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.


p.s. thanks to the hobo for pointing me to the sony lies wiki which sparked this thought.

4 comments so far

  1. Grindstone on

    I’d agree to the point that by the end of this console war, games that want to look photo-realistic will abound in the market, and the whole “grafix is teh roxxers!!!11!! onehundredandone!!1” argument will no longer apply.

    It’ll be based on the subtle differences as you mentioned, or moreover, on the quality of the physics engine. It’s kinda weird, because once that medium is achieved, the next question is, what next? Oh wait, I hear the Wii-niers yelling again, oh, uh, they say it’s the gameplay.

    So, I think once photo-realistic games are the norm, the next points will be the life-like (or not) physics and the uniqueness of gameplay that will be the next hurdle. However, the next generation may actually be a new style of gaming altogether; motion sensing, and we’ll have to re-invent the gaming industry all over again (a la Nintendo circa `85).

    I will say this, I am kinda worreid about photo-realism in gaming. Will it become too real? Improved AI, facial expressions, blood animations… sometimes keeping it not real is a good thing, IMO.

  2. gaminghobo on

    Good to see you back to your ranting best. Hope that project is still going nicely and the credit must go to Xantar, my guest blogger, for that particular post. 😉

    As for this topic there are load of divergent questions and answers to take into consideration. Firstly I think you are right, graphics are becoming more an more irrelevent. Anyone can make a good looking game these days, all you need is the right people and a good engine to work with; neither of which are impossible to find. The only limiting factors, presuming a decent level of ability and organization, is budget and ambition – two things generally linked in some way or another.

    Which is why I think the lack of force feedback in the ‘Dual Shake’ (love that name btw) is actually quite a significant loss for the PS3. (see blog post – https://gaminghobo.wordpress.com/2006/05/12/which-came-first-dual-shock-or-dual-shake/) For many it may seem insignificant but when well utilised it’s the sort of feature that can really add to the ‘feel’ of a game. Not a very elegant description but I suppose what I am trying to say, somehow, is that without rumble the PS3 lacks one of those little things that brings a player into game.

    On a another level the speaker on the Wii-mote is an interesting idea which has the potential to do just this. When I first heard about it I was like ‘what’s the point in that?’ But when it was explained, about how it will allow you to hear a bow travelling toward a target, it seemed a much smarter idea. It’s only a small thing but a console experience is only the sum of many small parts. I wonder if this is something that will become standard in controllers come 5+ years in the future?

    On a side note this claim from Sony that the next-gen only starts when they say so annnoys me even more everytime I hear it. Seriously, they have proved nothing so far, so they’re best keeping their traps shut till they have something worthwhile to talk about – or rather to show since they’ve done quite enough talking already.

    Finally, and I do mean finally, you may be interested to hear that Phil Harrison is on the DVD-9 ain’t big enough topic again. See link below:


  3. Opa on

    I’d have to concur totally. Aside from the means, both the PS3 and 360 have roughly the same end result. I would have to guess the PS3 would be slightly harder to develop for which would explain the bigger budgets, and longer dev time for PS3 games (if they are AAA titles, they will take much longer to develop then a comparable 360 AAA title -again this is just my guess based on what i’ve read).

    The loss/removal of the rumble/force feedback feature from the PS3 absolutely mystifies me. Games like Forza and PGR offer definite feedback to the player if they drift too far off the pavement by rumbling – this feature will be notably absent from Gran Turismo. – I don’t think people realize how huge this issue will become.

    Graphically the GPU on the 360 is more efficient and feature laden than the 7800 GT -lite version in the PS3. The RSX chip is already passe’ at this point since the RSX core was essentially a 7800 GT which has been supplanted by the 7900 GT – and there is a HUGE performance delta between the 2.

    CPU wise, it all depends how well the compiler is written, and how well a designer can take advantage of either core.

    3rd party devs will manage cross platform ports accordingly.

  4. puh_fifer on

    Another thing that factors in here is the XNA tools that microsoft offers. I’ve never heard of Sony doing anything comparable. Not only does it make development easier, but it makes ports to and from the xbox and pc easier.

    At least that’s what microsoft says, I personally know jack shit about programming.

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