Truly next-generation development

It seems like game developers are always saying it, but it really IS an exciting time to be a game developer right now. Every new generation of technology seems like it will transform the industry and the types of games that can be made and the XBox 360 and PS3 seem no different.

If you haven’t seen this stunning footage (4.5 megs) of a demo of Unreal Engine III running on a Playstation III, prepare to be floored. However, what’s stunning about this isn’t only the visuals.

What seem to be different with this generation is the focus on tools and smarter development. In the past, small development teams could work extra hard to get a game out the door. The artistic and aesthetic detail required is so high that now, even if you have a massive team, developers need better tools or they won’t be able to experiment, iterate and adapt during their game’s development.

Enter: next-generation tools. Tools like Unreal Engine III’s “Kismet” take a high-level graphical approach. Instead of providing only a scripting language that is cumbersome or difficult for game designers and artists to use, they provide a graphical interface that specifies game behavior.

I’ve actually worked extensively with this concept on a programming-strategy game called Mindrover many years ago. Both Kismet and Mindrover generate script code, which then executes your desired behavior.

Why is this exciting, different, and not just another new piece of technology? Tools like this completely transform how games are made, because for the first time, it means that designers, not programmers, specify game behavior. Previously, one could make an analogy in film like this: imagine if directors had to be camera operators, actors, or lighting experts? Instead of concentrating on the overall picture, they would have to have master their technical expertise, and their involvement in those technical aspects would always influence their artistic decisions for the film as a whole.

So while shaders, hardware physics simulators, facial animation technology, etc. all play an important role in the future of game development and games, they don’t transform the process of making games.

Giving game designers control of the reins changes everything.