Who was there: The cofounder and technical director for id Software, John Carmack, once again delivered the keynote address at this year's QuakeCon 2011 convention.
What he talked about: Carmack was very excited to finally talk in-depth about the development of Rage, the upcoming postapocalyptic first-person shooter from the creators of Quake and Doom. "Rage is the most enjoyable id game we've ever made," he stated, adding that id attempted to distill everything that was iconic about its classic titles and adapt it for this new project--with some additions added in along the way. The result has been several years in the making, but Carmack feels it was worth it. "We hit everything we really set out to do with this game."
One of these objectives was to design a beautifully detailed game that would still look great across the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. The designers wanted strict guidelines as to how large and how detailed they could make this world, Carmack said, but as a programmer, this is a really hard rule to set. He added that there are so many different variables between platforms, and even between sections of the game, that this was almost impossible to set. In the end, he told the designers, "I want to be pushed a bit," and he gave them some extra leeway. With a smile, he added that this was probably "a bad call."
There were many other trials and tribulations that crept up when working across three platforms. Carmack noted that it was frustrating at times knowing that the PC held nearly 10 times the power of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 but that he couldn't use it. However, he also added that developing on the two consoles was simpler given their specifically defined hardware. "We were really using the PC as a muscular console [during development]," he added.
Every game that has come out of id has taken longer than the one before, Carmack said, and this is a problem. With that in mind, he went on to explain that, instead of putting all of their efforts behind working with the bleeding edge of technology, the focus should be on improving the programming code and technology id already has. "What we need to do next as game developers is start cranking the knobs that already exist," he said, "such as improving antialiasing, filtering, and texture density."
There is also value in working within limitations, Carmack added, and one can learn things about efficiency when working under those conditions. If he had the time, Carmack said he would love to revisit the original PlayStation, or even the Atari 2600, and try coding a game for that platform just to see how it differed from today's standards.
He moved next to static code analysis tools as another great way to improve upon what a developer already has. These toolsets let his team analyze the thousands of lines of code they've written and quickly identify recurring problems. He noted that as developers add functionality to an established code base, things will break. This could be for a number of reasons, such as coding mistakes or shortcuts. The important thing is correcting these issues to build a more stable code base for the future.
Before opening the floor up for an extensive Q&A session, Carmack quickly noted that the source code for Doom 3 will finally be released before the year is out. He also urged other companies to release the source codes for their older games as well. Doing so would only help encourage the development of future coders in the video game industry. On the same topic, he also lamented the fact that most members of the mod community won't be able to make the most out of Rage's toolset given its complexity and the sheer size and scope of the software.
The floor was then opened up for Q&A. As part of that discussion, Carmack lamented the fact that id can't devote much attention to the Mac, Linux, and Android platforms. This was attributed to a simple lack of manpower on the developer's side. He also talked briefly about the status of Quake Live, which "has not been a business success," blaming the implosion of most in-game advertising agencies, which were going to be the game's primary source of income. "[Quake Live] is not terribly expensive to keep up and running," Carmack added. "We just don't know how to promote it now."
Quote: "I get asked a lot if I miss the old days with the smaller teams, and I tell people that I'm a remarkably unsentimental person; the best times are right now."--John Carmack on life.
Takeaway: Building a game to work on three very different platforms was certainly a challenge for the venerable developer. However, despite all the time it took, Carmack seemed confident in the game's quality and in the lessons he and his team learned along the way. Their new goal is a faster development cycle that makes the most out of all the tools they've built over the years.