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Crunchy Quick Post

I normally don’t do the “informative meme” thing, since they tend to oversimplify very complex problems, but this was the result of a challenge from a friend to fix that stupid Mona Lisa DLC meme that’s made its rounds on the internet. 

Q

axl99 asked:

So now that we see a major publisher developer like EA trying to make a good chunk of their games using one game engine [Frostbyte3], do you see a similar trend for mobile games where the sheer amount of custom game engines would decrease as they become more standardized?

A

askagamedev:

Sort of. The reason that EA is doing this is because it saves EA a lot of money. The way it works is that EA pays the team at DICE (and EA Central Tech) to continue to develop and maintain the Frostbite engine, and then that is used by all the other studios they own out there. Each studio that uses it saves some money in the long run by not needing to spend engineering hours on their own engines.

As for whether mobile games can do it, it’s the same sort of question that any team that is contemplating changing engines has to do. It’s a question of value. You need to compare several estimates, like so:

If we change engines: 

  • How long will it take to train the team to use the new engine?
  • How much of the old work/assets must be redone? How much can we save?
  • How much effort will it be to port over features from the old engine that the new engine doesn’t yet support?

If we stick with the old engine: 

  • How much work could we get done in the time it would take to train everyone in the new engine?
  • Will the new engine and tools allow us to get significantly more work done in the time we have? How much?
  • How much effort would it be to just implement the features we want from the new engine in our old one? Would it be safer/faster/more reliable to do that?

You have to make the decision based on the sort of goals you have in the longer term. Whenever you make the decision to switch engines, you compare how much effort it would take to change to how much effort it would take to do those things yourself. If you are just starting out, you need to compare the cost of the engine to the time and money it will save not having to build one yourself.

For the mobile developers out there in specific, this is a real question. Mobile budgets aren’t that large due to the tremendous amount of competition and low price point of unit sales. This means that most mobile dev studios will look to do similar things to what EA is doing - leveraging their existing technology as much as they can. Now… that doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily share that tech with other competing developers, but it does mean that most games from the same studio will likely be built on similar technology. Telltale Games, for example, builds all of their games on the same engine too. 

There are some companies out there that will pay to license third-party engines like Unity. Unity is gaining traction with mobile developers due to the engine license’s low price and support for multiple platforms (Unity can run on PC, Mac, Android, iOS, X360, and PS3 if memory serves). With the price being as low as $1,500 USD for a user license, it’s been gaining traction with developers.

That said, since games tend to be such unique snowflakes and there are so many mobile studios out there, the chances that a majority of the mobile devs out there will gravitate towards a single engine solution is pretty slim. Even if Unity can hit it big, it will cause competition in that arena to crop up, simply because one engine can’t really be the best at doing everything, not even Frostbite.

Crunchy Reblog

Because we’re getting close to shipping and bugs are taking more time. Also, because engines are fun to talk about moving forward, and nearly two years has passed since I wrote this post, but it still applies just as much today as it did back then.

Q

shock3r92 asked:

Hi ! I'm a lighting artist , currently working on some anime titles. One thing that I still don't really understand about game is frame rate control. Because in game's world , everything is dynamic , there might be more objects in this area and causing frame rate to drop from 60 to 20 , but how do game engine update animation movement according to frame rate ? What's the frame rate that animators are using while creating animation content for the game?

A

This can get kind of technical, but it’s an important consideration nonetheless. Let me try to answer your questions in reverse order.

First off, whenever an animator creates an animation, there’s a base frame rate at which it is captured or created. Typically, most animators I know work at 60 frames per second when creating source animations. Sometimes they work at 120 when they need a lot of granularity (e.g. anything with really minute movements, like facial expressions) or are working on a game that’s very animation-intensive. Sometimes they work at 30, because the frame rate for the game is locked. This is the theoretical maximum that the animation can play at to be true to the source. Should the frame rate of the game exceed than the animation’s source rate, you’ll most likely get interpolation (i.e. the animation system’s best guess) between actual source frames. This actually sets a maximum cap in terms of how smooth or real an animation can be, though it doesn’t do anything to something like camera movement granularity or other updates.

Originally posted by teded

So then we need to actually figure out how a game’s animation system actually plays the animation data. In order to understand this, we need to understand just what sort of data we need in order to play an animation. In order to play an animation, we need two things - for a given bone we need to know where it is (position), and when it is at that location (frame time). If we have a bone at position X at frame N, and then it moves to position Y at frame N+1, then we can display it at the appropriate locations in the game. So what happens when our game’s frame rate differs from the source data’s frame rate? This is where we have to start doing our interpolating.

