The Big Cost of Small Places

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The Big Cost of Small Places

There's just more to design in games today and that takes resources.

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Seamus? Holy crap, where have you been? We haven't seen you here for...a couple of years, I think? Anyways, good article, but it's just odd to have you pop out of nowhere all of a sudden.

I thought you had hit this point before. Or maybe you alluded to it and then other commenters added more detail. Either way, it's a great point and something to have in mind when gamers ask for more detail and photorealism in their games.

Is there any way the time-consumption problem with this can be addressed? Ready-made models with things such as the Unreal Engine would help, right? But crafting just the worlds without objects and creatures to inhabit seems a monumental task on its own.

So is the better option to scale back on the realism for the sake of a bigger world, or to keep pushing for more detail while (hopefully) adding little tweaks to make it easier?

Also: Welcome back.

Shamus Young:
The Big Cost of Small Places

There's just more to design in games today and that takes resources.

Read Full Article

I missed you.

Also, good read. Thanks.

Welcome back Shamus. You were missed here.

Now if you could explain why it's so damn expensive to give my NPC war buddies in (Insert name of any shooter made this generation) a personality.

Honestly, I'm not so worried about quantity in my games. A four to six hour campaign is alright if it's so good I want to play it again every time I have an evening off. Some games almost achieve that degree of greatness, but unfortunately everyone in CoD and MoH is too busy being "professional" to be interesting, and everyone in GoW is too busy roid raging for me to care.

At least in the new Ace Combat they let the characters show, oh so briefly, that they're really not just machines from an alien planet of creatures that only have two emotional states, "calm" and "HULKSMASH!!!"

I'll admit, I squealed a bit when I saw this.

Anyway, yeah, you pretty much explained why I'm not exactly too hot on a new console generation. Game budgets now are high as hell. A new generation would exacerbate that. People would see "next-gen consoles!" and would reasonably expect a big jump in graphical quality, since that's what has happened with each jump into a new generation. To make graphics even better than they are today would take insane amounts of work/money. And if they did go into a new generation but didn't focus on graphics, the consoles themselves would have to be rather cheap, otherwise people would feel like it's just not worth it (why buy a new console for so much money when it doesn't make things look much better than the current consoles?).

I ask this question in all seriousness... are there REALLY people out there who don't understand this seemingly very basic concept? Give me a person who can watch Toy Story 1 followed by Toy Story 3 and NOT understand that more detailed things require a lot more effort/time, and I will show you someone in serious need of a cup of water to the face.

I think this whole article would have been just as effective in two sentences... "Ugly doodles take 10 seconds; beautiful paintings take 10 hrs. Same with games."

Irridium:
I'll admit, I squealed a bit when I saw this.

As did I. It's good to have you back, Shamus. Please don't disappear again.

Things come at a cost: advanced AI and world's that feel more real are worth the extra time and some of the inherent restrictions (especially when you're rolling out examples like Human Revolution). Furthermore, I'm not sure that "better world design necessitates better, more adaptable AI" is a completely solid line of argument. Would this advance as much as it has if developers weren't forced to do this? There's always going to be a back and forth, and there's a case to be made that the current gen consoles are now actively holding developers back (a few have come out and said as much).

Anyway: welcome back.

Irridium:
To make graphics even better than they are today would take insane amounts of work/money.

Perhaps; I remember Naughty Dog saying they ramped the engine up for Uncharted 3 and then spent most of the time bringing it back down so the PS3 wouldn't implode.

I would also kill for PC ports that didn't give me splitting headaches because they have a FOV the size of a letterbox, crappy anti-aliasing methods, and no v-sync. If they could at least implement those properly on the consoles then - even if they were being lazy - it wouldn't physically affect my playing a game.

Plenty of game engines also prove to be far more capable than they appear in their out-of-the-box form, and that's just from 'part-time', unpaid modders tinkering with them.

Nooners:
Seamus? Holy crap, where have you been? We haven't seen you here for...a couple of years, I think? Anyways, good article, but it's just odd to have you pop out of nowhere all of a sudden.

Years?! I think its only been a few months.

I'd like to direct every person claiming we NEED a new console generation right now to this article.

So, does this mean you're going to do a "Shamus Plays TOR"? Cause the WoW and LotRO ones were awesome. Nice article, all the good points are there that I know of.

Woodsey:
Things come at a cost: advanced AI and world's that feel more real are worth the extra time and some of the inherent restrictions (especially when you're rolling out examples like Human Revolution). Furthermore, I'm not sure that "better world design necessitates better, more adaptable AI" is a completely solid line of argument. Would this advance as much as it has if developers weren't forced to do this? There's always going to be a back and forth, and there's a case to be made that the current gen consoles are now actively holding developers back (a few have come out and said as much).

