Industry authority and rocket scientist John Carmack shares his views on the latest software and technology

When John Carmack speaks, the industry tends to listen. While it can be argued that his influence today on the gaming industry isn’t as big as it was when nearly every 3D shooter was using one of his Quake engines, he is still regarded as part of the heart of that keeps PC gaming alive. He continues to influence gaming hardware too, especially in the area of graphics. In fact, NVIDIA and ATI consult with John Carmack on design decisions when engineering new GPUs.

Carmack and id Software were recognized last week with two Technology Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the areas “pioneering development work in 3D game engines” and “technological leadership in rendering breakthroughs with the Quake technology.”

At CES, Game Informer magazine sat down with John Carmack and Todd Hollenshead of id Software to discuss many facets of the game industry as it applies to both PCs and consoles. Right away, Carmack confirms that he is working on a new engine for a completely new franchise not based on any of the company’s currently existing intellectual properties. Carmack said that Quake Wars, which is based on an upgraded Doom 3 engine, will not be a DX10 game.

On the topic of DX10, Carmack said that there’s nothing at the moment motivating him to move to the new API just yet for Quake Wars, citing that he’s quite satisfied with DX9 and the Xbox 360. “DX9 is really quite a good API level … Microsoft has done a very, very good job of sensibly evolving it at each step--they’re not worried about breaking backwards compatibility--and it’s a pretty clean API,” he said. “I especially like the work I’m doing on the 360, and it’s probably the best graphics API as far as a sensibly designed thing that I’ve worked with.”

Gamers often look to Carmack to tell the fortunes of PC gaming hardware. His opinions on hardware can sway hardcore gamers to purchase one hardware choice over another. Those in awe of the potential offered by DX10 may want to hold off on that shiny graphics card purchase, as Carmack says that there isn’t a huge need for new hardware just yet, as current hardware is more than adequate. “All the high-end video cards right now -- video cards across the board --are great nowadays,” he said. “Personally, I wouldn’t jump at something like DX10 right now. I would let things settle out a little bit and wait until there’s a really strong need for it.”

Those wishing to take the plunge into DX10 will also have to do so while upgrading to Windows Vista. Carmack, however, isn’t all that excited about upgrading to the new OS: “We only have a couple of people running Vista at our company. It’s again, one of those things that there is no strong pull for us to go there. If anything, it’s going to be reluctantly like, ‘Well, a lot of the market is there, so we’ll move to Vista.’”

Carmack then said that he’s quite satisfied with Windows XP, going as far to say that Microsoft is ‘artificially’ forcing gamers to move to Windows Vista for DX10. “Nothing is going to help a new game by going to a new operating system. There were some clear wins going from Windows 95 to Windows XP for games, but there really aren’t any for Vista. They’re artificially doing that by tying DX10 so close it, which is really nothing about the OS ... They’re really grasping at straws for reasons to upgrade the operating system. I suspect I could run XP for a great many more years without having a problem with it,” he said.

Then on to the topic of multi-core gaming systems. Carmack has expressed his dislike for multi-cores, but with the two high-powered new generation consoles both making use of multiple cores, it may be something he just has to deal with. He says of the Xbox 360: “Microsoft has made some pretty nice tools that show you what you can make on the Xbox 360 [with the multi-cores] … but the fundamental problem is that it’s still hard to do. If you want to utilize all of that unused performance, it’s going to become more of a risk to you and bring pain and suffering to the programming side,” he laments. “So we’re dealing with it, but it’s an aspect of the landscape that obviously would have been better if we would have been able to get more gigahertz in a processor core. But life didn’t turn out like that, and we have to just take the best advantage with it.”

As far as the PlayStation 3 goes, Carmack isn’t thrilled at the lack of developer support in comparison to what he’s received from Microsoft. Nevertheless, he plans to support Sony’s console with his next generation engine and games. “We’ve got our PlayStation 3 dev kits, and we’ve got our code compiling on it. I do intend to do a simultaneous release on it. But the honest truth is that Microsoft dev tools are so much better than Sony’s,” he comments. “I think the decision to use an asymmetric CPU by Sony was a wrong one. There are aspects that could make it a winning decision, but they’re not helpful to the developers … It’s not like the PlayStation 3 is a piece of junk or anything. I was not a fan of the PlayStation 2 and the way its architecture was set up. With the PlayStation 3, it’s not even that it’s ugly--they just took a design decision that wasn’t the best from a development standpoint.”

Finally, the console wheel spins to the company from Kyoto, which Carmack says that id Software has never “been that tight with.” He does express his respect of Nintendo’s courage to take a different direction with input methods in controlling games, but his current and next generation of game technology is not targeted at the Wii.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls
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