Thursday 27 April: Computer Games Development: Past, Present and Future

Computer Games Development: Past, Present and Future

Simon PrytherchSimon Prytherch, Head of development for Empire Interactive, gave us the story of games development in the past 20 years. He had used his in depth knowledge of the industry to pick out seminal developments in the games and the hardware platforms to discuss with us. This short roller coaster ride covering the highlights began with Simon showing us one his own personal favourites, his original development platform for the Atari ST.

He discussed the major developments over the last few years currently culminating with the Xbox 360.

He explained the breakdown of work effort that goes into developing a major game costing many millions. The development is very much like producing a film with specialist sound engineers and graphic artists, specialist writers and producers all working along side the traditional programmers. One recent big development is to write procedural algorithms to draw the graphics in real time rather than the very much more time consuming process used previously where the graphic artist realised each object which was then animated where necessary.

Simon Prytherch with the Xbox 360

Much of the equipment Simon used to demonstrate the ideas was specialist development versions of the standard hardware. We were told the Xbox 360 contains six incredibly fast processors running in parallel and he showed us the full power of the graphics engine using some development demonstration software. This displayed a torus covered in very fine fur all animated in real time as he rotated the object under his control. The effect was photo realistic and needs to be seen to fully appreciate the massive power of the Xbox processor architecture.

Important current developments include the online gaming community built and supported by both Microsoft and Sony each having their own network. Microsoft in particular is developing small add-ons and options for their games which may be purchased on line for small payments as they believe this will build into an important revenue stream for the industry. The small payments are made using a "micro payment" mechanism specially set up to support the small transactions necessary (sometimes in pence).

Future developments discussed included the new Sony PS3 soon to be released and the new Nintendo device possibly to be called Wii (exclusively revealed in the lecture, remember this was one of the places you heard it first!). The PS3 and the Wii are both even move powerful again than the Xbox 360..what will be possible on these platforms?????!

Demo of the Xbox 360 fur renderingSimon thought that we were now fast approaching the point where games are so realistic they are quite literally just another form of entertainment alongside and rivalling television for a place in the living room. He believed soon you would be just as likely to relax by picking up your games machine controller and pitting your wits against the rest of the family or friends and relations networked into your home in a multiplayer game as watching TV. Films, music, TV media and games are all merging into potentially cross fertilised media entertainment experiences.

Another interesting development which is appearing on the horizon is "games for free". Such games would include advertisements that appear as part of the game play and this would fund the cost of the game being developed.