Anyway: welcome back.

Actually, we apparently have ways to make "smart" AI. The AI in FEAR was really, really good. And if I recall correctly, this is because it is completely un-scripted. Enemies would actually behave intelligently. And I don't mean "they followed where they were supposed to go as set by the developers" I mean "they make actual decisions based on the circumstances".

Of course, FEAR was a PC game. So that might be why the AI was able to be so good. Though then again, FEAR did eventually come to consoles, so who knows. But I did notice that the AI in FEAR 2 was decidedly less interesting. I'm not sure if it was the same and I was just not that impressed with it anymore, or if the AI took a backseat to other things.

It makes me cry that this actually needs to be explained to people. Not as in 'explained in detail', but explained at all.

Most people really think that the biggest part of making a game is doing the engine. Bull f***ing sh*t. I remember modding for the relatively simple game, Quake III Arena. I wanted to re-create a real-world outside place. It's impossible to understand how much work it really is without trying it. But how can anyone be so ignorant as to think it's so easy?

If 500 people spend two years making a game with 1/5th of the length in comparison to a 1995 game, which employed 10 people for a year... Well, guess what. Games are complicated.

Irridium:

Woodsey:
Things come at a cost: advanced AI and world's that feel more real are worth the extra time and some of the inherent restrictions (especially when you're rolling out examples like Human Revolution). Furthermore, I'm not sure that "better world design necessitates better, more adaptable AI" is a completely solid line of argument. Would this advance as much as it has if developers weren't forced to do this? There's always going to be a back and forth, and there's a case to be made that the current gen consoles are now actively holding developers back (a few have come out and said as much).

Anyway: welcome back.

Actually, we apparently have ways to make "smart" AI. The AI in FEAR was really, really good. And if I recall correctly, this is because it is completely un-scripted. Enemies would actually behave intelligently. And I don't mean "they followed where they were supposed to go as set by the developers" I mean "they make actual decisions based on the circumstances".

Of course, FEAR was a PC game. So that might be why the AI was able to be so good. Though then again, FEAR did eventually come to consoles, so who knows. But I did notice that the AI in FEAR 2 was decidedly less interesting. I'm not sure if it was the same and I was just not that impressed with it anymore, or if the AI took a backseat to other things.

I dunno how it works if I'm honest (I was just rolling with the example he'd given); I would presume that dynamic AI is actually a combination of a lot of incremental scripting and some very limited "free-thinking" stuff.

Or I might just be talking out of my arse; no idea.

You have not touched on the biggest hidden cost with most FPS games; Frames Per Second Performance and time-costly graphical tricks.

Take for example an FPS, we shall call it "Big Guns and Explosions 3; Death to the Angry Brown People/ Russians". BGE is a prestigious series that prides its self on the most top notch of graphics. But uh-oh! The PS3 and 360 are getting on a bit, how are we going to make it look better than BGE2? It cost millions to make that engine and we bascially squeezed every drop from the 360.

The answer is to cheat, well not to cheat but to go through every room with a fine tooth comb and optimize where the player will be looking for an FPS gain and the ability to cram in more effects. The problem here is two fold; the less liniar and small your game the less you can do this effectively; every room added will be an extra headache for the engine to cope with since everything is on a knife edge already;

Squeezing that little bit more out of a console is HUGLY expensive because you have to almost do everything like a scripted movie; you have to know where the player will be looking and see how you can add/ remove things to get the maximum bang for your Frames per second buck. We've seen this in quite a few new games, ever wonder why certain scenes in big FPS games can look so good? There is a whole plethora of graphical cheats and tricks they can do but this smoke and mirros is massively costly and hugely time consuming compared to just using what the engine gives you.

RAGE sacrificed to do this; if you listen to interveiws with John "90s relic" Carmack you see he decided angaist almost ANY dynamic processes in the games engine because he wanted to have tight control over how things looked and how it performed. You can also see this is the horrible PC pop-in; the game is trying its best to dump everything you are not seeing right now up close.

There is an investment into a statically controled graphics showcase (Carmacks philosophy of engine design; make it pretty but leave it basic and limited) rather than a dynamic functional world that needs less time to add content to.

Ah, the prodigal son returns with a really interesting take.

It's true, and the worst part is that a new console generation would be exponentially harder and more expensive to build but would not, to the players' eye, be an improvement as noticeable as the one from the N64 to the 'Cube, for instance. We might be at the end of the era of the massive, graphically beautiful adventure as the go-to kind of game.

