QuakeCon 2010: Carmack Ushers in the Age of Optimization

N. Evan Van Zelfden | 13 Aug 2010 16:06
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For John Carmack, technology is easy. Most game developers have a love-hate relationship with technology: They realize what it's capable of conveying, and they struggle daily to make it do what they want. But the chief technologist of id Software seems to glide through technology like a fish glides through water.

At Quakecon in Dallas this year, Carmack delivered a keynote lasting two-and-a-half hours. It's become a tradition at the show, and he holds an audience of hundreds spellbound for the duration. They are the faithful, worshippers of technology, who see in Carmack someone who has achieved mastery - and enlightenment.

The format is simply Carmack telling the audience what he's been thinking and doing in his spare time over the course of the last year, the white-papers he's been reading, and where he thinks chip-makers and hardware companies will push technology next. He does so without pause, cycling through seemingly random tidbits that instead form a mesmerizing tapestry.

Carmack tells the audience he's done more programming himself this year than usual. "I've never done this before at a Quakecon," he says. "But ... I want to show something." He takes an iPhone from his pocket, plugs it into an AV cable, and the room's giant screens show an environment that looks like Rage.

It is Rage. On an iPhone. Carmack moves the camera around, showing off the level and talking about the technical details like frame-rates, adding that he's already optimized it to run on older 2G iPhones.

To the audience, this seems like something of a big deal, but Carmack takes it in stride the way anyone else might not be ruffled by a round of golf or a drive in the country. "There's my little demo there, which I was kind of proud of," he concludes.

He likes the idea, of being able to carry the device in his pocket, and then plug it into a big screen. And the performance is there, because he can optimize Apple hardware. "I can kill anything from the previous generation of hardware," Carmack says about the Xbox-era consoles. He admits that his demo isn't as high-quality as the current next-gen consoles, but concludes that "it's an interesting platform."

Carmack casually announces that the first Rage title will actually be a downloadable for the iPhone a year before the console game version launches. In context, id Software has created some of the most widespread intellectual properties the game industry has seen - Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake. Rage marks their first original IP since the original Quake. Published by Bethesda, the game will be a cross-platform event that brings a new generation of optimization to next-gen consoles.

And for John Carmack, it's a few nights and weekends to bring it to the iPhone a year before the game actually launches.

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