Posted 23 July 2005 - 08:04 AM
I'll wade in here because I want to add some additional credit to the anonymous poster. It's a ramble, but that's how my brain works.
I think his tone might be a bit off based, but I think that's a result of being as frustrated, as I have been, over all these posts asking how to get access to next generation development systems without any investigation.
I work at a console development house and I've been in the industry for 6 years now, having been a software engineer for 10 years.
The truth is that development kits are expensive, compilers and debuggers are expensive, 3D modelling tools are expensive, Photoshop is expensive, hiring staff is expensive, creating content is expensive, paying for the office is expensive and negotiating a contract with a publisher a long, frustrating and difficult process. It all adds up.
All that said and done, there are initiatives put forward by some of the hardware manufacturers to aid small groups in developing proof-of-concept technology to secure publishers. Microsoft had this with their incubation program for the original Xbox - and a hefty price tag was still attached.
I believe that for next generation consoles, these programs will not be available until the market has been saturated with quality titles that make each platform attractive to the end user. Until a platform is established, none of the manufacturers are going to risk any investment in small groups who want to develop for the consoles.
Team sizes to vary - I've worked in groups as small as 25 and as large as 70. At a previous company, one of the AAA titles I worked on was at the high 60s, but the other titles I worked on, while having critical and cult acclaim, never reached the sales figures of a AAA title. These sizes were 25 to 40 people.
These days the end user wants more and more content. This ends up being the bottleneck for most developers - the technology takes time to built, but once built can usually be leveraged to create sequels or entirely different games with a lower cost, but the art, sound and design assets always need to be created. Some companies solve this by outsourcing, some by hiring a lot of people internally.
I know from experience that 14 people can get together and create a great game that sells on the consoles. I also know that, without a publisher to back that team, none of the hardware manufacturers would listen. Once a publisher was secured, development started and by the end up our one year cycle we had 25 people on the team, barely enough to finish the title. Our product didn't sell very much but it was well received by reviewers.
Triple AAA titles come from marketing, a strong publisher, polish, depth of experience and apparent value to the end user. It's impossible to achieve this without large teams sizes. You need those programmers whose job is to make sure everything works 'just right', to add the polish to the camera system to make it work perfectly, and artist to work on the same asset for six months to make it the best it can be.
As other people have pointed out, people working as professional developers arn't allowed to discuss specifics of their job site. Non-disclosure agreements are the norm in this industry, and they are there to protect the company, and the employees. If my company got in trouble over something I said, I'd be out of a job, as would everyone else. NDAs provide a framework of understanding between everyone at a company that makes sure that, as far as disclosure is concerned, everyone is on the same page and that we can all count on each other. Some companies to go too far with their NDAs, but I think there is value in what they are intended to do.
If you want to make a console game, start with a plan. Build up a solid design, secure an investor or get a warchest of cash, and build your team. Create a playable demo on the PC, making sure to write your code base such that it doesn't matter what platform you are developing for. Take the demo on the road, or better yet, hire a contract agent - he already has the connections. Go to all the conferences, talk to the publishers whenever you have a chance, and get to know them. Make talks at GDC, write articles for Gamasutra. Hire someone to raise the public profile of your company so publishers hear about your from multiple sources. You could also try getting a job doing a sequel for an existing product - taking someone else's code base and adding to it may be seen as less of a risk to a publisher. Don't be suprised if a publisher doesn't want to make your game, but wants you to make their game. This is really the norm in the industry right now. Bide your time, build up your cash reserves, get credibility in the industry. Make sure you have people on staff that have shipped titles - if you can afford it, hire a rendering programmer who has shipped titles - this will reduce publisher anxiety the most and write documents outlining your technology.
As a side note, there is nothing that you can do on a console that you can't do on a modern day PC. If you are learning to write games, write them on the PC - at least everyone who wants to can download your game and play it. Try your hand at writing a game that runs on Apple computers and Intel processors and you'll learn that the guts of a game don't care about how many textures passes a platform has, or that it supports 4, 6 or 8 controllers. Animation is platform neutral. Resource management is platform neutral, as is AI, gameplay, cameras, high-level rendering, scene management, high-level sound logic, game taks management, high-level gamepad input, front end systems. Console development is ultimately about having a built in distribution channel and not having to chase technology for a five year stretch. It's not about any special technology that you can't get on the PC. Just because the PS3 has multiple cell processors doesn't make their physics any better, it just makes it run faster (and harder to code). High end PCs are just as fast as far as I can tell.
As a final point I also wanted to add that I recently had to write up the contract documents for working with the manufacturers and they ask questions about the history of your team as well as the company's financial plan. This is very important to them as they know there is a larger support burden on new developers then seasoned ones. I wouldn't be suprised if they have some 'quota' on the number of newbies versus seasoned ones that can have in the queue at any one time.
Well, I may have overstepped my NDA, but I wanted to share my experiences with you guys.
Best of luck with your plan. As I said, start small and work towards milestone goals. You might get into the tail end of the next generation of consoles, but as always, there's always another round of consoles in the pipe.