Developing for the Future

In the beginning, there was John and a few friends who wanted to make a cool game while sitting around and programming. The fate of id Software was to grow into the position of a giant software development firm. In describing the transition, John joked about essentially becoming The Man against which all indie game developers fight. While (of course) very happy with the position of id Software in the industry, John realizes that it takes those small teams of friends writing games to innovate the next breakthrough in video games, as the large firms are almost locked into a type of game based on their current assets.

John Carmack will always be the creator of the first person shooter genre, and id Software will be one of the best developers of first person shooter technology on the market because that's what the people that work there do. Of course, though the next breakthrough in game play may come from your neighbor's garage, the next big breakthrough in game engine technology will come from companies like id who have the money, man power, and influence to develop software for hardware whose concept barely exists.

With expanding complexity and difficulty, it takes a lot to keep up with hardware. Game development cycles are generally much longer than a generation of graphics hardware. Doom III, for example, has been in development for four years, while every six months we get a new set of graphics cards. In the early days, John would be involved with every bit of code that went into his games. Quake III was the first game where John didn't have control over every section of code, as bot AI was developed by someone else. With Doom III, id planned from the beginning to have four lead developers on the project. It just takes more than one person being in charge to push the envelope to the max (though John still feels guilty that there are some files in the Doom III source tree that he hasn't even opened).

Obviously, the gap between software and hardware is of the utmost interest to us. We rely on those on the bleeding edge to help us understand the actual performance of new hardware. Even with all the resources John Carmack has at his disposal, and eventhough he had a very good idea of where the hardware was going, he let us know that it would still take about two and a half years from now for game developers to come out with games that took full advantage of NV4x/R4xx generation hardware. Developers are just starting to get these parts into their hands (John mentioned that he just plugged an NV40 into his personal development system), and getting the most out of this technology and putting it into the hands of consumers is something that John has been struggling with.

To combat the problems with long development cycles, John is looking at ideas like tweaking an older engine to take advantage of current hardware and doing something like a Quake II remix where it's the exact same game but with awesome graphics and targeted at a bit of a niche audience. The cost and development time are lower on such a project since the assets and structure for the game already exist and just the core engine code would need to be reworked. Even this solution would take some time, but sooner is definitely better than later.
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  • SilverBack - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    I was one of the lucky people to buy Doom from the Software Creation BBS, the same BBS that was the shareware capital of the modem world. In fact I was sold the 31st copy produced, I still have the 3 1/2 disks :)
    It started the 3d experience for me and also my building PC's to keep up with Carmacks games! LOL
    In a way Carmack changed my life. :D

    However I got a different perspective from this article than most of you seemed to.

    After reading where it's being considered possible to revamp the Q3 engine with better graphics, internal alarms started going off.
    I may be a pessimist, but that sounds as if the ID camp may be getting Doom 3 out of the door much later than anticipated.

    The Unreal Team seems to have a much better graphics engine available now. I hope that JC can get the Doom 3 engine up and running sooner.

    Reply
  • mikeymasta - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    Good informative easy to read article, whats how I like em.

    When I talk about upcomming games to others I am often surprised at how little they look forward to upcomming work by john carmacks like Doom3, its proof that they just haven't been around long enough and don't know who their god is!

    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    #14:

    just start something on the side Turnip ;-) That's how many of the people break into the industry ... create a rockin mod or find some other people out there (like me) who are interested in a little on the side game development... that way, if id Software or Epic offers you a job, you can feel good about leaving your favorite "boring" company for something just a little bit more exciting ;-)
    Reply
  • Turnip - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    <sigh> Sometimes I almost wish I didn't love the "boring" software applications company I work for, so that I could get out there and do something about the game I dream of.

    Oh, the difficulties in being a developer. :)
    Reply
  • Chucko - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    So when is Doom 3 coming out? Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    I don't think there is a tech journalist out there who wouldn't want to get some one on one time with Carmack... but the supply falls way short of the demand on that one ;-)

    There was a short group QA sessoin in which John decried the value of game design oriented schooling (saying the value is in what people can do in the real world, not how well they've mastered stale curriculums), mentioned that he thinks the direction the PS3 is taking with its parallel architecture is of little value, and talked about X-Prize.

    He also mentioned that Doom III would be ready when its ready ;-)

    And I can tell you right now with a fair ammount of confidence that PCI Express won't make a real difference in playing current games (read any game that will come out this year). I can stream multiple HD quality videos to my GPU in real time though :-)
    Reply
  • yumarc - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    Maybe it's just me, but I found this article not to be very informative. It just spews about the greatness of John Carmack and his past accomplishments. It would have been a much better read if the author had received some Q&A time with Carmack and asked him questions such as "When is Doom III due on the street" or "Do PCI Express cards make a difference in game speed". Now that would have been informative. Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - link

    #6 (and #9):

    Okay, so you've got Zelda and Mario and what not. They didn't really *push* the envelope, though. Nintendo games always seem to trail behind on the technology and innovation curve. Maybe the original Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. were "innovators", but back then everything was new and different. Hell, Asteroids was "state of the art" at one point in time. All Shigeru has done was to hone the art of the platform game, and every iteration of the Zelda and Mario franchises just gets less and less impressive.

    About the only thing Carmack and Shigeru have in common is that neither one can tell a really, truly great story. Shigeru does great with kid stories, and Carmack makes wicked 3D engines. Neither one could compete with the stories of any decent author, though. Or maybe it's just that I'm not Japanese... do adults in Japan actually think the stories in the Mario games are interesting? I hope not....
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - link

    #6:
    "real talk, and in all seriousness:
    shigeru miyamoto > john carmack

    as far as influence in video games is concerned. "

    I'll bite.

    That is arguable if you are talking about video games in a general sense, but I don't think you can call it. Sure, mario and zelda have defined and influenced hords of other games (including Carmack's own Commander Keen), but then Wolfenstein defined and influenced the entire first person genre of games while quake sparked the push to full 3d games and shifed gaming performance into a position of major influence in the PC space.

    But regardless of who has had more impact on video games in general, PC games and hardware follow where Carmack leads.
    Reply
  • replicator - Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - link

    John Carmack is a cool cat..

    Imagine if he and Tim Sweeny (Unreal) put their efforts together.


    Reply

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