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Rise and fall of the hobbyist game programmer


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#21 Fingers_   Members   -  Reputation: 410

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Posted 18 June 2004 - 12:11 PM

One thing I have to inject into this discussion is that technology is not one of the areas where hobbyists lag behind commercial game companies. Hobby programming community is full of people obsessed with the latest rendering tech, and all the research in the field is immediately disseminated right on these boards.

This occurs to much lesser degree at corporate game developer firms. Running on low-end hardware is much more important to a big publisher than a hobbyist because it means more sales, so there's an incentive to keep the rendering tech relatively simple. In any case, thanks to the long development cycles involved the techniques used right now by people on gamedev.net won't show up in AAA titles until a year or two from now even if/when they do get picked up by the companies.

What confuses a lot of hobbyists, however, is that the big-budget games look really really pretty. Much better than you can do in your spare time. So the first reaction often is to think that it must be more advanced in the technological sense. But this is incorrect. The difference is the $15 million and 5 years spent on art. Single-textured vertex-lit polygons with no LOD are plenty enough to make Morrowind a gorgeous thing.

Sponsor:

#22 Wysardry   Members   -  Reputation: 239

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Posted 18 June 2004 - 12:24 PM

Another reason (which I didn't see mentioned in the article) that hobbyists have a tougher time than they used to is that computers rarely include a programming language by default.

This means that you have to be a lot more interested in computers to even consider learning to program, whereas in the days of the 8-bit micro, most of the manual covered the BASIC language which came with the machine.

The two main reasons I became interested in programming were that computer magazines included program listings, and that the source of some commercial games could be investigated and modified.

#23 Al Gorithm   Members   -  Reputation: 142

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Posted 18 June 2004 - 12:25 PM

You say that people here on GameDev work with the latest tech? Can you give me some links/names?

Most of what I've seen here is people modeling their engine after the latest id/Epic engine (eg. shaders, parallax mapping, dot3, shadow volumes, etc.) along with some fancy terrain stuff.







#24 Diodor   Members   -  Reputation: 517

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Posted 18 June 2004 - 06:53 PM

Quote:
Original post by RTF
Dexterity


Dexterity is in hardcore puzzle games. Now these, in my book, rate higher than any brain dead FPSs or RPGs. Anyway, Dexterity customers are rather different than the "match 3" customers of Popcap/Real.

Speaking of Popcap, their games really are exquisite - insanely polished graphics, sounds _and_ gameplay. They do clones, but the originality they lack in the general theme of the game they more than make up in the little details. They deserve as much respect as any other big gaming company.


Quote:
I think the hobbyist can aim a good bit higher than that


What do you mean "higher"? There's _nothing_ low in making a "match 3" game and sweeping the internet with it, anymore than there is in cloning FPS games. Sadly it's no longer possible - the window of opportunity is closed.

#25 Wysardry   Members   -  Reputation: 239

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 04:41 AM

There's also nothing "low" about being a casual gamer. ;)

Many of them are former hardcore gamers who now have other commitments, such as jobs or families. In other words, they don't have as much free time to devote to playing the more complex games.

Popcap games may have seen an opportunity and gone for it, but that doesn't mean that others cannot also find another similar area to specialise in.

There were literally thousands of games created for 8-bit micros that could be revamped using more modern graphics and sound. The trick would be resist the temptation to make them more complicated to play in the process.

Whenever groups of males in their thirties or forties gather together online, the conversation will often include statements such as "they don't make games like [insert title here] anymore".

Popcap probably noticed this, but it seems that they decided to concentrate on puzzle, arcade and board type games. There are plenty of other genres they have ignored so far.

For example, I haven't seen a new arcade adventure (such as Dizzy) released for quite some time.

#26 jdhardy   Members   -  Reputation: 469

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 09:35 AM

Quote:
Original post by Al Gorithm
You say that people here on GameDev work with the latest tech? Can you give me some links/names?
Yann L. This guy is a god. Here is an overview of some of the threads he's contributed too.

#27 Fingers_   Members   -  Reputation: 410

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 11:17 AM

Quote:
Original post by Al Gorithm
You say that people here on GameDev work with the latest tech? Can you give me some links/names?

Most of what I've seen here is people modeling their engine after the latest id/Epic engine (eg. shaders, parallax mapping, dot3, shadow volumes, etc.) along with some fancy terrain stuff.