So imagine that we sourced our animation at 60 frames per second, but we’re playing back on screen at 30 frames per second because there’s a whole bunch of things being drawn at once and the CPU is chugging on all of the calculations it has to do. So if we want to figure out where the bones are at each display update, we need to figure out where they are at that time. Typically we load the entire animation into memory at once, so the animation system can easily ask the animation “Where are all of your bones at frame #5? What about at frame #29?” and get the answer in negligible amounts of time. All we need to do is know what to ask. 

A simple way of calculating where the bones should be on the next frame is to store off when you started playing the animation, and then calculating how far into the animation you should be when the next frame is drawn (based on your current frame rate). So, for example, if you started at 0:00:00, and you know that your next update happens at 0:00:66 (66 milliseconds later), and you know that you’re running at 30 fps, then you calculate “At my current frame rate, how many frames does 66 milliseconds translate to?”. Let’s say that the answer is two frames (at 30 fps). Then the system can ask the animation “Where are your bones on frame #2?”, get the answer, and calculate where the bones should be relative to the world and display it. This forms the basis for looping an animation.

It can get more complicated if the result is in between frames. Imagine that it was 50 milliseconds instead of 66. Then, you could theoretically end up with your display time having to show a fraction of a frame’s worth of advancement. So what do you do in a situation like that? You can pick one of the two frames bordering where you’re supposed to be. This can end up “slicing” off frame data or padding one frame an extra few milliseconds and cause the animation to sometimes look a little choppy. You can try interpolating between the two frames to get a more exact look, but that can take extra calculation since you have to do a bunch of mathematical calculations for every single bone of every single thing that’s animating. But it would look a lot better.

This slicing problem is very hard to notice with the naked eye at higher frame rates, but much more obvious at lower ones. This is one of the reasons that some developers will lock their game’s frame rate at 30, especially if they know that performance may be an issue. Locking their frame rate means that they can source all of their animations at that same rate, and then they don’t have to ever worry about accidentally slicing animation data because of desynchronization between the display and the source data. 

Of course, this entire explanation is an oversimplification of a very complicated problem to solve. There are all sorts of ways to build an animation system, and there are lots of engineers who devote their entire careers to expanding, improving, and creating animation systems. Different games have different needs as well, so things like a deformation system would make a lot of sense in a one on one fighting game, but less so in a FPS or RPG. You probably wouldn’t need much facial animation or a complicated blending system for a RTS, but you would for any action-adventure game that involves a lot of climbing, jumping, and running around. Still, for any animating and engineering hopefuls out there, it would be a good idea to learn some of these core principles of how an animation system actually works.

Q

Anonymous asked:

I worked on the recent Tony Hawk Pro Skater game that was just released- the one being universally panned as a broken mess. It was my first major dev gig, and it looks like I'm not going to be in the studio for much longer... is it worth putting the game on my resume, or will the fact it was released super-broken reflect badly on me? Will future employers see that I worked on that game (even through I worked on the art-side of the development) and disregard my resume because of it?

A

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My heartfelt sympathies to you. Job loss always sucks, and the feeling of impending job loss is even worse. It’s especially traumatizing for people early in their careers, because it almost always comes attached with feelings of disappointment, abandonment and depression. It can easily feel like the world/publisher/circumstances are conspiring against you, that it isn’t fair, and especially that you didn’t deserve this because you worked so hard and tried your best. You’ll probably have some conflicting emotions, because the critics say that it’s awful, but you can see the hard work and effort put in by you and your team, and that there are still some good things about it.  My gameography has its share of unreleased games and a critically panned title or two. It can be really hard to hear that sort of thing about a title you’ve put so much time and effort into. But I take solace in the fact that the parts I worked on were good, and I stand by them. I am not ashamed that I worked on those titles. Even though THPS might not be riding a metacritic wave, it still has its good points, even if they are the ones critics aren’t talking about. You should feel proud of what you’ve accomplished.

