Xbox Games Grew 77% Over System Life-Cycle, Suggests 360 DVDs Are (Mostly) Big Enough for Next-Generation
Editor's Note: This article was originally published with the claim that Xbox titles grew in filesize by 56% between 2001 and 2005. This was a miscalculation on our part, as the actual growth was 77%. We apologize for the mistake, and offer thanks to our readers that were kind enough to point out our error. The data the percentage was based on is still accurate. We admit that this weakens the premise of the article, but it is also only part of the author's reasoning. Please read the article and draw your own conclusions.Microsoft's Perceived Mistake:
Since the Xbox 360 uses the same DVD9 media format as the original Xbox, Microsoft has been accused by some of being left behind.
Without the additional storage capacity of new formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs, some gamers have been concerned that game developers will have troubles making next generation games on the Xbox 360.
Even if the first generation of 360 games are able to fit on the DVD9 format, people argue, there is little room for games to grow over time.
But is DVD9 really too small?
The debate about Microsoft's decision to stick with DVD9 is commonly seen on public forums, but often without much data to support either side. Before you can intelligently decide if you think the DVD9 format is inadequate for the Xbox 360's purpose, you have to know some less-than-common information. How big are
Xbox 360 games, for example? How much will the average Xbox 360 game's filesize grow over the course of the system's life-cycle? Did the original Xbox ever really make use of the storage format, or is there additional room for expansion?
Without knowing the answer to these questions, an intelligent debate on the subject is nearly impossible. We Attempt to Answer:
We find that there is often a misconception about how big an Xbox 360 or Xbox title really is. For example, people often assume that Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has a large filesize since it contains an extremely large gaming environment. However, Morrowind is actually one of the smallest games on the Xbox, only 900 megabytes big.
In this article, we attempt to provide some concrete numbers to educate the debate between Microsoft's use of the DVD9 and HDDVD formats, and Sony's use of Blu-ray discs.
We take a look at the known sizes of first-generation Xbox 360 titles, and how much space they actually use on the DVD9 format. Then, by averaging the year-over-year filesize of the original Xbox's games released in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005, we figure out exactly how much Xbox titles have grown over the course of the console's life-cycle.
Assuming trends hold true, we then make an educated guess at whether or not the DVD9 format is really in danger of being restricting, or whether or not the entire debate is a bit of a red herring.The Red Herring of Disc Worries:
When rumors surfaced a few months back that one of the upcoming Xbox 360 titles encompassed four 8.5 gigabyte discs while in development, people speculated that it was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The Elder Scrolls series has become famous for its massive gaming environments.
We now know that Oblivion will fit on one disc. This isn't surprising, since Oblivion makes use of one of the technologies that Microsoft emphasizes on the Xbox 360 called Procedural Synthesis, which we discuss later.
More significantly, it started making gamers worry. What would be cut from the game to make it fit on a cost-saving single disc? They Grow a Little, They Shrink a Little:
Take a look at this side-by-side screenshot comparison of Azurik
, a first generation Xbox title, and Far Cry, which released in 2005. Games obviously become more complex. Gamers often look at these comparisons and assume that as games improve, they naturally grow in file size.
Except that's not absolutely true. As programmers get better at developing games, they figure out how to do more with less resources. Compression routines improve over time, and multimedia formats become smaller (such as the development of the mp3 and DivX formats).
In fact, while Far Cry is substantially better than Azurik in terms of graphics, A.I., and gameplay, it's only about 500 megabytes larger in file size. In terms of the DVD9 disc, 500 megabytes only claims an additional 6% of the medium's storage capacity.
That's hardly the overwhelming growth people seem to anticipate.
Far Cry is not the only title to see this sort of limited growth. In fact, as programmers optimize code, it's not uncommon for programs to shrink. The original MechAssualt was 3.42 gigabytes, but MechAssualt 2 was only 2.29, a nearly 33% reduction
in size. Yet MechAssualt II is considered a better looking game. Grand Theft Auto III is a paltry 733 megabytes, compared to Grand Theft Auto Vice City's still paltry 1.2 gigs. Silent Hill 2 clocked in at 4.88 gigs. It's sequel, Silent Hill 4, is only 3.16 gigabytes.
