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QuakeCon 2007: An Audience With John Carmack

During the QuakeCon keynote which revealed a lot else besides, id legend John Carmack sauntered out on stage for a fascinating set of comments about id's next project Rage, s

August 6, 2007

5 Min Read

Author: by Howard Wen, Texas

During the QuakeCon keynote which revealed a lot else besides, id legend John Carmack sauntered out on stage for a fascinating set of comments about id's next project Rage, software patents, tech, and the DS, and Gamasutra was there to capture his in-depth remarks. Carmack began by admitting that over the years his keynotes at QuakeCon have fallen into a formula: He makes additional product and technology announcements, talks technical stuff, and fields questions from the audience. Albeit predictable, it's not a bad formula. Holding a microphone, which he never wavered with, Carmack simply talked -- and talked. He stands, then sits on a stool, and keeps on talking. John Carmack does not do showmanship or build drama. What you get instead are oodles of details about the technology that he is working on, his random thoughts about the state of the games industry from a development and technological view, and what technologies are currently obsessing him. Going Inside Rage A video was shown of new footage from that "racing game" demo which was first premiered at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year. It had the distinction of both surprising and confounding the WDC attendees: What the hell was id Software doing making a racing game? Carmack assured QuakeCon-goers that this new game would incorporate "run-and-gun" play elements for which his company has been known. Indeed, the new footage showed (briefly) first-person shooting perspectives. Carmack revealed the game's name, which follows what appears to be an id tradition of having one-word titles: Rage. The setting is a post-apocalyptic desert world. Imagine a first-person version of Grand Theft Auto set in the world of The Road Warrior/Mad Max movies. Rage is being built upon what will be id's next-generation graphics engine, id Tech 5, which will be multi-platform on the PC and consoles. The Lost Id Title - Darkness Originally, id had been working on an entirely different concept to premiere id Tech 5 on -- one that Carmack described as a survival-horror game set on a mysterious island. Codenamed "Darkness", this idea never came together to his satisfaction and was dumped. One aspect about Rage which drew greater applause than the subdued reaction to an earlier announcement of a Wolfenstein movie being directed by Silent Hill movie writer Roger Avary: Rage will showcase brightly lit, outdoor environs. Carmack jokingly acknowledged this was in response to the criticism id has gotten over the years for fixating on making games set in dark, barely lit worlds, like Doom 3. Obsession? Carmack Plus DS! From there, Carmack elaborated upon his current obsessions, which can be summed up to two things: mobile gaming (particularly on the Nintendo DS) and latency. In fact, Carmack used the words "mobile" and "latency" a lot more than "PS3," "Xbox 360" or even "Wii." Carmack said that id aims to develop more in a cross-platform manner through a "porting up" process, starting from the least graphically powerful hardware platform to the highest. He described the typical porting process, where a console or PC game is "cut down" in order to fit on a smaller, mobile device as "degrading." "Porting up is wonderful," Carmack enthused. Though his company and Nintendo over the years have not gotten along too well (Nintendo being skittish about the level of violence in id's shooters), Carmack was sounding off much love for the DS. For his most recent programming retreat, when he locks himself in a hotel room and just concentrates on programming for his own amusement, he delved into the DS developer's kit. He described developing for mobile devices as "retro coding" in the good sense and a lot of fun, and the experience recalling for him the early days of his career. He even did core engine coding for the DS version of Orcs & Elves. He announced that id was developing a "Quake Arena type" of game for the DS. The Issues With Latency On the other end of the technology scale, he's starting to look into the issue of latency -- researching the hardware and code elements and other factors that hold back graphical and gameplay responsiveness to player input. The eventual goal of his research will be to achieve "highly responsive gaming" by figuring out ways to knock down latency. So -- rejoice FPSers -- your favorite USB mouse which robs a millisecond of your precious graphics card's framerate could be no longer an issue, if Carmack has his way. Carmack's Betes Noires Among the things that Carmack isn't too happy or excited about: - Nvidia's and ATI's 3D graphics chips for mobile devices. Generally, he is disappointed with the slow evolution of 3D graphic technologies on mobile phones. And as far as Java is concerned, he called it a "good attempt at making something run at a tenth of the speed it should." - The iPhone. Carmack wants Apple to allow its new mobile phone platform to have an open development environment. He described arguing with Steve Jobs about this, and Jobs explained to him that the closed environment was necessary to maintain "security" for the platform. Carmack flatly said (to the audience) he didn't believe Jobs. Regardless of his differences with Jobs, Carmack thinks the iPhone is "neat," and has assigned some of his people to look into developing for it. - Software patents. An audience member asked him about his thoughts. John Carmack does not like them. He calls the idea of software patent infringement a "sham." He tries not to think about -- or concern himself much with -- this controversial issue, because doing so just "depresses him." Conclusion In the end, Carmack's keynote suggested personal introspection: He doesn't see his interest in mobile and handheld devices as a technological step-back. Rather, it appears he views mobile gaming today as fondly as those early days of his career. The technology then might not have been so great, but the possibilities were and, for Carmack, so was the fun.

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