All posts by Team

The art and complexity of video game development

It took one man to invent probably the most famous early video game. Allan Alcorn developed Pong as a prototype, with 2 colours, 2 paddles, a single square ball and digits to keep scores. The analogue video game ran on a Hitachi black and white TV that cost $75 and went on to turn Atari into one of the biggest video game developers of the 20th century.

Fast forward to 2017 and we’ve come a hell of a long way. Currently, the writer of this piece is busy trying not to get lost in Ancient Egypt in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, an RPG / fighter / puzzle / sneak ’em up (we don’t really have single genres any more). Clocking in at around 42GB on PlayStation, the game files made up of graphics files, sounds and endless amounts of code is roughly big enough for 450 million games of modern ROM Pong, which can be as small as 110kb.

Although technology has helped greatly when it comes to creating games of such vast proportions as Assassin’s Creed, the scale and epic value of a game that boasts over 100 hours of gameplay still requires huge teams of people to deliver the finished product. Ubisoft Montreal, who created Origins, has 3,000 people, supported by tens of thousands of employees in other Ubisoft studios around the world. Creating a game isn’t the bedroom business it used to be (roughly 16 people developed and released the first Tomb Raider game).

Functions and form

Let’s start with how the game behaves. Each character, animation, storyline, dialogue option and gameplay interaction needs to be planned out, mapped, coded or written, usually using a game engine, a task which can eat up resources and requires dedicated programmers, software experts and developers. This part of the process is often the starting point for many games after the storyline or concept is decided. When Grand Theft Auto 5 was released in 2013 for example, the entire RAGE engine that was used had to be overhauled completely to accommodate greater draw distances, more NPCs and vehicle’s and of course the life-like animations that make GTA games what they are.

Graphics and textures are also a make or break aspect of the gaming, integrating seamlessly with wireframes and meshes to make the game world more attractive and sometimes realistic. In the current generation of gaming, which is stepping into the world of 4K and high dynamic range displays, photorealistic textures are required for many games, upping not only the storage required, but the work needed to collect and manipulate often hundreds of thousands of images. The next Forza game boasts hundreds of cars capable of displaying in 4K at 60fps with an Xbox One X, so it’s no surprise that the texture mapping and images used to bring these cars to life make the whole experience are starting to look very close to reality.

Sound is vitally important for next-gen games too, with similar techniques borrowed from the movie industry and full scores now very common on high profile releases. It’s no surprise that video game budgets are now averaging around $40 million to produce, with Grand Theft Auto the most expensive game ever produced at roughly $265 million.

Multi-platform gaming

It isn’t just console games that are getting a lot more TLC when it comes to design and production however. Mobile and browser-based gaming have also upped the stakes, with better mobile devices and developments like HTML5 and faster connectivity helping studios to improve mobile gaming significantly.

Take online poker. Although quite simple in terms of graphics and coding, virtual games of poker are now starting to match the excitement and ‘realistic’ gameplay you’d find in a casino. 888 Poker boast dozens of poker varieties, all playable on a massive range of phones, smart devices and computers, with everything from 3D poker rooms to themed tables playable on Android, iOS and Windows. With vastly improved user interfaces, customisable profiles, and even video-fed live casino poker, which transmits professional dealers directly from the casino to device screens, poker has come on leaps and bounds from the basic layouts seen in the early days of online casino gaming.

The next step in gaming

We’re currently at a crossroads in game development too. VR has well and truly arrived with HTC, Occulus Rift and now PlayStation making virtual reality headsets more accessible. Although still in the early stages and limited by computing power, gaming will certainly transform as players becoming more engaged in digital environments. Games like Doom, Fallout 4 and Skyrim are all either on their way or released, acting as benchmarking tools for user interaction when the action is coming from several directions at once.

It’s easy to see how video game production costs will keep climbing too. With limits on imagination slowly beginning to lift and the number of gamers growing significantly since the first consoles appeared in the 80s, there’s a lot of money in the market and a constant demand for more exciting games. Let’s hope this unbridled creativity and artistic approach to game design continues and doesn’t go the way of the movie industry, which saw 47 reboots and remakes hit screens this year.

