John Carmack delivered his annual QuakeCon sermon to devoted id Software worshippers in Texas tonight. Following a few announcements and brief trailers of Rage and Wolfenstein, introduced by CEO Todd Hollenshead, Carmack took the microphone and (after a while) a seat and rambled absorbingly about everything from mobile games and in-game ads to his admiration from Nintendo and his thoughts on the rest of this console generation. Here are few hastily transcribed highlights.
On making Wolf RPG suitable for mobiles
"I hope that Apple winds up scaring the rest of the carrier groups and handheld developers into adopting some of the progressive things that Apple's got there. I can't say I've got really high hopes for that. It's really frustrating dealing with a lot of it. As you may have noticed from the trailer, there's a distinct lack of actual Nazis or Hitler or any of that in the Wolf RPG, because T-Mobile and whoever just get all upset and irritated about such things that might upset their customers, and that is frustrating - it's like very old-days Nintendo. I think Nintendo grew up out of that kind of nanny protectionism sort of thing, and we can hope that the iPhone sends a wake-up signal and the other carriers will start thinking of relaxing some of the limits." [Carmack later says he hopes Wolf RPG will be out on every mobile platform this year.]
On how mobile could be the biggest platform
"iPhone is obviously significant but it's not going to take over the world. There's not going to be a billion iPhones going out there in China and India and all that. The other carriers and the other platforms are still important. When you look at the numbers there, there could wind up being more people playing games on the mobile phone platforms than on all the other platforms put together when you do wind up finding a good commercial infrastructure and hand-me-down hardware going into massive markets like China and India, so we still care about a lot of things there." [Carmack also says he will "at least be looking at" Google's Android mobile OS.]
On why it's "Quake Live" and not "Quake Zero"
"Last year here we announced Quake Zero. This was an idea that had been born mere weeks before QuakeCon. Here we were being a little haphazard about it and I get up and I talk about it and some domain-squatter goes and grabs some of the internet names. They offered us a considered buyout option for it, but we just decided, 'heck, we're only a month into the development of this, we're just going to change the name and avoid paying the little blackmailers'." [Massive cheers obscured his next comment.]
On "the hubris of game developers"
"It's almost good to take some of these little moments of humility where...we were thinking it was going to be a six-month development project, and the gaming side of it really was, but the hubris of game developers! We were like, 'ah this web development stuff can't be all that tough' and that was the thing that really has been the driving factor on the project - making sure of all the crap that web developers know about like making it work on all the different platforms and OS versions. We're working our way through that and have brought in some people with that experience." [Id plans to open the Quake Live beta up to 100-200,000 people "over the next month or so", project lead Marty Stratton said elsewhere in the QuakeCon conference.]
On why Quake Live isn't a "fifty-dollar boxed game"
"Quake Live is really special for me in that [Quake 3 Arena] was always my favourite game at id. I liked the purity of the game. And it's unfortunately true that you just can't do a fifty-dollar boxed game that's that pure. For sensible reasons - that's a lot of money and people expect a 20, 30-million-dollar-plus development project when you go out and buy a brand new boxed game. That's just the reality of what the media-heavy, triple-A title market is - and we're pushing that with Rage and with Doom, but it's a little bit saddening when you have to do everything and the kitchen sink because it's expected, even if it's not exactly what the game is fundamentally about. And Quake Arena was always very pure - it is a tournament, deathmatch-oriented game, and to be able to take that back, polish it up some, and put you into an environment where we can make it - you can't go out and charge fifty bucks for something like this - but Quake is still a hell of a lot of fun."
On in-game advertising in Quake Live
"I get asked a lot in interviews if we think in-game advertising is something that might be the wave of the future for PC gaming. And I always answer no, I don't think it's the wave of the future that's going to take off in lots of games, because there's lots of games it's just not appropriate for. We have said that if Quake Live is very successful the next thing we might look at [for a Quake Live-style game] is Wolfenstein Enemy Territory, which was always a more popular online game with more players than Quake Arena was, but it's hard to see how we do the same treatment with it. Like, you're running around fighting the Nazis and there's a billboard for Intel or something...
"But if you play Quake Live today and you look at it, the billboards...the set-up is really tastefully done, it feels right. The game was always about this arena for combat, and now it just has billboards, and looks stylish and cool, and while we talked about maybe at some point having some kind of a 'pro' mode where you pay extra, we wouldn't want to turn off advertising. I know that's popular for ad-supported stuff where you have an ad-supported mode, you pay something and the ads go away, but if you turn the ads off in Quake Live it will just look a lot worse - the levels would seem empty, the website would seem much more dead, and it just wouldn't be a positive thing, so that's not really an option we're even thinking about."
On the lack of mod support in Quake Live
"One of the big things that was unknown last year but we have a final decision on - and I'm sure it's not going to be a popular response, but there is no official mod support in Quake Live. As we surveyed all the things that we have to do and we want to do in terms of making the game as robust and seamless and problem-free, we just really can't support random mods. A lot of gameplay types that were popular have been integrated, but we do not have an ability to just say, 'here's the SDK for Quake Live, here's a mod, let me go start playing'." [...] "We're working with a lot of people on integrating things into Quake Live as official game styles and modifications, and we'll just have to see how that goes."
