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

Thursday, 8th 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.

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14 Comments

  1. Diingo

    The porn industry is going to take advantage of the Oculus.

    CGI will is becoming so incredibly detailed that using digitalized women might soon become the next attraction as we’ll be able to customize them, set up the environment…. and watch them bang.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Mus42

    Curious to see what Carmack will bring to Oculus, I wonder if they will say what he is focusing on?

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Erthazus

    I don’t see Oculus as the future because The vision is very limited in Oculus Rift and you need to move a lot to experience something. Imagine playing twitch shooter on it… Not really a good idea.

    Everything else is cool though.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. skyrimer

    Well said. I see the next gen games and even though they look great, it’s a new sugar coat and not much more. Titanfall, Killzone, Ryse, they’ll mostly play the same, a few innovations here and there, but far from revolutionary.

    Oculus is a whole game changer, and it goes back to the basics of gaming. We want to be in these virtual worlds, we want to be there. Current technology can’t do much more than it does already, but Oculus can, and adding Carmack to the mix will rise the chances for this technology to develop exponentially.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. alterecho

    As long as it doesn’t require you to be always online.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. viralshag

    Oculus is something I will never get into as a gamer. Maybe I’m being premature in saying that because I haven’t experienced it but I just can’t see myself getting into it.

    Whether it be gaming at my desk or on my couch or with an Oculus, the immersion breaker will always be that I’m not actually doing any of the stuff I’m seeing. I’m just sitting on my arse making things happen.

    When you create a full on holodeck, give me call.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Ireland Michael

    People are going to be very disappointed when the Occulus bubble bursts.

    The concept was terrible in 1995, and its still terrible now.

    Blocked vision will cause headaches. There is no way around this. And the gimmick of moving your head slightly to look around will get older faster than it takes for the headaches to even set in.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. xxJPRACERxx

    Nice! I’m a big fan of VR, almost bought a VFX-1 15 years ago. In the end got some HD3 glasses. HD3-Quake was awesome! Anyway, hope this time this will be it.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Stardog

    If you want to know more about how they’re dealing with the issues with VR, check Abrash’s blog. He’s like Valve’s version of Carmack. http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/

    Carmack was probably twiddling his thumbs at id. Their engine is pretty solid and locked down at this point. This gives him something to do in the meantime.

    @7 What about the gimmick of being centered in the world, as if you’re actually there?

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Mus42

    @7 I take it that you’ve actually tried an Oculus Rift then?

    #10 1 year ago
  11. lookingglass

    Carmack is going to be working on reducing latency throughout the VR pipeline. Latency is the root cause of the motion sickness some experience using the Rift and its the single greatest obstacle to its mass market success.

    In a perfect world VR latency would be equal to the latency of human sight. Sadly it takes much, much longer.

    Expect at the very least new GPU architecture designs, direct position sensor to GPU connections, better drivers for current tech, and better predictive movement.

    People who doubt the Rift are the ones who haven’t tried it. I see people playing the PS4 and XBO looking at most interested and content.

    I see people using the Oculus Rift and they have the biggest smile they’ve ever had. Well spoken people cuss and curse at how awesome and intense it is. They take the headset off and it looks like they’ve glimpsed the soul of the universe itself.

    It’s the next big thing and not only for gaming.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Ireland Michael

    @10 Have you?

    @11 Even without latency, having your vision enclosed like that is going to cause headaches and sickness. The human eye wasn’t designed to be used like that.

    Ell ooh ell at that fact there’s even latency at all. Yup, next big state of the art thing that’s going to change the gaming landscape forever.

    After first day sales, this is going to be another flash in the pan.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. sebastien rivas

    I do interpret Carmack as visionary and gaming experiencer but is it good for Occulus, I am not sure and time will tell…

    #13 1 year ago
  14. sebastien rivas

    When should we expect for something stamped Carmack to be available on the market?

    Are we talking something like 2 years, 5 years or more?

    #14 1 year ago

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