In the case of Silent Hill, the original game is 53% larger than its equally complex sequel, which runs contrary to the idea that games will grow larger over time.
The first Prince of Persia occupied 2.44 gigs, the second 2.88, an increase of only 18%. Knights of the Old Republic went from 3.65 gigs in the first installment to 3.99 gigs in the second, a 9% increase. The Splinter Cell series went from 3.71 gigs in the first to 3.05 gigs in Pandora's Tomorrow, a reduction
of 18% (though it should be noted that Chaos Theory, after switching development houses, ballooned into one of the largest games on the Xbox at 5.62 gigabytes).
So the assumption that games, by their nature, grow in size as they evolve is not absolutely true. They do become more complex, but not necessarily at the expense of filesize. Figuring Out Average Xbox Growth, Year-Over-Year:
We have no real way of predicting how much Xbox 360 titles will grow over time, but we do know how fast Xbox titles grew. If Xbox 360 titles increase in size at a similar rate, we can make some educated guesses about how restricting DVD9s will become.
We began by averaging the filesizes of the top rated 50 to 100 games released for the Xbox in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005.
After determining a rate of growth, we can then apply those numbers to the Xbox 360 launch titles, and see if Microsoft's DVDs can really hold the data they're going to have to. How Big are the Xbox 360 Launch Titles?:
To start, we need to know how big the Xbox 360 launch titles are. How much space are early games taking up, and how much room do they have to grow?
A few weeks ago, the Xbox 360 modding community figured out a way to pull raw data dumps from the Xbox 360 discs, giving the scene access to their raw sizes. Unfortunately, we don't have the data for every game in the launch line-up; in fact, we only have the data from 4, which is hardly statistically representative. Still, we work with what we have.
These are the sizes that we know:
- Condemned: 3.9 GB
- Madden 06 NFL: 3.3 GB
- Dead or Alive 4: 5 GB
- NBA 06: 4.5 GB
Average: 4.18 GB or 49% of the DVD9 capacity.
Based on these four numbers, the starting Xbox 360 titles appear to be occupying about half of a DVD9. Therefore, if their expected growth is more than double their size, an increase of 100%, then the DVD9 format is obviously inadequate. The Size Growth of the Xbox:
Much more information is available about the sizes of games on the original Xbox. We were able to determine the sizes of all 34 titles launched with the system in 2001, most of the sizes for the top 80 games - according to GameRankings.com - released in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and about half the top games released in 2005.
To start with, the original Xbox also uses DVD9s to store data, just like the Xbox 360. It's important to note not only the size of the games, but the percentage of space taken up by the average title.
What you find is this:
- Average for 2001: 1.81 gigs (21% of disc)
- Average for 2002: 2.17 gigs (25% of disc)
- Average for 2003: 2.47 gigs (29% of disc)
- Average for 2005: 3.20 gigs (37% of disc)
Total size increase between 2001 and 2005 was: 77%Click here to see this in chart form.
The largest known U.S. released Xbox game on our list was RalliSport Challenge 2 (released in May of 2004) at 6.19 gigs, and used 72% of the Xbox DVD9 capacity. On the list of games released for the Xbox that we were able to identify sizes for, only 26 out of over nearly 800 games used more than half of the DVD9 capacity. That's about 3% of Xbox titles. Will the DVD9 Be Enough For the Xbox 360?:
Over the course of its life, the size of the average Xbox title increased by 77%. If the Xbox 360 size increases at the same rate, and the four 360 titles are representative of the whole, we can expect the average Xbox 360 title in 4 or 5 years to be around 7.40 gigs, and to occupy about 87% of the disc's capacity. If the largest game deviation is the same as the Xbox, with the largest game being 3 gigabytes larger than the 2005 average, then games will be exceeding the upper limit of what the medium is capable of.
