John Carmack 2012 Keynote Annotated:
Part 2

By Shamus
on Aug 8, 2012
Filed under:
Video Games

splash_quakecon2012.jpg

You know the drill by this point. Here is the full presentation at Quakecon 2012. My comments with timestamps follow. Note that I’m just watching the video, pausing to comment at points that I think are interesting or could use some clarification for the masses.

8:05: “Doom 3 still holds up.”

YES.

I’ve said before that this era was pretty much a turning point in graphics technology. Doom 3, Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, Thief: Deadly Shadows*, and Far Cry. We can argue a bit about the true high point. Maybe you want to move it back to 2002 so you can include NOLF 2. Maybe you want to move it forward a year or two to include the likes of Half Life 2: Episode One, or Quake 4, or whatever. But the point stands that right here we hit a magical spot on the visuals vs. cost trade-off. Games could still be produced in two-year intervals, and they had just enough graphics that characters could emote. But they hadn’t yet dropped into the uncanny valley of photorealism or become so expensive that nothing short of mega-blockbusters could hope to turn a profit.

The graphical gains since this time have been so modest, and we’ve given up so much to get them.

* I’m commenting on the graphics here, not the gameplay. Also, Thief Deadly Shadows gets a demerit for it’s not-ready-for-primetime ragdoll physics, which turned the town guards into hilarious contortionists upon death. Also the tiny levels were inexcusable given the genre. Maybe I’m undercutting my argument a bit here, but the point is: With regards to screenshots, the game holds up really well.

11:00: “The interfaces were reasonably constant.”

He’s talking about their ongoing project to re-release Doom 3 with some graphical updates, some new levels, and support for VR headsets. In the process of updating the 2004 Doom code, they found themselves pulling bits of id Tech 5 (the name of the engine that drives RAGE) code and using that. When he mentions interfaces, he’s talking about programming interfaces.

Let’s make a simplistic hypothetical example. Let’s say you’ve got a bit of code for working out hit detection. Say there’s a bit of code for checking to see if a given shot will hit another player. Perhaps your code for Shoot Guy III looks like this:

Entity* HitscanDetect (Vector origin, Vector direction, float range);

So when the player pulls the trigger, you call this function. You pass it three values: Where the shooter is standing, what direction they’re aiming, and the maximum range of the weapon. (It’s pretty common in old games to simulate bullets that travel in a perfectly flat trajectory until they hit some limit, at which point they poof out of existence.) This function will return the entity (fancy programmer lingo for “thing that exists in the game world”) that was hit, if any. You can then use that information to take whatever action is needed. (Deal damage, subtract ammo, kill somebody, etc.)

Maybe in a few years you’ll release Shoot Guy IV. During development, someone might re-write HistscanDetect () to be better. Maybe it will use less CPU, or do more accurate detection. Maybe it uses less memory, or just has cleaner, more readable code. Whatever. It’s new.

So then you do a re-release of Shoot Guy III. You decide to take the new and better code and copy & paste that sucker into your older codebase. Easy, right?

Maybe.

If the interface is the same, then it’s easy. But what if the interface has changed?

EntityList* HitscanDetect (Player Shooter, Vector origin, Vector direction, class WeaponData);

See, in Shoot Guy IV, you added the railgun, which can pierce multiple targets. So the function now needs to return a list of everyone that was hit, not just one entity. Also, Shoot Guy IV had team-based gameplay, so you have to provide the identity of the shooter, so that it can check and handle friendly-fire issues. (The railgun can’t hit enemies hiding behind the shooter’s fellow teammates.) Shoot Guy IV also featured real bullet physics, which meant bullets traveled in a proper parabola. So now you have to pass the hit detection thing a little bundle of information describing the weapon being used and how it behaves, so that it can do the simulation.

The interfacehas been changed. The values you provide are different, and the results you get back are different. It’s similar, but not the same. Now you have to think about what you’re doing. Maybe you can plug in some dummy values for Shooter and WeaponData and call it a day. Maybe if you pull in the new code you’ll need to also bring along more code to deal with the WeaponData. Hang on, the WeaponData code is linked to this math stuff for calculating parabolas. And the math stuff ties in with the newer networking code for dealing with latency in an online game. And that code uses a couple of tiny bits of our newer, more secure networking stuff and the anti-cheat code that goes with it.

What you’ve done is tugged in a loose bit of Christmas lights and found yourself holding an immense knot of interconnected stuff. You’re not even sure where you should make the cuts between new and old. This was supposed to be a simple copy & paste job and you just dumped six hours into this and you’re still finding new knots. You’re not even sure how big the problem is at this point, much less how long it will take to untangle.

12:25: Scheduling development resources

This probably adds quite a bit to the cost of making games, and becomes more exacerbated as the process of making games is handled by more specialists.