A Look at the Xbox One X: What Should We Expect?

When Sony released an amped-up version of the PS4 last autumn, most experts would have offered good odds on the fact that Microsoft would follow suit.

This became even more likely given the initial success of the PS4 Pro, and it has led to the development of a significantly upgraded Xbox One X. Formerly referred to by Microsoft as Project Scorpio, the hardware has earned rave reviews, primarily due to its compact nature and outstanding power output.

Make no mistake; this no-nonsense, slimline console has made a huge mark on consumers, while laying the foundations for a brand new upgrade later this year.

The Low-down: What to Expect from the Xbox One X

Even at first glance, the Xbox One X is an impressive piece of hardware. A compact, black box packed full of gaming and processing power, it also delivers high quality gameplay while its specification suggests that it is the single most capable and high-performance console in the current marketplace.

The current price point is recorded at $499, which with the current exchange rate translates into approximately £390. This may seem a little steep, but it actually represents reasonable value when you consider its spec and status in the real-time market (although it is fair to surmise that users with a 4K television would be most likely to get the most from this console).

The enhanced power of the device will certainly improve its processing performance, triggering a smoother FPS and superior rendering. It also produces a more immersive and visually stunning experience for gamers, particularly when playing high-octane titles such as Forza Motorsport 7, Assassin’s Creed and Crackdown 3.

These games in particular look and sound superb, while the quality of graphics is impressive even if you are unable to utilise the device in conjunction with a 4K TV.

The Battle Between the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro: Who Emerges as the Winner?

In terms of competing directly with Sony’s PS4 Pro, the Xbox One X has certainly produced a robust performance. In fact, it is hard to distinguish between the quality of the graphics and the processing speeds of each console, with both capable of delivering a 4K experience to players.

The two also share an almost identical price point, while the initial quality of the titles released with the Xbox One X also competes aggressively with Sony’s offering. So while the latter may boast a slightly larger software library, the ultimate choice will depend on your preferences as a gamer.

Not only this, but you may also be swayed by the quality of online gaming available through each console. After all, a growing number of people play online slot games at Royal Vegas and similar operators in the modern age, while many are also looking for virtual communities and gameplay through consoles.

It can be argued that Microsoft has built a superior online community around the Xbox One and the One X, so this may also influence your decision when upgrading your consoles.

DLC Prices Worry Gamers as Gambling Industry thrives on Free Content

There was once a time to when buying a video game disk or cartridge meant getting the finished article, fast forward to the present day with all the changes to the video game industry, and we see that is no longer the case. These extra costs are worrying for cash-strapped gamers and to some comes as a surprise at a time when other aspects of the gaming industry, such as online gambling, are seeing player numbers thanks to operators offering services largely based on free content.

Streaming services and downloadable content (DLC) mean that our favourite titles are never complete but ever evolving as more fresh content is released or added to the original. To those not in the know, DLC are a little different to sequel games, and are more like extra challenges, storylines, characters or costumes that players have to pay for.

The issue is that many gamers now feel that developers are holding back original content to increase revenues by selling it as DLC at a later date. Many DLC releases are priced at a percentage of the retail cost of the initial release, but some may come at a premium, not to mention the increasing use of in-game micro-transactions.

These extra costs are worrying for cash strapped gamers and to some comes as a surprise at a time when other aspects of the gaming industry, such as online gambling, are seeing player numbers thanks to operators offering services largely based on free content.

The Rise and Rise in DLC Costs

As with many things in life, not everyone is happy when change occurs, but current trends would seem to imply that video gamers have good reason to complain about the rising cost of DLC releases. One astonishing example that stands out is the fact that the upcoming 3DS game Fire Emblem: Shadow of Valencia Echoes from Nintendo will have DLC content will cost more than the base game’s price! Contrast this to the common practice of online casino and bingo sites with free sign up bonus and the magnitude of the issue at hand becomes clear. However, there are many factors that can also be cited in mitigation on behalf of the developers.

