Awhile back I played a game called Last Rebellion. It was from a small developer who had almost entirely worked on handheld games prior, as well as being a Niche developer even in their native Japan. The game wasn’t great, but it had some interesting ideas and was enjoyable at its $40 price.
What struck me about the game was the reviews it got. Nearly every one trashed the game about its graphics. These people didn’t get the point of a niche game on the Playstation 3. The graphics were bad compared to AAA PS3 games, but they were actually better than most PS2 and PSP games. The common complaint of “Why wasn’t this made on the PSP or PS2” is pointless and actively harmful to the niche community because it sends a message that unless it has excellent AAA level graphics we’re going to trash it. Thus, many of these games might not be made at all because of the increasing cost of making AAA games.
Many a developer has bemoaned the cost of producing games for modern platforms. Because those games need near universal appeal. This has lead to AAA gaming narrowing in focus and genre to the point where most people now have interests that are under served in AAA. This means that all of those under served niche interests have money, though not enough to support a AAA game, and there is money to be made in catering to them. During the PS2 era there was a rise in these sorts of niche games. Disgaea is one good example of a game where the graphics could have been done in the PS1 era, but it came out for the PS2 and had an excellent following build up around it.
While newer hardware means longer development times to make a bleeding edge game, it’s also an enabler for less bleeding edge games to be made with a smaller development team. The beefier your hardware and the lower your polish requirements, the more you can bring in the work of others in to save time. The more you can be lazy and not spend lots of time tuning everything and still have it run fast. A game like Ijiwould have been AAA back in the early 90’s and taken a medium sized team to develop. Instead, because of the power of the hardware that he had at his disposal, the developer managed to build it solo. Stardock has made a living building games with simple but scalable graphics on the cheap, and selling enough of them to make a decent profit. Are stardock’s games ultra-crysis-shiny? No, they don’t need to be.
Using even more abstraction enabled by powerful hardware, games like Little big planet 2 allow someone to produce a simple game in hours rather than days, by reusing simple tools and premade graphics developed by others.
At the same time, added hardware can even make something look better even though it was made for lower hardware. Look at the SNES emulators and their graphics filters. Look at the PS1 emulators that were out for the PC. Even though the game doesn’t use all of the power of the new system, they still benefit from the larger hardware.
The first thing we need to do is bap the reviewers over the head so they stop trying to apply AAA standards to budget and niche games…