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QuakeCon 2007 keynote recap

Erik Hanson

Even though we couldn't liveblog the QuakeCon keynote, that didn't mean we weren't taking notes. It's Sunday, the final day of this giant BYOC (bring-your-own-computer) LAN party organized by volunteers right in id's backyard: Dallas, TX. Want to see how things went down on Friday night, when they announced Rage, their first game built using the id Tech 5 engine? Or how about the status of the next Wolfenstein game (hint: they're making one). Or how about John Carmack's thoughts on cell phone game development (if anyone can get us excited ...).

6:10pm - We're all filing in.

6:17pm - Todd Hollenshead takes the stage. Sponsor thanks; QuakeCon 2008 date is already set! (July 31 - August 3, 2008). He announces that the Enemy Territory: Quake Wars beta is open to all attendees both at the BYOC LAN, and as a downloadable beta once you get home. (The crowd goes wild). An October 2nd ship date is already set for ET: QW so mark those calendars.

6:24pm - OMG! Wolfenstein news! A new game is in development! ... and that's it. We already knew that much. No other news, just the teaser. Thanks for nothing, id!

Gallery: QuakeCon 2007 Keynote | 14 Photos

6:26pm - Of course, they announce that the Wolfenstein live action movie rights have been licensed as well. The crowd, still sore from the Doom movie, groans. Roger Avary is writing and directing, and Samuel Hadida is producing. They are not Uwe Boll, nor Andrzej Bartkowiak, and have some chops in the movie world. The crowd seems somewhat placated. Somewhat.

6:27pm - All id titles will be available on Steam! From Doom to, well, Doom, all major id titles will be upgraded to use the Steam delivery system. Downloadable codes for the original Quake were given out to attendees as well. Quake Arena is in development for Xbox Live Arcade, and will be out as soon as they can get it done. Quake 3 is still #10 on the Gamespy list of top-played multiplayer games, since its 1999 Q3Atest release. A second team at id will work on the ad-supported Quake Zero release, aimed at web platform distribution and intended for more casual gamers who might not otherwise pick up a more hardcore shooter title. Wow, Quake 3 for the casual crowd. We feel old.

6:30pm - Doom RPG sales have hit over a million sold, and Katherine Kang takes over the stage to demo Orcs & Elves for the Nintendo DS. It takes the original Orcs & Elves and Orcs & Elves 2 gameplay from the cellphone market, and expands it with full 3D modeling, keeping the core gameplay but adding dual-screen goodness for the DS platform.

6:36pm - Todd comes back to replay the id Tech 5 demo similar to the one from Apple's WWDC keynote. It looks great (as we were expecting) and Todd touts its cross-licensing abilities – should be easy to port between platforms. Todd claims "anyone who doesn't look into this is in someone's pocket!" (Rough paraphrase but he said we could quote him on it!) John Carmack takes the stage! Video for Rage is played.

6:42pm - id wanted to take a new direction, away from their usual stable of Doom, Quake, and the rest. Let's go post-apocalyptic! And, it's bright and open to boot (where those corridors at?) id also wanted to branch out into the cellphone and small device market, a new direction for the company, but one that has been profitable.

6:47pm - Carmack explains why the industry and developers are so risk-averse -- need we ask? Money -- due to the costs of developing a AAA title, and how degrading it was (literally) to reduce a title like Doom down to other less-capable platforms than the PC, eventually ending up on the cellphone as an RPG. Carmack says the team learned a lesson, that in re-imagining the title on a smaller platform, they were able to discover the freedom of starting on the small, low end and working up, going from cellphone to DS and adding features, and the sorts of things that usually end up cut out due to space or system constraints, and then moving up from there, to, say, the Wii or even Tech 5-level and adding features and eye candy to a proven gameplay or style. Once you get to the top end, you need more space: Each of the two wasteland areas in Rage encompass over 100,000-square units and 80GB of uncompressed data, which is why Rage will ship on two DVDs or a single Blu-ray disc.

6:52pm - John often goes on tech retreats, where he locks himself in a hotel for a few days, living off room service and coding in solitude. He did the core of the DS code this way, and also returned to the Tech 5 core engine refreshed and ready for new challenges. As an aside, one gets the sense that Carmack enjoys the challenges of these new engine developments, such as cellphone or DS, just to get away from the "monotony" of coding the same old top-end engines year after year. He complains about the pace of cellphone development, in that a whole generation of phones came and went between Doom RPG and Orcs & Elves, and yet the requirements and capabilities were basically the same for both. He loses no love for either Java, or the iPhone's application development. All he really wants is a smartphone WiFi-controlled rocket -- and who doesn't?

7:00pm - id is in the process of hiring approximately 25 developers to form a core "Team B" to work on Quake Zero, a first for the company that normally has worked on the same project together. John also wants to use this team to tear down the code "to the oscilloscope level" and see what might be causing lag in the game. He says Apple is uniquely positioned to be the most responsive OS, even if they won't win benchmarks, simply because reducing latency and responsiveness in controls can trump "an extra layer of eye candy" for many games.

When he began looking for a two- to four-fold improvement in the current engine tech, he noticed that he could focus more on the technology and gameplay aspects by increasing the baseline FPS goal from 30 frames per second to 60. So, Rage and Tech 5 games will have the goal of higher framerate rather than just focusing on eye candy and shader effects with no eye for performance -- and owners of last-gen video cards rejoiced. He thinks that Rage won't be the driver for uber-high-end videocards as the Quakes and Doom 3 were for their generations, but I get the sense he's okay with that.

Changing the engine tools also affords things like being able to edit level geometry and have artists come in and make changes to level art and "extras" and just having it appear, without checking out source from the repository, and without affecting gameplay or memory footprint. The smaller team at id never allowed for fancy tool interfaces, or extra support.

The multi-platform simultaneous release of a title like ET:QW means that some platforms like the PS3, which have a tougher development process, slow down the schedule and make for more of a pain. While it appears Carmack does like the PS3, he did complain about its split memory between video and core (and the fact the PS3 takes up more of it than the 360), while the Wii will never be able to support a title like ET. On the other hand, don't be surprised to see titles ported to the PSP, or even Quake 3 Arena for the DS. The next-next-generation of engines (Tech 6 and beyond) might even allow for editing geometry in-game, allowing for sculpting objects as well as painting on them.

And now the Q&A begins, it's time to wake up this guy before he falls over.

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