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Postcard from the GDC 2004: John Carmack's Keynote

John Carmack presented the programming keynote at the GDC 2004: an hour-long, content-packed, Powerpoint-free presentation. The game programming icon expounded on the future of game graphics and game hardware platforms.
Carmack's keynote address at the Game Developers Conference.

Today at GDC John Carmack from Id Software delivered the keynote speech on game programming. The San Jose Civic Auditorium was already filled to capacity when a casually dressed Carmack took the stage, after a short introduction by Chris Hecker. A short introductory video presented Carmack's contribution to the industry, from the games he has created at Id to the numerous advances in graphics rendering technology he has produced. Carmack delivered a one-hour sermon on the state of game technology, the future to come and, obviously, Id's own vision.

Carmack offered no slides or presentation materials, so his talk was truly a one-hour flow of ideas from one of the industry's visionaries, with exceptional structure and coherency. He started by evaluating the change of processing power since he started programming up to today, and said that he believed the evolution to be in the factor of one million. From there tried to ellaborate on what the future may bring, when computers are another million times faster than they are today: what areas will evolve, how will they grow, what to expect from each one, and so on. Some areas of work that Carmack focused his attention on were physics and artificial intelligence. He said he believed realistic and accurate simulations of complete game worlds are looming in the horizon, so what we got with GTA3 may very well be just the beginning.

He recalled in the 1980s how visionaries in the field of computer graphics believed reality could be simulated with 80 million triangles per second. However, according to Carmack, we have reached that level of throughput already (in fact, some cards have already surpassed 100M triangles/second) and our game graphics still lack realism. Carmack believes the lack of realism is not so much due to geometric complexity, but the way we are simulating complex surfaces, including their subtle interaction with light. He forecasted that this would be another major area of work.

He was asked by someone in the audience to give his thoughts on the next generation of hardware, either PC or console-based. Carmack said he was very impressed by some upcoming products, but expressed concern about the return to multi-processor approaches, a strategy which some vendors' seem to be pursuing.

Carmack said he still believes in the power of small, focused teams working on innovative projects. He mentioned that some companies working on downloadable games today have the size and market position Id had in the early days of Wolfenstein, and said he believes that some of these companies could eventually become market leaders given time and a correct strategy.

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