One continual problem that games have to cope with on modern game consoles is the speed with which data can be loaded from modern high-capacity storage devices (generally some form of optical disc). As games have become larger and larger, it takes longer and longer to load the data from the disc. CDs, DVDs, UMDs, and BluRay discs are fantastic for storing lots of data, but they’re typically painfully slow at accessing that data.
On XBox 360 and PS3, the solution which they’re taking to the problem is to optionally install the game data to the console’s built-in hard disk. This means that they can still use the standard DVD-based authentication (like it or not), but enjoy the faster data access times of loading data from the system’s fixed hard disk. One of the first games to actually do this was Capcom’s Devil May Cry 4, which is notable by Capcom’s blog immortalising the phrase “Make a sandwich and grab a soda”, to refer to almost any lengthy automated process which must be endured before the player can actually begin playing.
In MMORPG Tycoon 2, the world map is about 400 square kilometers of terrain, within which the player can craft his MMORPG world. The initial state of this terrain is all procedurally generated (although it can be modified by the player at any time). The procedural generation process is slightly slow; if I generate all 400 square kilometers of terrain at the time when the MMORPG is first created, it takes almost a minute to calculate on my laptop, and creates about 120 megabytes of “cache” files (and both of these numbers are likely to rise, as development continues and the procedural generation becomes more sophisticated). An alternate approach would be to let the player begin playing immediately, and instead generate and cache areas the first time the player actually looks at them. This would lead to some stuttering the first time the player visited any particular part of his world, instead of the single monolithic “install” of his MMORPG world when he starts a new game.
What do people think? If given the choice between occasionally stuttering gameplay, and a potentially lengthy startup process when starting a new game, do you have a preference?