However, if the proportions hold true between systems, such limitations will only effect about 3% of games made for the Xbox 360. Additionally, we'd guess that if you look at those 26 titles that exceed average size on the Xbox, you'd find that size is not an indicator of quality, either in graphical quality or storyline. No one would accuse Doom 3 of being worse looking than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but it's almost 3 gigabytes smaller (Terminator 3: 5.67 gigs; Doom 3: 2.957 gigs). Half-life 2, for example, is only 2 gigabytes.
Large games may simply be the result of poorly optimized programming, not an indication that they couldn't be smaller if they had to be, and still deliver the same experience. Logical Errors in High Definition:
One reason that people worry about the Xbox 360's ballooning game size is the transition to high definition graphics. People argue that since HD requires much higher resolutions, games could not possibly exist without an 8x increase in size (the 8x is based on fairly logical assumptions). There is a really easy way to dispute this. NBA 2K6, King Kong, and NHL 2K6 are all games that exist on the Xbox and Xbox 360. The only difference between the two systems is that the Xbox 360 is in high definition and with completely reworked graphics. If such a change to HD graphics really required at least 8 times more space, none of these games would be able to ship on a single Xbox 360 disc.
All of them, of course, do. Sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in the extreme, but it rarely follows through as badly as people might predict. Other Elements That Play in Microsoft's Favor:
There are two other elements that make it difficult to predict how fast game sizes will increase, and they both play in Microsoft's favor. XNA and Procedural Synthesis.
XNA is a development tool that Microsoft introduced in 2004. XNA helps developers build games more quickly and more efficiently. XNA represents a refinement of everything that has been learned developing for the Xbox, which has an architecture that is very similar to the Xbox 360. As a new development tool, it represents a change in the way that game developers might program, and how it impacts on filesize is an unknown factor.
Editor's Note: After the initial publication of this article, we received an e-mail from Brian Keller, a Microsoft Product Manager who works on the XNA development tools. He's written an excellent and detailed post about how the XNA development tools influence final game sizes. We encourage you to read the detailed explanation of how this works, but generally speaking Brian confirms that XNA really does seem to help reduce the number of unused assets that float around during development, cluttering things up and ultimately leading to bloated programs. One example he uses is MechCommander 2, which it turns out shipped with an astonishing 40% of its textures never used during the final build of the game. XNA helps to limit this sort of underutilized scattering of textures by providing more efficient managing tools, among other things. If you're interested in this sort of discussion, his post is worth reading.
- Procedural Synthesis:
Procedural synthesis is has a great deal of potential to effect the Xbox 360's filesizes. In short, procedural synthesis is a way of producing graphics that Microsoft has pushed heavily with the introduction of the Xbox 360, including specific hardware functions designed to do handle procedural synthesis. It uses algorithms to produce high quality graphics out of extremely small files. For the best example of what procedural synthesis can do, check out .kkrieger, which means Warrior in German. This first person shooter is built almost entirely from procedural graphics, and as a consequence occupies about 96 Kilobytes of space. Yes, the game responsible for this screenshot here, here, and here could fit almost 14 copies on an old-fashioned 1.4 megabyte floppy disk.
You can download a beta version of this game from the developer's website here, but be warned that it's fairly buggy, and meant more as a technology demonstration than anything else.
Procedural synthesis is the reason that Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has such brilliant forests. Oblivion makes use of a technology called SpeedTree, a middleware product for procedurally generating forests and foliage. You can see other examples of their software in screenshots here, here, and here.
Much debate has gone into whether or not the DVD9 format is too small for next generation titles. Looking over the data, it's fairly evident that in fact DVD9 is not too small for next generation games as much as it was too big for the last generation's. Very few games on the original Xbox came close to pushing the limits of the DVD9 format, leaving plenty of room for growth for the Xbox 360.
Undoubtedly, games will grow. However, technology designed to keep them small and compact will grow as well. In many ways, the debate over Microsoft's handling of the DVD9 and HDDVD formats is simply a matter of a red herring. People see it and worry about it, but there is little data to suggest there will actually be a problem with it.
The PS3 will be able to store more data with their blu-ray discs, but that won't necessarily mean that they'll be any less limited in their creativity. It might simply give developers more room to be sloppy in their programing.