Why Carmack’s role at Oculus is good for the industry

Thursday, 8 August 2013 08:37 GMT By Dave Cook

id Software co-founder John Carmack has taken up a position as chief technology officer at Oculus VR and VG247’s Dave Cook think it’s news we should all be excited about.

When Oculus VR announced that John Carmack has taken up a role as the company’s new CTO – without clarifying that he was staying at id Software – there was a huge, diverse reaction to the news. For the record he’s retaining his position at id, so worry not.

I watched our comment threads, news feeds, our many Twitter lists and Facebook contacts to see what people were saying in response to the news. Some called it the end of an era, others slammed Oculus Rift and the whole VR thing as a fad and unimportant, while others simply took it as indication of id Software’s death.

Personally, it’s an important announcement for the industry as a whole. I’m not saying this to be ‘that guy’, to create an air of hype or just to spark more arguments, but the fact remains that John Carmack is a genius of our time and although id Software’s output has been shaky as of late, there’s no escaping its history.

If you give David Kushner’s wonderful history of id Software ‘Masters of Doom’ a read, you’ll get a real handle on just how smart Carmack is. The man lives and breathes code, he’s an inventor of systems and he makes the seemingly impossible, possible. He solves problems. He gets the job done.

Before Carmack, Romero and their team founded id Software they had already successfully re-created the first stage of Super Mario Bros. 3 on PC. That sounds like a small feat, but Nintendo’s level scrolling mechanic was simply unheard of in those early days of PC gaming. Regardless, Carmack figured it out and asked Nintendo to license the port. They refused, but still, it spurred the team on to work on Commander Keen, and in turn, Wolfenstein 3D. You know the rest.

He’s a man who has made a whole new engine for most of id Software’s new releases. That’s why the studio’s games take long to make. It’s not because they always hit development hell and sure, some of the studio’s games have run into issues along the way, but the fact is that Carmack himself is a technical pioneer and is capable of great things over time.

Above: innovation.

The point is that he never does things by half, and he co-founded id Software with John Romera, Tom Hall and Adrian Carmack with dreams of re-creating the holodeck virtual reality concept from Star Trek. That’s probably why he’s interested in Oculus Rift. Hell, the company has even given him his own Oculus studio in Dallas. That’s big.

Why is it big? Well, look at the innovations in console gaming today (I’m focusing on consoles as Oculus already runs on PC) and you’ll see that the term ‘innovation’ is applied to things like increased technical specs under the hood, motion control and things like DVR functions. In my mind, these aren’t innovations at all; they’re singular features that alone are impressive, but they’re not re-writing the book of game development as a whole.

Oculus on the other hand is a whole new way of playing games. It does change the rules of what’s possible. Our very own Sam Clay has played with Oculus a lot and when he described the experience to me – this idea of tilting your head to look around in a game instead of moving the right analogue stick or mouse – might sound like a gimmick, but it’s a big change with huge potential for immersion. I had trouble comprehending it and that mystery was genuinely exciting.

How much further can companies change control pads and the mouse and Keyboard combo? I can’t see them doing much more with it. It’s hit a wall. Combine that pad with Oculus VR and suddenly the whole paradigm has shifted. It’s something we should honestly be getting hyped for, but because many of us don’t like change – in many cases myself included so I’m not immune here – we’re perhaps fearful of what Oculus is proposing.

What Oculus is looking to do is a slow-burning concept – to realise true VR where the headsets of old failed. It’s not going to happen overnight purely because it’s something that demands bright minds – geniuses like Carmack – time and resources to achieve, but it is happening right under our noses. When it drops you can expect big things.

Carmack isn’t leaving id Software. He’ll still be there tinkering with code and being generally brilliant, so fans of the studio needn’t fear his absence. But with Oculus VR he has the potential to make magic happen, and unlock the many mysterious of the tech its current payroll are perhaps yet to figure out.

History shows that he’s very, very good at that, after all.