Carmack 'Very Positive On iPhone,' Talks New Doom Resurrection
Noted developer id Software and partner Escalation Studios are wrapping up work on Doom Resurrection, a new iPhone game, and id's John Carmack told Gamasutra he believes Apple's mobile system is currently "the best platform for a small team."
Due in about a month, Doom Resurrection is a far cry from id's recent iPhone release of Wolfenstein 3D -- it uses assets from 2004's Doom 3, not 1993's original Doom, and it ditches Wolf's clunky on-screen joystick for a new aiming mechanic based around the iPhone's accelerometer.
Gamasutra spoke with both Carmack and Tom Mustaine, co-founder of Escalation Studios as well as Ritual Entertainment (now part of MumboJumbo).
And based on Carmack's enthusiasm, it seems the longstanding independent studio has no plans to slow its pace on the platform.
"I'm very positive on the iPhone here," the developer said. "We've got a line of classic games we're lining up, and we've got mobile titles we can move over."
Development Of Doom: Resurrection
"We had started off on this project internally, to be id's best foot forward on the iPhone," Carmack explained. The company had some "early missteps" with Wolfenstein 3D, so it conceived the new Doom game as being natively designed for iPhone. But as internal development was falling short, Mustaine approached the company "with a pitch for almost an identical game, but for the Wii" -- so much of the existing work was scrapped and Escalation took over.
"We had a visuals up in a very short amount of time," said Mustaine. "I think a lot of people underestimate how powerful the iPhone really is."
In id's original design, Resurrection used a tap-based shooting mechanic, but Carmack said it just "wasn't that fun." "You can't actually see the headshot, or his head snapping back, because your finger's in the way," he said. "Tapping on the screen is also very efficient -- there isn't much satisfaction in it when you can just tap three times really quickly.
"But tilting around the reticule has the same feeling as when you first picked up a mouse and keyboard or a controller, when you could tell there was some skill involved in getting it right, in how to line up your shot," he added. "We're really happy with it."
Back To Basics
When id began, it dealt with that all the time -- when any mechanical tweak could change the entire character of a game -- but on the larger-scale platforms id now develops for, such fundamental control systems are already standardized.
"As we go forward in [first-person shooters], there's a high level of confidence that the games will be fun," Carmack said of higher-budget projects. "That's why publishers are willing to fork over the huge advances -- it's relatively low-risk. We're not going to do something that just absolutely stinks.
"It's fun going into the new territory. We've been doing that in the mobile division for the BREW market. But the iPhone is so different; it's a totally new interface. The great part is that you can iterate over it. You don't have to think in theory, that this or that will be the optimal design. You can just do things three or four different ways and see how it turns out."
"The Best Platform For A Small Team"
Asked about how the iPhone and its app store stack up against other potential avenues for entrepreneurship in the video game industry, Carmack didn't hesitate.
"Right now the iPhone is the best platform for a small team to go and make their mark on," he said. "If I were off by myself, I would want to become an iPhone game developer. While you do have the big titles -- Sega or id or the other big companies moving big titles -- there are a lot of successes there who have moved an awful lot of units with smaller titles."
That success isn't about specs, Carmack pointed out; it's about the business model and distribution method. "While I like the iPhone hardware, in terms of having a nice display, a good amount of memory, a good processor, and a good enough graphics processor, the most important side of it is really the app store," he said.
"If the BREW platform had the app store with the same terms and conditions, and the iPhone had fifty different carriers and plans, we'd be on that other [BREW] platform. While I think Apple did a great job on both sides, the app side is more important."
The Many SKUs Of iPhone
Just this week, Apple revealed plans for a third major iPhone model, the iPhone 3G S, featuring yet more hardware improvements and features.
"Already there's a factor-of-two difference between the original iPhone 2G and the most recent iPod Touch -- faster processors, faster memory controllers," Carmack said. "The 3G S should be a significantly larger jump on there, specifically on the graphics side."
But despite being known as a pixel-pusher, Carmack doesn't see those improvements as particularly relevant to iPhone development. "For high graphics geek stuff, I can do things on the PC and 360 and PS3," he said. "I can't see many developers making 3G S-specific stuff as a business. People will make software for it, because it's fun to play around with the new features, but most developers will focus on running well on the base system -- and then maybe on the 3G S you run 60 hertz."
He believes Apple could see similar performance gains simply by improving its software -- but probably won't. "They could make almost a factor-of-two difference just with software changes. There's a heavy CPU tax if you're multi-touching around with all their other services running."
"The interface to the graphics processor is fine, but it's still through a not-totally-optimized OpenGL stack. We could accomplish a lot more there. But the smart money is probably on Apple enhancing the hardware and continuing to bloat the system software."
So what did excite the veteran developer this week? "I'm personally more excited by the $99 iPhone announcement that the 3G S," he said. "I'd be happier seeing them sell 50 million of the base model than pushing the specs up."