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So let’s talk about the resume. Is it worth putting a shipped game that isn’t very good on your resume? Absolutely yes. While the players out there might not have much sympathy, those of us in the trenches know your pain. If devs could only put critically acclaimed games on their resumes, no devs would get hired anywhere. We, more than anybody, understand that development is often fraught with peril and that, many times, the team members aren’t the ones responsible for the overall vision and reception of the game. Shipping a AAA game, even if it isn’t received well, is a feat that select few can say they’ve accomplished. Make sure that you’re ready to talk about the good things you worked on as well as the bad.

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What would your alternative be? Leaving that time period blank? Let me warn you now, an employment gap is a far worse red flag than a shipped title that wasn’t very good. The only time you should consider leaving relevant work experience off of your resume is when you’ve got so much of it that it’s too long, and you have to cut the earliest stuff. Aside from that, if it’s relevant work experience I, as a hiring manager, want to know about it. Tell me about what you did, how you decided to do it, what the benefits and drawbacks were, and how you would improve it if you could do it again. Show me that you know your stuff. Convince me that you did the best job you could.

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Finally… I know it’s hard, but try not to worry about the job loss so much. It sucks. I totally get that. I’ve gone through it several times myself, and each time I have to pick myself up and recenter and refocus. And let me be brutally honest - if you stay in the game industry, it probably won’t be the last time you lose your job either. The industry is volatile. Layoffs happen. The important thing to remember is that the job situation isn’t always under your control, and that it happens to everybody. Take pride in the parts you’ve accomplished, not just the completion of the game itself. Focus on what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and how you’ve improved. That growth experience is what hiring managers are interested in.

Further Reading

PS. If you’re interested, you can send your resume to me at askagamedev@yahoo.com. No guarantees, but I could either provide you critique or possibly pass it on to some recruiters I know.

Q

spookychrompls asked:

Hi! So in, say, literature, there's a body of work that pretty much everyone knows. If you refer to Romeo & Juliet, even someone that hasn't read it will know what you mean. This doesn't seem to be a thing in gaming (with the exception of very early games, like Tetris). While this can arguably be a good thing, it does make it difficult to discuss games without a common ground to stand on. In this vein, what do you think are some games that every would-be developer should know?

A

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There’s a big difference between what people “should” know, and what they do know. Even with your example of Romeo and Juliet, many people only very generally know that it’s a tragic love story about a man named Romeo and a woman named Juliet, and that there’s a balcony scene in it somewhere. Just look at Taylor Swift’s [Love Story] - it’s a perfect example of somebody who wrote a song about Romeo and Juliet without actually being familiar with the story at all. If I were to ask the average layman who the third person who died at the end of the story was, I suspect that most would not be able to answer.

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This is the case with many games today as well. As more games break into popular culture, you’ll find many people who are passingly familiar with famous genre-defining titles like Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, Guitar Hero, and Tetris. Some might have heard of extremely popular games like Call of Duty, Halo, League of Legends, or World of Warcraft. Some they’ll recognize because they’ve gone transmedia with things like animated series or blockbuster movies, like Pokemon, Tomb Raider, or Resident Evil. And then there are always going to be those who remember the title because of an associated controversy like Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto.

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This is, however, only surface-level name recognition. If you ask if somebody’s ever heard of Pokemon, you’re probably going to get a “yes” response. But if you ask about the game’s actual features (like how to win the game) you’ll probably get a response like “catch them all”, rather than “defeat the elite four and the current champion”, because most laymen aren’t familiar with the particulars - just like with Romeo and Juliet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with not having in-depth knowledge about video games, but it doesn’t help much if somebody wants to make video games.

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That said, I do think that prospective designers should try to play at least one game from each popular big-budget AAA franchise at the very least. If anything, it’s because there will be millions of players out there who have played it, and it will probably be worthwhile spending the time to analyze its good and bad points. Doing so also helps to keep up with current events in the game industry, provides a baseline context when discussing other games from the series, and gives a point of reference for comparing to competing products. 

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I would also advise any aspiring developers to aim for a breadth of game experience over depth when starting out - play at least one popular game in as many genres and platforms that you can, rather than concentrate all your focus on the genre you happen to like. You don’t need to play the game to completion, but play it enough to familiarize yourself with the primary, secondary, and tertiary game loops so you can figure out how it works. Determine which features work very well and which don’t work so well, and then think about how you might improve the one you just played with a feature or idea from another game from another genre.

PS. Spoiler for a play written sometime around 1600 AD. For those curious, the third character who dies at the end of Romeo and Juliet is Paris, kinsman to the prince of the city of Verona and Juliet’s other suitor. Romeo kills him.