In the old days you had programmers and artists. (Or, in the super-old days, your programmers also made the art. This was probably not ideal, but that’s the way it had to be.) Your artists kind of made levels, textures, and character sprites. Maybe Alan was better at some tasks and Barb was better at others, but the stuff was simple enough that everyone could stay busy.

Now it’s all specialists. Two different artists will have entirely different jobs, using different tools, on types of machines, to produce art that is needed at different points in the development. Alan can’t just start making character animations and Barb isn’t in the loop enough to contribute to making texture maps. So what happens when you’re a month from going gold? You need lots more polish on your texture maps, but you’ve got all the character animations done and nobody wants to mess with them for fear of breaking something.

What do you do? Force Barb to take her vacation here in October? I’m sure she’ll love that. Fire her and re-hire for the job in a few months? (If your dev team is owned by EA or Activision, maybe yeah.) Jam her into a job she’s not trained for and let her make low-grade assets?

Building a game is like building a house. You don’t need the roofers until the end and you only need the bulldozer at the beginning. House-builders use contractors to manage this sort of thing, which isn’t nearly as applicable to game development.

Keeping everyone busy and doing meaningful work is a major challenge. It’s yet another reason that games have gotten so expensive.

It’s also part of the reason behind day-1 DLC. (Not that I’m super-happy about the practice, but I understand the appeal it has to the bean counters who are looking at the idle artists at the end of a project and wondering how they can be made useful.)

13:25: “Doom 4 is being done in ‘Bethesda Mode’.”

Carmack said this meaning, “We’re in media blackout mode”, but I couldn’t help hearing this as, “The game will be riddled with hilarious and crippling bugs at every turn.”

Still, this is part of the cost of giving up their independence. They no longer get to talk about their own games until the folks at Zenimax say so. Alas.

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202020205There are now 85 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

  1. Alan says:

    “Bethesda Mode”… Sounds ominous.

    I hope that it has the kind of writing / scope that Bethesda has, but with the quality of engine that ID has – that is the dream.

    • newdarkcloud says:

      You want Bethesda writing? I mean, they make good worlds, but check that Fallout 3 season to see the problems with Bethesda writing.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Whats wrong with fallout 3?I mean doesnt everyone want to follow in their fathers footsteps and commit suicide for no reason?

      • Dasick says:

        Bethesda has pretty decent storytellers. They’re only getting better (look at Skyrim).

        Some of the quests for FO3 or Oblivion were inspired, and Morrowind was a masterpiece.

        • Arvind says:

          Um, I’m pretty sure your comment makes it look like they are getting worse. Skyrim was not very good at storytelling (to put it mildly), and they’ve never managed to top Morrowind.

          • Dasick says:

            “Storytelling” means many things. Bethesda is very good with environmental storytelling, if not other forms. Skyrim’s central conflict is rather interesting. Both sides look kind of bad, but I think it’s a lack of communication.

            There is a lot of evidence that they have decent storytellers, but I believe they are constrained by the necessity to get it right on the first try (the expense of iterative approach).

            • X2Eliah says:

              Communication is a key part of storytelling. Without it, great ideas are still just ideas. There’s a reason why storytelling is called storyTELLING and not storyTHINKING.

              • Dasick says:

                Right. What I meant is that the communication is there, but too subtle. Both sides are justified, but you have to look for it, wherein their bad sides are much more obvious.

                Example:

                Imperial Legion: “Wah, the Legion tried to kill me for no good reason. Why would I ever join them?”

                The officer that sentenced you to die skipped the due process, because she didn’t feel like dealing with the bureaucracy (she dies in the dragon attack). The imperial legionnaire that survived the attack is actually rather friendly towards you and wanted to give you a fair trial but was shut down by the chain of command.

                While this is implied heavily by the game, what is explicitly stated is that the Legion almost beheaded you.

                • newdarkcloud says:

                  Actually, by the end, the rebels are shown to be clearly in the wrong. If you side with the Imperials, you learn that they have a tendency to overlook crimes of Talos worship and have believers in their ranks after killing Ulfric. If you side with the Rebels, you learn that Ulfric’s a dick who just wants to be king once you kill the Legion General.

                  • Dasick says:

                    Skyrim is home to a proud people. They don’t like the principle of someone coming into their home and telling them how to worship their gods, even if no one does anything about it.

                    Furthermore, the Stormcloaks see the Empire as a crumbling bureaucracy (let’s kill some guy so we can avoid the paperwork – erm, what?!), with their rule weakening their homeland. In their opinion, the only way to stave off Thalmore invasion is to unify Skyrim and return to their tradition, which in their mind is what makes them strong. Considering that Skyrim is a land of ice and snow and elves are know wussies, Thalmor invasion is likely to end badly for the Aldmeri Dominion.

