every other important genre, he's wrong. Too many games are like they are designed for teenagers who are flunking out of literature classes. The dialog, the characters, everything is just awful.
        • Re:He's wrong (Score:3, Insightful)

          by xenocide2 (231786)
          Of course, its quite simple to go completely to the other side of this. Look at the "Best Last Adventure Game" or whatver you want to call it, aka The Longest Journey. Lots of exposition, lots of cutscenes, relatively little game. There's plenty of academics ready to analyze and critize games in the same manner in which movies and books are. Most don't really get it at all. For every Warren Spector we have 20 authors who recognize that the stories in games are held to a different and much lower standard tha
        • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

          by tc (93768) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:51PM (#8419937)
          Bullshit. Story is important in pretty much one genre: RPGs. For everything else, it's only sometimes required, and rarely important.

          Is story important in RTS games?
          Is story important in puzzle games?
          When was the last time you gave a shit about story in a sports game?

          Games are not typically linear pieces of narrative, i.e. stories. Games are pieces of entertainment.

          Chess is the greatest turn-based strategy game ever devised. It has no story.

          Tetris is the greatest puzzle game of all time. It has no story.
          • Re:He's wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

            by NanoGator (522640) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:21PM (#8420125) Homepage Journal
            "Bullshit. Story is important in pretty much one genre: RPGs. For everything else, it's only sometimes required, and rarely important."

            I think you're right, but I'm not sure how warranted this generalization is. The game itself is more dependent on whether it needs a story or not, the genre is a secondary consideration for it. Wing Commander pops into mind. I loved that game, but part of the fun of it was the story that went with it. Take the story out, the game's not as interesting despite that it doesn't affect the gameplay much. Take the game out and just leave the story, and it's stil just OK.

            Part of the problem with Carmack's comment here is that he's treating it like there's some big formula for making games. In a sense there is, afterall you are targeting a wide market. However, the reality of it is, that if you're expressing yourself artistically, then each aspect one can bring up is entirely up to the creator to make.

            Be careful about comments like this. They can stifle one's creativity if taken too seriously.
        • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

          by oskillator (670034) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:42PM (#8420239)
          For Doom, sure, but in every other important genre, he's wrong. Too many games are like they are designed for teenagers who are flunking out of literature classes. The dialog, the characters, everything is just awful.

          There's a huge difference between a bad story that's barely there and a bad story that's in-your-face. If you have a lot of dialogue-heavy cut-scenes, or especially a long cut-scene before the game even starts, then yes, the writing had better be good. If the story is a few lines of text before dumping you right back into the gameplay, it doesn't matter so much.

          Now that people are calling for story in all games, this is fairly independent of genre. I've played action games with an up-front story that destroyed an otherwise-decent game for me. Moral of the story: if you can't write, don't write. Or at least make the cut-scenes skippable, for christ's sake.

        • All games absolutely must have a story... for the right definition of "story".

          Most people interpret "story" to mean "plot", but the two are not the same. A story, broadly speaking, is "setup, conflict, development, resolution", but writing a plot line, with set characters and dialog is only one way to get a "story".

          Tetris has a "story". The set up is the rules. The conflict is that the game is throwing blocks at you, but you don't want blocks on the field. The development is the game play, and in Tetris's
      • by Mulletproof (513805) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:09PM (#8419776) Homepage Journal
        Sorry, Carmack is full of BS. Story makes or breaks a game in more than a few cases. Take Halo. Without the excellent story and plot devices, Halo would have been nothing but another faceless FPS. A pretty one, but hardly the best seller it was for the XBox. Story drove that game. Story seperates Baldurs Gate 2, a masterpiece, from the gorgeous but hollow Neverwinter Nights. NWN has BG2 dead to rights on every point except one, and it's that point alone that elevates BG2 to legendary status.

        Of course Carmack says story is not really that important... Look at the games he designs-- FPS almost exclusively without story. It's a pretty narrow vision to be making such sweeping judgements from and it hardly makes his word gospel.
        • by Jellybob (597204) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @11:58PM (#8420533) Journal
          Halo has a story along the same lines as a good B movie - as an example, I just watched some of an Alien film... there wasn't actually much story ("The miltary are researching Aliens they know are dangerous for... no particular reason"), but it was scary as hell, because of the shell of a story there, setting things up so you know *something* is just around the corner.

          Halo is the same (although I havn't finished it yet, I just got the PC version). It has some of the tensest gameplay I've seen since Half Life (which also had a B movie plot) - I just played the bit where you work into an alien base, and meet... nothing. Absolutely nothing but a few low level aliens at the begining, for 10-15 minutes.