War Stories: Dancing Penguins

It’s been a while since I shared a war story, so I thought I’d tell a funny one today. I briefly mentioned it when [I interviewed Marcus Montgomery] for this blog and we were talking about the usefulness of stub files, but I realized today that I never actually explained what I meant. Stub files, for those who don’t know, are placeholder assets that work, but are clearly and obviously placeholders. They look awful, they’re often covered in textures that say “REPLACE ME”, they’re purposely out of place in order to call attention to their temporary nature. Stub files will almost always fail certification, and this is all completely intentional. They exist to hold the place of actual working assets, so that developers can play through the content without having to make allowances for unfinished assets.

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A long time ago, in a studio far, far away, I was working as a hybrid scripter/level designer/gameplay programmer. The project was a grim and gritty martial arts brawler for the PSP partially set on the streets of Hong Kong, (amid other places) where the protagonist would battle numerous gangs and street punks. My duties on that team were quite varied - I built collision for the levels and navigation graphs for AI pathfinding, tagged the walls and areas with contextual navigation (places to jump, places for wall running, places to hide and sneak along, etc.), placed spawners for enemies, placed and scripted checkpoint triggers, and so on and so forth.

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One of my tasks was to hook up some transition cinematics when the player would trigger certain fights. We had to give an executive demo soon to show off our progress, and they needed these transitions to help establish a feel for the gameplay. The only catch was that the cinematics department was dragging their feet. My boss asked me to put them in, but they kept telling me they didn’t have them ready. A week passed, then two, and I kept having to explain to my boss that they still weren’t ready. The deadline was approaching, so something had to change.

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One thing we did have access to was tutorial/sample assets for the PSP. They provided examples of file formats that the system could use, and that actually included cinematics. There was just one catch - the only cinematics I had to work with were clips from some sort of nature show featuring penguins waddling and set to mild harpsichord music. So I created several copies of the sample dancing penguin video and renamed them according to the cinematic asset naming scheme. Then I hooked them up to play when triggered in game, and checked them into the asset repository. Whenever the player was supposed to trigger a cinematic for a fight, instead they got the video of dancing penguins. The penguins had invaded, and they were everywhere.

In less than two days, all of the penguins had been completely replaced by WIP cinematics.

Other War Stories:

Q

Anonymous asked:

How do you tell the difference between critique that is helpful and critique that isn't?

A

When you boil a critique down to its very core, you really end up with only three parts to it. Practically any critique can be broken down into something like this:

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In my experience, the usefulness of a critique is inversely proportional to the ambiguity of the feature and reason blocks above. The less ambiguous the description of the feature or the reason is, the more useful it is to me, since I can figure out exactly what the issue is. Once I know exactly what the issue is, I can start coming up with solutions for it. This is really what’s important to us as devs - if the reasoning or the problem is ambiguous, it means we need to spend our time and energy investigating the problem first, before we can start brainstorming the solution.

Q

Anonymous asked:

Is all the non-code writing for games done by programmers or are there jobs to be had in just writing story/dialog?

A

There are a variety of opportunities for employment beyond programming. Art, production, game design, and so on are all fields you can enter, and being a game writer is definitely a possibility (though not all studios hire game writers). 

If you’re interested in writing for games in specific, I suggest you [click here for the my “Roles in the Industry” post about what it is game writers do]. If this sounds interesting, [click here for some suggestions on how to practice the sort of work a professional game writer would actually do].

Finally, you can always take a look at my Game Career FAQ for general questions:

Click here for AAGD’s Game Career FAQ

Q

Anonymous asked:

Is my nostalgia filter on too tight, or has gaming not really technologically progressed besides graphics? 10 years ago we had F.E.A.R, and nothing has been able to have AI like it since.13 years ago we had Red Faction, with an almost 100% destructible map. The closest to that since is Guerrilla (More limits), or Minecraft (Voxel-based, limited physics.) 23 years ago we had Ultima 7, and no RPG yet compares to that in terms of interactivity, and I could give more examples without 500 char limit.

A

I think your nostalgia filter is on too tight, mostly because players are bad at recognizing what tech advancement really looks like. Video game technology has steadily improved, both in and outside of graphics, and continues to do so to this day.