I think in alot of ways some people out there lose perspective of what it means to play a game. If a person is complaining about not having enough chairs in a dining table on a random house they discover in a pointless part of a map, then i think that person needs to really evaluate what is meant to play a video game, which is to be entertained and have fun. I think for the most part the people have spoken, all of these "cults" and followings out there filled with people that play games like Minecraft, and TES 4 and 5 that sit there and entertain themselves by using something called an imagination...you know that thing we should be using to have fun, instead of relying on a programmer from "insert evil corporate backed dev company here" to show us to have fun...but hey that's just me...

For the people that missed Shamus, have access to him 24/7 in Twenty Sided Tale, his site:

http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/

Really, all the Shamus we can get in The Escapist is not nearly enough.

Ah, it's good to have you back Shamus.

Good article too, I'll be sure to link it to friends when I cant be bothered explaining why games cost so much.

Nooners:
Seamus? Holy crap, where have you been?

He's been writing his book and working on his blog. :P

I love reading everything Shamus does.

Nice to see Shamus back. Hopefully Stolen Pixels will make a return?

Anyway, I have to admit, I didn't consider all of these little nuances that go into making these high quality games until they were pointed out. I was a bit disappointed with how games had become insufferably linear and short in these past few years, but, after considering exactly how much effort would have to be put into making these games tick, I immediately retract and forgive my previous comments about this.

Still, they could at least give us the honor of making sure the games don't suck. I know that some of these things take a lot of time and effort, but then you run into stuff like movie-licensed games and dime-a-dozen shooters that feel really rushed and hackneyed pieces of crap.

I have been saying the exact same thing for at least 3 years now, because it's so very true yet so many people STILL don't get it!

Some common rebuttals to this argument include "well, if it takes so much time for one person to do it, just hire more people!", which is another great example of how people have no concept of correlation. Hiring more people = spending more money. Then there's "if it's done once, it can be just copy pasted, so why don't they copy paste more?!" Or how about the old "well, they've already done one game with this engine, so why is the sequel taking so long!?"

I thank you for trying to explain a little bit of what people are missing, but the fact remains that people who are more familiar with playing games than making games have, honest to god, no idea whatsoever the amount of work that goes into these games.

I bet most people have no idea the amount of work that went into making Deus Ex, nevermind the two orders of magnitude more work that went into Human Revolution! If people don't understand the baseline as taking a lot of work, then trying to explain the concept behind something taking MORE work than that baseline is like saying "There is more water in the ocean than there is in a lake"

They'll respond with "Okay, but that still doesn't explain why the ocean is so much bigger than the lake!"

People just don't get it.

Great to see you back Shamus!

I did muse about this once while playing Metro 2033. Every room is very unique and this does add up. So I'm with you when you say we shouldn't be in a rush to the next console cycle.

*crosses fingers for stolen pixels*

Surely the solution to the furnishings and buildings to some degree would be to copy the real world: outsource. Not insource, properly outsource:

Create an industry environment such that virtual furnishing specialists can exist.

This might sound utterly batshit insane in isolation. In a world suffering from yada yada yada we have resources to spare on virtual professions etc etc etc. All that crap. But think about it: What we have at present is a bunch of companies each re-inventing the same blasted wheel. I'm not suggesting that a stage set in the office of the CEO of a design company not utilise unique furniture -- of course not, the NPC itself is a designer -- but rather that there's no reason the slums in Game A by Developer AA set in the year 20XX shouldn't have the same furnishings as the slums in Game B by Developer BB set in the same year 20XX. Suburbia too to an extent. Consider houses built from generic plans in outer suburbs.

In reality we have IKEA. Bunch of vikings, cheap hotdogs, frozen meatballs, shitty stub-pencils, allen keys, bookcases named after tall, fair and mysterious men. That's most of the Western world. But even beyond that, life isn't dissimilar. Presently I live in a small nation not in the Western world where every apartment comes with the exact same crappy chair. I'm sitting on it now, the rim of it jabs up into my butt and makes me lose bloodflow after 5 minutes. I seem them in businesses too. Same cheap chair. Another example: I grew up on the exact same model of bed you'd see in cheap motels across an entire country. That's a different country by the way, and I believe they weren't even IKEA models either, just another mass-producer existing in competition. What I'm saying is this shit isn't a country or locale-specific thing, that's just how business and economies of scale work in this era. Believe it or not, 1990s game design principles actually mirror reality for much of the world.

To an extent, the same approach can work for apartments too. To repeat things without it feeling weird, developers just need to observe reality and take stock of areas where uniqueness can and should be sacrificed.

