Interview: id Software's John Carmack

The Mobile Arena, New Rage iOS Title Coming Soon

DC: Have you seen any of Nvidia’s next-gen Tegra 3 hardware?

JC: We ported the Rage iOS game to a Tegra platform, one of Nvidia’s first designs. We ported to one of their internal dev boxes and now it runs on several different shipping devices. It’s difficult from our point of view where we’re way over the size limit on the Android Marketplace, so we were hoping to get a pack-in deal with somebody who’s willing to dedicate 2 GB of onboard flash to have this as an installed game. We still have trepidations about the Android Marketplace because we’re not hearing the success stories from people about going in and making tons of money like that.

DC: Does Rage take up more space on an Android device than on an iOS device?

JC: It’s bigger on Android because of different texture compression formats. It’s a little over 2 GB installed on Android while it’s about 1.7 GB on iOS. The distributed size for iOS is smaller because it’s additionally compressed on top of that.

DC: Is your main concern with going to Android or Windows Phone still revenue?

JC: It’s a man-power issue. The mobile stuff so far has been wherever I’ve felt like going. It’s not a grand, planned-out, profit-and-loss corporate strategy. First, I got a new feature phone, and I didn’t like the games, so I wanted to do a game on there. Then everybody loved their iPhone and we wanted to go put something on that platform. The Android phones that I’ve played with didn’t displace my iPhone; I’m not carrying an Android phone with me, so I don’t have a lot of the personal push like I did with the iPhone.  And when I did download the SDK, installed Eclipse and ran a couple of sample apps, it just didn’t grab me. I didn’t give it much time, and I haven’t really touched mobile stuff all year because I blew my budget already. I get to devote 10 percent of my time to mobile and I used it all on Rage for the iOS. I look into it every year and I got to the point of building some apps this time around. It was kind of a shock to see--when we did a shout out at the Quakecon keynote--the Android people were drowning out the iOS crowd. We certainly skew geek here, and there’s clearly a rise in popularity when it comes to Android. We did hire somebody to be our Android developer, but then we had one of our iOS developers decide he wanted to go back and get his PhD, and the Android guy became the iOS guy. Now we don’t have an Android guy anymore.

DC:  Are you excited at the thought of the next wave of hardware coming out from Nvidia and Texas Instruments? A quad-core CPU coupled with a quad-core Adreno GPU or multi-core Nvidia setup?

JC: It’s just amazing. I love the way we’ve gone from the original iPhone up to the iPad 2 and the power that we’ve got on there. We have a new Rage game in development for the iOS platform, and we took some of the Rage source material, just the raw models, and brought them over. In order to run on the iPad 2, we didn’t have to do anything to it; it’s not using the same virtual megatexture stuff [as it is the PC and consoles], but as far as taking those scenes with that much runs great, and they’re extremely powerful. We haven’t touched the level of optimization on iOS platforms that we do on the consoles; the work that we’ve had to do on the PS3 especially. The PS3 is the hardest platform that’s needed the most optimization work, and it is extremely low-level. We’re talking about how the fragment programs compile across the different pipes of the GPU, and worrying about very detailed memory access patterns and such.

We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to mobile development. We have more power than you can afford to take advantage of. We can afford to put all of this optimization effort into the consoles because we know that we’re going to make tens of millions of dollars by doing all of this, and while there are a few iOS apps that have made money like that, 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. 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-optimizing, 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.

DC:  Once that hardware comes out, some of which will be out in the 4th quarter of this year, and once Rage is out the door, do you think you’ll revisit Android?

JC: Well, the first thing on my to-do list is addressing the PC toys that I want to play with. I ordered a new head-mounted display, I’ve got the Kinect sensor, with the PC SDK on there, and I want to go through a bunch of those things that we’ve really neglected for several years and see if there is value, because I’m carrying around perceptions about hardware, software and peripherals that I may have made 10 years ago.

DC: So you’re looking forward to using the Kinect with your PC?

JC: It was good of Microsoft to rush a little bit ahead of them, that wave of people hacking it for themselves, and release an official SDK. The Kinect is a scalable technology, which I’m pretty excited about. And that technology can get ten times better in the coming years, so I think it’s an important thing to be playing around with. However, it’s not something that you can tack onto an existing game; we got asked a lot about what can we do with Kinect or the PlayStation Move with Rage, and it’s like well…nothing, really. It’s not that they’re not good, but you just don’t bolt that kind of technology on. Games are all about designing around your controls.

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  • RabidFace
    That was an awesome read, and some great questions for The Master. Mr. Carmack never seizes to amaze me. He has such a handle on current technology and has a lot of insight in how things should work in the future.

    For anyone that missed his keynote at QuakeCon, you should watch it. It is 86 minutes, so grab a snack and be ready to be amazed by Mr. Carmack.

    The Masters QuakeCon Keynote,13191.html
  • Anonymous
    John Carmack is the bomb. I can't forget the first LAN party playing Doom. Best of luck to this guy and what he brings in the future.
  • Thor
    For Journalist they exist just ONE Scientific: Einstein.
    For Journalist they exist just ONE game "programmer": Carmark

    Journalist like old stuff !