After Bethesda's comments caused a stir last week about whether or not the Xbox 360's lack of a constant hard drive will deter developers from really using the unit, TeamXbox decided to find yet another source for comment. In an interview with Mark Rein
, Vice President of Epic Games (creators of Gears of War and the Unreal Engine 3), TeamXbox tried to get more concrete answers about how the Xbox 360 hard drive would effect or not effect games on the system. And the Answer is...
When asked about whether or not the lack of a hard drive would force the developers to design for a "lowest common denominator", Mark Rein replied that, "We've designed the streaming system in Unreal Engine 3 with the expectation that we wouldn't have a hard drive at our disposal..."
That translates into, "Designing for the lowest common denominator." Before you start panicking, Mr. Rein is talking about the Unreal Engine 3, which is designed to be multiplatform and adaptable to the wants of the developers using the engine; to make it run only with a hard drive would be completely outside its purpose.
Mark Rein goes on to say that the Unreal Engine 3 was designed to run off of no-write media, like a DVD, and that the increase in the Xbox 360's memory from 256 to 512 megabytes was a far greater victory for them.
While the response is valid, it's also somewhat amusing to realize that, basically, when asked if games on the Xbox 360 would be better with a hard drive then without a hard drive, Epic Games replied: We designed with no hard drive in mind. It runs fine.
Which, you know, doesn't really answer the question about whether not having the hard drive could
make the game better. No easy answer:
It would be nice if someone would come out and say yes or no to the question, "Are there any features you would be putting into your game if every Xbox 360 had a hard drive that you are not because that isn't the case?"
So far, developers seem to be suggesting that they're building on the assumption that there is no hard drive. This meshes with Microsoft's requirements that every game on the Xbox 360 be capable of playing with or without a hard drive. The concrete answer that seems to be coming out of the industry is, "We knew we were developing for no hard drive. Don't worry about it." To hard drive, or not to hard drive:
I'm honestly questioning how valuable the hard drive is going to be, now. Another of GamesFirst's editors asked me, "If the games run fast enough, why does it matter if the system's are not using the hard drive for caching? If they run well enough, what's the matter with that?"
I think that's a really good question. To me, it boils down to this: If I pay an extra hundred dollars for the hard drive, what will I get for it? In essence, that's the question that's being posed when we ask if a game will be noticeably better with or without a hard drive, and developers don't appear to be stepping up and saying, "You really need to buy this. Because of these reasons here. And this reason. And all these other reasons."
The elements I love the most about Xbox Live can be adequately addressed with memory cards of decent size, and internal memory far smaller than 20 gigabytes. Are we being sold the hard drive as a red herring; an expansion that's as useful as the PS2 hard drive, meaning almost worthless outside of one or two very specific games?
Two weeks ago I wasn't questioning which version of the Xbox 360 I would be picking up. There was going to be a hard drive in it. Now, I'm seriously wondering if the Xbox 360 hard drive is going the way of the PS2 hard drive, which was ignored by all but Final Fantasy. If I'm wrong, it's just a $100 fix, and that's the same amount I'll save on the initial purchase.