While the onset of Epic's Unreal engine and the emphasis of casual games has taken a little shine off of his star, taking a meeting with John Carmack still feels like the rarest of events. It's something like climbing up to the peak of a mountaintop to converse with a seer.
So it went at this year's E3 Business and Media Summit. Safely ensconced in a lux private room at the ultra-chic Hotel Oceana, Carmack entertained very few E3 visitors this year. GamePro was one of the websites lucky enough to spend an hour of one-on-one time with the legendary programmer.
Interestingly, the focus in this conversation revolved around Carmack's work on something new and different: a mobile games and Nintendo DS engine. In recent months, Carmack's wife Anna Kang has launched Fountainhead Entertainment Software, a mobile gaming company that has produced Doom RPG -- widely recognized as one of the more interesting mobile games released in the last three years and, most recently, Orcs & Elves 1 and 2. Both are games that combine the first-person perspective of a 3D shooter with a turn-based approach to combat.
From Carmack's perspective, the mobile scene is fascinating because of what the programmer calls "the value of iteration."
"From a development perspective," he told GamePro, "The evolutionary cycle -- the ability to iterate two or three times in a year - is really exciting. If you have three chances, you're going to get it right."
Read on for more interesting snippets from GamePro's wide-ranging hour-long conversation with
Carmack: On id Software's model for developing IP...
"We've got a sneaky plan for IP. Orcs & Elves is a new IP [intellectual property] that we're going to migrate from the mobile platform to the Nintendo DS. This is a first for gaming...for the first time, we're actually going to port the game up, instead of down. In the process though, we're exploring a new way to develop new franchises...in the process, we're going to pull our IP forward."
"We think it [Orcs & Elves] is great - it's one of the best. "
On mobile game design...
"When a high-end title costs $20 million dollars, you can't really take risks. With mobile games you can...if you ever have the thought, "This would be soo cool," you can actually experiment with it on the mobile platform."
"The interesting thing about most mobile devices is that they have numerous limitations, but they're actually very powerful computers...the ARM processors on some of these devices are actually more powerful than the Nintendo DS."
"We believe there are many new directions we can explore...it's a damn shame that the main strength of the platform is that it's a communications device, but that the developers did such a crummy job with the network implementation."
"I had a blast doing the DS engine...Twice a year, I lock myself into a hotel room and start coding. This year, it was like going back in a time warp. Here I am 10 years later and the beauty is that I actually know now what I would have done differently then."
"..."Nintendo's engineers made some classic rookie mistakes with the 3D...but I love the architecture from a programming perspective."
"Fountainhead is pretty close to tapping out the value of my engine...they're hacking beyond the core design...I'm going to have to redesign it and revisit the cell phone engine."
On id Software, game and 3D engine development...
"Id Software has definitely gotten trapped in the first person shooter genre. It's possible that we could get trapped in into the same with these turn-based action games.
"We're talking about doing a Quake Arena-type DS game...it feels like a good fit for the DS. I'm psyched to experiment with network play."
"I'm too minimalist...I've come to realize that this is a limitation...but that's my style."