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Is today programming a games easier or harder than in 8,16- bit era?

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I wonder if today (I mean 2010+ era) programming (also making & shipping)

gammes are easier or just harder than in late 80 or early 90-ties (it is in 8-16-

bit era of atari/c64/amiga)....?

 

I must say that I think probably it is much harder, but would like to hear opinions on this.. 

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I also think back then it was much easier .. so world goes in the strange way when you should have much easier you got much harder

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The development tools do make things far easier now than they did back then (where you'd be writing your own HEX->Machine code editors in BASIC). 

The difficulty of game development today though, is simply because the machines are so much more capable, which means you'll be using a lot of 3D/4D mathematics because the users have come to expect flashy 3D graphics with bump mapping, DOF, ambient occlusion, etc. 

That complexity simply wasn't there in the 8/16bit days, because the hardware wasn't capable of handling it. 

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As the others have said, it depends on the game. For example, if you wanted to make a game to emulate an 8-, 16-bit game today (graphics and sound wise) it would be super easy thanks to all the tools and libraries out there today. If you get into games like COD, Battlefield, Final Fantasy XIII, Uncharted, etc. where everything is way more complex to do and then it is harder even with the tools and libraries. Though, with some of the engines they have, I guess you could take COD and Battlefield (well at least COD) off the list as examples.

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It depends.  If you mean actually programming a AAA game then there is no contest today its harder because gamers demand much more from their games the best graphics, believable AI, Achievments, Multiplayer.  Don't forget in the 8 bit era people could spend £20 on a text based adventure game.

On the otherhand nowadays it is fairly trivial to write a hello world in C++ but, back on the Amiga most people wrote in Assembler and had to write their own bootloader just to run their program.

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As the others have said, it depends on the game. For example, if you wanted to make a game to emulate an 8-, 16-bit game today (graphics and sound wise) it would be super easy thanks to all the tools and libraries out there today.

 

 

strangely i am not sure even if we talking about such simple games

- to learn a library like SDL you need today to learn so many things

so i am not sure if this is easier even in such small game case 

 

Also doing music for game, i dont know how easy it is today (not doing it) but back then i think tools were simpler, so today they are maybe better but also more complex

 

In 8-16- bit era there was myriad of very fine stylish games today are not present (or i do not know of)

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The hard part was reading seriously unpleasant technical documentation to help you understand how  to write games (because there weren't that many tutorials, although there were plenty of code & hex examples you could pick apart). 

 

For me, when I had an 8-bit Atari the hard part was finding any information.  There was no internet of course, and none of the libraries in my city had any books on the subject, and nor did any bookshops.  I managed to find a magazine store where the owner was willing to special order magazines for me, but the cost was far beyond my budget as a child.

 

Pretty much everything I learnt about programming it came from experimentation.  I wrote programs to poke (I was limited to BASIC only) sequential memory locations with various values and eventually discovered where graphics memory was stored and how to change the colours of pixels.  Eventually i worked out how to rewrite the character set so that I could PRINT my sprites in text mode which was quicker than drawing pixel by pixel.

 

I actually managed to make some fairly decent games.  The worst part was that as I had no storage media I had to write the code down on paper, and rewrite it each time I turned the computer on.  Until I eventually talked my parents into buying a tape drive.

 

 

haha, print sprites in text mode, that was good, what machina it was?

 

I got not such problem, i was doing the coding on c64 (about 1990-1991), but there were good books avaliable and also even fairy magazines, 

 

though ofc i was not even hear of c because those magazines 

did not mentioned it (pascal been considered as a serious language

but c64 was not capable to handle compiler of that),l c language was not even mentioned there in this word

 

everything was much easier, i did one demo for c64, 3 elegant pulsating ripped balls on down screen border, some ripped music with amazing high bass music, some scroll, some dancing sprites row (letters probably), and some fluid backround with effect of my invention, writing values to some register about $D016 made a background something like a floating patterns in the thing calles stereograms (or such i remember this) it was fine effect i didnt seen before and it was nice 

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Well, that is a hard to answer question...

I think programming the same games we had back then (like in cloning something) is way easier,

but developing games that would meet contemporary standards will probably be harder.

There's a reason to why teams grew so much and to how many specializations arose...

Edited by dejaime

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haha, print sprites in text mode, that was good, what machina it was?

 

It was an Atari 800.  Around 1985-86.

 

I'm sure if I'd lived in Europe or the US, it would have been much easier to find books, etc.  But New Zealand was still a little behind the times back then.

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strangely i am not sure even if we talking about such simple games

- to learn a library like SDL you need today to learn so many things

so i am not sure if this is easier even in such small game case 

It is easier, learning a library like SDL is definitely easier than having to write your own, which I have read was done for games on Atari, NES, and SNES. The programmer, from the interviews I have read with veterans in the industry, had to write a lot of libraries themselves to make ideas work on games due to the hardware limitations.

 

Also doing music for game, i dont know how easy it is today (not doing it) but back then i think tools were simpler, so today they are maybe better but also more complex

Tools were simpler, but again, from a programmer's perspective, you had to compress the music files in order to make them fit in the memory. 

 

 

In 8-16- bit era there was myriad of very fine stylish games today are not present (or i do not know of)

Yeah, I've been playing games since the Atari 2600 days. I remember a lot of great games that you don't see anymore or you see poorly done attempts to bring them to the present. 

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What does "harder" mean?

Is it harder to build something that few people in the world have ever had any experience doing in unexplored territory and having to build your own tools that you don't even know that you need yet as well as support a myriad of hardware configurations that are such that the already limited audience that you're selling to require some pretty significant technical skills themselves?

Or once that frontier has been tamed a bit, is it harder to train individuals to use modern tools to approach the advanced concepts that have become common-place and to push the envelope further and further for an audience which although it has grown immensely it has also raised the bar considerably to what it considers acceptable?
 

Success in either environment would be hard. And I don't suppose that shouldn't be very surprising.

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Things were simpler back in the day just as a function of systems complexity -- The simple microcontrollers you might find in a modern games controller or running the front blinkenlights/disc-eject panel on the console itself is orders of magnitude more capable and complex than, say, an Atari 2600. What once the whole, is now relagated to a fractional measure of a tiny percentage of the system's overall complexity. Back in the day, you read a 200 page paberback book that described literally every last detail of a system -- today, that's the chapter on GPU register usage.

 

No one human being today can master an entire modern system, let alone also wearing the artist, designer, producer, audio engineer, and marketer hats. Back in the day, the entire company was not uncommonly one dude in his bedroom, part-time.

 

On one hand, the limitations they faced were increadibly limiting, but on the other, there's something freeing about it. You knew with certainty what the hard limits of the system were, and that with skilled programming could achieve them exactly. Today, we have a good idea on the upper bound, but other considerations bottleneck peak theoretical performance, and we spin round and round figuring out how to make the bottleneck just a little bit wider, moving our own goalpost. The sky is the limit these days, and the sheer number of options can be paralyzing -- back in the day, with relatively limited options, you just figured out a creative solution and got on with it.

 

But the thing is, the details we have today are more-or-less the same details we had to deal with back then -- how can I shed a few more cycles? How can I best allocate my registers? How can I squeeze more information into the same amount of memory? These are questions modern and old-school engineers both recognize. The only thing that's changed, really, is the sheer number of details that have to be considered in concert.

I also think so. (i remember my attention of this things was caused that carmack said this in some interview) Ist this a bit of killing situation ;\? (the more complex it is the more harder is to do something with this*) I wonder if after 50 years we will got yet an order of magnitude more complex systems yet, and what it will change

 

*today I have some view on some topics (know some language things, some  graphics, some system) but this take me about 10 damn years (depend on how to count this), this is disaster

Edited by fir

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I also think so. (i remember my attention of this things was caused that carmack said this in some interview) Ist this a bit of killing situation ;\? (the more complex it is the more harder is to do something with this*) I wonder if after 50 years we will got yet an order of magnitude more complex systems yet, and what it will change
 
*today I have some view on some topics (know some language things, some  graphics, some system) but this take me about 10 damn years (depend on how to count this), this is disaster

 

I think the key might be to realize you can't know everything, and you don't really need to.

You have to choose what details are worth your time, and what details to leave to others.

 

I've got 10 years of being full time employed as a software engineer, and another 10 years before that learning and doing hobby-stuff, and I still feel like a noob a lot of times, and there are plenty of areas I've never touched, and I learn new stuff daily.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if in 50 years, you will need an AI/Expert system co-programmer to help you with software development.

