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John Carmack laments next-gen push

John Carmack laments next-gen push

Wed 11 Dec 2013 8:40am GMT / 3:40am EST / 12:40am PST
Publishing

"Just as you fully understand a previous generation, you have to put it away to surf forward on the tidal wave of technology that's always moving"

John Carmack's name is synonymous with the technical evolution of gaming, but the Oculus VR CTO now feels uncomfortable with the relentless progress in console hardware.

Speaking to Wired on the 20th anniversary of the release of Doom, the genre-defining FPS he co-created with Jon Romero, Carmack recalled id Software's tendency to demand better hardware with each new release - ignoring the huge number of people with aging graphics cards to cater for the more dedicated and tech-savvy players.

With the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now on-sale in most major territories, Carmack noted that the trend has continued, the huge audience and untapped potential of the previous generation abandoned for uncertainty and rising costs.

"The 360 and PS3 are far from tapped out in terms of what a developer could do with them, but the whole world's gonna move over towards next-gen and high-end PCs"

"Even to this day, I struggle a little bit with that," he said. "There's so much you can still do on the previous console generation. The 360 and PS3 are far from tapped out in terms of what a developer could do with them, but the whole world's gonna move over towards next-gen and high-end PCs and all these other things.

"Part of me still frets a little bit about that, where just as you fully understand a previous generation, you have to put it away to kind of surf forward on the tidal wave of technology that's always moving. That's something that we've struggled with in every generation. And now I at least know enough to recognize that some of my internal feelings or fondness for technology that I understand or have done various things with usually has to be put aside. Because data has shown over the decades that that's usually not as important as you think it is."

Carmack now has one clear regret from his time at id Software. In the push for technical excellence, the studio missed the opportunity to make more games, falling into a cycle where huge production cycles were the norm. Carmack would not comment the protracted development of Doom 4, but he did admit that establishing the core of the franchise so many years later is, "a heck of a lot harder than you might think."

"The worst aspect of the continuing pace of game development that we fell into was the longer and longer times between releases. If I could go back in time and change one thing along the trajectory of id Software, it would be, do more things more often.

"And that was id's mantra for so long: 'It'll be done when it's done.' And I recant from that. I no longer think that is the appropriate way to build games. I mean, time matters, and as years go by-if it's done when it's done and you're talking a month or two, fine. But if it's a year or two, you need to be making a different game."

The last year has not been kind to id Software. In April, reports surfaced that work on Doom 4 had essentially been scrapped and started again, and ZeniMax PR boss Pete Hines admitted that the original plans, “did not exhibit the quality and excitement that id and Bethesda intend to deliver."

In June, CEO Todd Hollenshead left the company after 17 years, with Carmack officially jumping to Oculus in November after a short period where he focused the bulk of his efforts on the nascent VR technology.

10 Comments

Pier Castonguay
Programmer

189 106 0.6
John Carmack would be happy if we were still using software renderers.

Posted:9 months ago

#1

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,169 953 0.8
I agree with him, especially every time you take one look what people are doing with shaders, rendering and game design even on low powered mobile devices. Makes you wonder how well we used those resources and opportunities and how much more we could do.

However, its well acknowledged that you can't stop the evolution of hardware and with consoles especially, old technology will be dropped almost completely to develop on new boxes.

Posted:9 months ago

#2

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,177 1,125 0.5
I wonder what would happen if Carmack and a small team got their paws on a PS3, Vita and 360 dev kit and had the time to work or rework something up to show what was still possible on that "old" hardware. I'd definitely buy a pretty-looking DOOM RPG or Orcs & Elves combo on either console if it happened.

Posted:9 months ago

#3

Steve Wetz
Reviewer/Assistant Editor

213 529 2.5
I think his about-face on this comes from his new position with a hardware company as opposed to a software company. You can make all the demands you want as a software company, push the envelope as far as you like, and there won't necessarily be a financial repercussion there (if anything, demand for your game might drive hardware sales - Crysis, anyone?). But being in hardware is a lot different, especially when designing a peripheral. Shortened console cycles can dramatically alter their development costs and expected sales figures.

