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John Carmack's console wish-list

id Software's John Carmack gives his ideal view of the next generation of consoles

Regardless of how many more years this console generation lasts, there comes a point when the games press feels the burning desire to ask all and sundry what the next one might be like. In truth, very few people are qualified to make an educated guess - least of all the games press - but John Carmack is certainly one of them.

Ultimately, the form of the new hardware from Microsoft or Sony will be dictated by market forces and not the whims of the development community. But as a developer and programmer of considerable ability, who is interested in working at the cutting edge of every side of the games industry, when John Carmack holds forth on what he wants from a new console it's probably worth a few moments of your time.

In an interview with the website Tom's Guide, Carmack offered "a wish list" of hardware specifications for Sony and Microsoft to consider for their next consoles.

"One of the most important a unified virtual 64-bit address space, across both the GPU and the CPU. Not a partition space, like the PS3," he said. "Also, a full 64-bit space with virtualisation on the hardware units - that would be a large improvement."

According to Carmack, new graphics features are no longer that important from a development standpoint, and he would opt for "lots of bandwidth, and lots of cores" instead.

"There's going to be a heterogeneous environment here, and it's pretty obvious at this point that we will have some form of CPU cores and GPU cores... It seems clear at this point that we will have a combination of general purpose cores and GPU-oriented cores, which are getting flexible enough that you can do most of the things that you would do on a CPU."

"But there are still plenty of things that are much better done with a traditional CPU core, debugger and development environment. I will be a little surprised if there's any radical departure from that. I hope neither of them mess that up in some fundamental way."

In Carmack's view, one of the key questions for the new generation of Sony and Microsoft consoles will be whether they stick with optical media. The rapid growth of digital distribution and connected gaming this generation - on all platforms, not just consoles - presents a very real challenge to the necessity of a physical disc-drive.

"Those are the types of big decisions that I wouldn't want to be in the position of making because they're billion dollar effects," he added. "But... I know most executives were surprised at what the attach rate was on this current generation of consoles."

The task facing Sony and Microsoft is to create hardware that will satisfying the rapidly changing habits of the consumer, with the needs of a development community struggling to make bleeding-edge games and turn a profit. That certainly won't be simple, and Carmack believes that mobile platforms will provide a much more significant challenge in the next few years.

Even for a studio like id Software, famous for pushing hardware to its very limits, bringing its games to platforms like iOS is becoming simpler all the time.

"You don't go into making an iOS app expecting to make tens of millions of dollars, and you also wouldn't want to spend the extra year hyper-optimizing things," he said. "But they are so powerful already that you don't need to, and that's obviously going to be getting much better still, where you've got the quad-core CPUs and the crazy graphics hardware."

"There's been incorrect hyperbole about the power of these devices, where people are saying that they have console-level performance. The iPad 2 has about half the performance power, and that's a ballpark estimate."

But that does mean that mobile devices coming out, certainly next year, will be flat out more powerful, and they'll probably be powerful enough where you don't even need the hyper-optimising, that you could do a fairly easy port-over of your technology and assets. The biggest issue is going to be total distribution and storage space."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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