QuakeCon 2007 Conference Report • Page 2

Rage, Wolf movie, Quake Zero, and two hours of John Carmack.

DS development, he said, made him reminisce about older projects, and programs he had coded many years before. "The DS is almost exactly one one-thousandth of the high end platform we're running Rage on," he explained, and yet moving between the nascence of Orcs & Elves and coding on Rage had been "amazingly seamless" for him, and something that he evidently took a lot of pleasure in.

It was during this section that he mentioned a desire to work on Nintendo Wii and a Quake DS title he hopes to get developed. One of the great things about being a private rather than publically owned company was his ability to make all these aspirational statements out in the open, he said.

Topics flew in from all over the place. He next spoke of how id's next mobile game would "step up a little bit on the minimum system requirements".

This took him in the direction of the first of several uncompromising observations about game development. "A high end cell-phone should kick the crap out of the Nintendo DS," he said, "but you're really hamstrung by the APIs". He called Java "a way to make things a tenth as fast as they should be," to laughter from the crowd. "Java on a resource-constrained device - that decision never made much sense to me."

He also revealed that he had been disappointed by Apple's announcement that iPhone would not allow for open development. "I had a pretty serious argument with Steve Jobs after the Worldwide Developer Conference [where id Tech 5 was unveiled] about the iPhone," he revealed. He joked that when the announcement was made that development was to be restricted to third-party "applications" via the Safari web browser, with no full programs from anyone besides Apple, he had been sitting in the front row booing and hissing. He said he was "totally not buying" the argument Apple made about security. "If you can't make a UNIX-based computer, which is effectively what the iPhone is, secure, there are bigger problems," he said.

A discussion of Quake Zero and the growth of team two followed, before an interesting section dedicated to something Carmack perceives to be an untapped strength of his earlier nemesis, Apple Computer.

He wants to work closely with them to ensure an incredibly responsive gaming experience, and believes their control over every link in the chain - hardware, device drivers and all - will allow an almost inconceivably deep exploration of where lag originates in the user experience. To illustrate the depth he believes he could go to, he talked about using oscilloscopes to explore the latency inherent to subpixels in LCDs, and other components. Your jetlagged correspondent was a bit out of his depth at this point, but many of the audience were lapping it up.

If that juxtaposition of anti and pro Apple commentary gave attending journalists (some of whom shamefully slipped away when the going got technical!) something to scribble down, there was more fodder deeper in. Following a lengthy section on id Tech 5's intricacies and megatexture evolution, Carmack - whose primary development platform is known to be PC/360 - spoke frankly on some of the difficulties he's encountered with PS3.

"The PS3 and 360 are far closer than any two gaming platforms have ever been before," he began. "[But] there's no doubt that when you have a problem moving over it's going to be the PS3 - it's just the way it is."

The PS3 version of Rage will take more effort to get right, he said, although he doesn't imagine the end product will suffer in any noticeable way.

Right now though, the developer is "suffering through" problems relating to the way PS3 and 360 respectively deal with memory on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, which is in development at UK-based Splash Damage. "The PS3 version is lagging quite a bit behind in terms of getting it up to the same quality and experience," he said.

Elsewhere in his speech, there was terrific fodder for fans - he said he wants to make a Smartphone application to fly his Armadillo Aerospace spaceship via Wi-Fi, and that he built the 3D engine for Nintendo DS by holing himself up in a hotel for two weeks. Later he joked about how he can legally make his spaceships fly around the world after someone asked if they could function as ballistic missiles and hit North Korea. It was quite surreal.

In all, Carmack spoke uninterrupted for an hour before opening the floor to questions for close to another hour. Some of it was astonishingly hard to follow for anyone with a less than professionally technical background. "When I started off the new generation of technology, it was a pure shadow buffer renderer, and you could at least initially choose between lots of different sampling parameter levels, and the conclusion I reached was four-tap sampling is acceptable, not spectacular," he said in one of his more understandable comments.

Plenty of it was accessible though, and he won big cheers during the Q&A for saying that he would continue to put out open-source programs. Doom 3 will become open source, he said, although he wouldn't commit to a date, and even id Tech 5 will at some point.

He also won a spontaneous round of applause when he attacked patents, calling them "reprehensible" and "a sham". They are, he said, "a parasitic tax on those who do creative things".

Towards the end, he admitted that the decision to go with Steam for digital distribution was partly because he didn't want to become a publisher. "I don't think you're going to see id take on any massive, infrastructural sort of changes [that would lead to that]", he said.

He was self-critical too, talking about inherent flaws in Enemy Territory (the tick-rate for animation is 30Hz and the frame-rate is 60Hz, apparently, although he reckons this is acceptable in-game now), and denying a suggestion that Havok physics were going into id Tech 5 by commenting on Raven's decision to use Havok for Quake 4. "I thought it was a bad decision - I still think it's a bad idea."

Overall, despite falling behind Epic (to whom he paid tribute) in engine sales and deferring to Valve for digital distribution, Carmack was relaxed about id's profile. He said a business-orientated id Software would have been different, but concluded that he's quite happy how it's wound up.

For id's fans - particularly the die-hards who sat through all three hours of announcements, keynote and Q&A - that view found great reflection, and objectively few could argue with the fact that in a handful of minutes at the start, id announced more initiatives, products and plans than Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft put together managed in three lengthy press conferences three weeks previously at E3 in Santa Monica.

It may have been long, and some of it may have been utterly impregnable to many in the audience, but Carmack and id were nevertheless spellbinding, and if the projects announced tonight enjoy as much care and indulgence as has been heaped upon the company's fans at QuakeCon, they will be of merit considerable enough to demand the attention of a far wider audience than the one that packed itself into the Hilton Anatole to listen to their heroes declare their ambitions for the next half-decade.

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Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell


Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.


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