the 80's to 90's may have provided great advancements in gaming but all those advancements led to the amazing quality of games we witness today. The developments in this era are vast as there was a huge leap in technology as DVD's replaced CD's as the main format for games. This allowed over 4 times more amount of data to fit on a disc and with the release of the PS2 and Xbox it made way for more powerful machines to fuel the demand for more improved graphics and longer life spans of games.
It was here that i think pressures on the industry began as not only did the PS2 and Xbox allow for normal mapping though it wasn't till later that this was fully utilized for example in games such as 'The Chronicles of Riddick' which at least for me was a landmark title for the industry as it displayed the nearest to next gen graphics and at the same time set the bar very high for other games and there wasn't many games that rivaled its visuals in the last 2 years of the Xbox's lifespan but PS2 topped it with the release of 'Black' which got the most out of the PS2.
The early visuals on the new consoles of the 21st century were not much of a step up from previous consoles but sound quality and game play continued to get better and with the xbox's networking capabilities which came under the name of 'Xbox Live' life span in games increased massively especially in first person games most famously 'Halo 2'. In fact the best way i can display the evolution of graphics and developments is by simple comparison and there is no better representation of this than a video from YouTube provided by Gamespot.
As you can see the difference is amazing but of course with all these advances development teams are put under increasing pressure to deliver high production value games than competitors and with that budgets have got higher and so have production times, even more than that the knowledge expected from employees in the industry has become seriously demanding...
The reason for all this is the consoles of the present day! more powerful than ever and with more memory and even more than that is once again a new format that can hold at least twice as much data as a standard DVD the two formats are HD-DVD (which has now pretty much joined Bettamax in format heaven) the other is Blu-Ray and both of these formats because of memory may take pressure off developers but at the same time increases the pressure on the developers because of just that reason (its a crappy cycle but gives gamers exactly what they want).
The gamers also want HD and with HD comes more detailed textures which is even more of a time consuming process however many artists see it as a chance to better their work as if they are like me they would prefer to put the extra time and effort in and produce top quality stuff that gamers will view and go "wow that looks really really good".
The industry does face other issues other than increasing production values and this is as mentioned before... The increasing production costs especially now more than ever in the current credit crunch means finding publishers to put in these necessary high budgets is getting increasingly harder to do and more work has to be put in to persuade the publishers.
so conclusion is that the 21st century is annoyingly difficult for developers and its only going to get worse as well as by the day technology moves fast!!!