Ubisoft Massive's managing director David Polfeldt is a big fan of next generation consoles, but that's not simply because there's more in the way of RAM and processing power to play with. Speaking to VentureBeat this week, Polfeldt discussed the relative accessibility and efficiency of new, PC-ish console hardware, suggesting that this has made life much easier for smaller teams.
"For us it's a generation of consoles that are enormously developer-friendly," he observed. "They're also quite similar in structure, which means that we can spend a lot less time on making adaptations to get the same result. I'd say 20 percent of the dev time on current-gen hardware used to be, or still is, spent just making sure it runs on both platforms. Now you can spend most of that time on the game instead.
"It sounds stupid, but the way I described it once was that on current hardware, for us - although maybe this is because we're not used to it - it's like if you're a painter and you have a great idea, but first you're faced with having to make a brush and paint from scratch. There's a great distance between the idea and what the hand can create. To me, the next generation is reducing that distance very much. Here's a great brush. Here's some great paint. Tell me what you want to do as an artist. It's much more immediate, at least for us."
You no longer need 700+ people to make a game, he explained - the Division team numbers a comparatively modest 200, which is still fairly gargantuan by the standards of an independent studio. Besides being easier to develop for, the Xbox One and PS4 are also very similar, which makes multiplatform work less laborious. "The Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 are quite similar, so if you're generous, you could say that's one project."
It's now possible to implement and iterate on ideas much more rapidly, Polfeldt continued. "With this generation, you have a crazy idea in the morning and we could see it up and running the next day. That puts people in a different mindset. They start thinking, 'How do we tell stories in games? Does it have to go gameplay-gameplay-cutscene, or can we do it a different way?' It's not so much the technology as the liberty the technology gives you, the freedom to think more openly about how to solve different issues."
Polfeldt hopes that game storytelling in particular will benefit from the lifting of restrictions. "Talking about the games that have been released, the biggest surprise to me was that very few other games have paid attention to narrative and immersion. Those are the areas where we can go further because of next-gen.
"The first thing you think about, maybe, is graphics - great, we can push more polygons and better effects. But to me, it's also an opportunity to push immersion and narrative. When I saw the games announced at E3, I was surprised that so many competitors went more for the tech-demo stuff. It's an area where some people are maybe not taking advantage of the machines and the dev time and the flexibility. It's a great opportunity to tell stories in a better way and create more immersive experiences."