Welcome to the other side of the monster you helped create, John. I still remember having to buy 32 MB of RAM because of you.

Posted:9 months ago

#4
Popular Comment
32mb of RAM? What are you made of money?? I had to upgrade from my 286 because of him. I couldn't afford anything else, so I was playing Doom 2 on a greyscale monitor, on the smallest screen size I could with no sound.

Posted:9 months ago

#5

Curt Sampson
Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
Makes you wonder how well we used those resources and opportunities and how much more we could do.
Would you rather developers spend their time optimizing code for less powerful hardware, or let a boost in hardware performance do that, freeing them to look at other improvements to the game that would otherwise not happen?

Personally, as a software developer myself, given the choice between spending a month optimizing the memory usage of levels and encounters, or a month improving the scripting languages to make it easier for the writers and designers to script powerful and moving interactions, I know where I land.

Tweaking and optimizing to make certain hardware do what they thought "couldn't be done" does have its joys, but in the end that's just demoscene, not games.

Posted:9 months ago

#6

Craig Page
Programmer

382 218 0.6
Less talk, more 3D headset progress please...

Posted:9 months ago

#7

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,169 953 0.8
Would you rather developers spend their time optimizing code for less powerful hardware, or let a boost in hardware performance do that, freeing them to look at other improvements to the game that would otherwise not happen?
Unless they're involved in my projects, I wouldn't necessarily expect developers to do any such thing.

My personal aim is to get increasingly more impressive, richer games and experiences on any platform, from desktop to console, from web to mobile. I guess when we're starting to see more advanced shader based games, with particles and real-time lights running at 200fps in a browser, and not much worst on a tablet it goes to show how software and engine technology approaches change over time and how much you can get out of the system and the audience you can reach with this stuff.

I can definitely relate to the idea there were (and are) untapped possibilities and in some ways it is unfortunate to see everything being dropped due to a new cycle introduced to excite slower sales and manufacturing demand.

If you read the rest of my comment, I said specifically that you can't stop the movement of technology and as we've seen most old devices are dropped almost immediately in favour of developing for more powerful hardware. This means its inevitable to an extent.

If you think about it however, this level of re-thinking and resourcefulness can have a positive effect on development for better hardware too. It is quite amusing to a game like Crysis 2 (using a heavily re-engineered renderer from the original, partly because of limited consoles) running 1080p native on its highest settings with a laptop less powerful than the WiiU. And Unreal Engine with sophisticated shaders on mobile devices running at upto 3k resolution. This work means a lot for what we can achieve in the future.

No one is forced to do anything, but there is value in in spending time optimising engines and re-thinking rendering approaches, for both the sake of not just lower end devices but fast devices too. Hopefully it will eventually help us to realise 1080p native games and good performance on these next gen consoles, which is hardly a standard. I'm very excited about the possibilities on PCs, consoles, mobiles and other gaming devices, especially if we take a resourceful approach.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 13th December 2013 11:23am

Posted:9 months ago

#8

Steve Wetz
Reviewer/Assistant Editor

213 529 2.5
32mb of RAM? What are you made of money?? I had to upgrade from my 286 because of him. I couldn't afford anything else, so I was playing Doom 2 on a greyscale monitor, on the smallest screen size I could with no sound.
Look, if you didn't have a math co-processor, should you really be in this conversation?

On a serious note, I do remember switching from the motherboard sounds to Sound Blaster speakers (which, at the time, was reDONKulous - the thought of speakers attached to a computer?) and being amazed at the difference in sound.

Posted:9 months ago

#9

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
John Carmack laments next-gen push...

this is coming from the same guy who is making and pushing the oculouse rift. id like to see him make more games for PS3

Posted:9 months ago

#10

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