E3 '07 Q&A: id's Nix on Tech 5 Engine licensing

GameSpot sits down with id's Steve Nix to find out about how the company is handling the business side for its new engine.

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SANTA MONICA, Calif.--At this year's E3 Media and Business Summit, the id suite at the Casa del Mar hotel is bustling with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars activity. While a good deal of attention is being given to id's latest creation, many from the gaming press are more interested in id's Tech 5 engine, revealed by John Carmack at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in June.

The company isn't ready to reveal its internally developed game or talk tech with the press, but we were able to sit down with Steve Nix, id's director of business development, to see what kind of reception id Tech 5 has been getting at E3 2007. id is currently only showing the Tech 5 engine to potential licensees at E3.

GameSpot: John Carmack had the big id Tech 5 demo at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in June. Has your E3 been full of developer meetings who are interested in licensing your tech?

Steve Nix: What's funny is that there aren't a lot of developers at E3 this year. I mean, there are a number of developers, but not the normal number that you would have at an E3 with 60,000 people. I think we have about 5,000 people this E3. All the major publishers are here, and we've been talking to them about the technology licensing, and the response has been well above my expectations. Very happy people have been extremely impressed by the visual fidelity of the technology, but the tools and the cross-platform [support] have been the huge thing. Walking in and seeing the technology running just as well on the Mac, the PC, the 360, and the PS3 at a high frame rate--people weren't expecting it. It's not difficult. It's just that our approach to technology allows us to do it very efficiently. I think overall we've more than accomplished our goals for this E3. People have been really impressed and we expect that we'll have a number of tech licenses. We're starting those conversations today because E3 was the first time we've shown anyone the technology directly other that what we showed at the World Wide Developers Conference.

GS: When do you expect the first id Tech 5 licensed games to hit retail?

SN: It's hard to say. We expect the first licenses to happen later this year, but expect the normal two- to three-year [development] timelines beyond that. It's a next-next generation solution, but content creation is not any more difficult. Content creation, in many ways, is going to be easier, so I don't expect expanded timelines beyond what people have been seeing for AAA games, but I do expect that it will still take two to three years. I don't know whether you'd want to make a 12-month movie-license game with this technology. You could, but we generally try to steer our partners away from those 12-month cycles, because we want high-quality games to be made using our technology.

GS: Who do you see as your main competitors in the game-engine space? Is it mainly Epic Games and Unreal Engine 3?

SN: Yeah, there just really isn't a lot of competition in the engine-licensing business right now. There are a couple of smaller companies that offer basic rendering solutions and really aren't full engine suites, and then of course for RenderWare, I don't know of any new licensees there outside of EA. There really has just been one player right now, and I think, with our new solution, we have a very good option for developers and publishers who want to do next-next-gen technology and have a high-quality solution for the four platforms.

GS:id's known for specializing in a specific game genre. Will the engine work well for games that aren't shooters?

SN: Yeah, absolutely. Our code is the most elegant, best-structured base code in the world. When we started out with id Tech 5, we didn't hack onto an old engine and then sort of replace parts as we went along. It's an entirely new engine. The structure is super-fundamentally sound. If you look at Quake 3, which was a multiplayer engine, but again, fundamentally sound, the licensees who took that went on to create some of the best single-player games ever in history in Medal of Honor, Call of Duty--even James Bond: Agent Under Fire, a console title, used the technology. It's the same approach with id Tech 5. The way the rendering works, there are no more texture limitations. Any game can take advantage of that. In a massively multiplayer game, texture constraints are a big problem. Even a fighting game where you're trying to get the ultimate detail in a smaller arena, texture limitations tend to be one of your number one limitations. Not only do we think people can make games outside the action-shooter space with our technology, we encourage it. We'd actually like to see those games made.

GS: What are these developers, who are all presumably familiar with Unreal Engine 3, most impressed by when they see your engine?

SN: I'm not that aware of what our competitors are doing and what they're promising with their road map, but when people walk into our booth, they see that we have four platforms running at 60Hz with the exact same assets. We probably have artists in the company that aren't aware we have our new technology running on the PS3 because you need to do absolutely zero changes, no packaging, no extra baking, no extra steps, to get to the PS3. It really is a seamless, multiplatform, no-hassle solution. That's what people are telling us is extremely attractive. There's also the power of the rendering. No one has this rendering solution that we have with the unlimited texture. People are shocked by that. They weren't expecting it. It's a totally different path than where everyone else is going with their technology right now. It's Carmack again coming up with something that no one else in the market is thinking about. People are surprised by that. I mean, you expect John [Carmack] to come up with massive technological leaps in rendering, but at the same time people are really shocked to see it running on all the platforms.

GS: As we understand it, MegaTexturing on the PC streams data off the hard disk and on the 360, it streams off the DVD. On the PS3, will it stream off the hard disk because now all the systems have hard disks, or will it stream off the Blu-ray disc?

SN: I'm probably getting over my pay grade by speaking directly, but I understand that it's going to be either streaming off the Blu-ray disc or a combination because you are now guaranteed a hard drive with the PS3.

GS: How have licensing deals changed for next-gen gaming?

SN: It's a little complicated. Back in the Quake 3 era, you were licensing one platform: the PC. If people wanted to go and create console versions, we wouldn't charge them more than that because we were essentially just delivering a PC engine. The amount of time it has taken us to develop technology has increased over the years with next-generation stuff, and you also have the multiplatform. You have questions like do you price support separately? It's a more complicated pricing model for sure. We're not even talking to people about pricing models yet; we'll be getting to that in the coming months.

GS: Thanks, Steve.

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