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Do you seriously want to tell me that things like MMO technology hasn’t vastly improved so that we can have more than 1000 people in a world zone at once without crushing the server? Maybe you missed that we haven’t had massive improvements in online infrastructure that allows us to track and update things like achievements, friends lists, etc. from player to player. That totally existed 10 years ago, right? We haven’t built and improved huge gamer networks like XBox Live, PSN, Steam, and Origin that allow safe, easy, and timely avenues for monetary transactions and content distribution in that intervening time so that you can buy and download games and DLC you want, and then send a message to your friend to invite him or her to play with you. Valve has broken ground with technology that allows players to create and distribute mod content. Maybe you missed the whole motion control craze which has (so far) culminated in the Kinect, a peripheral device that can do motion capture in your very own home. Perhaps you don’t consider cross-platform play or the Skylanders/Disney Infinity/Amiibo technology compelling, but I assure you that a lot of people do.

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But perhaps you were talking about more directly visible in-game technology on a per-game basis. Maybe you missed the part where we’ve improved data loading and streaming technology so that we can seamlessly move across games like Sleeping Dogs without ever having to go to a loading screen beyond the initial. You bring up the interactivity of Ultima 7, but don’t mention Second Life where players can literally craft everything? Red Faction’s world wasn’t actually 100% destructible either - each map had a skeleton that had destructible bits glued onto it. Have you seen the technology in development for Everquest Next? FEAR’s AI was not bad, but do you realize what sort of internal machinations are going on in the latest version of the Sims? Or how about using AI to direct an entire player’s experience, like in Left 4 Dead? Ten years ago, simulating an entire city’s worth of AI would have brought any machine to its knees, but now we have Cities: Skylines. We’ve seen great strides in procedurally generated content too, like the nemesis system in Shadow of Mordor. Diablo 2 did a pretty decent job of the procedural map generation, but Diablo 3 really took it to a new level with significant improvements. And pretty much every single online multiplayer game today has taken several pages from big improvements in matchmaking technology.

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I think the main thing is that a good number of these technical improvements fly pretty low on the radar most of the time. Smartphones are so ubiquitous today, for example, that many people forget that the very first iPhone wasn’t released until 2007. Having an online network with a friends list and easy transactions is commonplace today, but didn’t exist back then. Data streaming technology, scalability, motion controls, and such things feel like they’ve been around for a long time, but they really haven’t. A lot of in-game technical improvements just make things smoother, run better, more immersive, but are hard for an untrained eye to pick up. Saying that nothing has really improved outside of graphics is uninformed at best, and ignorant at worst.

Q

Anonymous asked:

are any game programmers selftaught? is it possible to get into the field without a degree?

A

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The answer here is “Yes, but…”. Whenever we hire a candidate, what we care about is whether that candidate can do the work. A degree in computer science, computer engineering, or some other related field helps us believe that the candidate can do the work. It isn’t absolutely necessary to do so - one of the software engineers I know who worked on animation systems for several of the Tomb Raider games majored in physics, not computer science. It’s theoretically possible to get a job without a degree, as long as you can convince us that you’re still the best candidate for the job. So how do you prove that you can do it if you don’t have a degree that says you can?

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Imagine for a moment that you’re hiring someone to do a job for you - let’s say that you’re looking for an experienced electrician to rewire your house. Well, you can hire a certified electrician, or you can hire an uncertified one. What would it take for you to consider the uncertified electrician over the certified one? Well, you’d probably need to make sure that the uncertified person had plenty of experience. Maybe you’d ask about previous wiring jobs the person had performed, and even go check them out. You might need to ask for references that you could check on to make sure everything is on the up and up. Of course, you might do this already just to be safe. But when you are considering hiring somebody, the certification holds some value in establishing some standard level of working knowledge. Without the assurance of certification, you need to take additional steps to verify that the candidate has that level of knowledge and expertise.

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Hiring an engineer/programmer is the same deal. You have a job that needs doing, and your primary goal is to find somebody who can do that job. That doesn’t automatically exclude those without degrees, but it does put the onus on them to prove that they know and have experience with at least the same things that the degree represents. If you want to get a job as a game programmer, you need to show us that you can do the job. Whether that’s through demos of things you’ve worked on, or programming experience from other places is up to you. We’ll always value a degree over nothing at all, but if you can prove to us that you can do the job through your work experience, project history, and code samples, then you’ll still be a viable candidate.

The inestimable Fryda Wolff, former game developer turned professional voice actress, has compiled comments from performers and developers regarding this. She has a much more direct insight into what is actually happening.