Sure, for games with unique design aesthetics (fantasty stuff basically) this approach wouldn't work, but these games also have the design-space to simplify ones surroundings. It's only realistic shooters and the like that need a realistic room, so why not take a realistic approach?

This ties in to a point I had as well, something that I tend to think about sometimes.

How much more graphical fidelity do we really need, anyway? Are we at the point yet that the cost to benefit ratio doesn't justify making things any "prettier"? We aren't exactly at photorealism yet, but assuming we ever got the tech to the point it could produce photorealism, could any company afford to actually make a full game using it?

I imagine there's a plateau of sorts, some point we'll reach where the graphics are as good as they'll get while still being cheap enough to produce that a profit can be made off it.

The.Bard:

I think this whole article would have been just as effective in two sentences... "Ugly doodles take 10 seconds; beautiful paintings take 10 hrs. Same with games."

Yeah....I agree thats all that SHOULD be needed. Spending several years working with people who will take any opportunity to lord their degree over me while they ask for my help turning their computer on has made me incredibly cynical. People are stupid. People are self absorbed asshats with no idea how much work anyone other than themself does. There are exceptions of course.

From my own point of view, I would quite happily trade in some photo realism for more levels. I could also live if the toilets don't flush. Its a nice touch and all, but it doesn't add to the gameplay, I'd rather have another level.

I had an interesting experience this week, we dug out the Lightcycle custom level on starcraft 2. Here is a game with the most basic gameplay "don't crash" pretty basic graphics. Yet I can categorically say I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed CoD. Photorealism and lipsyncing is nice, but we seem to be forgetting to make games fun.

But doesn't the cost of optimization on the console hardware also add up to the cost?

Welcome back, by the way.

Y'know, I'd call that a price worth paying.

I'd rather have a smaller more detailed game than a huge array or empty square spaces populated by clones.

snave:
snipped for space

Here's another idea - how about furniture manufacturers letting the game developers use the 3D models/textures/normal maps of their furniture (I'm pretty sure they have those during the conceptual/manufacturing phase)? The developers won't have to spend time on creating these assets and potentially not pay for them either, as they work as in-game advertisement.

In fact, stretch this idea to other facets of asset development as well. It's a win-win situation for everybody!

Your last statement there, I'm gonna have to take issue with. What makes you think that the next generation of consoles will shoot for better, more expensive graphics? The industry is already struggling to breathe under the weight of all the expenses you just mentioned, and I don't think that the hardware manufacturers are going to find it a smart move to continue on the "better, more expensive" path (except maybe Sony). Wouldn't the next generation be more likely to focus on making things EASIER for the devs, instead of throwing more and more expensive nonsense at them when we're way past the point of diminishing returns?

This could be a good topic for a future Experienced Points. If, you know, you ever get around to it.

Raiyan 1.0:

snave:
snipped for space

Here's another idea - how about furniture manufacturers letting the game developers use the 3D models/textures/normal maps of their furniture (I'm pretty sure they have those during the conceptual/manufacturing phase)? The developers won't have to spend time on creating these assets and potentially not pay for them either, as they work as in-game advertisement.

In fact, stretch this idea to other facets of asset development as well. It's a win-win situation for everybody!

No, it doesn't work that way. Furniture makers are gonna have blueprints, but they're not gonna hire a freaking 3D modeler for something that can be done on paper.

This is part of the reason I love PC gaming so much. Sure, they have the AAA titles that suffer from the same issue you address in your column but it also hosts games like Magicka, Dungeons of Dredmor, and Minecraft. Games I don't see getting released for consoles. You kind of get the best of both worlds.

Of course some great looking games (ok, not photo-realistic or anything) can use clever design to make a large and varied world. Look at the new King's Bounty games.

I think the big thing about this article, is it illustrates how we can't go back. Once we've been shown what we've been shown, not to do it makes the game dull and boring and non-sensical.

And the thing is, for the people saying a new console generation might not do this, if we have a couple of Crysis people, a couple of Battlefields, a couple of Uncharted's, making games look as good as they do (and to be fair, there is nothing wrong with a beautiful game, there's some things which are inherently right about a game so beautiful you have to stop and stare) then suddenly all the people developing games that look as good as they do now will have games that look ugly and stupid by comparison, and we won't be able to go back again.

I guess I'm hoping that maybe stock resources and power to stop the need for optimisation, might make this problem gradually get better, but as you point out, detail has to be designed and that's always going to make time :( Even if we don't have to create the magazines to go on a table, even choosing the magazines and placing them on the correct tables takes more time that not even having a table and you can do so much by designing detail it'll look sloppy when people just bash something together

EDIT: Hmm typed the wrong word into the captcha and it still published, is there some kind of margin for error?

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