          It's terrifying, because you *know* something big is about to go off... you can just tell. And then you find some privates recording of what killed him, and the whole time your watching it, you're just sat there thinking "shit.", because you know you're about to have to fight it.

          It's genious - a perfectly crafted piece of storyline, using the same plot device as some of the worst games ever, it's how it's pulled off that does the job.
      • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SnowZero (92219) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:44PM (#8419907)
        It depends on the kind of game. Carmack's games are like the 1990's "special effects" movies, which were driven more by technical achievements than a good plot. As time goes on, it gets much harder- either you have to come up with increasingly complex technical achievements (like Doom3 or HL2), or combine reasonably complex technical systems with a good plot and gameplay, which are hard to develop, integrate, and polish on tight schedules. Games really are following in the footsteps of movies. Here's also to hoping that independent games will still exist like independent movies...
    • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Informative)

      by gl4ss (559668) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:39PM (#8419630) Homepage Journal
      the hard part is that too usually the designers don't seem to have been playing any games at all, ever! the biggest errors usually are all just about game design(and being designed to be something more than what the execution is able to grasp).

      imho what they should do is that they should bring in an outsider(always a different one!) in once a month to take a look at what they got going on and tell them bluntly if it doesn't make any sense or is stupid, frustrating or otherwise sucking(inside testers are too involved, and can't see if something 'just sucks' because they've seen it from the ground up or are afraid to say that it sucks). it often looks that the developers have gotten 'blind' from being too close to the project(and as such the end product ends up having some stupid shit that could have easily been fixed, like lacking keyboard configuration, having frustrating controls, bad camera view and so on).

      "not being able to see the forest because the trees are blocking the view"
      • Re:He's wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Daetrin (576516)
        mho what they should do is that they should bring in an outsider(always a different one!) in once a month to take a look at what they got going on and tell them bluntly if it doesn't make any sense or is stupid, frustrating or otherwise sucking(inside testers are too involved, and can't see if something 'just sucks' because they've seen it from the ground up or are afraid to say that it sucks). it often looks that the developers have gotten 'blind' from being too close to the project(and as such the end pro
    • Re:He's wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Naysayer (71120) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:49PM (#8419925)
      As the author of this article I will throw a couple of cents in.

      Content development (game design, story creation, etc) is harder than it should be. But that's mainly because the tools aren't very good. Why aren't the tools very good? Because it was all your programmers could to to scrape the basic game together; they hardly had any energy left to do more than cruddy tools.

      I would have gone into this in detail, but the article was already over its length budget.

      That said, even though content development is hard, it's still easier than programming. You have to have done them both in order to understand. Programming is always like building a fragile house of cards; content development isn't. That's the difference.

      The hardest thing about content development in fact isn't making the content, but managing the content creation process; it's difficult for the producers and art leads to hold it all together.
  • by KamuZ (127113) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:18PM (#8419534) Homepage
    Yeah, games were easy to make ten years aog, i coded a few but it was a "code" challenge, now it's different, most of the time someone built a nice engine and everyone make content for it, that's why many studios just focus on design, don't get me wrong, design it's important but programmers don't qualify often for game industry unless you want to built something new, something that is not a goal for many companies.

    But hey! What do i know? I live in Mexico, there is a small or not-existant game industry at all!

    --
    No sig found.
  • by Xzzy (111297) <sether.tru7h@org> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:19PM (#8419540) Homepage
    One thing I've noticed with a lot of open source game-directed projects is that they feed off each other as needed.

    You can take jim's physics library and link it into fred's ROAM engine, slap tommy's interface toolkit on top if it then shoehorn bob's network protocol in and actually get a usable piece of software out of it. The SDL libraries are one obvious example of this but it's far from the only place I've seen it.

    No it won't be the next jaw dropping engine that will command everyone's respect but that's not really the point, the point is as long as you have enough basic intelligence to learn an API and can manage to glue several of them together the open source world is plenty willing to fill in the gaps of your knowledge.

    It isn't really an open source specific thing, this mode of thinking can be found under windows as well, but for obvious reasons it seems to flourish best in the linux world. It's not mature area of development yet, but the foundations are there. As the barrier of entry into developing commercial games increases, so to do the free software options.