                    So, yeah, the rebels do have a valid point of view. It’s communicated rather subtly within the game, but it’s still there.

                    • newdarkcloud says:

                      The rebels (ie, the soldiers themselves) have good reasons, but they are being completely manipulated by there leader. From what I saw, Ulfric was just using religious fervor and Nordic pride and jumping on the bandwagon in order to achieve his political goals. The scene, were he reveals that he is lying, calls every single thing that he’s done in the past into question.

                      And starting a rebellion is not the way to unite a nation. In fact, it does the opposite of that. You heard stories from the people of families divided by the war. If the goal was unity, he was doubly foolish.

                      You also can’t explain the sheer amount of xenophobia just by using pride as a reason.

                      I’m NOT saying the Legion is perfect, but Ulfric took advantage of a bad situation for his own reasons.

                    • Adam says:

                      I’d say the fact that there are people who are actively arguing about which side is “right” speaks volumes for the quality of the game’s side-story. More like this, Bethesda, and less like Fo3.

                    • newdarkcloud says:

                      Possibly, but a lot of people liked and hated the Mass Effect 3 ending and loved arguing for/against it the same as we’re doing now.

                      Make of that what you will.

                    • Dasick says:

                      @Ulfric & Rebels – sometimes you have to endure pain and suffering to get better. The dentist, any form of working out, that medicine that clears up my allergies but makes me drowsy as a winter bear – they are not pleasant, but sometimes it’s the only way.

                      But the worse the situation is, the more decisive action is needed. Sometimes a limb has to be amputated because of gangrene. It may suck for a warrior, missing an arm for example, but it’s better than having dead weight and collapsing on the battlefield due to pain. And in terms of politics, “limbs” do grow back.

                      As for Ulfric, even if he is proud and power hungry, does that negate his pride in his people, him caring for his homeland? Even if he lied, he believes he acted for the sake of Skyrim.

                      @Mass Effect 3 Ending
                      ME3 ending was objectively awful. Anyone arguing otherwise either didn’t care for good storytelling or was trying to make themselves feel better about it.

                      I’m not saying Skyrim is well-written. I’m saying that their storytellers have a certain kind of spark that shines through. In terms of raw concepts, both sides are justified in their own way. It’s also hard to compare them, because they are justified in their own way :P

                    • MediocreMan says:

                      Considering Ulfric is a Manchurian candidate for the Thalmor, there really is no real solution to the problem created by the civil war.

                      Either way the Thalmor win

                      I think this is, in part, created by the massive time lapse since the last game and the creation of the Great War. Pretty much every group that you cared about in the previous games is either gone or on life-support.

                      To be honest, the Thalmor are a more interesting threatening force to Skyrim and Tamriel than Alduin.

                      Seriously, except for the first dragon attack, how many cities/forts have been affected by dragons? In contrast, the entire province of Skyrim is locked in a life and death civil war which was instigated by the Thalmor in an attempt to finally crush the Empire as a force in Tamriel.

            • Nathaniel says:

              “Skyrim’s central conflict is rather interesting.” Not… really. Skyrim’s central conflict is pretty much, “Hey, here’s some dragon powers, go kill some dragons.” I mean, yeah there’s certainly a bit more to it than that but the main story is rather one-sided.

              The tertiary, side-lined, utterly unimportant conflict of Skyrim is, as you say, rather interesting. A lot of the writing there is pretty bad, as it is with the rest of the game, but the overarching structure and ideas are pretty neat. However, the extent to which Bethesda trivialized this story is a pretty good indicator of the ways in which they aren’t good at storytelling.

              • Dasick says:

                Wow. I’m not a big fan of Skyrim or Bethesda, but that statement is simplifying things a bit too much don’t you think?

                Elder Scrolls series have always interwoven their plot lines with their rich, detailed, unique lore. Dragon aren’t just just stupid beasts for you to slay – they have a deep meaning within the context of the lore. Similarly the power of the Thu’um also has big significance to their world. By the end of the game, the world is a different place than it started out as, both in terms of politics, and the finer structure of it.

                And just so you know, I’m not talking about the choice between the two sides, I’m talking about the way both are presented. Skyrim, in my opinion, is a terrible game, but I can still recognize the skill and talent of (some of) the people working there.

                • newdarkcloud says:

                  That is correct. Towards the end of the game, the world has become a different place, or at least it should.

                  The only evidence of your actions doing anything is that random dudes in the street occasionally spout lines referencing what you’ve done. There is no lasting ramifications. There is no consequence. The world is stagnant.

                • Eric says:

                  Skyrim’s lore is offensively awful compared to Morrowind. I’ve even come across lots of new books which have typos etc. in them and look like they were hastily written by an intern – I don’t think that’s intentional.

