Hardware vs. Developer Talent
so. here's a hot topic up for debate.
"Maybe some nuance or a small details here and there might be different, but I feel that hardware is no longer a matter. I'm just talking about PS3, 360 and PC. -Hideo Kojima
that's something i believe has happened with this next generation of systems. hardware really doesn't matter all that much for this next generation. consoles are finally in parity (or more advanced, or slightly slower, whatever — they're close.) with raw pc power. and they should be, taking into consideration pc upgrade cycles and the dedicated hardware aspect of consoles, for the rest of gaming's future — forever.
in other words, we're out of the 16-bit era.
anyway. hardware isn't what is going to hold back future game development titles. it'll be man-hours. it'll be raw developer talent. it'll be budget. (i keep meaning to get back to gregg and tell him why this applies to disc format size too. just too freakin' busy.)
anyway, the way it sort of works out is this:
budget is a function of developer time. this one is easy. everyone understands it.
detail in graphics is a function of developer time. this one is harder to precisely quantify. as an artist, it's nice to have better tools to let me work faster (see above: budget is time) however, speed advancements in tools don't necessarily scale at the same rate as hardware allows for. for example, moore's law? totally doesn't apply to productivity. therefore, the more time a developer can spend on a project, the better looking and higher detail available.
thus, the more budget, the more developer time, the better looking all of the game content will be. that's a big reason the budgets for triple-a games have ballooned. hardware has doubled every 18 months. budgets have too. (see a trend?)
procedural content will save us from this upwardly spiraling trend, but that's another post altogether. just like movie budget balooning (the ratio increase, i mean) has tapered off, so will game development budgets.
alright. i'm all over the map here… what's all this mean?
we're at the point where faster hardware does not a better game make. we've basically saturated the 'graphic detail' budget for games. don't look for games beyond 2007 to really look incrementally any better.
it'll be fun visual-cue type innovations (the cool snow effects in lost planet or the frozen effect in crysis — stuff like that.) that will validate graphics developers' salaries. mostly, tho, it'll be gameplay (twilight princess), design (viva pinata) and narrative (oblivion) that will carry games beyond that.
oh, as a side note, about the whole 'game looking like toy story' thing? i dunno if any of you out there have actually watched toy story 1 recently, but, having a 2 year-old, i have. modern games already look much better.