All of those features appeared in tech demos and hobbyist programs before they were included in a commercial 3d engine. Parallax mapping is the latest example; I first read about it in a thread here on gamedev referencing a research paper somewhere else... Then a month or two later it was implemented by various big name game developers (even then, e.g. unreal engine 3 won't be used in a shipping game until several years from now). Doom3 is the first id engine to use stencil shadows, and that's decidedly old tech by graphics enthusiast standards.

#28 ApochPiQ   Moderators   -  Reputation: 16002

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 04:51 PM

Quote:
Original post by Al Gorithm
You say that people here on GameDev work with the latest tech? Can you give me some links/names?



*cough* Check my signature [wink]



I think a large part of the problem for the small-timers is exposure. There's a lot of great games out there which simply never get circulated, and so their potential is never fully realized. The Internet is a powerful tool for circulating and popularizing a good game, but I personally don't think that anyone has really truly mastered it yet. Perhaps once technology like micropayments becomes mainstream we'll have the infrastructure to distribute small-time games and make them actually profitable; this would also go a long way towards removing the dependence on publishers. Personally I've seen some absolutely incredible games ruined by the lack of exposure and by completely moronic constraints imposed by publishers. The catch for the hobbyist is that without a publisher one has very little chance of "supporting the habit" so to speak.

I'm sure someone will want to object here; the hobbyist is in it for a hobby, not a job, so what's the big deal about making money? This is a bit of a semantics issue but I think it merits investigation. First of all a lot of hobbyists dream about moving on to professional game development, as unrealistic as the dream may be. Secondly we're all human; of course getting paid for our hobbies is an attractive concept! I suspect that if there were a reliable and well-known channel through which small-time developers could release their creations and make money at it, there would be enough money to go around that people could live on selling games through that channel without needing a "real" job. This solves both issues, and also would provide the impetus for more newcomers to take up game development, which of course provides competition and encourages better development from everyone - win/win situation.

Now all we need is someone to back that kind of venture and keep it afloat.

#29 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2787

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 06:41 PM

One of main stumbling blocks with hobbiest developers, is that they get into because of the coolness factor, they have a couple of ideas that they think are cool and want to make a game based on them. Because of this they also tend to loose interest in a project rather quickly after the coolness factor wears off.

As to the diffrence between hobbiest games and AAA retails games, the fact is that that gap is only going to get wider as time goes. Major developers have far more captial and resources to spend developing a game then any hobbiest ever will. Lets face it you can't compare a product made by a company with a multi million dollar budget and a team of 100 working fulltime to what one or two people working in their spare time can produce, and you shouldn't.

If anything if as a hobbiest you want to get yout game out to the public and have it played by large numbers of people, then you shouldn't bother trying to build an engine that uses the latest cutting edge technology. Instead focous on content, devote your efforts to making the game as enjoyable to play as possible and ask your self if you even need a fancy 3d engine. There is a great deal of untapped potiental for games that are driven soley by a crisp well designed windows based GUI.

Finally as hobbiest we really only have three paths to choose from,
1)Attempt to get entry level work at a game company.
2)Developer our own ideas and enter the independent market.
3)Remain hobbiest forever.



#30 Diodor   Members   -  Reputation: 517

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 07:31 PM

I think one problem with hobbyists is they play too many AAA games and too little independent games. If you're half serious about making games you should play as many indie games as possible just to get to know what can be achieved with few resources.

#31 Fingers_   Members   -  Reputation: 410

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Posted 19 June 2004 - 08:09 PM

I'd actually argue that some indie games compare favorably to similar commercial titles, but they usually aren't first person shooters or real-time strategy games. For example, right now I'm totally addicted to Dominions 2. It's just more fun than the strategy games released by big companies recently (say, Civilization 3) and isn't any worse in the graphics/tech department either. It will probably be quite profitable to the two guys who made it.

So one of the things to think about is picking the right genre. Some types of games are simply more suitable for small teams and individual developers than others. Unfortunately too many people are only interested in making shooters or multiplayer RPG's or other resource-intensive games. I suppose it's because everybody wants to make games that they'd like to play themselves.