                  Morrowind has some of the best lore in any game I’ve seen and some aspects are mind-bogglingly deep and open to incredible amounts of interpretation. Morrowind isn’t just a discussion about its surface plot details, it even goes into meta-commentary about the videogame medium and the relationship between player and game – and does so in a way that’s both subtle and enhances the game world and characters as well. See here for an example:

                  http://fallingawkwardly.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/the-metaphysics-of-morrowind-part-1/

                  All Skyrim has to say about stuff is “war is bad” and “people like to be powerful.” It’s infantile on a thematic level and barely ever capitalises on its potential. Lore as presented in Skyrim and Oblivion is a pale imitation of the earlier games, and basically boils down to a few bullet points both in how NPCs speak about the world, the plot details, the new in-game texts, etc. And Bethesda are ever-happy to pull stuff out of their ass when they need a deux ex machina (Psijic Order etc.).

                  • Phantom Hoover says:

                    Urgh, Metaphysics of Morrowind is a really bad introduction to deeper TES lore. It aggressively pushes its rather boring 4th-wall -breaking interpretation of CHIM without allowing for any others, and it leads to lots of people who first need to be re-educated from “oh, CHIM? That’s just the Creation Kit” before they can discuss anything.

            • LunaticFringe says:

              Bethesda can offer up some good environmental storytelling, but they seem to view narrative in purely mechanic terms to get you to where they want you to go. There’s nothing wrong with that when it’s well written and thought out, but Bethesda fails in this regard and it shows. Take the main quest objective in Skyrim after you kill the first resurrected dragon where what’s-her-name (yeah, Bethesda characterization has never been that good either, her personality and name completely escapes me) says that the Thalmor are involved. Her justifications for this are fairly stupid and you aren’t given a choice to skip it if you consider it to be a red herring, and thus you realize that the quest only exists to get you to go to Solitude if you haven’t done so already.

              Skyrim also has the problem of presenting interesting quest openings that simply don’t pay off in a satisfying narrative fashion (the College of Winterhold’s amazingly boring ending is a perfect example).

              Major actions that should have huge consequences for the game world (winning the civil war, killing the Emperor, etc.) also feel completely hollow and pointless because the game rarely ever notes your achievements in any narrative fashion.

        • Naota says:

          I wouldn’t exactly say they’re getting better. Everything I’ve heard about Morrowind tells me it had quite a few interesting premises and extensive world building, while I can say definitively that many of Skyrim’s quests had some of the worst writing I’ve ever experienced in a video game – particularly the Mage’s College and the Thieves Guild. Lots of them fail on multiple levels, with stilted dialogue, poor/lazy/just plain dumb plotting and direction, inconsistent facts nobody bothered to check, and cringeworthy prose that makes my high school English class look like Shakespeare.

          I mean, just look at the writing some of the books. In the Dark Brotherhood questline you kill the Emperor in the middle of a civil war and never hear of it again!

          Don’t get me wrong, Bethesda can tell a fine sort of story by carefully arranging objects in a room, but when it comes to words and actions they’re some of the most bafflingly inept writers ever to arrange a story. The little group of artists responsible for the interior environments deserve better context for their work than this.

          • Dasick says:

            “stilted dialogue, poor/lazy/just plain dumb plotting and direction, inconsistent facts nobody bothered to check, and cringeworthy prose that makes my high school English class look like Shakespeare.”

            Writing is re-writing as someone smart once said. However, the way games are made today, re-writing is pretty darn expensive so it has to be right on the first try or.. whatever we don’t care enough I guess.

            As final works, Bethesda writers are bad and have been getting worse. But if you look at their storylines as just rough drafts, they show promise and the occasional spark of brilliance Fallout 3 intro was pretty immersive and well told, even if it did have some logistical problems. Even something simple as the love triangle quest in Riverwood, Skyrim was actually clever. Both guys would get you to frame the other one depending on who you talk to first, but on your first playthrough you will think that the first guy you talked to is a jerk and the other one a victim. Despite being a simple fetch quest, it really made me think when I realised that.

            On the other hand, The Thieves’ Guild questline… It all starts out with the guildmaster accusing you of never having earned an honest coin – despite your player being an honest warrior or a pious monk or whatever. I am willing to bet money that originally the Theives Guild was exclusive to bad criminal types, like it was in Oblivion (if I recall correctly, getting into the guild required you to spend some time behind bars). However, during the development, and after they recorded the necessary lines, someone decided that it would be a good idea to let the player get everything on their first play through. They can change the mechanics easily enough but the actual spoken lines? Hire the voice actor for a full day to fix it? (because a good voice actor will not drive to the studio just for five minutes) This was not an issue back in the day when you had the programmers ham it up on the spot.

