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Carmack: New console will "end up shipping earlier rather than later"

id Software founder speculates Sony will "jump the gun" to get ahead of Microsoft

John Carmack has been speculating on the future of gaming technology, predicting that one of the main platform holders is likely to "jump the gun" and release a new-generation console "earlier rather than later".

He believes too that a shift to a cloud computing infrastructure could be on the horizon, as an eventual "power density wall" prevents home technology offering an increase in processing power.

"The whole jockeying for who's going to release the first next gen console is very interesting and pretty divorced from the technical side of things," Carmack told Polish site CD-Action, subsequently reported by Digital Foundry.

"Whether Sony wants to jump the gun to prevent the same sort of 360 lag from happening to them again seems likely. As developers, we would really like to see this generation stretch as long as possible. We'd like to see it be quite a few more years before the next gen console comes out, but I suspect one will end up shipping something earlier rather than later."

When the next-generation of console does launch, it will also be likely that one will rely entirely on the digital model, speculated Carmack. "I think that Xbox Live... the advent of that and the App Store with the iPhone are wonderful signs of the future of digital distribution.

"I think there's a decent chance that one of the next gen consoles will be without optical media... the uptake rates of people who have broadband connects surprised everyone this generation. It's higher than what the core publishers and even the first party people expected."

He also believes that at least 2GB of internal RAM would be the norm, continuing: "We talk about these absurd things like how many teraflops of processing and memory that are going into our game machines. It's great and there's going to be at least another generation like that, although interestingly we are coasting towards some fundamental physical limits on things. We've already hit the megahertz wall and eventually there's going to be a power density wall from which you won't get more processing out there..."

Which could lead to a move in new directions for console makers, the id Software director thinks, with cloud computing possibly becoming dominant.

"There'll be questions of whether we shift to a cloud computing infrastructure... lots of interesting questions about whether you have the computing power in your living room versus somewhere else," he said.

"Certainly the easier aspect of that is 'net as storage' where it's all digital distribution and you could wind up doing an idTech 5-like thing... and blow it up to World of Warcraft size so you need a hundred petabytes of storage in your central game system. We can do that now! It's not an absurd thing to talk about. Games are already in the tens of millions of dollars in terms of budget size and that's probably going to continue to climb there. The idea of putting millions of dollars into higher-sized storage... it's not unreasonable to at least consider."

Meanwhile, id plans to develop technology which ensures it won't be caught off-guard by the introduction of new console hardware.

"What I'm planning to do is set up a new rendering engine that co-exists with the current one... and I intend to develop it like that, so you have an idTech 5 version and then have everything working the same [with] an alternate data set that you can render with a different version," he revealed.

"So the hope would be that if we do get some flashy new graphics hardware on there that we would possibly have the option of releasing a game cross-generational like that. Same game, same design across everything but different media set, different rendering engine... That also allows me to work on something without having to involve the entire team. That's something where we can take a couple of people, go out, work on prototyping proof of concepts while the rest of the company is building the production titles."