    I think it'll be neat to wait and see if open source can evolve to present a solution to the "kitchen sink" problems that current game development has to deal with.
    • I guess it is hard to code a game engine but I get the impression that most of the maps and some of the total conversion mods are done by small teams and some end up being much better overall than the original.
      • I've heard this said a few times, but you have to bear one important thing in mind - which I'm sure a few mod creators who've transitioned into an actual paid job in the industry have found:

        When you write a game, most of the time, you don't get the finished tools at the start of the project. They're not finished, usually buggy, or maybe they're being started from scratch. They're usually incomplete for most of the project lifecycle.

        For example: if HL2 comes out (ever), then take a look at the tools th

    • by sirsnork (530512) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:41PM (#8419643)
      So game developers (the companies) are moaning that there isn't enough knowledge in the industry of all the ways to use every concept, fragment of code or method, and yet the easiest way to get people more knowledgable would be to open source all of the older games so others can learn from your past experiences.

      Older games may not teach a developer all the latest techniques but it would sure as hell let you be able to compare 3 or 4 similar implementations of a function and pick the best or even merge parts of 2 together to make it better still, I know some companies di this but there are more that don't.
    • by Mr. Piddle (567882) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:55PM (#8419708)
      No it won't be the next jaw dropping engine that will command everyone's respect but that's not really the point, the point is as long as you have enough basic intelligence to learn an API and can manage to glue several of them together the open source world is plenty willing to fill in the gaps of your knowledge.

      This is one area where Java is way underrated. Just between the 2D and Midi APIs, there is a lot of gaming potential there. I haven't looked at Java3D, so I'm not sure about mega-real-time-worlds, but perhaps it could work there, too.

  • Flash to the rescue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hehman (448117) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:20PM (#8419541) Homepage Journal
    Flash is a bad word for some folks here, but it really excels as a platform for simple, addictive, and fun games that can be easily spread to the world.

    Working in a restricted environment like Flash eliminates a lot of the hassles described in the article. It's arguably easier to write, say, King's Quest now than it would have been 20 years ago,
  • by MooseByte (751829) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:20PM (#8419546)

    Nice article, but I think it misses a key point. Game creation is only more complex these days if you're trying to build/copy a complex title.

    Of course a Lone Wolf isn't going to be able to knock out myHaloTribes2! But s/he sure as heck can still tackle a simpler game, with even less effort than "days of yore" in my opinion. OpenGL, a slew of commercial games engines, cross-platform solutions, even SDKs for mobile phones.

    The opportunities abound, even if the market is drowning in noise these days. The bottom line is don't try to compete with a big studio if you're not a big studio! Skip the $150K intro/cut-scene movies, etc. Don't aim for a MMORPG. Just build something fun, dammit!

    Think of it as the development equivalent of asymetrical warfare.

  • by urantia007 (707091) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:21PM (#8419550)
    what needs to happen, is we need a complete game enviroment to creat games, not just a game engine, but a complete piece of software that doesn't need any programming at all. think of using maya to do all your 3d models and animations and worlds for the game, and instead of exporting these out to an engine you keep it all under one roof, give the models properties like colision, key bindings to play this animation when this key is pressed in this direction etc. Of course programming should be en extensible part of it to add funtionality that might not be in it. so essentially a 3d applicaiton with a game engine at it's heart containing everything you would need to make a game. This could be done right now with directX9. The single man band could be back if this happened.
    • While I don't have all these features implemented or anything, this is kind of what I'm going for in my JiggleScript [jigglescript.com] project (which is very early development, of course). Check it out if you're into this sort of thing. :-)
    • by Pvt_Waldo (459439) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:43PM (#8419658)
      You're part way there if you go with Valve's Half-Life. Full SDK that allows you to create maps, models, etc. and a ton of public domain tools for sprites and textures. Also there are some neat extensions such as the Spirit of Half-Life [valve-erc.com] mod which gives you a ton of nifty extensions.

      The main place you have to code to create the game is if you choose to extend the game entities for maps, do new weapons, etc. But since Valve gives you the source for the code that does their standard weapons, it's not unreasonable to take their code and extend it.
    • This is a pretty good idea. There've been products like that for flight/combat simulation for years. What you are talking about is almost a flash for 3d games. The hard part coding-wise is done for you. All you need is scripters and artists (and a good story and design). That could really open up game design to a lot more people.
  • by Phil John (576633) <phil@webstars l t d .com> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:22PM (#8419558)
    ...have any of you seen the demo video of the upcoming Half-life 2 (or even *gasp* downloaded a leaked beta), I was watching in amazement wondering how games had come so far in such a little time.

    Let me elaborate, splinter cell was an amazing game but the storyline was very linear and interacting with the environment pretty much restricted to shooting out lights.