On what id won't do with the Quake Live concept
"Quake Live's not going to be a portal - I get asked that a lot. It's not going to become this place with lots of games where you can go and pick and choose. We may look at Enemy Territory, we may wind up supporting Doom in some way, but they will be separate and distinct projects. We're not trying to make a new casual gaming destination or something like that."
On what the PC's still best at
"The PC still has some advantages. It's better at disseminating information over the web. Browsing the web on a console still pretty much sucks. Keyboard/mouse is still the best way to play a first-person shooter. And of course it's funny how we've got a whole generation of people that have grown up on console games like Halo, and they think it's just great, the game controller and all this, but if you ever set up a competitive environment there, of course that's not a pretty situation. But fundamentally it's just better - it's direct positioning, directly correlating motion to something in the game, where it reports some fractional motion.
"And I think that we're going to see some effects - a little more speculatively - with the fact that Quake Live is all centralised with your accounts, with all of your configuration stuff there, you should be able to just jump in and play the game anywhere, at any random computer, in the hotel business centre, some office spot nobody's looking at - it should be quick to just jump in and play the game." [The point being, of course, that even now console service have a single login for all games, you can't turn up at a random 360 in a hotel and continue from your last save point.]
On what he actually does at id
"So my time winds up in little snippets of time - little bit on mobile, little bit on more future-looking research - but 90-plus percent of my time at my desk is working on things that pertain to Rage.
"I do get to choose what I work on - I'm the president of the company, although I usually bill myself as technical director because that's what I do. Todd [Hollenshead, CEO] does the business deals, he's out talking to the publishers most of the time and all that. I'm not even the lead programmer - Robert Duffy manages our herd of programmers now, because I'm an engineer, right? I want to sit there and make things work, I want to build things, and Robert barely gets to spend 25 percent of his time writing any code, because...he commented earlier this year that we now have more programmers at id than we had employees when he started a long time ago, and we're in a very different situation now where managing all of that is a full-time job, just making sure that everyone's working productively on things. There's this old law about people getting promoted past their point of competence, and I'm trying to avoid that by not trying to be a manager and do a poor job of that."
On whether the PC can kill consoles
"There are people that honestly believe the PC will come back and make consoles obsolete. I think that probably is a naive view. I think there are inherent challenges for the PC platform that consoles don't have that I would be surprised to see that desktop PC box making Sony and 360 and Wiis and everything obsolete. I don't think that's going to happen."
On the success of Nintendo Wii
"Of course it's exciting to see how well Nintendo has done, because people were counting them out in the last generation, that they were going to be the next SEGA, and here they go and really kicked everyone's butt in this generation. Nintendo's always been our kind of least-friendly first-party out there, but I cheer success. They went against the conventional wisdom, they did something different and they won big - and that's great to see."
On the length of the console lifecycle
"What happens with all of these vendors on the next generation - the timing of all this - is going to be interesting. We know a little bit more now than we did a year ago, but not a huge amount. I know internally how many steps away the 3D hardware vendors are from where they think they'll be pitching consoles. And honestly it would be great if this generation of consoles lasted twice as long as the last one, if we had a viable eight-year commercial lifespan for this generation of titles, and I know some people are saying this is the plan - I don't think it's going to turn out that way.
"I think it's going to be far too tempting to one-up your competitor because they don't think you're doing this but you really are to get it out earlier and try and get some first-mover advantage. So I don't think it's going to be too long. I hope it's long enough that we're able to have a new project come out at a nice sweet spot for this generation and not when everybody knows what's coming next Christmas."
On id Tech 6 and the future of technology
"I can say with conviction at this point that the next generation games are still going to be predominantly polygon games. Even what we're looking at for id Tech 6 with all of this infinite geometry, voxelising everything, probably recursive automatic geometry generation - all of this is still going to be a hybrid approach. We hope that we can generate these incredible lush environments on there, but the characters are probably still going to be coming in as triangles over a skeleton there. There will be probably be some interesting things tried with completely non-polygonal renderers, but the practical approach with games that look like the games we're doing now but play better probably will still have lots of polygons going on and these chips better be really good at that.
"We talk about where we're going with the technology, how hardware's going to exploit it, what choices the vectors have is a really big interesting thing. And I know I get looked at a lot as an authority here, but the problem is everybody's waving their hands around - nobody has this hardware really to work on. We have some preliminary things. The work that's going on with Cuda is actually what gives NVIDIA a strong lead right now. All the work that's going on with that - they're learning a lot with that and it is influencing their directions, and I'm pretty excited about future generations there. ATI and Apple have their own sort of initiatives. But there's always the 900lb gorilla in the room of Microsoft - what gets laid down as far as DX Compute, how well's that going to work across everybody, does that become the standard that drives all of this?
"That's dangerous, because, again, we don't know. We do not have the experience. With OpenGL and D3D we had the wonderful background done by SGI, all these people who'd gone there and done it. Right now, we have research projects, but nothing resembling a real app as we would look at it as a gaming app, so we don't know what these issues are, and there are billion-dollar bets going on this. I wouldn't want to be in some of those shoes when you don't have all the data that you need. They need to do these research projects across these architectures, and nobody has time to do this."
John Carmack is president, co-founder and technical director of id Software.