            Also, consider the pipeline. Voice acting (ie the story) is a big component that you want to be showing off to people. Think about all the gametrailers you’ve ever seen. Sometimes they cut out (or add) whole sections and entire mechanics. But voice-acting… voice acting never changes because the game studios are better equipped to work on the game itself, the assets and the cinematics than they are to work with voice acting. That means that you need to get all your voiced lines done as soon as possible. That means you need the final script in as soon as possible. But since you need all your other assets to be ready for the big presentation, your script is sometimes thought-out and edited and in parts it on the back of a napkin.

            • newdarkcloud says:

              The thing is, the first draft of anything should not be in the game. If that’s what it feels like (and I’ll agree on that) there is a problem. The stories do feel like missed opportunities, which makes their failure all the more annoying.

              While I liked the dating quest, I really wanted to screw both guys over for their childishness. That would have been a nice option. Force them to grow as people.

              Nitpick: The guy who stops you isn’t the guild master. He’s the second-in-command.
              Anyway, I actually think that locking people out of quests until they get the right skills would be a great idea. It would inspire people to roll different characters or try something out they might not otherwise.
              And that’s the responsibility of the development tram to plan these things out before VAs get hired. Use dummy voices if you have too, but plan it out so that issues like that don’t happen.

              • Naota says:

                The lack of a proper skill gate on anything quest-related in Skyrim is especially egregious when you consider that it’s possible to beat the entire Mage’s College questline and become the Archmage without a single point in Magicka or any magic skill other than a basic ward.

                What’s worse is that you’re actually appointed to the position by a random “mysterious” group of people not even related to the College that only one of the members has ever heard of before. Apparently in Skyrim you can just step in and solve matters of succession with absolute authority so long as you’re enigmatic enough. End result? Skyrim’s Archmage is now a magic-devoid thug who just happened to be inducted a week ago because of a mis-timed parlor trick and has since coasted by on a strict regimen stab-murder and neckslicery.

                • newdarkcloud says:

                  I just makes sense. You have no business being in the Thieves’ Guild without Sneak, Lockpick,and possibly Pickpocket (though I wish it was still folded into Sneak, tbh). It just doesn’t make sense.

                  The Companions to a lesser degree, but it would fix certain things. I remember going through a dungeon with one of them, and he said “I’m glad you’re honorable and fight people face to face”, as I was in the middle of scoring a Sneak Attack Critical with a bow from far away.

              • Dasick says:

                “The stories do feel like missed opportunities, which makes their failure all the more annoying.”

                That’s pretty much my point :) They have the raw power, it’s been getting better, but because of increasing production restrictions, they can’t iterate on it – strict deadlines, no re-writing, has to be “full of cool shit”.

                “really wanted to screw both guys over for their childishness”
                Stories are made of conflict, and conflict arises due to human imperfection. The quest made me laugh out loud when I realised the twist though. Perceptions and first impressions etc.

                @Naota (below)

                “one quest of ten he needed done by Thursday”
                That’s the problem, Bob in this scenario really has no time to flesh it out, even if he wants to. But even for a first-draft scenario, their quests are interesting and varied, if not in structure then in terms of presentation and premise.

                “While Fallout 3 at least had quirk and humour to give it personality, Skyrim’s writing is just… hollow.”

                Fallout’s world was smaller than Skyrim and populated mostly by people who you couldn’t even talk to. Simialr to how Shivering Isles had every NPC be their own unique person with a custom grave epithet.

                And no, that isn’t the fault of the gamedevs choosing an improper scope. That’s what ES games set out to do – provide a massive landmass to explore and live out adventures in. Much like Tolkien, their main character is their world, the NPCs are just props.

                “separates the developers that actually care from those who just want to put the minimum effort in to get the job done.”

                That’s what separates the artist from a worker, yes.

            • Naota says:

              I certainly do agree that the promise is there, but there just seems to be no drive or inspiration to actually expand upon the themes and ideas brought up in most of these quests. They do the minimum work required to be a quest, then terminate abruptly and are never heard from again.

              It feels as if the people in charge really don’t care about the characters they’re writing or the stories which are being told through their actions – like Bob in the writing department sat down and jotted out a short paragraph before lunch detailing the vague idea of what might happen in one quest of ten he needed done by Thursday, and it was never expanded upon or edited since. There’s no sense of continuity to anything and almost no creative spark in the vast swathes of dialogue and interaction. While Fallout 3 at least had quirk and humour to give it personality, Skyrim’s writing is just… hollow.

              At the end of the day, it’s easy to write a quest concept that could be made into something great. Actually investing the time and effort to do so rather than cruising along the path of least resistance to check off “one more quest in X area” on a features box is what separates the developers that actually care from those who just want to put the minimum effort in to get the job done.

