Game Programming in the 21st Century
By James Hague
"Suppose that you and I sneak back to 1980 in our time machine, and offer one of those early designers a PowerMac 8500 with all the trimmings. We ask our ancient friend what he thinks he could do with it. Can you imagine the sense of limitless possibilities that would spew forth from his lips?"
ine years ago, at the start of the decade, I bought a book titled Programming in the 1990s, by Edward Cohen. The authorís viewpoint was that programmers generally work incorrectly. They merely guess at the solutions to problems, rather than formally defining them and then working toward a provably correct answer using traditional predicate calculus and a system of guarded expressions developed by computer scientist extraordinaire, Edsger Dijkstra. Programmers worldwide, having seen the error of their past ways, would routinely be using such techniques by the mid-nineties.
Okay, I doubt that olí Edward ever expected this to happen. It was a self-indulgent delusion, a fantasy. But it was an interesting bookóa whole lot more fascinating than the Teach Yourself Java During the Commercials of Melrose Place books which turned out to be a staple of future years. This article is my fantasy. Itís what probably wonít happen in the game programming world, but most definitely should, at least in the mind of one person whoís been involved in this crazy business in one way or another for far too long. And itís gotta be more interesting than "Processors are going to get faster!", "CD-ROM drives will get even louder!", and "The dimensions of graphics card heat sinks will start being governed by Mooreís Law."
The Separation of Games and Virtual Reality
Over at Hot Game Company X (formed by an arrogant few who split off from Hot But Larger And Therefore Too Corporate Game Company Y), fifty people are slaving away on the next, ultra-realistic, three-dimensional masterpiece. Itís going to have rolling, volumetric mist. Itís going to have realistic shadows that fall correctly on rippling water. Itís going to take twenty years of artist time to model forty levels right down to the guns in the school lockers. Itís not going to be finished until thirty-six months from now, but man is it gonna rock.
On the way home from E3, the lead designer notices three people on the plane glued to Color Game Boy screens. He see two more at the gate when he lands. One of the games is a slight reworking of a Commodore 64 title from 1987. In the gift shop, thereís a rack of ten dollar LCD games: poker, Family Feud, and something based on Street Fighter II. Following an overwhelming flashback in which he realizes that one of Segaís premiere Dreamcast titles, Sonic Adventure, doesnít even have lightmaps, he makes an on the spot career decision and grabs the Help Wanted sign from Manchu Wok.
Itís downright surreal that the Game Boy is outselling the N64 in Japan and selling in absurd quantities in the US. That little plastic cigarette pack is based on the Z80, a CPU that was already getting its first wrinkles when Ronald Reagan was sworn in in 1980. And it coexists nicely in a world of what would have been considered supercomputers back then. Amazing. Unbelievable. Available in a palette of fashionable colors.
Somewhere along the line, there has to be a more concrete separation between games that can be developed on a reasonable budget for $50 commodity hardware and hulking 3D world simulations that require Herculean effort that often results in the same amount of funófor ten times the development cost. The latter products will start to have a VR-reasearchy feel in the coming years. The light interaction in the crystal goblets of the next Quake game might be a fine sight to behold, but maybe not so much as the thirty foot billboard over the lava reading "DIMINISHING RETURNS."
Credits: Illustration © 1999 Michael Krahulik. This article is © 1999 James Hague. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it...or we'll peck your eyes out.