    Halflife 2 on the other hand allows you to use some magnetic levitating weapon that can tear metal objects like radiators from the wall and hurl them at the opposition. Boxes and furniture pushed against doors to stop attacking enemies.

    I can't even begin to imagine the complexity that has not only gone into the code design but also the level design. That's the crux of it, without amazing and clever levels that leverage all of this new complexity a game falls flat on its face.
    • Sarcasm follows (Score:3, Insightful)

      by harborpirate (267124)
      *Gasp!!* Destructable, interactive environments! Its a revelation! A miracle of modern programming!! All hail HL2!!

      ..end sarcasm..
      ..begin rant..

      Listen here whippersnapper, destructable environments are nothing new. Why, I remember, way back in... musta been ninteen hunderd and nintety four - when I played a game called XCOM. It displayed soldiers and aliens in an isometric format, and just about everything could be blown up. In fact, that was probably the thing that most contributed to how much fun that
  • Design Patterns? (Score:5, Informative)

    by BenjyD (316700) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:26PM (#8419584)

    Many games take half an hour or longer to compile when starting from scratch, or when a major C++ header file is changed.

    Come on, Design Patterns [amazon.com] is only $50. Surely they can afford a copy or two? Shouldn't the public interfaces to external classes for a module be fixed pretty early on, if not at design time?

    • by TwoBit (515585) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:59PM (#8419727)
      First of all, any change whatsoever in header files trigger rebuilds, not just public interfaces. Secondly, core headers in theory would perhaps be fixed early on, but in practice that's just plain impossible. I can spend a lot of time here trying to explain how that comes about, but it's not worth the effort unless this message got a decent score. Suffice it to say that it's simply impossible to see into the future and know exactly how any header file really needs to be when it's finished.

    • Re:Design Patterns? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Naysayer (71120) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:56PM (#8419955)
      (I wrote the article).

      The problem is that games are just too big and cutting-edge for this kind of design approach to work. You can only do this for relatively simple problems that you completely understand. Games are the opposite of that. They have to be designed incrementally -- if you just sat down and tried to make a bunch of headers, without building the implementations, you would eventually find that your interfaces were completely wrong.

      Interface classes can help a little, but only a little. The problem isn't so much having private data in a header file (though that is a problem) so much as the sheer interconnectedness of the dependencies in a project like this. That's the point of those diagrams on the first page of the article. Look at the one for a Massively Multiplayer Game and then think about what the header structure for that is like (considering that each box is not a file, but a cluster of files).
      • by Tim Browse (9263)
        The problem is that games are just too big and cutting-edge for this kind of design approach to work. You can only do this for relatively simple problems that you completely understand.

        Hmmm...I liked the article, but I don't think I'm going to let you get away with that. I found the "build times are really long!" part of the article the most troubling. Here are some observations, which I'm not suggesting you're completely unaware of, it's just a convenient place for me to impart information that people d

  • by nuckin futs (574289) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:28PM (#8419590)
    and the most popular game on the PC is still solitaire!
    :-P
  • Full Sail! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zoko Siman (585929) <timbielawaNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:31PM (#8419602) Homepage
    Here in florida we have a college, Full Sail [fullsail.edu], it specializez in entertainment industry stuff. Such as: game design and devolpment. It's good to know we have a place that specializes in making the people that are required if world of gaming is to be continued.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Obviously. New games these days are frickin' huge and increasingly sophisticated, and they have to be to compete with the OLD games. It comes as no surprise that they are harder to create.
  • Lua (Score:5, Interesting)

    by truth_revealed (593493) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:36PM (#8419621)
    Lua [lua.org] is the embedded interpreted language of choice for game designers. Lua's great for writing the game AI (you don't have to wait for a half hour C++ build). Lua's under 200K, threadsafe, has good OO abstractions, integrates with C very easily, and most important of all - it has a commercial friendly license [lua.org].
  • Another sad thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Monkelectric (546685) <slashdot@@@monkelectric...com> on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:50PM (#8419684)
    Game development has become so complex that there really is no hope for a small team or a startup to make a decent game.

    I remember when I was 13 writing ASM code code aspiring to write something like Monkey Island -- that was a very attainable goal. I had a friend who was a very good artist, he would whip up a some cells in autodesk animator, I had written a little converter, and we could walk our little guy around the screen against a background. Now truth be told I had NO idea how a game engine worked at 13 years old, but we did end up writing a few neat demos and bbs loaders (I was a weird kid).

