Next Next Gen or The Scope Scaling Problem.

So, here we are in Next Gen land, with the 360 and PS3 (and to a certain extent, the Wii) firmly planted as our current targets for development and we are all feeling the pain from that.

Why Pain? well mainly because the scope of AAA game development is So Much Larger for this generation than last. Gamers expect that games be bigger, faster, better and much much larger than in last generation. They’ve been told by Microsoft and Sony that these consoles can handle X million more polygons, so by god they want to see those X million polygons for their $60, or else whats the point of the $400 they just spent on the new machine.

So our games have grown in scope because of the fact that the next gen has come along.

Ok then.

The problem is that our ability to generate all this content, all these 10x count polygon models and so on is the same as it was last gen. There, simply put, is a limit to how much a team can create until the team size grows beyond that which is manageable (and get stuff done). That limit is – depending on how good of a set of managers you have – between 90 and 150. Once you go past 150 you are firmly in the diminishing returns situation of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

We can *just about* manage the content creation for this generation – teams are starting to use techniques like procedural content (Spore) to generate animation and so on on the fly, or auto generated content (where tools generate the content so you don’t have to) or building block content – script fragments are combined together to create new scripts rather than having to create every new scripted item by hand).

Our tools aren’t there yet which is why we still need massive teams. But even if the tools are great, there is the physical aspect of creating the infrastructure in which the tools sit, plus actually using the tools. And there are limitations on what the tools can do for you anyway in terms of actual creation – no amount of awesome tools are going to generate 300 unique biped models for you.

We also have this fetish for photo realistic visuals, which requires such high levels of modeling fidelity that creating *anything* takes forever because of the amount of detail that is required.

And this is current gen. Whats going to happen on the next generation of hardware, where users are going to be told that it is capable of ‘even more visual fidelity’ and are going to expect factorially more for the same purchase price?

How are we, as an industry, going to handle that? It’s going to be an interesting ride…

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