She also (very saliently) points out that the issue of residuals is much larger than I had previously thought.

Q

Anonymous asked:

As an anonymous game dev, do you have any opinion on the contract that SAG-AFTRA is considering striking over? Does it seem [un]reasonable from your position?

A

This is something topical, so I figured I’d try to address it. I’ve looked over the arguments, and I generally feel like both sides have some legitimate asks.

Primarily, [this is what SAG-AFTRA wants]:

  1. Royalties/residuals. Blockbuster games sell a lot of copies, and good voice acting makes a big difference. If you put in the work, you should get something out of it. I’m fairly certain they want this in addition to their current rates (which can be pretty high, most of the time it’s at least $10,000 per day to hire them with celebrities like Ron Perlman commanding multiples of that for a single day’s recording.)
  2. Hazard pay for vocally stressful performances. If you could possibly injure your throat or voice by having to scream, yell, or shout for hours on end, you should probably earn some sort of additional risk compensation for it - especially if you don’t have a steady job that provides health insurance.
  3. A stunt coordinator present at all motion capture sessions. This is an added cost that isn’t always needed - needing one when you’re motion capturing walking, sitting, conversing, etc. might not really be necessary.
  4. Transparency - the performers want to know what it is they are performing for before auditioning. This actually has some direct correlation with #4 that the publishers are asking for below.

For the most part, most of these are reasonable asks. It seems unlikely that publishers will simply grant additional monetary compensation on top of existing compensation without something else - reducing the flat payment amount in exchange for a small percentage of the total take, for example. But that’s an argument for the lawyers.

Keep reading for the publisher/developer side of this.

Q

calibanesque asked:

Every year, it seems AAA game graphics improve while game length shortens, and gameplay and AI remain the same. Yet when I look at some of the best-selling games - the Mario series, the Sims, Wii Sports, Minecraft, World of Warcraft - it seems that there's a huge group of consumers who aren't interested in 'cutting edge' graphics. Why then is there a continuous push for big games to look better, often (it feels) at the expense of other elements?

A

askagamedev:

Ah, the classic “Back in my day…” dilemma. I’ll address the main question now, though I would like to revisit some of the other elements you mention (game length, gameplay, AI, etc.) at a future date since they deserve their own discussion separately.

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What I believe you’re actually asking about is stylization vs realism when it comes to graphical fidelity. And to be clear, I want to differentiate here as well - we’re not talking about whether or not the visuals are realistic as in they are believable to occur on the planet earth, but more that they are something that attempt to model what things would actually look like if they did exist and were photographed. This is opposed to something that is clearly stylized with an aesthetic that does not attempt that sort of detail level and couldn’t be photographed, not without looking very out-of-place and bizarre. So like… for example, I would class Bayonetta as a game that is attempting to be more “realistic” in terms of portrayal (extensive shadows, extensive lighting, realistic physics simulation for things like hair and cloth, blood and liquid effects, a lot of attention spent on animations and animation blending, etc.), while a game like Super Mario Kart 8 would be much more stylized (less emphasis on the previously mentioned features). 

There are a some very established pros and cons for both sides, and the leadership on the development team does not make this sort of choice lightly. Here are a few of the more salient ones:

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Pros of Stylization:

  • The visuals stay relevant for longer in the future comparatively speaking. The image above, for example, is from Jet Set Radio (2000).
  • Establish player expectations for an unrealistic world
  • More acceptable if little things are missing, like clothing folds, shadows, etc.
  • Does not require as much in terms of technical resources, and thus can be run on older hardware without taking as large a performance hit.

Cons:

  • Stylization targets a more limited segment of the user base.
  • Without strong artistic direction, it can alienate an already smaller target audience
  • Looks visually inferior at launch time when compared side-by-side with a more “realistic” game.
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The main benefit of stylization is that they look good for longer than a “realistic” game, at the cost of not being as visually impressive at the beginning. Players recognize it as “unrealistic”, which tempers their expectations. Clothing doesn’t need to fold, physics doesn’t have to be believable, hair can be static, water doesn’t need to flow. This feeds into the second-most important benefit - the ability to run on older hardware without the performance hit, which is why you see so many MMORPGs using stylized visuals. Most MMOGs are played on the PC, and the actual percentage of players who have up-to-date hardware is extremely small. Even more, MMOGs are ongoing projects that last for years, and it becomes necessary to add new content as time passes, but impractical to go back and update old content’s visuals to be consistent with newer technology. The most efficient way to handle continued content rollout is to keep everything stylized. It’s why World of Warcraft (launched in 2004) is only now going around to updating their old models and animations (9 years later). 