    Now the level of art work and technical knowledge required to make something that looks half professional is off the scale. I have a great game idea that I don't think I'll ever be able to realize. Thats the loss I mourn... kids wont ever have the fun I had trying to make a game, and we might never be exposed to some new ideas these kids might have.

    • Not at all true (Score:4, Informative)

      by Perianwyr Stormcrow (157913) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:19PM (#8419821) Homepage
      Even if you make the game in such a manner as not to be "professional", you may still have a winner of a game. Stuff written in Flash is very easy to do yet brings out remarkable results.

      Not every game has to be a 3d FPS or whatever. Uplink was written by a couple of guys in the UK and is one hell of a good game.

      If you want to do more than a Flash game, that's quite doable as well. Writing a high end 3d engine is indeed hard stuff, but that's why we have mods! Not only can you learn a lot from the open sourced engines out there, you can use some of them to make a mod that is high quality stuff.

      You mentioned artwork: well, fear not- the stuff you can do with the right tools is shocking. You can grab a copy of Blender, and after a few weeks of beating it up you will be turning out 3d models that are better than what you figured you could have made at the beginning. The GIMP is perfectly good for texturing models, and has just about all you'll need for the task (while the GIMP isn't professional photo editing software, it's great for making textures and web graphics.)

  • Meh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KalvinB (205500) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:55PM (#8419704) Homepage
    There's still a market for the simpler games. Cell phone games are big. The Game Boy Advance is big and anyone can code for it. Distribution is another matter but there's nothing stopping developers from creating a product to get their feet wet. Worst case you make it a pay per download or give it away free as an ad for your PC games.

    2D used to be the best choice simply because you could do infinitly better looking graphics. 3D is now getting up to par but there's really no reason not to still use 2D. The latest Wario game just took a tile based game and made it a cube based game in 3D. Not a programming challenge at all. Instead of DrawTile you just use DrawCube, increase the dimensions of your map and voila! 3D platformer. I whipped up the basic components in all of a few days (running, jumping, standing on and above things, collision).

    The market is so saturated with 3D first person shooter crap that there's a huge market for games that are simply fun to play. You are not going to get rich from a 3D game so why bother making a crappy 3D game in a lame attempt to milk the 3D scene? Make the best of what you can do, even in 2D and it may not make you rich but at least it won't be half-assed crap.

    Stop worrying about the million dollar budgets and just worry about making a fun product.

    The best application of 2D is in puzzle games which are ginormous. The hardest part is comming up with the new puzzle concept. Programming them is rediculously easy and they're cheap. Which makes it more likely people will buy them as time killers at work to replace solitaire and minesweeper.

    Ben
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2004 @08:58PM (#8419723)
    I worked in the games biz for 3 years in QA and production, and finally with a hiring team for engineers in our company. Let me tell you, coders in the games industry are payed jack, and work like mad. Most times, the average work week is anywhere from 80-95 hours for the coding team. I personally got out of the industry because of this. I don't think there are a lack of talented people to do it, just there are not enough people willing to put 80 hours a week in to a game for circa 40-50k, w/no OT.
  • Oh come off it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spray_john (466650) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:00PM (#8419729)
    I'm tired of this, I really am. When will guys like this admit that everyone else works for a living too? No, games are not always very simple. Thanks buddy, we know.

    All this "Life is so hard! My industry is so cruel!" is just attention grabbing to get readers to an otherwise rather dry review article on the elements of commercial game production.

    In other news, games are unimportant. All but a very few games are played by practically no one, and those that do play it throw it away after a couple-dozen hours. Where did this conception that making games was so exciting and dramatic come from? Just because so many other areas of software development are even more mind-numbing doesn't make gamedev automatically interesting!

    Design me a new spoon. Design me a spoon that will be sold across the world, used by millions on a daily basis for years of their life. Design me a brilliant spoon, and I will be impressed.
    • by Naysayer (71120)
      As the author of the article, I'll just say that I wasn't trying to impress anyone with how difficult my life is. I like games, that's why I work on them.

      They are, however, one of the most challenging kinds of software engineering there is. And that's how I'm hoping the article is taken -- as a call to challenge for people who may be interested.

      And there is no spoon.
  • by d_i_r_t_y (156112) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:06PM (#8419760) Homepage Journal
    is this article written by the half-life2 people to attempt to justify another 6 month wait? i wanna play it now damnit!
  • by RichMan (8097) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:13PM (#8419796)
    Here is an interactive game in one line of basic code (ok 4 statements, but you could write it in one basic numbered statement). Just showing what could be done with minimal code.