      • Matt says:

        Bethesda writing isn’t even bad in Fallout 3, as long as they are writing with settings and props and not, y’know, actual words. The vaults and tiny vignettes with they created with just a few props (A tiny skeleton and a teddy bear in a fallout shelter tube, the janitor with his liquor and mop, etc) were excellent. It’s just their actual stories that were bad.

        • newdarkcloud says:

          That’s less writing and more the gaming equivalent to stage production and theatrics. It’s still something they greatly excel at, but I don’t know if that’s “writing”.

          • Dasick says:

            Isn’t it storytelling though? It conveys a story and tone and mood, they are usually done subtly, but obvious enough for you to notice and they give context to the world around you.

            The fact that Bethesda’s employees are so good at this kind of environment setting is what really tells me that they’re good storytellers, they’re just cock-blocked by the production restrictions.

            The environmental stuff they do is both easy to do, but there are no requirements for it (if they were getting paid to specifically do that, I’m pretty sure it would be all in our faces). They just pick random misc trash someone made for the game already and they work with it. It doesn’t work out? Re-do it or scratch the idea completely. Zero cost of iteration and implementation. What is really driving the storytellers is the desire to tell a story, make the world come alive.

            I imagine it was the same with Morrowind’s NPCs and quests. It’s just text and scripts, once it’s in place you can work on to your heart’s content with practically no cost. Compare that to “we need to re-hire the voice actors to change the quest structure”. Good luck doing that on your own time for the love of the game.

    • Eric says:

      Bethesda mode means that every id game from now on will be littered with awful writing, zombie-like characters and will come out with powerful mod SDKs.

      Oh, wait…

    • Winter says:

      “Bethesda Mode”… Sounds ominous.

      No joke. Hopefully they know what they’re doing, though. Would be sad if this “brave new world” killed the game developer.

  2. Kdansky says:

    >The graphical gains since this time have been so modest, and we’ve given up so much to get them.

    We’ve not really given up anything. TF2 is just as good a game as Quake 3 Arena was. But we’ve also not gained anything. Modern Warfare 3 (2011) doesn’t have anything significant that Unreal Tournament (1999) didn’t have. I also disagree that current games look better. It’s been the (half-)century of the consoles, and even the best-looking current-gen titles don’t look that much better than Unreal 3 (2007, FIVE years ago!), because they have to run on the same hardware. Note that my examples are all shooters, where graphics have always been of primary concern.

    But I agree that we have hit the point of diminishing returns for graphic fidelity.

    And then there is Minecraft: It actually needs a rather powerful machine to run well, because it throws that power not at graphics, but at world-size instead. I wish there was more of this. I want bigger worlds and more stuff, not prettier pixels.

    • Torsten says:

      That really goes to show that the good looks are not because of graphics but because of good art style. It is a big reason why TF2 or Half-Life 2 still look good.

      A sad thing is that the hunt for graphics has cast hunt for physics to the background. Racing games seem to be the only genre that has gone forward on physics, most games from early 2000’s not only look still decent but also act well too.

      • Thomas says:

        There is a corollary here though, that a low-powered game can look good because of it’s art style, but it has to be a very specific type of art style. I don’t think I need to illustrate with TF2 and as an non-playing observer I’ve never been in a position where I feel HL2 looks good, but if you want the fabulous jungle vistas and snowy peaks of Uncharted you can’t have a cartoon game

        And if you want to create a heavily stylised game full of constantly flowing colours, changing textures and strobe lighting, well that stuff can take some power.

        I’m still hopeful (and stuff like Unity is hinting towards this) that there will be a time where better graphical power is going to increase the developer choice a thousand fold rather than limiting it

    • Lalaland says:

      Large commercial FPS have not moved on in a few years due to consoles being the target platform but are you really claiming that titles like Metro 2033 don’t look dramatically better than UE3 titles? The gains in graphics are a lot more subtle these dayas than the transition from models with hundreds to tens of thousands of vertices but their effect is to my eyes more significant.

      The dark claustrophobic atmosphere of that game was entirely driven by an advanced lighting model that actually made torches work in the same fashion they do in the real world (soft radius, distance based brightness falloff, intensity shifts based on charge, etc). The ability to render crowdss at very high detail made each Metro stop seem like a real place with individual dramas (albeit this worked better with the Russian VO, I can’t understand bad acting in Russian ;) ).

      ‘Teh grafix’ are not what a makes great game but a games that are designed to take advantage of newer technology can deliver a better experience than ones relying on older tech. It does of course come down to who uses the tech and whether they’re just slapping it in there for the sake of it, the trillion polygon tesselated road barriers in Crysis 2 leap to mind for example. The much subtler tesselation on character models in Metro 2033 wasn’t earth shattering but it did help to eliminate the most obvious sharp poly corners in character faces.

