With the launch of next-generation consoles Xbox One and Playstation 4, new attention is being paid to the opportunities that await game developers. Many in the industry are excited by the new possibilities that improved hardware will create, and a number believe that streamlined development may offer new opportunities for smaller shops.
“From a developer point of view, if it’s easy to put our content out, it means better games or games that take less time to produce,” Brianna Code, lead programmer on Ubisoft Montreal’s game Child of Light, told Gamasutra, referring specifically to the changes brought about by more PC-like architectures. “So for us it’s just a big win … And the artists are so much happy (sic), because they have tools, they can change stuff, they can prototype their ideas much faster. And also the next gen is bringing more connectivity tools, more integrated things, so it’s fun to try ideas on that.”
Another factor helping smaller studios break through is the rise of mobile, middleware executive Felix Roeken noted in an article for Develop. With small and midsize studios in both console and mobile environments, however, striking the right level of innovation is a challenge. To meet underlying technical needs, it’s generally useful to build in middleware, which can handle many specific game elements.
“More and more developers want to focus on developing content for their game, not on building or supporting underlying technology,” Roeken wrote.
Challenges with middleware
Several industry experts noted in a recent panel at Launch Conference that new studios need to be strategic about what middleware they choose to work with, according to Develop. The choice of middleware needs to be closely tailored to the type of game being developed, explained Mike Gamble, EU territory manager of Epic Games. It also should match the existing skills the team has, according to Pixel Toys executive Alex Zoro.
One challenge with middleware is that companies can easily find themselves making their development environment too complex by bringing in too many outside solutions, said Simon Barratt, founder of Four Door Lemon. Conversely, games may struggle to differentiate themselves if they rely too heavily on one engine. Another issue is that flaws in the middleware may not present themselves until late in the development process. One solution can be to build proprietary tools, but this carries its own challenges, Gamble said.
“If you have the right team, it is possible to create proprietary tech,” he noted, according to Develop. “But the growth of the industry has come from using source tech because it’s quicker. Developing proprietary tech is never quick.”
Whether they are dealing with flaws in existing middleware or building their own tech, smaller gaming studios can benefit from source code analysis tools to catch errors and simplify development. By automating bug-finding functions, they can spend more time on building out the creative aspects of the game. Finding the perfect solution may not be realistic, but with source code analysis, it’s possible to integrate existing code more seamlessly and catch errors more effectively.
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