Yesterday night an AMA was held on reddit by an alleged PS4 and Xbox One developer with seven years of experience in the industry on AAA games. He described quite a lot of interesting details about working with Sony and Microsoft.
While the developer did not verify his identity due to NDAs in place, the details he gave were very specific (and very believable), so it’s most likely that they are indeed true (a few verified developers like Dan Marshall also tweeted about it, and it’s very unlikely that they’d contribute to spreading false info which they’re most probably aware of). Below you can find the most relevant between those he shared:
Sony is complex because many companies. from what i understand the business people are more suffering under this but even as a dev you become aware that there is Sony America and Sony Japan for instance. they are doing cool stuff for devs at the moment though and care a lot. As an indie that’s awesome.
Microsoft is a huge institution. not sure what to say about them. they were never easy to work with but now they also suffer from the fact that they are not sure themselves which direction the boat is heading. (for instance the indie stuff they are doing is bizarre. lots of people asked for self publishing for ages as you could see on every single conference they did, but until Sony announced something there the policy that there needs to be a publisher). every interaction with them goes through a proxy person.
Your mileage may vary with either of them and it can change depending on how much they care about you.
Apparently, our developer isn’t very worried about the rumors alleging Microsoft could sell the Xbox One business and about Sony laying off employees:
Quite irrelevant because those companies are not going to go away and even if they would, the market would move somewhere else but not disappear.
Sony is not going away, Microsoft is not going away either. nobody is worried about the future of either platform. Multiplatform development is awesome and f2p titles are doing really well on PS4 at the moment with higher ARPU than on PC. if Microsoft would want to sell of their division, someone else will acquire it but they have a new lead and that won’t happen. Mot sure what you want to hear from me. That they are doomed? They are not.
We also get a description of the cloud service offered for free to developers by Microsoft, also mentioning that the big cloud computing promises still aren’t generally offered, but that might change:
It’s basically a dedicated server that is given to you for the duration of one game session. you cannot have any persistence with it unless you serialize your game state out and store it in some other service. But that’s not what you get for free from Microsoft. They might change that apparently but presently it does not exist. It’s quite literally a random dedicated server with a random 64bit cpu but predictable ram.
Generally cloud services exist obviously : P
Just for the record: there is storage but when the server boots it needs to download the state from a remote storage. It cannot run when the game session is finished so you cannot do background tasks.
The requirement for shipping console games can be quite hard to meet, even if shipping a stable game is easier:
Almost all knowledge is something you cannot learn without a dev kit for the stuff I do. that’s because for console titles you need to fulfill very rigid requirements and those are behind NDAs. for instance there are lots of technical requirements that are checked on submission. This includes correct framebuffer sizes, not stalling, not showing a black image for too long etc. Also a lot is knowing people you can ask because you can’t Google your problems.
I think generally console development is vastly easier to ship stable because everybody has the same system but getting all the requirements implemented can be a nightmare.
Our anonymous developer also responded to a question about devkits, sharing a rather funny detail about Xbox One’s development machines:
You compile on PC and run it on your devkit. In case of PS4 it’s straightforward in case of Xbox One the devkit is super wonky. for instance if you unplug it from power it forgets that it’s a devkit and you need to provision it again …
Devkits are usually loans. insignificant cost for an AAAstudio. indies get it for free as far as i know.
His personal preference is definitely working on PS4, even if he does mention that most people prefer DirectX for rendering:
PS4 hands down. The Xbox One devkits are crappy and the software stack is a stupid moving target. they are a software company so they will fix that, but currently it’s just pain.
PS4 feels familiar even though different architecture [compared to PS3]. Xbox One is tricky. Rendering wise i don’t care much, I don’t write that stuff. Pretty sure most people prefer DirectX.
We also get some detail on how programming on two platforms at once works:
It’s not rocket science. You just put some layers in between and connect them properly. The parts that are system specific (platform services, networking, audio, renderer) you write twice.
We use Unreal and various middleware. The bits and pieces you need to write yourself you wrote twice largely. Not the interfaces obviously but the implementation. I’m not saying you write everything twice. There is overlap. But the system specific parts share very little.
Interestingly enough, having shared memory between GPU and CPU helps:
Already last generation you have some shared memory between CPU and GPU. Now you just need to worry less about doing stupid things.
He also mentioned that anything can happen in the competition between the two consoles, as software is what will count the most from this point onward:
If you are looking for an interesting story, there is none. You have two fast consoles one of which is faster than the other one but does not include fancy motion controls. From this point onward software will count and since both will have a long shelf live anything can happen.
Apparently, according to him, console gaming still has a lot of life left in it, and we can expect more in the future:
Initially Microsoft talked about this generation of consoles being the last one but i think that changed. Sony probably aims for same shell life on the tail (for cheap games) but to have a new console ready sooner than that. Sony loves if devs develop for their old consoles because they keep selling them in emerging markets.
Not sure why people think there won’t be a jump. consoles did not look awesome last gen because of PowerPC (if anything despite PowerPC). Consoles look awesome at the end of the generation because clever people find clever algorithms and concepts to exploit them, and because everybody has the same hardware you can trick around. Also you have low-level access to it. Same this generation.
If you’re wondering how hard it is to port from consoles to PC, it really isn’t:
It has never been hard to port games from consoles to PC. Just work.
…yet, working on consoles has some advantages:
The debuggers are awesome and everything is the same. you can ship with crappy hacks and it will still work.
…snd some disadvantages:
Microsoft should stop being a dick about their security policies. they are annoying, a huge waste of time and don’t do much. publishers might think different but for actual developers all that crap is just annoying.
The anonymous developer also mentioned what he likes in the PS4, and what he’d change:
Better WiFi adapter and battery life for the controller. i love the PS4, not much that needs changing. It’s very powerful and it’s well designed. The only thing i really wish would be that Sony would stop pushing for 4k displays because for that there is not enough power in the machine.
He also mentioned that Vita and PS4 are easy to port to, even if he has no direct experience on Vita:
I don’t know, i never touched the Vita. Generally from what i have heard from other people porting to Wita/PS4 is easy as pie when you had previous experience with Sony platforms.
Unfortunately, his comment about the Wii U wasn’t as kind:
When i looked at the Wii U it was madness, but that’s par for the course with Nintendo, so not news. It’s pretty much irrelevant for third party developers. Almost every studio outsources their Wii U ports to some poor guys.
Finally, we learn that generally artists love Unreal Engine, while programmers don’t:
As of recently UE4 is cheap to try. I would look at it. Unreal is hard to judge because programmers hate it but artists love it. I would generally recommend it.
That was definitely a lot to take in. While we have to remember that the developer’s identity hasn’t been verified, it’s hard to find evident flaws in what he says, and it’s also not very difficult to understand why he wouldn’t share his identity. Yet, we should take what he says with the customary grain of salt.
It’ll be interesting to see where this generation will head. The outlook definitely seems positive, and if this developer is to be believed, we have many years of fun and evolution to enjoy.