For a start, it makes good business sense to plan for DLC releases further down the road as it keeps fans of the game engaged and loyal. In addition, charging for the new content is also one of the ways that video games developers and publishers can make a living given the issues surrounding online piracy and illegal downloads. The issue is that although video games are now played by all ages, not everyone can afford to fork out premium prices every few months for what is essentially a small part of the same game.

Is DLC Content the future of Gaming?

As mentioned above, the world is clearly moving away from physical discs for the consumption of music, films, and games. This makes it more certain that DLC releases will remain a part of the gaming industry for the foreseeable future; but if that is the case then more needs to be done. A solution will have to be found to help developers and publishers earn a living off the work they create while ensuring that gamers receive the best value for the content they are paying for.

With the online gambling genre currently being the fastest growing sector in the gaming industry there is no reason why lessons cannot be learnt from its model and applied to mainstream video games. The DLC model is clearly being used by some developers as a means to earn revenue through holding back content, but gambling operators are continuing to show that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Casino and Console Gaming: A Mutual Relationship

Today, the global video game market is larger than it has ever been, and reports suggest it’s only going to continue to get bigger in the years ahead. According to research compiled by analytics firm Newzoo, the video game industry had a value of $99.6 billion in 2016, with that projected to reach $118.6 billion by 2019. Separately, the online casino gaming, or iGaming, market, is also seeing a remarkable rise of its own: the industry was worth an estimated $45.86 billion last year, with that number expected to reach $56.05 billion by 2018. With both industries not only having a lot in common in terms of thematic concerns but also owing much of their growth to the rise of smartphones and high-speed internet connectivity, it is inevitable, therefore, that a large degree of crossover exists in their offerings. Today, we’re taking a look at just how casino and console gaming have a mutually beneficial relationship.

As we live in an increasingly social age, in which 81% of all Americans use at least one form of social media as of this year, it was inexorable that both console and iGaming developers would attempt to capitalize on players’ willingness and desire to be sociable in their games. The live streaming and broadcast of gameplay have been a major way in which users have been able to become socially engaged with not only their own games, but those of others as well. Only last month, Microsoft rolled out its Beam streaming app to Xbox One users, which affords players with not only the opportunity to broadcast their gameplay as they interact with others, but also to play their favorite games together as well.

You only have to look at some of the stats for leading video gaming live streaming service Twitch to gain an indication of just how popular streaming has become: for instance, the site boasts over 100 million monthly unique users. You might be surprised to find out, however, that live streaming technology was actually embraced by the iGaming industry long before the service took off. In an attempt to more closely emulate a real-life casino experience, online operators began offering games that live stream human dealers and feature real-life casino tables. Take, for instance, William Hill’s Live Blackjack – with its live dealers experience and atmosphere – which allows players to chat with their dealer and play cards in real time. With live streaming, blackjack players get the closest experience to what they would have in a bricks-and-mortar casino. The online casino industry unquestionably innovated the use of live streaming technology for gaming, with console games developers and Twitch following suit.

That being said, it’s not only the case that iGaming that has inspired console gaming; the reverse is also evident. With the aforementioned continual rise of casual and mobile titles, players have become more accustomed to skill-based titles that test their wits as well as their resolve; shallow puzzle games soon gave way to more strategic and challenging titles such as Mobile Strike, The Escapists and Clash Royale at the top of the app store charts. As consumer expectations became reconditioned, the appetite for casino game developers to offer more challenging, skill-based titles also grew stronger. For instance, the majority of online casinos now offer multiple themed variations of skill-based poker and blackjack games, while the Blueprint Gaming-developed Worms Reloaded and Microgaming’s Hitman slot titles also offer players an experience inspired by their console gaming counterparts.

All in all, it is clear that console gaming and iGaming titles have a lot more in common than it may first appear. In addition to the mutually beneficial relationship we’ve outlined above, many titles across both industries share influence – be it from the natural world, pop culture IPs, or any other source of inspiration. The two markets seem intrinsically linked, and as long as they continue to both learn from each other and respond to technological trends, they will surely continue their growth in the years ahead.

The Not-So-Blank-Canvas: Where Do Games Developers Take Inspiration From?

It will come as no surprise to TiX readers that gaming is now bigger  than it has ever been in the industry’s storied history. According to research compiled by the UKIE, the global video games market stood at $91 billion in 2016, with the prevalence of digital marketplaces – themselves being brought to the fore by improved internet speeds and the evolution of mobile phones into smart devices – accelerating the growth of the industry over the past several years. For instance, last year saw an estimated 4,727 new titles released via PC distribution service Steam, making up almost 40 percent of all games available on the platform.

So, with more games – and more people gaming – than ever before, how do developers continue to engage and excite audiences with the content they create? How is it possible to continue to innovate and originate in such a crowded marketplace? It’s the question every studio constantly asks themselves, and thankfully, there are limitless sources of inspiration from which to draw: whether it is existing titles, other popular culture, or the world around us. With that in mind, today, we’re taking a look at just two of the most valuable sources of influence for video game developers.

Popular Culture

Credit: Injustice via Facebook.

Throughout gaming’s almost half-decade history, popular culture has proved to be the well that rarely runs dry in terms of providing developers with influence for their latest title. The entertainment industry is one that constantly has its finger on the pulse of what is hot at the present moment, and gaming developers have never shied away from leaning on it for inspiration. Whether it is direct adaptations of popular movies, such as the seminal Nintendo 64 first-person shooter Goldeneye 007, or more subtle influences, such as the inclusion of numerous DC comic book superhero characters in the upcoming Injustice 2, popular culture has continually provided developers with a wealth of inspiration.

Outside of console gaming, popular culture also has a heavy influence on online-only and social titles. Doctor Who: Legacy, for example, is a popular match-three puzzle game inspired by the hit BBC television show, and is available for mobile devices and via Facebook. Similarly, films and properties including Indiana Jones and animated Disney movies have also spawned their own titles including the likes of Indiana Jones Adventure World and Disney Emoji Blitz, respectively.

It’s not just console and casual titles that use these sources of inspiration, either. Take iGaming operator bgo’s roster of slot games, for example, which includes a number of licensed titles based on popular culture, such as Family Guy, Ghostbusters and Rambo. The IGT-developed Family Guy title features characters from the hit animated TV series, including Peter, Lois, Brian, Stewie, Chris and Meg, as the high-value symbols, while its familiar music and animation style are also recreated in the game. Similarly, other online iGaming hubs also feature games inspired by popular culture, with Mr Smith Casino, for example, including slot titles based on Jurassic Park, the band Motorhead and Game of Thrones.

Nature

Credit: The Witcher via Facebook.

Whether it’s the sprawling open world landscapes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Skyrim, or the intricate, northern Scandinavian seasonal environments depicted in Unravel, the influence of the natural world around us has long been clear in video games. Take Ash Gaming’s Amazon Wilds slot game, for instance. The iGaming title, which is hosted by operator bgo, is heavily inspired by the beauty of the Amazon rainforest: the region’s flora and fauna feature as the five-reel 100 paylines game’s icons, while its atmospheric soundtrack is also heavily influenced by the wildlife and nature of the South America. Elsewhere, online casino Magic Red features an Egyptian Magic slot game, which is inspired, as you’d expect, by the natural wonders of Ancient Egypt, with the pyramids, sphinxes and ankhs all making appearances in the five-reel title.

But nature’s influence goes far beyond merely informing developers’ design, textures and environmental art decisions; nature can often provide the inspiration for some of video games’ most intriguing core gameplay elements. Take The Last of Us, for example. Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic epic drew praise for many of its thematic elements, including its gripping narrative, sublime visuals and environments that perfectly captured a country being reclaimed by nature. What you might not know, however, is that the title’s trademark enemies, the Clickers, were inspired by a real-life natural phenomenon. The ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitic fungus that infects ants of the Camponotini tribe, taking control of its host’s brain and nervous system. In the Last of Us, of course, the same phenomenon has now evolved to the point where humans are being infected by a similarly disturbing parasite: leading to them becoming the aforementioned Clickers.

Of course, developers take inspiration from many, many more sources than the two we’ve explored today. Whether they’re drawing on their own life experiences, borrowing from folklore, works of fiction or the natural world – or even inventing new ideas off the top of the head – creators continue to surprise and delight us with the diverse range of video games they are able to create. But can you think of any recent examples of video game developers taking inspiration from the unlikeliest of sources? Let your fellow TiX readers know in the comments section below.

Why we can’t wait for the latest Xbox games and Scorpio VR in 2017

With 2017 comes a plethora of brilliant Xbox games. There are numerous games that are highly anticipated this year and we’re very excited for them to be released.

Tekken 7 is finally set to come our way, though sadly, it is set to be last in the series, two decades following its move to PlayStation. Though if the rumours surrounding Tekken 7 are anything to go by, it will certainly go out with a bang. The game is said to include the conclusion to the Mishima clan saga, and with the help of Unreal Engine 4, the game’s graphics are flawless with highly detailed characters and dynamic, reactive environments.

What’s more, is that Unreal Engine 4 are involved in the development of VR games and it has already been confirmed that Tekken 7 will be available for PlayStation VR, so it’s highly plausible that it will soon be compatible with VR when the Scorpio arrives.

In addition to some brilliant graphics and VR, many new characters will also arrive including Kazumi Mishima, the wife of Heichachi Mishima, and mother to Kazuya. Unknown Fate sports a brilliant cryptic front and it is your duty to unravel the puzzles while on your journey through some beautifully crafted worlds, worlds which affords the game an atmospheric feel.

You’re sure to meet some unusual and interesting characters on your journey and the more puzzles you solve, the closer you will come to revealing the truth about the unfamiliar surroundings you find yourself in, hence the title Unknown Fate. What makes the game even more exciting is that it will initially support VR on PC and if deemed popular enough, it will more than likely pave its way to VR on consoles.

Though Xbox aren’t the only ones looking to get involved with the VR hype, as online casino sites like Play Cosmo are looking to become more involved. Research suggests that the amount of bets from VR gambling is set to rise from £47.2 million this year to a huge £423 million in the next four years. VR bring major benefits to the online casino community as it widens the possibilities for casino sites as it will allow them to attract more players who looking for an authentic and luxurious casino experience without leaving their homes. With the help of a headset and a reputable online casino sites, players can head to exciting locations without having to even leave their bed.

Though if you’re looking to be transported to a completely different world and an alternate reality, look no further than the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This Xbox One game is set for release next month and it’s likely that Marvel and Telltale will time the release of the game’s first episode to thrive off the excitement of the film. Telltale are famed for their unique style of interactive storytelling. With an exciting mix of emotion, teamwork, humour, perseverance and a large dose of sci-fi action adventure, you will take on multiple roles to become a hero and direct escapades around the universe. If you were impressed with the initial film then this will certainly sweep you off your feet.

Project Scorpio Confirmed “VR Capable”: Where Does This Leave Xbox and VR?

There’s no escaping VR within the gaming world at the moment. The new tech is continuously hitting headlines, and is slowly generating a solid catalogue of games, including the smash hit frightfest that is Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which Engadget have dubbed “the most terrifying VR game on the market”. The trouble is, VR hasn’t properly hit Xbox One. It is possible to use game streaming to play Xbox One games on the Oculus Rift, but this simply displays the game in an Oculus-rendered environment.

As we’ve previously covered, Sony has had a headstart when it comes to implementing the next leap in gaming technology into their consoles. The PS4 Pro has had a chance to flex its muscles against the Xbox One and One S, delivering 4K and VR gaming compatibility. In fact, the Playstation VR headset is performing exceptionally well in terms of sales, racking up 915,000 within four months, outselling both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vice. However, this is set to change come the release of Project Scorpio, as details have been released containing some important info and specs for the new console.

Project Scorpio will launch in the 2017 holiday period

Microsoft’s new console will hit shelves in time for Christmas, no doubt in a calculated move to deliver maximum coverage and sales. It looks set to go above and beyond the Xbox One and One S in terms of performance and power, with Tech Radar stating that the Scorpio’s GPU will be 4.5 times more powerful than the GPU that powers their current generation of console. This is great, as it gives the Scorpio enough graphical grunt to run true VR games smoothly. So it looks like VR games will definitely be hitting the Scorpio, right? Well, not exactly. Phil Spencer has stated that he’s not 100% sold on VR in gaming in its current form, saying that the games he’s been playing in VR “feel like demos and experiments”.

So the Scorpio will 100% be “VR compatible”, in the sense that it have the tech specs to run VR content, but whether or not Microsoft go out of their way to bring VR games to the platform is another story. It’s a smart move by Microsoft as they’re in a unique position. By making the Scorpio powerful enough to run VR, they can join in the party if VR really takes off en masse with consumers. However, they’re not going all in with VR, just in case it doesn’t quite take off in the way people are predicting – similar to what Microsoft experienced with the Xbox 360 when they backed HD DVD to win the battle of HD media.

We really, really hope fully fledged VR comes to Scorpio

Other gaming niches are getting very excited about VR, and Playstation VR’s sales figures show that there’s definitely an appetite for it amongst consoles. The iGaming community is expected to get heavily engaged with VR, with online casinos always looking to bring an extra level of realism to their games. For a long time, live casino game technology were the most realistic online experiences possible.

Let’s take the roulette as an example: live roulette games involve a real time video feed of a croupier spinning the wheel, just the same as they do in a casino, with the results being streamed to players over the internet. Players can interact with the croupier too, asking them questions through a chat interface, which the latter can reply to verbally. Some iGaming brands have taken this high-tech offering further, with Betway Casino offering two different versions of live roulette, including one dubbed Immersive Roulette. This features multiple cinematic shots of the roulette wheel, including slow motion replays of where the ball lands. It’s all pretty close to the authentic casino experience, as the only thing missing is the vibe of a land-based casino and the feeling of being gathered around the table with other players. VR looks almost certain to be able to change this, by actually giving players the sensation of physically being in the casino setting, as well as making it possible to virtually pick up and place chips their chips.

The same can be said for console gaming. We are not alone in believing that VR is the next logical evolution in gaming. Graphics processing has come on a huge amount within this console generation, with super sleek HDR graphics rolling out on the Xbox One S, which made some of our favourite games look even better, and VR seems to be the next step in that chain. Some game developers are also putting in the work to reboot VR versions of their PC games. The hugely popular Fallout 4 is set to add VR support, made possible by the HTC Vive, later this year. If Bethesda do a good job of incorporating VR support into the existing game, this could show that it’s a worthwhile toil for other developers, helping big budget VR games to gain more traction. It’s this level of dedication and experimentation that’s needed to bring VR to the console masses. For VR to sell well, it’s going to need big name developers like Bethesda to fully buy into the technology and develop games worthy of the additional price tag that VR headsets and gear have.

 

Microsoft + VR: Will they or won’t they?

When Phil Spencer said that the VR games and software he had experienced felt like experimentation, it probably wasn’t meant as criticism or a dig at VR. Rather, it just shows that Microsoft are laser focused on delivering the best gaming experience possible and don’t want to go all in with a technology that hasn’t yet proven itself as a major contender in the gaming space. Indeed, there are still a few teething problems when it comes to VR games. For one, there’s the expensive equipment and the additional cables the headset requires. Many have said that VR needs to be fully wireless before it can properly get the mainstream excited, which is a fair point. Nothing quite brings you back to reality than a clump of tangled cables. Another issue is that it can make some people feel motion sickness, especially during long periods of in-game walking around. It’s issues like this that are no doubt be causing Microsoft to act tentatively.

Hopefully, these will be kinks that can be worked out. Microsoft have said they envisage console generations as we know them dying out soon. If this is the case, and if gaming trends shift to VR, then you have to assume VR games will be rolled out on the Scorpio. Luckily, the world doesn’t have to wait long before additional light is shed on the Xbox Scorpio. Microsoft are holding a full reveal event on June 11th 2017. Do you think VR will come to Scorpio? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.