At the risk of repeating myself: Here is the full presentation. My comments with timestamps follow.
“You have paid the price for your lack of vision!”
He’s talking about the interactivity of Doom 3 versus how static Rage felt.
In Doom 3, there were moving lights and machinery all over the place. In every room it seemed like there was a set-piece industrial machine doing machine-stuff. If you love watching little assembly-line movies like I do then these were fun to watch. Lights moved. The computers were interactive. The televisions had shows on. There were in-world videogames. There were physics objects and other dynamic items.
In RAGE, very little moves. He said it feels “stiff”, but for me it felt “dead”. Gorgeous, but dead. The thing is: We’ve got this astounding megatexturing system, and a lot of times I think we wound up with it acting as a very expensive form of skybox.
I’m not trying to claim that megatexturing is a failure or anything, but if I was making a game I know I’d pick id Tech 4 (Doom 3 engine) over id Tech 5 (Rage) in a heartbeat, even without giving the Tech 4 any kind of graphical overhaul. Then again, I’m a sort of graphics hipster in a relative sense, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. (I don’t think graphics were better in the past, just more efficient in a strict cost / benefit sense.)
Back when I was messing around with the Doom 3 engine, I was really excited about the real-time lighting. My thought was that it could be used to solve certain problems with procedural generation of indoor spaces. If you want to make a procedurally generated world, I see there being three major challenges to overcome:
- Culling – Without doing pre-computation on a level (because you just poofed it into existence when the player began a new game) how do you figure out what you should and shouldn’t be drawing?
- Pathing – Without analyzing the level geometry and building a network of waypoints, how can monsters and NPC’s understand how to navigate the world?
- Lighting – How do you generate shadows?
I’d always assumed #3 was the hardest, but id Tech 4 seemed to solve it. I think #1 can be solved with a few simple tricks, allowing for the fact that we have so much horsepower now that we don’t need to perfectly optimize a level.
Pathing is still a bit dodgy in my mind, although it’s not exactly my area of expertise. (For the record, when I’m talking about “pathing” I’m not talking about the A* search algorithm where it figures out how to get from A to B. That’s “easy”, in a relative sense. I’m talking about figuring out if A and B exist, where they are, and how they relate to each other. This is often done by hand, or through an expensive analysis during development. If we want to make “random” levels then we need to be able to build footpaths through them that an AI can follow.
A few years back id began this experimental thing where they made games for portable devices. At the time – and this was bloody ages ago – I remember commenting that this was a really interesting move because it let Carmack work with his strengths, which has always been related to efficiency and performance. LOTS of people can make fancy photorealistic lighting these days, if only because the hardware is so ridiculously powerful. NOT many people can get a really tight rendering pipeline running on (say) a system with only 250MB of memory or some other crippling limit.
And now Bethesda has closed it. Even though it was making money. Because…
Publishers and their AAA focus are beginning to sound like Orks screaming “MOAR DAKKA!“, except they’re using guns that shoot money and they don’t know what they’re aiming at. This sort of single-minded AAA monomania is self-defeating. Remember when EA bought casual developer Playfish for $275 MILLION? What a massive, massive pile of cash, all to buy a company I’d never even heard of. They paid an extreme premium because they abruptly decided they needed to jump in on this casual gaming thing, and they didn’t want to take the time to grow their own division internally.
And then social games became the big thing, and suddenly everyone wanted in on THAT action.
If you’ve got a small group of people who have some skill at task A, and it’s making money, then don’t kill A so you can have 5% more B. There’s value in diversifying, in keeping a lot of irons hot at once. If A becomes the Next Big Thing in the industry, you’ll have a small team that already knows the ropes and you’ll be ready to take advantage when the moment comes. You can expand your little A team into a whole division and you won’t have to crash-spend to catch up. It’s very likely those people doing A because they love it will be far more productive at A than at B. Human beings are not interchangeable light bulbs that can be moved from one task to the next without penalty.
It’s like a Civilization player: Oh man, science is the most important. So I’ll put everything into science. No expansion. No military units. No growth. Everything into science. Man, how are these other guys ahead of me? I should have the most science!
It would be one thing if AAA games were these sure-fire hits, but they’re not. The AAA realm is looking more and more like Vegas every year. If you win big you get Modern Warfare 2. And you HAVE to win big, because even mild success is failure.
Don’t take people out of “mildly profitable success” so you can cram more money into the AAA slot machine, when you can’t even know the payouts or the odds of winning.
Carmack just spent the last couple of minutes talking about the upheaval of changing the development pipeline, where a major change to the engine means everyone has to re-learn their jobs. (My words, not his.) Now he’s saying that even though we’re seven years into this console generation (give or take) we’re still finding untapped power in the machines. And I was just pointing out how games cost so much to make that you can actually sell five million copies and lose money.
I love to see this industry do well, and I’m grieved when I see losses. Having said that, it will take fantastic effort for me to feel sympathy if Microsoft or Sony are foolish enough to launch a new console in the environment. So far such things have been empty rumor and speculation. Let’s hope it stays that way.
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