As the co-founder of id Software and the lead developer for classic gaming titles like Doom and Wofenstein 3D, John Carmack is a certifiable programming legend within the gaming community. And now with the ascension of gaming on the iOS platform, Carmack has firmly hitched his wagon to developing titles for the iPhone and the iPad.
In a recent interview with Ars Technica, the always loquacious and insightful Carmack opined in-depth on a number of issues pertinent to mobile gaming.
Much like the iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad is being positioned, in part, as a gaming device that, in the eyes of some, can potentially compete on a title to title basis with the big bad console boys. Still, the lack of tactile feedback is no small thing, but Carmack nonetheless feels that the iPad brings so many other positives to the table that it can ultimately serve as a platform where we might see a real Triple-A gaming title in the future.
Horsepower wise, Carmack notes that doing a high-level Triple-A title is certainly doable. One looming constraint, however, is that the maximum download size for apps on the iTunes App Store is only 2GB.
So while consoles may have the bulk of big name titles for the time being, one advantage to the iOS platform, Carmack explains, is that the relatively lower cost involved in developing mobile games lets developers take more risks and potentially churn out cooler software in the process.
“A modern, top-notch, triple-A title costs many tens of millions of dollars to develop.” Carmack explains. “If you have 60 or 100 people working for multiple years, it’s just really damn expensive. And, when there’s that kind of money on the line, there is an unavoidable degree of conservatism that comes in. You want to do things that you know people love and you want to make it better and polish it, but you really don’t have an opportunity to go off into left field—that’s really, really risky, and people don’t want to bet their company on things like that.”
On the flip side, lower development costs and shorter development cycles allow software companies room to fail in the pursuit of original and unique gaming experiences.
On the triple-A titles, you mustthrow in everything and the kitchen sink. Even if you have some brilliant part in there, if it’s a conventional genre and people can tick off the five things you didn’t do that other games did, it’s going to have an impact on the level of success that you can get. But there seems to be much more forgiveness in the iOS market to be able to have something that’s new and clever and different, and flashy…
Currently featured on the iTunes landing page, Carmack’s and id’s latest creation is Rage,a first person shooter for the iPhone and iPad. Will it be heading over to Android, though? Not anytime soon. And here’s where things get interesting.
There’s been some heated debate about which mobile platform is most appealing to developers, Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. While Apple got off to a solid head start with the iTunes App Store, Android has made impressive strides in both marketshare and in the selection of titles available on the Android Marketplace. And while Apple touts a lot more apps than Android, most popular iOS titles, by and large, can also be found for Android.
But there are a few glaring exceptions. Smule, the company behind hits such as I am T-Pain and Ocarina, for example, has expressed no interest in developing apps for Android due to monetization concerns and the increased burden of having to test a single app across varying handsets. More recently, Netflix announced that it’s been slow to develop a universal app for Android since the OS lacks a unified DRM scheme. As a result, Netflix has to work with each handset on a case by case basis to ensure that the installed DRM protocol meets Hollywood requirements.
And now you can add Carmack’s id software to the list as well.
While Carmack notes that he hopes to get some games up on the Android Marketplace, id has no intention of actually trying to turn a profit on Google’s mobile platform due to higher support costs. Not only that, but Carmack notes that the iTunes App Store takes care of a lot of the busy work that enables Carmack and his team focus on more pressing and important matters – like, you know, development.
The iOS platform has really been a pleasure to work on compared to all of the… half of the reason for us ditching the old feature phones was that it was so much more pleasant to develop for iOS. And I fear that we would be slipping back into some of that quagmire on the Android side of things…
The HD version of Rageis 1.4GB installed… and the Android Marketplace doesn’t even let you download more than 20 or 30MB, and you have to end up setting up your own server and doing your own transfer for all of that. Dealing with the user interface of managing space… there’s a lot of things that happen automagically for us on iOS that we’ll have to deal with particularly on the Android space. And that’s not a lot of work that’s going to be huge heaps of fun to do. It’s going to be dreary, tedious work that I would certainly push on somebody else personally, but I’m not sure that even as a company it’s something that we want to be involved in.
There’s a whole lot more in the full-length interview which is well worth a read over here.