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The main drawback is the dreaded “cartoony” moniker. There are many players out there who just aren’t willing to give certain kinds of games a chance, if only because the stylized visuals just aren’t appealing to them - the best example of which was probably the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It was derogatively referred to as ‘celda’ due to its cel-shaded look, which definitely affected its sales and reception. Visuals are very important to people, and it is the primary make-or-break quality for sales.

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On the other hand, the “photo-realistic” visual style has its own set of pros and cons. Keep in mind that these are more traditionally true, though as hardware improves, the leaps in fidelity have become smaller as time passes.

Pros:

  • More immediate and recognizable visual improvement over stylization. 
  • Enhances believability and automatically sets certain expectations without needing a tutorial process
  • Bonus to marketing, both for the hardware and the software. The viewers’ eyes do the comparisons for them without needing too much explanation.
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Cons:

  • Doesn’t hold up over time. The above screenshot is from Soldier of Fortune, which came out the same year as Jet Set Radio (2000), and was praised at the time for its photo-realistic graphics.
  • Needs significant hardware investment on the user’s part to take full advantage of
  • Requires significantly more content creation time as fidelity increases
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The main benefit to photo-realistic visual fidelity is that most people can immediately see the improvements over the last iteration. People have fingers and toes, their skin has subsurface scattering, you can more easily tell their mood from their facial expressions, and they can even open up more gameplay opportunities, like how lighting can intuitively guide stealth.They are more easily marketed, and are more immediately visually impressive than the stylized games that comes out. They don’t age well, but that’s really not necessary - most games are expected to have a lifetime of maybe a year or less. The percentage of players still playing a given game a year after launch is incredibly small compared to the number that buy it. This means that the visuals really only need to hold up for about a year before the game is replaced by something else. This mitigates most of the first con. The hardware investment problem was solved with the advent of the game console… standardizing the hardware meant that developers could work to optimize for a specific set of circumstances, as well as take advantage of the demographic information on the installed base of the consoles (age range, types of games they like, etc. which translates into more accurate sales forecasts).

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The biggest drawback to photo-realism is the amount of effort it takes to create it. The push for an increase in visual fidelity has significantly increased the size of development teams, which has ballooned the development costs of the games. However, as visual fidelity has increased, the number of players playing the games has also increased alongside it, increasing the size of the market and revenues of the industry as a whole.

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Before the current generation, the console market has steadily grown. However, within the past 5 years or so, the mobile market has emerged as disruptive technology and the console market’s growth has slowed. This has sent publishers scrambling to try to find more efficient ways to create content, such as more procedural content generation, and the use of outsourced (and cheaper) studios to provide lower-level content (textures, props, animations, etc.).

Honestly, I don’t think it’s the games that are getting worse at the expense of the visuals, and I think that gameplay isn’t really the same. Acceptable and interesting gameplay has continued to evolve over time, just like the gamers have. Things that are now expected weren’t in the past, and many previously accepted practices have been dumped. It’s just that there are a lot more games now than there were in the past, and with any sort of numerical distribution, you’re bound to get a lot more mediocre titles faster than you will get cream. However, the cream that you do get will be better than the best from previous generations. That’s the trade-off.

Crunchy Reblog

Where I examine stylization vs realism in art direction for games, and what the pros and cons are for that critical choice.

Q

shramplr asked:

This is a question regarding the crunch time, but due to content cuts. Why do you believe this happens as much as it does today? Shouldn't professionals limit the amount they can promise so they can guarantee smooth development, even with some roadblocks on the way? Or is it simply players/publishers expecting too much from a game studio just to make some sales? AKA Peter Molyneux is a prime example.

A

There’s a lot of reasons that developer estimates are wrong. There’s a lot of time between planning and release, and I guarantee you that the majority of scope cuts are never seen by the public. Usually we try to revise those estimates, but even then it’s tough to see the future, especially when some sort of catastrophic event happens. We expect scope cuts to happen - early on, we tend to do a lot of exploratory designs to try things out, and then they get cut as time passes based on how the team is working and extrapolation. 

