About the Author
Mass Effect
Final Fantasy X
Batman:Arkham City
Borderlands Series
Weekly Column
Champions Online
World of Warcraft
DM of the Rings
Good Robot
Project Frontier

John Carmack Quakecon 2007

By Shamus
on Saturday May 9, 2009
Filed under:


Almost two years old, but still a captivating* speech nonetheless. It never dawned on me I could just watch this guy on YouTube. I found this by way of a happy accident, and then experienced some sort of temporal shift as two hours vanished. As one of the foremost minds in graphics technology and a remarkable software inventor, John Carmack has lots of interesting things to say about technology, patent laws, mobile platform gaming, business, freedom, aerospace development, the OpenGL architectural review board, the difficulties of programming on the PS3, open source, rising development costs, Rage (their upcoming game) and many other subjects. The full talk is over two hours in length.

I must say his talks are pretty humbling. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for my cute little city thing until I realized that with just slightly more time he’d written an entire graphics engine for unfamiliar hardware. I made pretty buildings and a memory leak, and he made something that was robust enough to serve as the foundation for a multimillion dollar game.

Here is the full talk in playlist form:

I am eagerly awaiting the release of the Doom3 engine. In the past they’ve released their engines as open source as the software reached the point where it still had great academic value and little commercial value. But the graphics plateau we’ve reached might slow down this process. Doom 3 turns five this year, and it barely looks dated. It has certainly aged better than the original, which was very out of date by 1998.

Still, I’m hoping we see the Doom 3 engine not too long after Rage comes out. The unified lighting system is an exciting technology that I don’t think has been fully explored, even all these years later. It was one of those very rare advances that made things look better and made them easier to produce. It’s possible for the software to build (or load) geometry on the fly, which suggests that you could make procedurally generated maps. Barring that, it should at least be possible to make a game without any loading screens.

* Captivity not guaranteed. Well-adjusted people may find this to be dry and dull.

Comments (19)

  1. Jattenalle says:

    Don’t feel bad Shamus.
    Remember, on the other end of the spectrum you have 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Forever.

    In case you missed the news, 3D Realms are now dead.
    This neat little site sums up the various things that have been accomplished during Duke Nukem Forever’s development: http://duke.a-13.net/

    So don’t feel bad, at least it didn’t take you 13 (Thank you neolith) years and then you ran out of money ;)

  2. Magnus says:

    He certainly comes across as one of the great minds of the industry.

    My question would be, if the graphics plateau continues, will we start to see indie studios really competing with the big boys?

    I’d like to see a much more level playing field that reduces the inherent advantage of the big studios. Perhaps the lack of graphical advantage will help that.

    Also, it would be nice to buy a PC and still be at the forefront of gaming for a longer period without needing to upgrade!

  3. neolith says:

    @Jattenalle: DNF has been in development for 13 years I think.

  4. Jattenalle says:

    @neolith: Thanks, maybe I should have looked it up ;)

  5. scragar says:

    Youtube tells me an error has occured, and it won’t let me watch the video(well, actually it let’s me hear it, but won’t let me see it because of the stupid message).

    Is anyone else getting this, or is it just me?

    Guess it doesn’t matter though, I’m going to download the series and watch it later, no stupid error messages then.

  6. Anachronist says:

    For me, the value in your Pixel City project wasn’t the graphics itself, but the thought processes you described as you developed algorithms that are applicable to any platform. Your method of making procedural buildings was highly original.

  7. Jattenalle says:

    @scragar: I got it too, clicking the video in the playlist made it play fine however.

  8. Rob Conley says:

    What do expect? He is a rocket scientist who just won a 100,000 prize in the NASA lunar landing contest. ;)


    Unusually for the rocket industry he writes detailed posts on his work complete with video.


  9. DrMcCoy says:

    Apropos procedual generated cities: Have you seen Farbrausch’s Debris demo? It’s only 179kb, but generates a city, including a train, bridges, music and a story of sorts.
    Videos can be found on YouTube, the executable here: http://pouet.net/prod.php?which=30244

    (Sorry if I’m just parroting stuff somebody already posted in one of your Pixel City threads)

  10. Vadimirin says:

    One of my professors did a paper quite recently on this subject, and he published it… somewhere. I’ve got a link to his research page though:


    You might find some of the stuff there interesting in your own dabblings.

  11. Julian says:

    “Barring that, it should at least be possible to make a game without any loading screens. ”
    If I remember correctly, God of War had no loading screens. It simply loaded during cutscenes, so it was unnoticeable. Even pressing “New Game” would take you immediately to the opening cinematic.

  12. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I just want to point out a few things.

    1) he had more time and a LOT more focus. (there was no such thing as Left 4 Dead then)

    2) he went in knowing exactly what he was doing cause he’s done it all before. (so there weren’t any real problems to sit and think about, he’s solved them all years ago, so he was doing nothing but work)

    3) he’s a rocket scientist, he said so himself, this is his version of FUN. (I liked the toolbox metaphor, really fit with what he was getting at)

    So you can’t really compare your accomplishments with his, because they’re so different in every way.

  13. Did you notice how he flat-out states that it’s a goal to push users to buy new graphics cards? From part 6 of the keynote.

  14. Carra says:

    Watched the first twenty minutes and I think it’s really interesting, will watch the rest later. One good point is that making low budget (indie?) games can be a lot more profitable then big budget games. A 20 million dollar game just has to be sold a lot of times at a very high price. One failed game can mean the end of a publisher. While a game that costed 50.000 dollar can sell a lot less to get a profit. For the price of that 20 million dollar game 400 low budget games can be made. This makes your investment a lot less dangerous.

    And games without loading screens, I’m playing through Dungeon Siege (2002). The game has no loading screens, once you are logged in you can just keep on playing without seeing a loading screen. It’s something I also enjoy about WoW, there are only loading screens if you switch servers. It’s also something I find very frustrating in for example Neverwinter Nights, each time you entered a building or leave it you get a loading screen. With a rather slow pc, a big percentage of your time is just looking at loading screens.

  15. Anachronist says:

    DrMcCoy: Apropos procedual generated cities: Have you seen Farbrausch's Debris demo? It's only 179kb, but generates a city, including a train, bridges, music and a story of sorts.
    Videos can be found on YouTube, the executable here: http://pouet.net/prod.php?which=30244

    That is a very cool demo. It’s based on the .kkrieger engine, which Shamus wrote about here. We’ve come full circle. In spite of the long load time, I’m hoping someday to see a whole game using the techniques that were developed for .kkrieger!

  16. Stu says:

    If you haven’t read it already then the Book “Masters of Doom” is a simply incredible read. My pulse was racing as I devoured the contents.

  17. AFAB says:

    My Fuhrer, zere is a grammatical error in your post!
    Second line, “fond”, it should be “found”!
    Unless this is your master plan?

  18. Miral says:

    Ok, I don’t know why, but the layout of this page has gone seriously weird for me. (Width massively increased, making it really hard to read the post content since I have to scroll. Oddly the comments are attached to the right of the page and the comment editor and dice image to the left…)

    Edit: ok, I know why now. The spot where presumably a media player would be got replaced by a <pre> tag containing 444 spaces. Don’t know whether that’s on your side or mine (we do have a firewall that tries to kill off media players, so that could be the culprit), but that’s definitely what messed up the layout.

  19. Miako says:

    …and cut. Carmack — damn fine designer and programmer. Now if he could just write a decent game.

    People do things like this in their spare time:

    because Carmack’s work is that damn good.

    That, and people really, really really love Thief! (10 years old and they’re still making fanmissions? like “better than the original game” fanmissions?)

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *


Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>