“Are we there yet?”
That is the sound of your children in the back seat, grueling over the long drive as you stare in your rear view window. You can still see your house as you pull up to your destination. How did this happen? Are we in some sort of time paradox?
That seems to be how video game technology feels right now. There is a very wide breathe of visual innovation; colors, shapes, sizes, and scale playing large roles. But when it comes to raw power and fidelity, we may have reached a point of diminishing returns. In fact, we may have been here for nearly a decade now. The industry is so young, but it seems to have aged in dog years.
The latest and greatest game consoles, mobile devices, and even PCs have focused greatly on gimmicks over power. Laptops are shipping with HD web cameras and fingerprint bio-sensors, but their increase in RAM and clock cycles have remained generally flat when compared to performance explosions of the Pentium days. We may have reached the end of silicon’s power and parallel processing isn’t taking on the strides that we had hoped for. We see game consoles and PC’s with 4 and 8 and even 16 cores, and yet most of the products produced today – especially those from indie developers – seem plenty capable of running on single or 2 core processors at most. Several video games today seem to be stuck between the balance of innovative software design and grand spectacles meant to push the hardware’s boundaries.
AAA big budget games are frankly, “too big to fail.” They often take the safe road because there is more value in a guaranteed return than there is in risking it all to break new ground. AAA developers have been more than outspoken about resting their hopes on indie developers.
There’s nothing wrong with resting your hopes on the little guy to generate innovative ideas, except that the little guy is broke. Video games are not like a book, or painting, or a song, or a computer simulation; they are all of those things working together. A video game is a hugely expensive endeavor, and the “innovation” in today’s crowded markets often rise from a marriage of many highly trained skills. Making an innovative game is not like writing a New York Time Best Seller; it’s not 1 writer and an editor cranking out a story in 6 months, it’s large teams of people working over the span of years.
These are reasons why I’m sort of “out of the game” when it comes to making video games. You have to be a part of a larger company to see anything happen; the garage bands are dead and gone and innovation now comes in tiny moments, spread across a library of games. And it took years off of someone’s life to make that moment happen, unpaid, and mostly unnoticed by their managers.
There have been many engines before Unity, and some that continue to appear long after, but I think the technology race is over. I won’t say that Unity has won the race but they have crossed the finish line of this 50 meter dash with a very short list of victors. Unity is not the most beautiful engine, or the most powerful parallel engine, or the most graceful to use, but it’s good enough… Unity is good enough to slap some assets together, to integrate some behaviors, and create an experience that most would certainly call a, “game.”
What is a game after all, if nothing more than a way to pass the time. Surely Unity is powerful enough to accomplish that, and it has proven itself to be true time and time again.