Edited by Olof Hedman

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This is all relative.

 

In the 80's-90's Making a successful "AAA" game that reaches the masses could be made by one man, or a team of 5 people. It was considered "hard" in its time though. For example Pac-Man

However, to reach the masses, one would have to have a publisher or similar backing them up since Arcade HW, console licensing fees, and distribution & packaging costs were very high. Pac-Man was made by 3 men, but published by Namco; who took most of the profits and paid for most of the costs.

 

Today, making a successful "AAA" game requires +50 people (just scroll the credits of any AAA game, they're insane), but distributions costs are much lower.

 

Nonetheless, today it's possible to make decent looking, competent titles by a small team that can reach the masses even with a low budget; thanks to open source engines, Unity, UDK 4, Youtube, Wordpress. What the press today refers to an "Indie" title (back in 90's an Indie was a creepy guy in a garage with a passion for gamedev who rarely got acknowledged and shared their experience with other Indies using 56k modems; getting a rotating triangle rendering on screen used to feel like a major achievement)

 

So, again... it's all relative.

Edited by Matias Goldberg

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 (back in 90's an Indie was a creepy guy in a garage with a passion for gamedev who rarely got acknowledged and shared their experience with other Indies using 56k modems; getting a rotating triangle rendering on screen used to feel like a major achievement)

 

this description still fits to my person (especially with this rotating triangle) The thing i was saying is that today obtaining this rotating triangle is probably harder than back then. I know I could use "easy" language, for example  javascript and web gl - but this "easy" language is still probably much more complex than doing assembly on zx spectrum/amstrad/atari etc -- bac then it was all easier and people

were more focused on game itself Today i feel this complexity drains

me :c

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I think its becoming easier and easier to make games. Obviously not "AAA" games, I'm not arguing that. But back in the olden days, if you wanted to create a game, it was ALL ON YOU. They didn't have any friendly tutorials. They didn't have frameworks you could download and make your life easier. They didn't have a game dev community with forums where you could ask questions. They didn't have digital distribution sites. They didn't have free graphics or sound libraries. They didn't have kickstarter or green light so you could get a little bit of buy in to your idea. They didn't even have websites! :)

 

You had a programming manual and that was about it. If you got stuck, you pretty much had two choices. Keep banging your head against a wall until you figured it out, or give up. You had to be VERY creative with managing your limited resources and invent techniques yourself. You didn't read a few articles on procedurally generated worlds... You had to INVENT with that idea all on your own without being exposed to it. Want some music in your game? Get ready for some fun data entry as you hand coded each note's pitch, duration, and channel.

 

Not to mention some of the crappy hardware like Tape Drives. Ugh!

 

Now a days, someone who knows a little bit about programming can download a free framework and developer environment, and get a silly little ship floating around on a screen within a few days. And if you get stuck you can read countless articles or turn to a community of gamedev users who pounce on the opportunity to earn some Reputation  points. :) You can even blog about your progress, and attract a small fan base of people with little effort who eagerly anticipate the release of your game.

 

So many things have been abstracted away that we don't need to worry about anymore because of the efforts of some really smart people. We can concentrate on the fun game dev stuff almost immediately which makes a HUGE difference in motivation.

 

- Eck

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I think its becoming easier and easier to make games. Obviously not "AAA" games, I'm not arguing that. But back in the olden days, if you wanted to create a game, it was ALL ON YOU. They didn't have any friendly tutorials. They didn't have frameworks you could download and make your life easier. They didn't have a game dev community with forums where you could ask questions. They didn't have digital distribution sites. They didn't have free graphics or sound libraries. They didn't have kickstarter or green light so you could get a little bit of buy in to your idea. They didn't even have websites! smile.png

 

You had a programming manual and that was about it. If you got stuck, you pretty much had two choices. Keep banging your head against a wall until you figured it out, or give up. You had to be VERY creative with managing your limited resources and invent techniques yourself. You didn't read a few articles on procedurally generated worlds... You had to INVENT with that idea all on your own without being exposed to it. Want some music in your game? Get ready for some fun data entry as you hand coded each note's pitch, duration, and channel.

 

Not to mention some of the crappy hardware like Tape Drives. Ugh!

