Slide to Play Q and A: John Carmack Talks Apple

In Part 2 of our interview (Part 1 can be viewed here) we talk to John about what’s next for his mobile development company, the joys and perils of working for Apple, and what he thinks of the media and game developers shifting towards the iPhone and iPod Touch.

What’s next for id Mobile?

We are just now wrapping up our development on the traditional Java/BREW phones. The id Mobile team is developing the last of the BREW versions of Doom 2 RPG. We are internally going to be moving them to doing an iPhone Doom 2 RPG based off of the code of Wolfenstein RPG.

We probably will not do another Java/BREW game internally. I’m just sick and tired of the absurdity of spending all this effort to cram something into a 600k, over-the-air transfer limit for a phone that might have bits of flash internally.

We made pretty good money on the mobile space– we sold several million units of all the different things, and I was proud of the sort of new genre we created with the turn-based RPG stuff on there. But after we’ve done that a few times on there and then done some iPhone projects, it’s just so much more rewarding to work on the iPhone. To publish it yourself through the App Store, to not have to go through the special relationships to get your stuff placed on the decks of 300 different mobile carriers. And I have every reason to believe that the iPhone stuff will turn out to be better business as we go forward in the coming years.

So, end of the road for the Java/BREW stuff, expecting to keep the effort focused on the iPhone. I hope to have one iPhone release a quarter going forward. So this year we had Wolfenstein Classic, Doom Classic, Wolfenstein RPG and Doom Resurrection.

I hope to have the exact same mix next year, probably two classic games with Quake Classic and Quake 2 Classic, the Doom 2 RPG game coming over to the iPhone version, and then probably one new from-scratch game which will probably be a RAGE-themed racing game.

So what’s the next game out?

The next one out will almost certainly be the Doom 2 RPG title, because that’s actually already in development. Development hasn’t started on Quake Classic.

Do you think we’ll have online multiplayer for the Quake Classic games?

It’s an interesting question there, where especially if we ran the Quake World code base on there, that has predictions, latency tolerant stuff on there, you could do fairly well on there. I’m a little hesitant. I probably wouldn’t enable it for 3G play, because the ping times are such that you could play a game like that, but it’s not really good. But for internet play over wifi, it certainly would be fine on that’¦

It probably wouldn’t happen next year, but at some point I would not be at all surprised if we ended up having a Quake Live league for the iPhone where we bring over the Quake Live stuff on there. Not throwing them into the shark pit with people playing with a mouse, but maybe having a separate walled-off area for that, still having the same kind of stat tracking and awards and all that stuff going on. But that’s a ways in the future.

What’s your relationship like with Apple? Do they give you preferential treatment, and are they going to feature Doom Classic on their App Store page?

Yeah, I think we are being featured. My relationship with Apple was a bit of a roller coaster, where every couple of years Steve Jobs wants me to go do a keynote or something, and they’re really nice to me for a while, and then if I say something negative in a press interview about Apple, then I go onto the shit list for six months.

But the iPhone support has been good for me. The engineers are into working well with me, but the best thing for me is that this year Graeme Devine, who used to work here at id with me, took a job at Apple, in the game SDK side of things. And that’s extremely useful, because while there’s lots of smart engineers at Apple, and when I would talk with them about various things, I’ll get the information that I need. But a lot of times I have to explain why something is important to games. Having Graeme there, and he worked with me for years, he instantly knows what I’m talking about. And he can spend the time to run down and convey the message to whoever needs to hear it at Apple. So I’m super happy that that happened, I think he’s the perfect person to be involved there.

Are there any games you’re playing now, or trends that you think are interesting in iPhone gaming?

You know, that was one of the great things about working with Escalation on Doom Resurrection, Tom Mustaine has like every action game ever made on the iPhone, and he’s played all of them. I would kind of lean on him a little bit, to be surveying the environment and figuring out what’s important and what other people are doing. Me personally, I would play racing games, classic games, novelty toy puzzle things, but I’ve certainly spent more hours playing my own classic games on the iPhone than anything else.

How do you think the gaming media is doing in covering the App Store?

It was interesting to see how completely the traditional mobile space has been abandoned. And I think it’s a similar thing to the way I feel as a developer. The traditional mobile phones still dominate the space in terms of how many people have them, how many apps are purchased, but nobody wants to cover them because they’re so much less glamorous and exciting than the stuff going on in the App Store.

As we’ve released our last couple games on the traditional platform, it just turns out that there’s nobody to cover them, because everybody that’s doing anything mobile is pretty much talking iPhone. And I have complete sympathy for that because I’m essentially following that path as a developer on there.

It’s well covered, it’s good to see the communities and forums, and I think that’¦ at least the places that I wind up kind of going and looking on there, it seems the community still has this sort of friendly, more tightly-knit community on there, and it just seems to be more fun and less hostile than a lot of traditional gaming communities.

If I poke in on a forum, and reading it, there’s a lot less of the deeply tribal rottenness that you find in a lot of other places. It probably can’t last, but I did used to notice that a lot on Macintosh-specific things relative to PC forums. So maybe there is some little Apple DNA that pervades out through the platform.

Do you worry that you’ll spend a lot of time and money working on a game, and some 99 cent app will come along and steal the spotlight?

Well I’m real happy that Apple put in the top-grossing tab, because it is important to differentiate between something that’s a novelty or a little gimmick app on there, and something that had a team of developers working for a year on. They really shouldn’t be put side by side on there, so I think that’s an excellent step that Apple’s taken.

There’s no denying that we have an advantage as id software, with our classic IPs on here, that we have some clout. I mean, you’re talking to me right now. So we do have advantages over the kind of garage operation.

But it’s still an excellent platform for people to be doing innovative things there and I think that we are in the sort of cliché, a rising tide lifting all boats now. The gimmick apps are making money for them, and we’re making more money on the bigger apps, and I think everything’s growing now as Apple expands the platform. I’m definitely seeing positives on it going forward.

  • jose

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