In another of Gamasutra's year-end Q&As, we talk to Rob Huebner and Mark Cooke of Nihilistic Software (Vampire: The Masquerade
) about the relative ease of use for developing for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with the duo favoring Microsoft's tools, but suggesting that "over time the differences [in ease of development] will even out".
Huebner, who is President of the former Starcraft: Ghost
developer and has worked on titles including Descent, Starcraft
and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2
was joined for this chat by Mark Cooke (Jedi Knight, Grim Fandango
), who is lead gameplay programmer at the company.
Gamasutra: Now that all of the next-gen consoles are out, what do you think of each?
: Well, that's a pretty loaded question! Did most people answer that question? Well we've seen all of them by now, for sure. We're developing for PS3 and 360, and I think for developers it's good because they're more alike than they are different, which you couldn't say about the Xbox and the PS2 - those were a real bitch to cross-platform develop for.
But 360 and PS3, they're individual personalities, and it has to be said that the PS3 requires a bit more handholding sometimes. You've got to beat it around a little more to get what you want out of it, but ultimately you can make a game that's going to look good on both, without having to add a year to your development time. So that's good for the industry, and it's good for us.
The Wii is a totally different animal. It's going after a different market, the games feel totally different, so I think you won't see a lot of cross-platform [development] like all three at the same time, but you're going to see games for the Wii, then other games for the PS3 and 360. Maybe sometimes you'll get the same games, like Madden
or something, but even then they won't really be the same, they'll play differently and look different.
GS: I've heard that programming for PS3 and 360 is somewhat similar powerwise, but they use that power in different ways. Have you found that challenging?
: Yeah, definitely, I mean since we had the 360 for longer, most of our engineers right now are working on getting the PS3 version (up to speed). It's not that it's inherently harder, but it's taking time to get our PS3 version looking like our 360 version does. And then after that we can start taking advantage of each one.
But yeah, we're putting a lot of resources into rearchitecting things on the PS3 so it works equally well on the PS3 as it does on the 360. They use their RAM differently, they use their processor power differently, so…
GS: It's interesting that you're kind of catching PS3 up to where 360 is – do you think it'll be the other way at some point?
: That's a loaded question! I think the biggest difference is that the 360 has been in our hands longer, and I'll be totally honest that Microsoft's development tools are better, so you can compile faster, you can debug quicker. PS3 is catching up though – PS3 tools are already better than the PS2 ones.
For example, we got the SN distributed build system which is awesome, and Sony buying SN Systems was a good move because they have in-house development tools and there's just one official development tool, rather than two competing companies.
So I think over time the differences will even out, because, sure [Microsoft has] a one year head start, but three years from now, a one year head start is not as big a deal as it is right now.
The biggest thing from a programmer's perspective is that Microsoft, as a software company, they have historically had better tools than Sony does. Like Rob said, Sony's are getting better, but they have some catching up to do in terms of ease of use that the development team gets out of the development tools.
SN does a good job with the size team they have, I mean they're scrappy and likeable, but they're not Microsoft. They're not a gazillion dollar company.
GS: You must've all played games on each by now, so how about from that side?
If I had to give a recommendation to consumers for this Christmas, Xbox 360 does have that one year head start, so developers know how to use the machine better than they know how to use the PS3. And they may perhaps have had to rush their games for launch, the ones that are out now. And if you can't even find a PS3, well there's that.
The Wii, I've played that as well. Very different target, but it's all in good fun!
I would second that. This Christmas isn't really the Christmas where most consumers have to choose between PS3 and 360, they have to choose between waiting or jumping into 360.
I'm like hey, you might as well jump into 360, because it's got good stuff, the online interface is good, it's solid and everything works, so buy a PS3 also, but later. We love people to have both machines!
GS: Competition is good!
It's more money in our wallet (laughs). We're a cross-platform developer. We don't develop for Wii, but I want people to buy it because it encourages creative games, and creative smaller developers and even indie developers are going to keep that thing going well. It helps the industry to have the input of these kind of crazy, zany games.