This interview with Tim Sweeney of Epic Games has some eye-watering numbers in it; it's a long, long way from the days when an Amiga 500, with its 512K of RAM and provision for 32 colors on-screen from a palette of 4096, was considered the gaming machine to have.
Tim Sweeney: For the third generation Unreal Engine, we are building two versions of every model in our game. We are building a source model with several million polygons, between 2 and 6 million polygons. We use that model for all the lighting detail on the mesh. Then we go to the in game version which is usually about 10,000 polygons. So we get the lighting detail of the full high polygon mesh baked down into a normal map that gets rendered in game on a low polygon mesh. The normal maps are typically 2k by 2k.
BU: UT2004 required 5.5 gigs of hard drive space to install. This has got to be a strain a lot of people's systems. So you're talking 2048 x 2048 texture sets, what kind of system and memory is this next game going to take?
TS: Well, we are aiming at the kind of PC that we think will be mainstream in 2006. We will also be able to scale it down. Basically DirectX 9 cards will be minimum spec, so any DirectX 9 shipping today will be capable of running our game, but probably at reduced detail. If you only have a 256 meg video card you will be running the game one step down, whereas if you have a video card with a gig of memory then you'll be able to see the game at full detail.
1 GB of RAM on a video card? I don't think such monstrous cards even exist at present, or even will for quite a few years yet! And here I was thinking how l33t I was, all because my video card had an awe-inspiring 128 MB of RAM on it.
One thing though: for all the gigantic numbers being thrown around by game designers these days, I must say that gorgeous graphics aside, the quality and variety of gameplay available nowadays seems to have gone downhill since the days when I was game-addicted teenager, and I don't think it's really a case of fuddy-duddy nostalgia on my part either. There are emulators out there for the Amiga, the SNES, the Sega Megadrive, and nearly every other popular system right up to the Sega Dreamcast; I've played around with these emulators in the recent past, and I find that the games available to run on them really are easier to get into than most of the current fare, and are more rewarding of repeated play to boot.
From where I stand, it's looking more and more as if the entire gaming universe for today's PCs and top-tier consoles has been reduced to two basic varieties of games, the shoot-em-up and the race-car contest. Like Hollywood with its addiction to sequels, and its penchant for substituting ever more impressive special effects for innovative plots wherever possible, the impact of exploding development budgets on the gaming business seems to have been to encourage development houses ever more to play it safe, and go along with the same old hackneyed ideas of yore, tricked out in more and more impressive eye-candy.