    You control an object at the top of the screen it will move left if you don't push shift, right if you do. Blocks "###" are printed at the bottom of the screen and scroll up. If you crash into a block it is game over. Quite complex for 1 line. I would walk into stores displaying computers without games that attracted the kids, type this in and have fun.

    I had versions for PET, VIC20, C64, APPLE II, TRS80 machines

    Adjust for my bad memory and learning of many other languages since then.

    0 poke 32788+a,65; a = a + peek(515)*2-1; print tab(36*rnd()),"###"; if (peek(32788+a) == 32) goto 0;

    clear the screen, scroll to the bottom and run

    Break down
    A) poke - puts player "A" set by ascii 65 at the middle of the top line of the screen plus the offset a
    B) adjust the offset a of the players position dependent on the state of the shift key
    C) print - puts a block in a random position on the next line. If this is the bottom of the screen, we get a scroll and everything moves up and the players object is cleared off the top
    D) check the new position of the player to see if it is clear

    Majic numbers
    32788 address of the middle of the top line of the screen
    65 character for players object
    36 + width of block is 1 less than the width of the screen, in this case 36+3 40
    515 shift key status updated by system interrupt

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2004 @09:25PM (#8419843)
    The author needs to get a grip. Hardly anything he has written is specific to game development. Sounds like a programmer struggling with the realities of any complex software development project.

    Let look at a few examples:
    Games have ballooned in complexity-
    I think it is safe to say that nearly all software has grown in complexity. For traditional client-centric applications, we have seen interfaces grow more complicated and sophisticated. Unlike software designed in 1996 nearly all applications are now internet aware. Even your wordprocessor has the ability to communicate via the internet, to interact with email and offer colaboration functionality.
    Very little software is designed to operate in the vacuum of a stand-alone workstation anymore. Apparently this is also true of games. Wow, brilliant insight.

    Tools-
    The author is probably correct about a lack of competing products for Windows C++ development. Still Visual C++ is quite a good IDE. A lot of the issues raised are more generic complaints about C++ development than anything specific to game development. While game programming has its own special requirements- 3D rendering for example- other types of software has different but equally complicated needs. For example, the complexities of interating with a wide variety of back-end databases, message-queueing software and legacy mainframe systems add layer up layer of complexity to most business applications. The specific requirement is game-development specific but the problem is one which all complex projects face.
    Let face it, the need for source control systems which are able to manage arbitary content is hardly unique to game development. Nearly every project I have ever seen runs into source control issues.

    Workflow issues
    Now the issue of re-compilation times, debug build load times and other development issues are a problem for ALL big software development projects. Multi-platform issues are equally problematic. This is hardly restricted to game development

    Third party components-
    Always an interesting issue for application development and not exactly one confined to game development. Think about applications you have seen which manipulate data and display charts and graphs. How many of those apps actually have custom written charting libraries. Hardly any. Nearly ever application OEMs someone's ibrary with all the associated headaches that come with emebedding components over which you have no control. That is the trade-off you make. You save 10 man-years of effort in developing a graphing library and you lose control of the source code, bug-fixing, release cycles and the ability to add new, special or project specific functionality. (Unless of course you go OSS). Big deal. Highly Domain Specific Requirements-
    This is the dumbest section in the article. All software has some domain specific requirement otherwise it wouldn't be an application, it would be some sort of generic framework. Games clearly have a set of requirements not found in typical application software- 3D graphics, AI and sound effects for example. However if we look at network security applications for example, I think that we can safely say that there are just as many complex, domain specific requirements involved in TCP/IP protocols, packet sniffing, network tracing , etc.

    Profiling-
    Profiling all code is hard. Identifying bottlenecks in code which involves a great deal of user interaction is very complicated. Hardly specific to game programming.

    Reality check time. All the article says is in 2004 that users expect a far more sophisticated product than have been required in 1996. Engineering complex products is difficult. Welcome to the software industry.

    • by Naysayer (71120) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:09PM (#8420045)
      (I wrote the article).

      I have done both business programming ("enterprise middleware development", etc etc) and game programming. And yes, there are commonalities between the two, but all I can say is, games are just a lot harder. Maybe you just have to have tried them both to really understand.

      What I was trying to get at was not just ballooning complexity of application requirements, but also the inherent superconnectedness of subsystems in games. In a game, every subsystem wants to talk to every other one, and you have to work REALLY hard to prevent this from happening, and often you just can't. This changes a lot of things.

