It's been crammed down our throats for years now. Current-generation games development is expensive. So expensive that it stops the little guy from getting the resources together to compete against the big guy.
But is it really? One small start-up based in Canberra, Australia, would beg to differ.
Prophecy Games are currently at work developing Under Pressure, a third-person action game for the Xbox 360 and PS3. It's being built on the Unreal Engine 3, it's got a unique pitch in terms of gameplay mechanics, and it's...currently being developed by eight people.
Those eight people don't even share an office. Prophecy's team is split between Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide and even the US, linked only by remote office software, a move that studio boss Andrew Smith says is "new, but we wanted specific people for the game who weren't in Canberra. Remote let us all come together on the project".
Unique, that, but perhaps most unique about Under Pressure's development is its money. Namely, how Prophecy have come about it. Like I said, current-gen development on a game like this is prohibitively expensive. You're looking at $500,000-$1,000,000 just to put up a demo of your game for a publisher, let alone the costs involved in actually making the game.
For a team whose boss is based in a small city like Canberra, without publisher backing and who don't even share an office, that kind of money should have stopped a project like this dead in its tracks. And it would have, were it not for some industrious cap-in-hand action from Prophecy.
While not as internationally renowned as, say, the Canadian government, there is scope in Australia for government funding of a gaming project. It's difficult to get (evidenced by the fact it took years of lobbying from Prophecy to convince them of the project's merit), but has paid off: the Federal government have chipped in $70,000, while the Australian Capital Territory government (which runs Canberra) contributed a whopping $250,000, a scale of investment unheard of in this country.
That funding (as well as some unpaid work and personal contributions from the developers) helped keep the game alive until about two months ago, when private investment was finally secured. The size and source of that backing hasn't been disclosed, but it's enough to kick the game into bonafide pre-production, and allow the team to start showing the game off.
And it's an ambitious title. The game's premise involves a hijacked ship that, en route to an underwater military base, is sunk. Sunk, and then subject to a plague that turns most of the crew and passengers into zombies. As such, the bulk of the game takes place underwater. Underwater, against zombies.
Players will be able to choose from four different classes (like an RPG) to extend replay value by providing different gameplay experiences (unselected classes will fight alongside you), and for multiplayer, four players will be able to fight through the singleplayer campaign in co-op mode, one player as each of the classes.
Four-player co-op is always great, but perhaps most the most interesting thing about the game mechanics is in the game world itself. Prophecy are promising that the game world - consisting mostly of a sunken ship that's a mile long - will be almost totally destructible. And that destruction will be persistent.
Example: early in the game, you set off a grenade on a staircase. It'll warp and shred the handrails on the stairs, and three hours later, if you return to that staircase, those rails will still be warped. Another, more ambitious example is in the game's use of water: being set underwater, if you blow out a window, a section of the ship will flood. You can check this out in a rough, early tech demo below:
Water will rise slowly as it rushes in from outside, and for the rest of the game, that section of the ship will remain flooded. Sometimes this can be used to flush away enemies, sometimes it'll be a necessity so that you can swim to a previously inaccessible part of the ship.
All sounds great in theory, but it's important to note that, as of writing, Under Pressure hasn't been signed to a publisher. No publisher, no game release. Yet whether this game gets picked up or not, it's example lies not in how many units it may or may not go on to sell.
It lies in how, with a little ingenuity, hard work and sacrifice, developing a game for a current-gen console needn't be as expensive or as intimidating as some would have you believe.