McGrath's first trial was the creation of Savage, the RTS/FPS hybrid by S2 Games that swept three Independent Game Festival awards in 2004. "I was the lead programmer. I wrote the engine code. But I wasn't happy about the direction the company was heading, and I didn't have a lot of control. So, I started Offset."
Offset Software is now a 19-person team with publisher backing, and their eponymous Project Offset, a first-person shooter in an epic fantasy universe, is generating massive buzz for its gritty Call of Duty-style action and amazing graphics. The engine that powers Offset is all McGrath.
"I locked myself in an apartment for a year, and I worked on engine technology," Sam McGrath explains. "I had saved up all the money I made working at S2 games and I had the freedom to work on this technology without any income."
The outcome of McGrath's isolation has to be seen to be believed. "The Offset Engine brings together next-generation hardware with rendering techniques from film, such as motion blurs, self-shadowing, a full HDR rendering pipeline, all the rendering features that people are used to in movie effects, but which have never been done in real-time before. Effects that used to take an hour to render out a frame, we're able to achieve 30 times per second."
McGrath is quick to share credit for Offset with his two lead artists, brothers Trevor and Travis Stringer. All three share a vision of games that push the envelope of what can be done visually. "We want to make games that are incredibly immersive. People always talk about making games that look like movies, but it hasn't really been achieved yet. I want to be on the forefront of actually achieving that."
McGrath cites Tim Sweeney, Dave Taylor and John Carmack as major inspirations; indeed, it's clear that if McGrath has his way, Offset will be the new id Software. Like id, the company is working with a publisher to release its FPS title while retaining all underlying technology rights to its engine and pursuing licensing deals. The ex-Blizzard veterans at Red 5 Studios have already licensed Offset for an upcoming game. "It would be nice to be the next id. It's something we're striving for. There are no guarantees in life, but things are looking really good for us."
The Future of Gaming
The future of gaming doesn't lie in the Xbox 360, the Wii, Windows Vista or PlayStation 3. It can't be found in next-generation graphics processors or dual core chips. It's not in mobile or online. It's found in the new wave of people - people like McGrath, Foe and Arundel - that have learned from the game gods of the past three decades and are ready to lead gaming forward into its place as the preeminent entertainment medium of the 21st century.
Max Steele is an enigma wrapped inside a riddle. When not actively being mysterious, he passes his time manipulating time and space to fit his plans for world domination.