 

Now a days, someone who knows a little bit about programming can download a free framework and developer environment, and get a silly little ship floating around on a screen within a few days. And if you get stuck you can read countless articles or turn to a community of gamedev users who pounce on the opportunity to earn some Reputation  points. smile.png You can even blog about your progress, and attract a small fan base of people with little effort who eagerly anticipate the release of your game.

 

So many things have been abstracted away that we don't need to worry about anymore because of the efforts of some really smart people. We can concentrate on the fun game dev stuff almost immediately which makes a HUGE difference in motivation.

 

- Eck

 

I see it quite opposite way, back then when my first computer program was a classic

 

10 PRINT "COMMODORE 64"

20 GOTO 10

 

RUN

 

what is easier today? downloading and running python (not getting

lost what changed between versions, and all the other complex stuff

is much much harder

 

my second program was a program listing in basic which makes a small baloon sprite slide through the screen, This thask involved rewriting this down from the book or magaziine (about 20 lines)

 

c64 basic was ofc terrrible and asm was harder but overall it was probably much easier than todays myriads of topics that paralyzes you

(i find present state of the things as a problem, everything is to complex,

cpu is to complex, gpu is to complex, os is too complex, language is to complex, techniqes algorithms docs is also complex, etc.. you could say that i do not need to learn it all in to much depth but it is hard even to find most important things in this complexity and stay with that basic subset not being killed by this complexity of topics - this is just like 8-bit machine manuals had 256 pages, today manual for pc architecture has fckn 256 000 pages, and i am personaly only at  the page 15 333 :C and it still not enough to be introduced in this playground

Edited by fir

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I see it quite opposite way, back then when my first computer program was a classic
10 PRINT "COMMODORE 64"
20 GOTO 10

...

8-bit machine manuals had 256 pages ...

 

That is the nature of why it is both harder and easier.

 

Consider the very popular 6502 processor, used as the base chip in devices like the Commodore 64, Apple 2, Atari 800 (a home computer) Atari 2600 (the game console) and the Nintendo Entertainment System.

 

It had 56 instructions, but only about 45 that programmers actually used. Most programmers at the time had all of them memorized, which really isn't that surprising.

 

The systems worked by putting the right bits in the right place at the right time.  In many cases there was a single special byte of memory which was sent to the TV screen. To change the pixels you replace the byte. A few cycles later you replaced it for the next pixel. Your background on the 2600 was 40 pixels wide by 192 pixels high, you could swap out the color byte with one of 127 values that was sent to the TV.

 

 

I don't know if you would call it easier or harder. It was absolutely a different world.

 

 

One programmer was given a 200-page reference manual had everything they needed to fully exploit the system that ran at about 1 MHz. The device had 56 instructions and often 128 bytes of memory (many of those bytes reserved for special like graphics and audio). Unless the developer got lucky they got 4 kilobytes, or possibly only 2 kilobytes of total space. That one person was given between 45 to 60 work days to make a game that would hopefully reach a half million sales or more.

 

Contrast that with today. Teams get access to twenty or more volumes of technical material that describe most of how things work, coupled with a 100+ MB set of help files on the API that controlled an amazing collection of multi-GHz processors. Memory is not measured in bytes, but gigabytes of main memory, gigabytes of video memory, and are often expected to use 20-30 gigabytes of storage space. Development teams range from small --- 20 FTE work year projects --- to large --- 1,000+ FTE work year projects, with sales goals ranging from 1 million units to 20 million units.

 

The world is radically different, so relative difficulty is not easily expressed.

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It seems like a self-starter today has the difficulty of having to sift through the many options available to program games. While some of the options around today are probably easier than anything that was available 20 years ago, it's hard for a beginner to find those options. And many of those beginners would refuse to use the 'simpler' options because that's not what 'the pros' use.

 

For people of middle to great skill levels I'd say that today is absolutely easier than 20 years ago. Once you reach a certain level of knowledge the only thing preventing you from making a game of reasonable quality is your work ethic. At this level you don't need to be an expert at mathematics and physics you just have to know some basics and know how to use a library which does the hard parts. You won't be breaking new ground on the graphics front, but that's ok because you can break new ground in gameplay and story instead. I believe this is partly why there's been an explosion of indie games. Of course there's also just more programmers now, but a small team today can accomplish what used to be miracles for large teams.

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