      Still I do agree that there are some commonalities with other software development (in fact I say as much in the article; I divide it into two parts, one that's not so specific to games, and one that is...)
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:12PM (#8420071) Homepage
    As someone who's worked on game physics technology [animats.com], I agree with this article. Modern game development is really hard. And the people who do it are some of the best programmers I've ever met. Go to the Game Developers' Conference and sit in on a physics or AI session. Watch punked-out twentysomethings fill up whiteboards with advanced math. Those guys are really good.

    The game development community used to take algorithms from other fields. Now they've gone beyond academia in graphics, physics simulation, and AI. Games are a tough, competitive market, and the stuff has to work, or you get trashed in reviews. That makes for real progress.

  • by mbaranow (610086) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @10:45PM (#8420250)
    The game I am working on right now is a week before Beta. I work for a medium sized publisher of console games. Take that as warning of my bias.

    I would add several reasons to why game development is hard. All the technical issues Mr. Blow mentions, can be fixed given enough time. But there is never enough time.

    To keep funding $10M+ game projects, a corporation needs to release a steady stream of games during major buying periods. This means, unless you're the likes of id or Valve, development cycles are 18 months, rarely negotiable. If you are late you will start loosing consumer awarness and marketing budgets. You also need to schedule time to do several demo disks and generate assets for the media. A senior programmer said that our primary target is management, and only later the gamer.

    Second, unlike many software markets, you constantly feel your competition at your heels. The graphics, realism, complexity is an arms race. This makes games better and it also makes developers stay at work extra longer past midnight to implement that extra rocket launcher effect to stand out from the competition.

    Then the market judges you on purely subjective measures. You can't lock yourself into a market like MS Office or Windows would. It doesn't even matter if you are technically the most advanced. As a game developer you are fighting for gamers attention. This is why you see games that are mostly sequels and based on established IP.

    Then again these challanges are the reason I'm a game developer. Mr.Blow does point out a good deal of inneficient practices in the industry.

    This should be seen as a call to arms for middle ware vendors and ISVs. Whenever there is a problem there is a buisness plan!
  • by OOPisForLiberals (679919) on Saturday February 28, 2004 @11:29PM (#8420430)
    Preface : I'm a programmer in the industry who has worked on 'cutting edge' titles for the entirety of my career. I started in 1997.

    That's only 7 years. In the 7 years I've been in the business, I've become a certifiable 'old man'. That may sound nutty, but our industry moves so fast, it's perfectly sane. An in that 7 years, things have shifted massively.

    When I first started, I worked on a project with a budget of about 2.5-3 million $. At the time, that was considered a pretty large amount. Our team was about 20 people, mostly rookies of 1 year (or less) experience, with 5-6 'old salt' types. This was a PC title at the very earliest edge of 3d acceleration. The voodoo 1 was barely out there. Use of floating point 3d math was finally starting to be possible. Our target for 'great sales'? 200,000. If we sold 100,000 it would be considered 'good'. 200,000 would be fantabulous. 300,000 and up would be massive wild success.

    50 million. The average game that gets greenlit these days has a budget of 12 million or more. When you pitch a AAA title to a publisher the magic number is '1 million units'. This is of course an insane number that no one realistically expects to hit (especially the poor developers themselves). But the expectation of the top-end people is 'if we don't realistically think this can sell 1 million units, why are we considering it'?

    You know what -hasn't- changed in this time? Selling prices. Games still retail for $40-50.

    Yet budgets have quadrupled or worse. Technology has leaped forward by a LEAST 10x in capabilities. We went from the Voodoo 1 (cool! hardware rasterizing!) to the Voodoo 2 (awesome! really -fast- hardware rasterizing with multitexturing!) to the TNT (WOO! Even -faster- hardware rasterizing with multitexturing!) to the Geforce (Yay, no we've got T&L) to the Geforce 2 (Hmm, T&L plus a complex layer of vertex shaders) to the postmodern Geforce 4+ cards (ummm, dang, 4+ versions of pixel shaders now with a dump truck full of crazy, complex techniques which all the artists and designers and producers all have a hardon over). Ah, we've also got 20x the memory available and 30x the processor power. Can't ship anything without an ultramodern physics engine, or an endless streaming arbitrary polygon-soup world now can we?

    And to top it all off, the trend in actual sales is : instead of a largish array of semi-successful to successful games, we now have a huge bundle of big-but-unsuccessful games and a small handful of monster selling uber titles. With very very very little in between.

    Publishers now aren't willing to commit to something unless they think it'll sell a gajillion units. But of course, selling a gajillion units means having lots and lots and lots of risky and expensive features. So doing these big payoff games is a big gamble.

