QuakeCon 2010: Carmack Ushers in the Age of Optimization

N. Evan Van Zelfden | 13 Aug 2010 12:06
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He asks the audience how many people have an Apple operating system device like the iPhone or iPad. Half the audience raise their hands and cheer. Then Carmack asks about Android. A quarter of the audience raise their hands, and cheer at an equal volume to that of the Apple users. "A vocal minority," he laughs.

Which leads Carmack to talk about Google's phone platform. "It looks like we could deploy some projects on there," he tells the audience. But the eight megabyte download limit is a problem, he notes. When it goes to the iPhone, he continues, "Rage is going to be hundreds of megs."

He expresses curiosity to see if people will go out and make some money on the Android platform. "You expect to see Android on everything," he says. Carmack loves duopolies in the marketplace: nVIDIA and ATI in graphics, Microsoft and Sony in consoles. He sees them as import facets of the free market, while allowing for some standardization and optimization. "I'll be completely happy if we see an Android and Apple marketplace"

But the heart of Carmack's talk is optimization - getting the most out of technology. He is always considering different paths, evaluating different solutions on cost and benefit. The man reads voraciously and tells the audience: We can get more mileage from the tech that exists, than the tech that doesn't yet exist.

"I probably am, first and foremost, a graphics geek," Carmack tells his audience. He goes into a technical anecdote about id Software's rendering processing being too slow during production of their current titles. His thought was to add significant graphics processing units. The idea passed the cost-benefit analysis - but didn't work because id's office building has already reached its cooling limit, thanks to id's current equipment load. Which led Carmack to start looking into cloud computing.

Carmack goes on to talk about latency between controllers and displays, pleads with the audience: "Let's stop rasterizing, let's ray-trace everything." And he says head-mounted displays are going to be the next big thing. Later in the talk, Carmack gives the audience an update on the high-definition version of Rage. "It's an exaggeration to call it in the home stretch, but everything is decided."

Still, Carmack admits that there is a constant tension between specialization in one topic and having a wide range of knowledge. "It's impossible to stay on top of all of these broad technology areas, and still contribute something," he says. But it remains clear to even the most casual observer that, day by day, John Carmack is optimizing the videogame industry.

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