In a fascinating interview, John Carmack of id Software is talking about tons of topics: from math and how he applied his knowledge to write games like Wolfenstein and Quake, and all the crazy stuff that followed.
Also he takes on current topics – my favorite is his talk on ray tracing and the fact that he’s working actively on bringing that in production; also it reminded me of the times I was trying to do my own images in POV-Ray. But also he answers some questions I always had regarding high-quality graphical engines. And why consoles are so much better at games than PCs although the hardware is kind of crappy. The reason is explained in the first part of his talk, where he shows that the application layer is too thick, and he needs more direct access to the hardware memory – DirectX and OpenGL go in the way and when you’re trying to do very small operations the cost is thousandfold the cost of just writing directly to the video memory. The consoles allow for faster access – everything is there available, and, as he said, everything’s a pointer there, a pointer that can be written very fast.
For me it’s a huge revelation. Just like the moment someone explained me that a Z80 processor is far better at doing real-time processing than a low-end x86 processor (that was some 10 years ago) because of the setup that you can build around it. The same with console: I was always amazed about how much they can achieve while having such low hardware specifications.
He also talks about the infinite detail engine like the one from Euclideon that popped up no farther than the last weeks, with two main ideas: “If you take uninspired content and go look at it at the molecular level, it’s still uninspired content”, and doing procedural graphics (like the guys from Euclideon are doing) is a bad idea of lossy compression. Maybe you don’t need as much detail, but you need an enhanced experience, pointing towards devices like Kinect and direct retinal projection as the future of gaming.
It’s always refreshing to see such a passionate developer doing his stuff. I admire his verve and energy, and his deep knowledge in the field. I was impressed with the interview, and I also saved in my reading list an older interview with him done by PC Perspective. Also, I was impressed with Skyrim (I wasn’t aware that Skyrim will use the RAGE technology) and I am not sure that the alliance in which they are now (ZeniMax) makes Carmack so happy – although he suggested that he likes it and the exchange of ideas is very good, he felt to me a bit less enthusiastic. But I hope I’m mistaken.
Great interview, very interesting in all, and very intense – make sure that you schedule 33 unfragmented minutes, because there are no breaks and the interview is really intense.