Ars Technica has this story about Chris Hecker and some comments he made a the Game Developers Conference. First he called the Wii a piece of Sh**. Then he came back the next day and (one can assume not of his own volition) said nice many things about the Wii.
His complaints stemmed from the lack of raw computing power the console can provide. His first set of statements are pretty much not worth responding to. I’ve seen similar stuff from XBox and PS3 zealots and forum trolls. It all boils down to, “Why would anyone ever buy a pickup truck, it’s a terrible sportscar!” See also: Mac vs. PC.
However, with a little more eloquence he could probably have expressed the real problem here, and I do believe there is one. The Wii is less powerful than the other two consoles. It’s supposed to be. That’s why it’s less than half the price. Nintendo concluded that there were lots of people who aren’t focused on raw visuals and would rather have a cheaper system with less fancy pixels. They were right, which is why the Wii did so well this Christmas.
But the problem isn’t so much lack of power as a lack of functionality. At one point Hecker claims that the Wii is “nothing more than two GameCubes stuck together with duct tape”. I’m sure what he’s alluding to is the fact that the machine is probably faster than the Cube in terms of processing cycles, but that it doesn’t have the ability to run new fragment shaders, vertex shaders, or do some fancy new texture pass. It’s just a faster version of the previous generation of technology, not a jump to the current generation.
If you remember my earlier post where I made the case that Graphics Hardware is Killing PC Games. One of the reasons for this is that fact that it’s a royal pain to develop for different generations of graphics hardware. See also: My experience with Oblivion. At least on consoles, the major three have been within spitting distance of one another, technology-wise. But now one of the consoles – the most popular one – has deliberately refused to move to the latest graphics technology. Now if a developer wants to make a multiplatform title available on the Wii then the Brian Heckers of the world will be obliged to straddle two generations of graphics hardware functionality.
This is more of a pain than it sounds. Artwork changes a lot from one generation to another. You can’t just turn off a particular texture pass and expect the world to work right. A bump-mapped 3d character is very different in design from one designed to be rendered without bump-mapping. Are you going to have your artists make everything twice? Suddenly you’re not just talking about additional programming, but a huge burden of additional development time and the expense of more artists.
When developing a multiplatform for the Wii, the designer has three choices:
- Spend extra time making the game look good and run smoothly on both systems. The Wii version might not look as nice, but it should look comparable to other Wii titles.
- Develop for the PS3 or 360, and then strip out features until the game runs on the Wii. The result will be exceedingly ugly, or suffer from performance issues.
- Develop for the Wii, then release it “as is” for the PS3 / 360. The result will be a game which will probably look dated next to the other titles on the system.
If I were a developer then #3 would be looking pretty darn good to me right now. I would find it very funny if the lack of power on the Wii caused some developers to avoid utilizing the next-gen features of the other consoles. Will it happen? I have no idea. It should be interesting to see, though.
Video Compression Gone Wrong
How does image compression work, and why does it create those ugly spots all over some videos and not others?
Revisiting a Dead Engine
I wanted to take the file format of a late 90s shooter and read it in modern-day Unity. This is the result.
A stream-of-gameplay review of Dead Island. This game is a cavalcade of bugs and bad design choices.
What is this silly word, why did some people get so irritated by it, and why did it fall out of use?
The story of me. If you're looking for a picture of what it was like growing up in the seventies, then this is for you.