      • Anorak says:

        Heartily agree with the metro 2033 sentiments. I can’t imagine that game working with a a Q3 engine. You wouldn’t get the crowds, the lighting would be mostly static, so the atmosphere would suffer. Or maybe I’m wrong, and spoiled, and I can’t go backwards in my head.

        Actually, lighting and such has always been used to good effect despite a lack of decent dynamic lighting systems, The dark engine was good for that.

        But then the ghosts…can’t see how I’d achieve them with 2002 level tech. Um.

        Oh, and something I noticed – the conversations between NPCs at different stations are lifted straight from the novel, which is really really cool. They sit around campfires telling ghost stories about other stations.

        Anyway – yes. Metro 2033 is still one of the best looking shooters I’ve ever played.

      • I’ve just been playing Metro 2033 and the quality of the lighting is incredible. It actually looks like real light. The lighting in UE3 isn’t great(I haven’t had much experience with it), but I think it mostly looks bad due to the plasticy shaders of the engine, rather than any fault of the light itself.
        Also, as you note, most people don’t notice lighting and just notice “grafix!!!1!!”

      • Kdansky says:

        I will concede that Metro2033 looks great (better than Crysis).

      • AJ_Wings says:

        Funny how a small Eastern European developer achieved all of that in the (reported) budget of 4-5 miliion dollars while other western developers like EA/Visceral have to sell 5 million bloody copies to break even. A linear third-person shooter that would probably take 6-8 hours to complete. Talk about over-bloated budgets.

      • Winter says:

        I think you can shorten that and say basically the reason we’re still playing the same game over and over again is consoles.

        There’s some additional stuff about changing audience (mainstreaming the audience) and developing “formulas” to follow for game writing, but “consoles” is a big reason.

  3. Jokerman says:

    If Peter Molyneux was forced into “Bethesda Mode” would he spontaneously combust? Cease to exist?

  4. Simon Buchan says:

    idTech 4 only really holds up from a “ability to push pixels” point of view: the engine is almost pathetically inflexible with it’s inability to do any sort of ambient lighting or have any specular variation, let alone mapping (why everything is either completely matte or SHINY WET). The high fragment cost w/r/t contemporaries also means it’s polycount had to be very low (in many cases weapon and character models were lower polys than comparable Quake 3 models!) meaning that any sort of geometric complexity, like say a landscape, was out of the question. But I do really like the conceptual design of the engine, unified lighting is really the right way to go for development and game design flexibility, just that we didn’t have the power at the time to make it work. Many of the ideas of unified lighting seem to have made their way into Unreal Engine 4 in the best possible way (since they fully defer all lighting, even real-time radiosity is unified!), so I’m looking forward to that.

  5. Faguss says:

    Logo instead of creepy thumbnail? That’s cheating.

  6. Eärlindor says:

    So with regards to Doom 4, they’re not allowed to to talk about their games…. And talking about the development process (referring to Shamus’ comment on Rage last post) is also taboo, yet Carmack can get away with that. Is that because the because the game is out? But if that were the case, why would talking about the dev process still be taboo?

    Could someone explain this to me, please?

    • Thomas says:

      He did say at one point that he feels the way he talked about Rage hurt people’s perception of the game, when they enthused about such and such it led people to think the game was going to be like Fallout. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just that he’s decided it’s better himself to toe the line with this one.

      I love when developers are critical, one of the stunning things about GDC is how deconstructive they are of their own games. It feels like the sign of a good designer that they’re fully aware of the flaws and are really interested in them

    • Winter says:

      It’s because he’s John Carmack.

  7. Chris says:

    > Maybe Alan was better at some tasks and Barb was better at others, but the stuff was simple enough that everyone could stay busy

    Maybe Alan should do his darned job!

    … Okay, yeah, I’m never putting memes on here ever again. For the next 48 hours.

  8. CaptainMaybe says:

    It seems to me that as games become increasingly complicated–graphically, artistically, functionally, etc..–it becomes a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. There are too many disparate specialists who focus on their very specific field at the cost of cohesive game-play.

    To use an example, say you wanted to create the best, most engaging, thought-provoking novel ever written. So, you hire Terry Pratchett to write the dialogue, David Foster Wallace to create the mood, Margaret Atwood to focus on character development, and George R. R. Martin to write the plot.

    Best book ever? Maybe, but probably not.

    Games, as much as books or movies rely, in my opinion, on narrative and artistic cohesion. Older games, like Doom or Mass Effect (the first), seem to have this cohesion, whereas many newer games (see Star Wars the Old Republic) lack it.

