Here’s some fascinating footage from Resident Evil 8 – The Village. It shows just how far game development has come from it’s early days. We used to have little 8×8 pixel characters, now we have fully live-acted scenes.
When I was getting into computer science and gaming in the 80’s and 90’s, programmers were the rockstars. They developed all the key innovations and gameplay mechanisms. They even created most/all of the content, stories, etc. In the early days, animations were often hand-edited. That’s changed a lot – especially in the last 10 years.
Starting in the early 2000’s, indie developers started on the scene. Technology reached a point more and more people could start making games using very basic 2d engines like Shockwave 3D and similar frameworks. In a world in which 80% of games don’t make their money back, there was also a push from big production to faster and simpler development. Some of this also grew from early indies that left their big studios and often spent years on a hobby game. Sadly, in a world in which most games flop, many would find their game wasn’t actually fun and had to go back to their day jobs after having run through all their money. So the mantra then became “fail as quickly as possible”. Which means to do just enough to prove out your idea and quickly discard those that didn’t work. Many people suggested the idea of ‘A game a week‘ in which you develop a game in one week – laser focusing on the gameplay/fun. The gameplay idea was then either good enough to continue, or you moved on to the next idea. In this way, you never lose more than a week on a bad idea.
As the decade continued, so did the engines. Unity, Unreal, and many game engines were becoming easily licenseable and easily accessible to beginners. The engines worked on many platforms, making them much more attractive than the cost, difficulty, and time of developing your own engine. The focus then became to make a game FUN before graphics, content, etc. This reached its crowning moment when the game Journey won the 2012 Game of the Year award – and was largely created and developed by designers. The democratization of game development by engines that could be picked up by non-programmers flipped the game dev world on its head.
“Make games, not engines” is the new mantra. Content and design is now the new king. The vast majority of game development staff, and cost, is now content: music, art, modeling, actors, and design. Programmers are usually a tiny minority on most game studios, and they often work together as a core engine team that moves from one game to the next.
But as they would say on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take MY word for it: