The video game industry earned $8.85 billion in revenue in 2007, almost as much as movies made at the box office. Much of this revenue was generated by blockbuster titles created by large groups of people. Though large development teams are not unheard of in the software industry, game studios tend to have unique collections of developers. Software engineers make up a relatively small portion of the game development team, while the majority of the team consists of content creators such as artists, musicians, and designers.
I used to be a systems programmer, working on infrastructure used by banks, telecom companies, and other engineers. I worked on operating systems. I worked on distributed middleware. I worked on programming languages. I wrote tools. I did all of the things that hard-core systems programmers do.
One thing that becomes immediately apparent when creating and distributing mobile 3D games is that there are fundamental differences between the cellphone market and the more traditional games markets, such as consoles and handheld gaming devices. The most striking of these are the number of delivery platforms; the severe constraints of the devices, including small screens whose orientation can be changed; limited input controls; the need to deal with other tasks; the nonphysical delivery mechanism; and the variations in handset performance and input capability.
It has been a long journey from the days of multicolored sprites on tiled block backgrounds to the immersive 3D environments of modern games. What used to be a job for a single game creator is now a multifaceted production involving staff from every creative discipline. The next generation of console and home computer hardware is going to bring a revolutionary leap in available computing power; a teraflop (trillion floating-point operations per second) or more will be on tap from commodity hardware.
Back in the mid-1990s, I worked for a company that developed multimedia kiosk demos. Our biggest client was Intel, and we often created demos that appeared in new PCs on the end-caps of major computer retailers such as CompUSA. At that time, performance was in demand for all application classes from business to consumer. We created demos that showed, for example, how much faster a spreadsheet would recalculate (you had to do that manually back then) on a new processor as compared with the previous year's processor. The differences were immediately noticeable to even a casual observer - and it mattered.
Computer games (or "electronic games" if you encompass those games played on console-class hardware) comprise one of the fastest-growing application markets in the world. Within the development community that creates these entertaining marvels, multi-language development is becoming more commonplace as games become more and more complex. Today, asking a development team to construct a database-enabled Web site with the requirement that it be written entirely in C++ would earn scornful looks and rolled eyes, but not long ago the idea that multiple languages were needed to accomplish a given task was scoffed at.
Wish is a multiplayer, online, fantasy role-playing game being developed by Mutable Realms. It differs from similar online games in that it allows tens of thousands of players to participate in a single game world (instead of the few hundred players supported by other games). Allowing such a large number of players requires distributing the processing load over a number of machines and raises the problem of choosing an appropriate distribution technology.
The hardest part of making a game has always been the engineering. In times past, game engineering was mainly about low-level optimization - writing code that would run quickly on the target computer, leveraging clever little tricks whenever possible.
OK, so I admit it - not only am I a total closet gamer geek, I admit that I actually care enough to be bitter about it. Yep, that's right - this puts me in the "big-time nerd" category.
In many ways online games are on the bleeding edge of software development. That puts Will Harvey, founder and executive vice president of Menlo Park-based There, right at the front of the pack. There, which just launched its product in October, is a virtual 3D world designed for online socializing.