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Archiving the Creation Processes of the Video Game Industry

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The Power to Create

8 December, 2008 (14:49) | News and Commentary | By: admin

In a recent interview for the Wired blog, Blizzard’s Executive Vice President of Game Design Rob Pardo is asked about past Diablo games and their perceived “RAM dependency.”  The interviewer notes, “When Diablo II came out…I didn’t really feel like I got the full experience of the game running perfectly until I had something like 2GB of RAM.  With Diablo III, are we going to need 6GB?”

Pardo’s response characterizes one of the chief, and unique, concerns for game designers.  He responds, “One of the philosophies we have is to always try to cater to a pretty low system spec.  We really wanna make sure that as many gamers as possible can play our games.  At the same time, we want a lot of our graphics and all of our features to look good.”

This response exemplifies how daunting the obstacle of processing power can be in the design and creation of a video game.  As designers begin to imagine enormous and magnificent worlds populated with defined and stylized characters, they must always keep in mind the limitations placed on their work by the current PC technology available to the gaming public.  Obviously, as Pardo suggests, the designer’s first responsibility is to create a game that the majority of gamers are capable of running on their computer systems.  Essentially, this means crafting a game that can be enjoyed by gamers whose PCs run on below-average processing power.  But, the designers also have a responsibility to utilize the latest in design technology to create a game that can compete with other recent games on a visual basis.  Thus, as designers work on a game like Diablo III and constantly try to improve the scope and detail of the game’s visuals, they must do so remembering that their ultimate responsibility requires them to deliver a game that “caters to a low system spec.”

I would be interested to learn how game designers are affected by what is, essentially, a lack of resources, a creative issue for which there is little precedent.  Many filmmakers, for example, often must consider how much film they are using and how much film is left.  However, filmmakers are using that film supply for one purpose: to create a visual image.  Game designers, on the other hand, must use one supply of RAM not only to create their visuals but also to run the gameplay itself.  Thus, in navigating this difficult creative path, on which imaginative visuals will almost always be sacrificed for the gameplay, do designers often find their ideas for environments and characters being limited?  Have they become so familiar with the technology that they inherently dream up worlds and populations with processing limitations in mind?  Or do they dream big at first and scale back once the magnitude of the gameplay’s processing requirements are determined?

I would imagine that this is a particularly prevalent problem for MMORPG designers.  In creating game worlds where anything can happen, where any number of player and non-player characters can come together in one place, designers must ensure that the graphics that animate these worlds and characters do not soak up so much processing power that the gameplay runs slowly or perhaps ceases to run.  Thus, considering the requirement of creating an environment that can process a large number of gamers at all times, these game designers are necessarily limited in their power to create visually impressive landscapes and lifelike characters.  I would argue that, because of this limitation, MMORPGS will always be a step behind many other genres visually, and I would be interested to know how designers of these MMO experiences feel about working in a genre in which their visual imaginations must always be kept in check.

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Time June 6, 2011 at 9:37 am

[...] upon when attempting to improve gameplay (in this case the storytelling aspect). This recalls Stephen’s post concerning how designers create within or against these limitations. The argument is made that the [...]

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