#32 Wysardry   Members   -  Reputation: 239

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Posted 20 June 2004 - 07:06 AM

Quote:
Original post by ApochPiQ
I suspect that if there were a reliable and well-known channel through which small-time developers could release their creations and make money at it, there would be enough money to go around that people could live on selling games through that channel without needing a "real" job. This solves both issues, and also would provide the impetus for more newcomers to take up game development, which of course provides competition and encourages better development from everyone - win/win situation.

Now all we need is someone to back that kind of venture and keep it afloat.

Doesn't GarageGames provide all that? You don't have to be using their tools to have a game published by them.

#33 evolutional   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1069

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 08:03 AM

Quote:
Original post by TechnoGoth
One of main stumbling blocks with hobbiest developers, is that they get into because of the coolness factor, they have a couple of ideas that they think are cool and want to make a game based on them. Because of this they also tend to loose interest in a project rather quickly after the coolness factor wears off.


I think that sums up the post by Kurt Miller, author of Strayfire. He says that the first 90% of creating the game is the most fun, the time that you add features and see the game evolve into something cool. The other 10% is actually 90% of the work as it involves tedious bug-fixing, testing and general tweaking to make things work.

To me, this always seems to be a problem I've had in the past - partially due to the fragmented nature of tutorials and such. If you take a look at my soon-to-be-renovated Manta-X website, you'll see that I spent a whole lot of time on what were quite frankly beautiful particle effects but what was the actual 'engine' of the game like to program on? Horrific. I simply had no clue about how to put a large project together. In fact I could argue that I did, but by trying to do things the way that the 'professionals' would I shot myself in the foot over and over.

Each day on Gamedev I see new starters talk about creating their 'engine' and sometimes it makes me feel geniunely sad. Sad because I know how devastating it is to find that the 'code entropy' (John Carmack) eventually wins. I think that instead of creating your engines (I'm effectively talking to myself in the third person here), you should be creating basic libraries that can be reused over and over. This is essentially the concept of the 'engine' but I think the sights get lost when we try and aim too high. A point of reference that may be useful is Chris Hargrove's Code on the Cob series. It's helping me kick myself back into shape by pointing out the flaws in my code design.

Whilst it is true that a lot of very very clever and talented people reside on these forums (Yann L has been mentioned), there will be a lot of people who come here with dreams. I'd hazard to guess that many of these people probably leave with their dreams in pieces because of the way their projects are designed. The step up from "I've created pong" to "I want to make Doom 4" doesn't seem that great when you have a few excellent tech demos under your belt. But 3 failed Manta-X games later and I can say that the step is very big and very real. What is needed to bridge this gap? Maybe more tutorials in game creation. Taking a game forward with small steps, understanding it completely.

I do feel liberated though. A phoenix from the ashes.

#34 rypyr   Members   -  Reputation: 252

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 08:16 AM

Quote:
Original post by evolutional
I think that instead of creating your engines (I'm effectively talking to myself in the third person here), you should be creating basic libraries that can be reused over and over. This is essentially the concept of the 'engine' but I think the sights get lost when we try and aim too high.


This is my (new) philosophy too. See CodeDread (my site).

Regards,
Jeff

#35 evolutional   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1069

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 08:25 AM

What prompted you to change your philosophy? What was it previously?

#36 rypyr   Members   -  Reputation: 252

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 08:26 AM

Goals set too high for one person with the limited amount of spare time that I have.

#37 Diodor   Members   -  Reputation: 517

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 09:06 AM

high != expensive

#38 evolutional   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1069

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 09:10 AM

Quote:
Original post by Diodor
high != expensive


I think I'm missing your point? Would you care to elaborate a little please? :D

#39 Diodor   Members   -  Reputation: 517

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 09:53 AM

Quote:
Original post by evolutional
I think I'm missing your point? Would you care to elaborate a little please? :D


It's a higher goal to make a one-week game that sweeps the internet over (play Icy Tower to see what I mean) than to make a below average three years worth of time MMORPG. The former is a higher goal because it requires brilliance and it is much more unlikely to achieve than the latter.

#40 abstractworlds   Members   -  Reputation: 194

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Posted 21 June 2004 - 11:44 PM

If you thought it was difficult being a hobbyist game programmer, please spare a thought for those poor people at Eidos, the makers of Tomb Raider, who have recently announce that they are just too small to be profitable in the game industry.

Here's a link to the article.

What a strange industry it is!




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