A roundtable was conducted before the start of the E3 Expo on Tuesday afternoon concerning how next-gen development is looking for some of the more notable developers. Moderating was Trent Ward, Creative Director of Backbone Entertainment. The panelists included Don Daglow, President and CEO of Stormfront Studios, Clint Hocking, Creative Director of Ubisoft Montreal and Alain Tascan, Vice President and General Manager of Electronic Arts Montreal.
Mr. Ward began by asking what the panelists defined as truly next-gen. What was needed to qualify? Don Daglow answered with tongue firmly planted in cheek: "It needs a 2005 or 2006 release date. It needs a large marketing budget. And it needs to self righteously claim how it will change everything."
Clint Hocking followed with the less ironic but more grounded "Basically it just needs to empower developers to make better games. Some consoles will be better at this than others." Alain Tascan weighed in with: "Next generation to me means an evolution. Are we going to do things differently? So what defines it for me is, "what's new?"".
Trent Ward then asked about the supposed major selling point of next-gen games; the hi-def resolution graphics and what their implication are. Clint Hocking began by asking how many people in the room owned a high definition television. After a rough calculation he surmised: "About 25%? It gives artists the means for better art. But it doesn't really impact design." Alain Tascan then played off that with his heavy French accent: "I kindly disagree. Going hi-def is going to increase emotions. If you look at the difference between film language when films were silent, to when they added sound, emotion became more pronounced and believable."
He continued: "Then you look at the MTV generation and visual language changed again, faster cuts and things like that. Hi-def will be something similar for games - better and more current emotion." Don Daglow then came in with the more pragmatic: "There are two ways to look at next-gen games in terms of graphics; near term and long term. Near term hi-def, part of what we're doing is justifying the purchase. Just as [developers] master the current gen of games, they come along and yank it away! If you go out and spend that much money, you, as a consumer, need to justify the purchase... 'All right, now you see why I spent that money! I was right!'. That's the near term win. Over time it will be about creating experiences that will really be different - the emotional bandwidth."
Mr. Ward then asked about the downside of the graphical capabilities of the next-gen machines. Clint Hocking began with the realistic view that: "We need to double our team sizes to like 100 or 200, or god forbid, eventually, 400. The problem is that it makes designers and developers essentially assembly line workers." Alain Tascan decided to focus on the more positive aspects by saying: "A lot of people talk about procedural art or whatever... but it's not really coming. It's just not going to be that good. The real advantage will be removing game interfaces. Take out the HUD. Then maybe my mother will be able to play games... The market right now is about 100 million... where as the next-gen should help us get to something like 1.5 billion."
Mr. Ward provided his own answer to the potential fears by stating that: "It's too easy to use better graphics an excuse to recycle design." Don Daglow bounced off this by adding: "There was always the excuse that we couldn't do things because the machines weren't powerful enough... but that's not an excuse anymore. We've met the enemy and the enemy is us."
One of the most interesting developments in the next-gen consoles is the potential in Sony's adoption of Blu-Ray technology and the almost 50 gigs that the discs may eventually provide. Concerning that Clint Hocking said that: "I think [Blu-Ray] is really, really dangerous. I think there will be a feeling that "we have to fill all that space!". But on the other hand, on Chaos Theory
we almost ran out of space. We had to ship three different versions to get all the languages out. But I also don't want to see my artists spend four or five times as long just to make images to fill up the disc. I think what's going to happen is that data management is going to be sloppy. You have so much room so why be efficient?"
Don Daglow continued with his wise pragmatism by stating that: "In the battle over the next media format, we're [game developers] just second players. It's like the battle of Italy for media. Every generation, we say can't fill all that space up. "How are we going to fill 16k?" We always seem to find a way though."