Sometimes it’s because a system just ends up being a lot bug-prone than expected. I know that certainly I ran into this problem when building a melee combat grappling system for a FPS - there were a lot of edge cases that came up during testing than I expected, mostly due to the variation in environments of the game and clipping through those environments. I kept fixing the issues as they came, but more and more continued to crop up as the testers covered each level. In the end, the system took a lot more effort than I had anticipated, even though my design had been approved and checked over by several senior engineers. Sometimes you just open a can of worms.

Sometimes it’s because a key team member leaves. Qualified and experienced developers are tough to come by, so many studios will reach out to entice and hire away developers from other studios. I’ve personally been approached by at least three recruiters in the past two weeks about new opportunities on other dev teams. If you’ve got some important feature or system in development that’s under the leadership of a specific person, that feature or system is typically left rudderless if that person decides to seek employment elsewhere. This means somebody else is left with the task of figuring out how it works, and whether the system can even be salvaged. At the worst case scenario, it means that all the work that was done so far has to be tossed out or shelved.

Sometimes it’s just because you accumulate problems over time. When it comes to adding features and gameplay, many developers I know already tend to be optimistic. When you have to factor in things like server downtime, crashed hard drives, time spent waiting to resolve dependencies, and so on and so forth, it can really add up over the months. 

Sometimes it’s just that the studio is desperate to win the bid on a project, so they purposely underbid in order to get the contract with the publisher. Sometimes it’s the publisher who puts forward an unreasonable schedule, because they think they can get away with it. If you’re competing with others for business and funding, you naturally tend to try to make your own stuff look the best it can be. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll be able to actually do it but for some, desperation and survival instinct is an overriding motivation.

We try our hardest, but it’s just the reality of things - sometimes delays are off the table and we just have to ship the product. We will usually cut what we can in order to ship, but the issues that cause crunch tend to be concentrated in mission critical must-ship stuff. The best teams are the ones who are able to roll with the punches, but none of us can guarantee absolute smooth sailing without the infallible ability to predict the future.

Q

Anonymous asked:

You have talked about crunch time in the past a lot. Do you think it has ever harmed the quality of a game?

A

This is kind of a loaded question, though that may not have been your intention. The answer is “That depends”. Harmed it in relation to what? Not doing the crunch? If that’s the case, what do you consider the quality of a game that’s cancelled?

The reality is that crunch happens because there’s a necessity to do more work than there is time left in the schedule. It isn’t simply happening because the bosses want to finish the project early to look good. The ship date for a game is usually decided months or years in advance, depending on the total allotted development time. If you were to ask any team that’s doing preproduction for a game that won’t be released for two more years, they’ll still be able to give you a ballpark launch time. So, since we already know when the game is supposed to be done and we have a gauge of how much work is left to finish it, we can do the math - if we work for 8 hours a day and have N days left, is 8 * N > T where T is the total amount of work remaining? If the answer is no, then we have to do something. In order to finish, you have three options: subtract from T, add to N, or increase the number of hours you’re working.

Adding to N is a delay. We’ve discussed delays before. If the game has a hard deadline it absolutely must meet (the start of the sports season, launching alongside a movie or TV show, avoiding the launch of a major competitor, holiday season, etc.) a delay is out of the question. For sake of argument, let’s say that delaying the game is off the table (it usually is). 

Subtracting from T means content cuts. Players hate content cuts, especially near the end of the development cycle. This is the stuff that results in broken promises, which the players will viciously hold over our heads for all eternity. Developers also don’t like content cuts, because we see the potential in the game and we believe in it.

Crunching increases the number of hours we’re working in hopes that we can maintain productivity while we crunch. It is the most commonly-employed solution and has the least amount of public knowledge and fanfare. We simply buckle down and work more to try bringing you something we feel is awesome.

This brings us back to your question. In the magical Christmasland where we have the choice between crunching and not crunching, would crunch hurt the overall quality of the game? Sure. Tired developers are mistake-prone developers, and there’s plenty of research out there that suggests extra hours become less productive overall as time goes on. But the reality is that we don’t live in magical Christmasland, and the issues are more complicated than that. We’re constantly trying to make ourselves more efficient, more productive, better at estimates and gauging, and thus decrease the necessity of crunch. But the long and the short of it is… if we didn’t crunch, most of the time you just wouldn’t get the game at all. Or you’d get one with major content cuts. So… which do you think is better quality: the game you get, one with huge chunks of it missing, or no game at all?