Following on from last week's chat about the merits of id Tech 5, here's the second part of our QuakeCon interview with Steve Nix, touching on Rage, Quake Zero's development and the growth of team two, id's relationships with Nintendo and Sony and how they see themselves - as a tech developer or a game developer.
Eurogamer: Are you still going to be with Activision for Rage?
Steve Nix: We haven't actually made any kind of publishing announcement for Rage, but historically we've had a great relationship with Activision - they've been the publisher of many of our recent games, but the way it works out is that we don't do long-term publishing deals, so every time we go to choose a publisher for our next title, it's always a new conversation. We'll go out and talk to the top candidates and talk about what their offer might be, and every time it's a new discussion. We generally self-fund our own projects and that's what we're doing right now with Rage and so we haven't made any kind of decision there.
Activision - we've shipped a lot of games with them, and they've done a good job over the years, but I honestly don't know who the next publisher's going to be.
Eurogamer: Are you looking at digital distribution for Rage?
Steve Nix: We're not exactly sure when Rage is going to be finished, but we've got enough time where we can sort that out, because we don't even know who our publisher's going to be yet. So that would all be part of that discussion and what digital distribution platforms it might go to is completely undecided.
Eurogamer: At E3, Todd told us that you were staffing up and that one of the key goals was alleviating some of the burden that is on John Carmack by taking some of the tools work away, for instance. What else is being delegated away, and what's the impact of that been so far?
Steve Nix: It's interesting - it's not really delegated away, it's just that we have tools now [laughs]. Clearly our internal developers were looking for certain tools, and licensees are looking for a strong suite of tools these days, and so for this round of technology we needed to hire tools programmers and needed to have the best tools available for both internal and external developers. It's not so much that John's being pulled away because John primarily will write the core rendering and that's still what he's doing - we just have more parts of the engine that are being developed by other engineers.
Eurogamer: Almost as big an announcement as Rage was the second team and Quake Arena project. How does that impact on what you do, first of all, since it's a different area of technology?
Steve Nix: With Quake Zero, the foundation there is Quake 3, but what we're doing is we have an internal team - a second team - that's seeded with people who are id veterans, and then we're hiring the best and the brightest minds to join that team, making sure that they're id quality, and also that they have the id state of mind about the way they work, and we're being very careful about who we choose, but generally it's not difficult for us to hire because a lot of people want to come work for id.
We're building that team up and as far as the technology goes it's Quake 3, but it's modified to have a front-end in a web-browser where you launch the game. And they've already done a lot of the architectural work - the way the game loads - where it's primarily just shifting the file structures and everything, but the game loads very very quickly, so basically you've never played it on a given machine, you can go to the web-browser, click 'play' and almost instantly get into a game.
Though it is loading to your machine in the background, there's not going to be a lot of wait time or an install process and everything. The idea is people can quickly jump into a game - you know, they change computers at work and they want to jump in, there's not a lot of wait time and messing around with installing and loading and those typical PC headaches. But that's primarily the web front-end and file structure and loading and everything - that's where a lot of the work is.
We're going to do some enhancements, but we're not rewriting the game trying to bring it up to id Tech 5 quality or anything.
Eurogamer: That's obviously a very new idea, having a fully functional FPS game running in a web-browser. I was wondering whether that's something that will become -
Steve Nix: Well it'll be launched from a web browser. It's not going to be written in Java or really running in the web browser.
Eurogamer: One of the guys on our forum said, 'Please. Not. Flash.'
Steve Nix: Right [laughs], that's not going to happen.
Eurogamer: But the technology that you're putting into that - that you're creating with that strategy - is that something you might look into licensing out?
Steve Nix: Right now there's been no discussion of trying to license out. There may be someone who's interested and we license to them, and actually that's interesting because we haven't even talked about that.
And then that [Zero] rolls into what we're planning to do with the next Arena that John mentioned. That's obviously going to be next next-generation, as what we like to refer to id Tech 5 as - it's really beyond what's currently described as next-generation. It's going to be id Tech 5 level quality rendering, but as far as what the guts of the game-code area, that's a discussion we're still having - you know, are we going to try and have literally the game code from Quake 3 as a foundation? Because people really really liked the movement speed and the way Quake 3 just feels, and a lot of that's low-level kernel code - so we do we start with that and do id Tech 5 rendering? That's something we're discussing right now. But that'll be decided as the team develops Quake Zero and we get closer to releasing that product.
Eurogamer: Another thing from last night is the way that John talked about how the multi-platform approach means your graphics won't be at the absolute cutting edge any more - at least not in the way they were before - because of the need to be the same across four formats. How has that felt internally to know that's going to be different now?
Steve Nix: Graphically we think we'll be bleeding edge, because we think we're going to have the best-looking games possible with id Tech 5, but what he means by not really cutting edge is we're not going to be just hammering all of the parts of your computer like we would have previously been, just because the way that the MegaTexture approach works is so unique in that it really doesn't hammer your video memory the way a previous id title would have done.
So it's cutting edge yes, but not quite as hardware-resource-intensive particularly when it comes to video memory. But at the same time, you still benefit from a strong GPU, there's a lot of stuff with the way virtual textures load - there's less of a chance that you'll get a block that's slightly lower fidelity - so if you want the highest fidelity version of the game and absolutely want to make sure it's cutting-edge-perfect all the time, you want the strongest video card possible, and that'll remain the same.