    This 'Inflationary Period' (to borrow a term from cosmology) has resulted in a radically different landscape. Programmers balk (for good reason) at the design requirements necessary to make a competitive game. I have the privelege of working with some very smart people even 'older' than I am. One of them once said to me : 'Practically everything we do is worthy of a PH.d thesis'. And he is right. You can't -not- push the already ludicrous technology barrier with a new title, otherwise you'll be putting forward a design with limited sales appeal.

    It's an ugly ugly situation. Where I work, we are to this very day struggling with coming up with a design for our next project (one of several) that will satisfy these myriad goals. Everyone is so incredibly smart and dedicated, but it seems to me that we're very fast approaching some sort of upper-bound on complexity.

    I don't know where it is going to end, but at the moment, you can be damn sure that the days of the garage-developer are over. Technology has accelerated too fast.

    • The games industry is going to die because there *is* an upper bound on complexity, as you have said.

      I've said it before and I was modded as troll. But, if one faces reality, he/she would see that games development becomes much harder every year. Only really exceptional developers will be able to make a product that stands out. The smaller ones will die or will be absorbed by bigger ones.

      In fact, there are several problems already.

      One of the problems is the tools themselves. Although I am not a games pro
  • I have to laugh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spagthorpe (111133) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @12:56AM (#8420813)
    "that we have a perpetual shortage of qualified people in the industry."

    This is funny. A few years ago, after working on successful but boring software projects for the past ten years, I decided that I wanted to work in the game industry. I have no debt, and was willing to take a pay cut. I live in San Diego, home of a number of game companies, EA, Sony, etc. I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to get myself at least an entry level position with 10-years experience, just to learn the ropes. Nobody seemed willing to hire someone that didn't have several previously delivered games under their belt, despite a number of other successful consumer products and happy customers. I had sent resumes to all the companies in the area, as well as working briefly with a "game headhunter" which didn't work out as well. After roughly six months of trying, I gave up, and went back to working on my boring jobs. I'm guessing that the writer of the above quote isn't all that tied into the needs of the industry.
  • My thoughts... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shaheen (313) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @01:48AM (#8421040) Homepage
    I work in the industry. You can read some of my earlier slashdot posts to see where exactly I work.

    Games are very complex pieces of software these days for sure. Graphics, audio, networking, even UI is a big deal. Just getting something working is only the beginning. Then comes the real work in making your game engines perform such that you are hitting your framerates in every area of the game.

    It used to be if your main loop was hitting your framerate, you were done. This is because you did all of your I/O up front (the loading screen). Your user input was always polled each frame, so unnecessary state changes that could possibly disrupt your performance were minimal. Largely it was your graphics theory knowledge that made or break your engine.

    Nowadays it is becoming more non-deterministic due to other forms of disruptive state changes. Graphics have become more complex and networking creates state changes that often don't happen within one frame (e.g. picking up an item in Quake 3 requires the server to acknowledge this).

    People complain about why studios ask for at least 5 years of experience and on top of that ask for prior experience with a particular console. Getting something working fast isn't the goal. It's getting it working correctly.

    How relationships with publishers changes priorities is an entirely different discussion, however...
  • by mrmeval (662166) <mrmeval@gmail.cGINSBERGom minus poet> on Sunday February 29, 2004 @02:40AM (#8421250) Journal
    Designers in abundance, salesmen all around but what I need is a coder [monster.com] and a C [bell-labs.com]to sail them on.

    But this C is tiny and difficult to sail so I'll hand them all an upgrade to C++ [att.com] and let them wail.

    This shrieking is ill met, I stop and look profound as I have a solution it's C pound. [hitmill.com]

    My coders all have left me with this ugly stinking mess I should have not given them more and more but merely better less. [cminusminus.org]
  • by Tei (520358) on Sunday February 29, 2004 @07:29AM (#8421852) Journal
    Do you know Counter-Strike? Its a mod. Do you know DoD? Its a mod. Actually some very interesting games comes as a devirative work of other game. That safe a lot of work, whatever can be shared, dont need to be recreated (the engine, textures, sounds, menus, etc...) and you have instantly a lot of users.

    So you make a tiny mod for Half-Life, and you have a 1 millon potentian userbase. Cool or not?

    Making mods shortcut the problem of very very long development process.

    posdata:
    Recently a quake guru (FrikaC) has make a Tetris clone in only 2 hours of work. You can download a stand-alone version here:

    http://telejano.berlios.de/option/qtetris1.zip

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