    At least, that’s what I’m thinking, seeing it from the perspective of a consumer.

    • Dasick says:

      Pretty much. Chris (Campster) talks about it in his Doom video, but the gist is, game developers are artists who each give the game their vision and personality.

      Too many of them and you have a multiple personality disorder. Or you hire people who are just punching the clock (which is worse?)

    • False Prophecy says:

      It’s only going to get worse at the AAA level. Movies–the other big artistic medium that relies on numerous specialists to produce the final work–may have diminished the importance of the director in recent years, but auteur theory has strong foundations in Hollywood and the director still calls the shots.

      But in gaming, Molyneux, Carmack, Spector and the other old-school auteurs are getting old, and don’t have the pull they used to. Tim Schafer might, but only because he’s (understandably) turned his back on AAA gaming. Who’s the new generation of AAA game auteurs? Cliffy B?

      To his immense credit, while Shamus really didn’t like the ending of Mass Effect 3, he was also pretty clear that the story belonged to BioWare, and shouldn’t be at the mercy of the whims of fans. And almost every serious writer, creator and critic who commented on the fan outrage, regardless of their position on the ending, felt the same way. Because whatever entitled fanboys, social media gurus, and the hip-to-be-square executives who listen to them think, actual artists and art critics agree on one thing: you cannot crowdsource good art. An individual or a very small group of individuals ultimately have to call the shots according to their artistic vision and stand by their work. “PLEASE ALL, AND YOU WILL PLEASE NONE.” If AAA gaming fails to recognize that, then it will never rise above the level of amusing distraction–it will never be art.

  9. X2Eliah says:

    So, er, I think this post is missing the “read the rest of this stuff after the break/jump” thingie…

  10. Paul Spooner says:

    House-builders use contractors to manage this sort of thing, which isn’t nearly as applicable to game development.

    This is mostly because we’ve been building houses for a few thousand years. We’ve been building houses practically the same way for about a hundred years. Every contractor knows exactly what they are supposed to do, and the best way to do it. You don’t need to have big vision meetings on how the paint will interact with the siding, or how to nail the roof joists on to the walls frames. They’ve all done this before, and learned from people who have done it before.

    The problem is that both software development and game development are relatively new and undeveloped disciplines. If you wanted to build a tetrahedral house, made of concrete and recycled tires, floating on the ocean, with the ability to connect to other houses, and travel safely in outer space… well good luck finding a contractor for that. That’s pretty much where AAA game development is at. We have a good idea how to work with the components, but bringing it all together gets problematic. In another hundred years you’ll probably have game development contractors just like you can get contractors for building a house.

    • Tse says:

      Not all houses are built in the “old ways”. There is always innovation. Passive houses are comparatively new and need different details. The team of architect(s), many kinds of engineers and technicians have to collaborate in order to make the house work. Examples of failed collaboration in buildings with no innovation whatsoever: a solid concrete wall where pipes should be, misunderstood signatures that become holes in the floor, a balcony falling because a builder decided to put the reinforcement steel where he wanted, not where it was on the plan. Yes, those are real examples.

  11. Mark says:

    Spoilers:

    0:47:00 STOP SAYING THERE!!!!!!

  12. Carmack said this meaning, “We’re in media blackout mode”, but I couldn’t help hearing this as, “The game will be riddled with hilarious and crippling bugs at every turn.”

    Made me smile.

    You know, now that they are in Bethesdia mode, they ought to re-hire Sandy Petersen.

  13. thebigJ_A says:

    I didn’t hear the “Bethesda mode” comment that way, at all. It sounded more like, “this is the way Bethesda does it, and we want to do it that way, too”. Given what he said about people’s expectations ao RAGE, that makes sense. Hel, I was one of those people disappointed by RAGE simply because it never was trying to be the game I’d thought it was going to be.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Why can’t I edit this? I just posted it. Ignore my typos, please.

      Unrelated, is anybody else getting the thing where lots of websites have the swirly loading circle going for a long time, with “waiting for facebook.com…” down at the bottom? It’s happening more and more, lately, and annoys me.

      • Lalaland says:

        NoScript for Firefox is your friend, I usually disable scripts from facebook for both privacy reasons and because all those scripts really bog websites down.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          Is AVG DoNotTrack the same sort of thing? It’s got “Facebook Social Plugins” under Social Buttons, and “Facebook Connect” under Web Analytics.

  14. Zak McKracken says:

    I enjoy it if John Carmack says something, especially if he’s so refreshingly honest about things going wrong.
    I just wish he wouldn’t say “I…I” whenever he starts thinking in the middle of a sentence.

  15. JPH says:

    I disagree about Doom 3 still holding up.

    Well, I suppose it may still hold up grpahically, but aesthetically it’s very boring.

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