Eurogamer: So it doesn't feel like there's been any sort of philosophical shift there, then.
Steve Nix: Not really. The main thing is I think texture memory, and the shift there. But at the same time, clearly we talk to graphics card manufacturers about several generations beyond where they're at right now, and clearly with what John would like to do with virtualised polygons, that's something where obviously there's going to be discussions with the GPU manufacturers if there's enhancements and things they should be doing in the hardware to support that effort.
Eurogamer: One of the things that was noticeable was the sheer volume of announcements - is that everything you're working on?
Steve Nix: There's still plenty of stuff that we have that we're thinking about. John even alluded to some things that we are sort of thinking about - a Quake Arena product for the DS, for example. Those other products, like Quake Zero, those are all things that are obviously really happening, but some of those things he just alluded to are top-of-mind things that we might take on next. And he already said kind of what we're thinking with id Tech 6. So the things that are really happening, I'd say they're all out in the open right now. But the things we're just thinking about, we've already alluded to a few of them.
Eurogamer: Something John mentioned a couple of times last night was how his eyesight's failing him, and made me wonder how long he plans to stick with all this. Is there a plan for what happens when he gives up?
Steve Nix: It's actually funny - I've actually heard that another technology licensor has hinted to potentially licensees that John's getting out of the business and everything. None of us have those discussions with John, but the fact we're already talking about id Tech 6 and Orcs & Elves on the Wii and all these things...I don't see a person who's not enthusiastic. I mean, he seemed pretty enthusiastic to me, and doesn't look like a guy who's going anywhere any time soon.
We've still got some time on Rage, and id Tech 6 is going to take a little while to go. Everyone seems excited and happy about what they're doing, so that's not something any of us are concerned about.
Eurogamer: One thing that was noticeable was that you're supporting every single platform other than PSP and PSN. Is there a reason for that? I would have thought that the latter particularly would have been excellent fodder for the stuff you've been doing on Xbox Live Arcade.
Steve Nix: John had actually thought about PSP initially, and then sort of started getting more interested in the DS - and that's not a knock on the PSP, it's just there were some interesting gameplay options for Orcs & Elves with the DS.
The PSP is definitely something we've thought about, but as far as Sony's Network - we've nothing against the network or anything, we just haven't had those discussions internally. We'd love to talk to Sony and find out...we've talked to them a little bit, but we'd love to find out more specifically to look at our games and see what makes sense. We haven't talked to them in depth about options, but you shouldn't be surprised if we do something with them.
Eurogamer: How close are you with Nintendo?
Steve Nix: Historically not very close. As a matter of fact, before my time there were evidently some products that were a challenge, where id was this action, fast-paced mature-rated game developer, and Nintendo had different ways of thinking about things. We put out a number of products with Nintendo over the years - ports of our older games and stuff - but it wasn't a great relationship.
But I think it just...we didn't have that much relationship with Nintendo, but I think we're at the point now especially with Orcs & Elves on the DS and some of the things John would like to see on the Wii that we need to re-establish that relationship. I mean, right now we don't have any issues with Nintendo, it's just that we don't have much relationship with them either.
Eurogamer: They've obviously been building up since the Wii catapulted them back to the fore -
Steve Nix: Yeah, it's been an amazing success.
Eurogamer: But the other thing about the Wii is when Satoru Iwata announced the Wii Remote he made the point of referencing first-person shooters and how much this could lend to that experience. I was curious as to whether you guys really agreed with that, because certainly my experience with FPS on Wii so far has been mixed.
Steve Nix: Yeah, I haven't seen any great FPS implementation on the Wii yet.
Eurogamer: Do you think there's one in there to be found?
Steve Nix: I think there could be, and honestly we would have to get in and figure out what the id technology solution was for the Wii because it's not id Tech 5 without some major work. We'd have to figure out what the base technology was, and then we'd have to start playing with it and figuring out...you know, the things John was talking about, like putting an oscilloscope between the monitor and the mouse [laughs]. Completely over my head, but those are the kind of things we'd have to look at.
We're very careful with the way our games feel, with the player movement, with the animation, and we would want to spend a lot of time making sure that that game felt right, and if we didn't think we could get there we just wouldn't release a game on the Wii. Like, we wouldn't release an FPS on the Wii unless we could get that feel right. So, I don't know why people have struggled with it, but, if we did it, it would have to feel right.
Eurogamer: Do you see yourselves as more of a tech developer than a game developer?
Steve Nix: No, we very much see ourselves as a game developer. The most important part of our business is the games we develop and the IP that we develop - not only the internal stuff but the external stuff we're doing, as with Splash Damage right now. And of course the announcement last night that Wolfenstein multiplayer is being developed by Threewave.
Game development is the main thing we do. It just so happens that along the way while we're developing games, we have one of the greatest engineering minds in the world developing the core technology and he is very pure about the way he writes technology and it's extremely elegantly written solutions that...generally it's very...it's not easy but it's a great basis to create another high quality game with.
I'd say the technology is more of a byproduct of our game development - we're definitely not a technology house that happens to develop games. We're a game house that has technology that happens to be a great licensing solution.
Steve Nix is director of business development for id Software.