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Id Software founder John Carmack resigns (polygon.com)
590 points by footpath on Nov 22, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments

Wow, I'm just now seeing this news. Initially, I had that sinking feeling set in... I mean, like you, I have been impacted by his story, his games (not just the Wolfenstein/Doom/Quake franchises... I'm talking Commander Keen, boys and girls), his code, reading Masters of Doom, etc.

I can see my copy of Michael Abrash's Graphics Programming Black Book Special Edition sitting here, which was such a treat to read when it came out, because it has so many great chapters on the development of Quake and little stories about John's discoveries and thought processes throughout the development of the game.

But, then I thought... wait... this is a new beginning. I wrote about this previously, but, look for gaming to start heading in the direction of VR with technology like Oculus Rift. Also, with someone of the caliber of John Carmack involved (now totally focused on it because of the resignation announcement) with not only his passion and skill, but his ability to work with graphics hardware manufacturers and driver developers to effect change and garner the necessary support and backing, expect to see vibrant, compelling developments in this field.

In case you missed it, check this video out of John discussing some of his VR work. It is from E3 2012:


That momentary sinking feeling has faded away now... great things are ahead!

Frankly, he's too talented to keep making mediocre shooters for twitch gamers. Heck, 3D game engines are practically commodities nowadays. No idea if the Oculus Rift will succeed, but I love it when people on his level take chances. I watch the Rift project very carefully, and really see a lot of potential there. It might not end up being what we expect it to be in the end. We assume it'll be this great little game accessory like a Kinect. It has the potential to be much more.

Poorly optimized 3d engines are a commodity. Quake 3, Painkiller and Serious Sam 1 were a piece of great engineering. Also there was nothing mediocre in the twitch based era of id. Their decline began with Doom 3.

So, a bit of a rant, I dislike the current game culture meme of "this engine is poorly optimized". I am tired of seeing the following statement: game x is poorly optimized because game y runs better on my box. This is akin to saying: I find apples delicious, Oranges are terrible. Get apples noobs.

I would argue that the fact that you can drop in any one of a half dozen solid engines based on your programming language of choice speaks to the fact that they are commodities. At this point, for the vast majority of cases, it makes as much sense to write a 3d game engine as it does to write your own web server.

You can do it, but you could spend the time doing something that directly relates to the product you want to sell instead.

I think you misunderstand that for a long time, Id Software has made a lot of money turning 3d engines into a commodity. For John Carmack, the emphasis has always been on developing new graphics technologies that advance the entire gaming industry. He's first and foremost an engineer. He may have done a significant amount of game design back in the day, but for at least a decade he's primarily been focused on pushing the hardware to its limits. Since Doom 3, Id's games have pretty much been tech-demos for their engines. That's not to say that Doom 3, Quake 4, and Rage weren't good games, its just that none of them are truly memorable experiences like their older games were.

There are only a handful of major players that are making meaningful contributions to the world of 3d engines. If companies like Epic, Id, Valve, and Crytek didn't continue to develop new 3d engines, they wouldn't be a commodity anymore.

Also, the Source, Unreal, Cry, and Id Tech 5 engines are still differentiated from one another enough to warrant all four of them existing.

In short, I don't think 3d engines are a "solved" problem. Of course an indie studio looking to publish its first 3d game should obviously use a readily available engine, but the major studios still have good reasons to roll their own.

I'd imagine that a lot of the need for new engines is driven by new hardware, and it seems that the video hardware has stopped evolving at a rapid pace. nVidia and AMD have been focused more on computation than graphics recently.

Yeah, Doom3 was really bad and unlike any of their previous shooters. And Rage was a piece of garbage. Not even technically impressive despite the mega-texture tech.

Doom 3's problem wasn't it's engine. It was just crap. No matter how careful you were to cover yourself and check each corner, you'd always cross a 'tripwire' of some kind and a section of wall would open up - something you could never check - and it would always been behind you. It was the laziest attempt at horror I've seen. Once that became apparent, sneaking around was pointless. Just barrel forward, because it doesn't matter what you do, there will always be an undetectable secret wall opening behind you.

Compare to Dead Space, where the things that came through walls did so at reasonable points - ventilation ducts or similar. You'd be on your guard around those spots, but a solid wall was never something with a 'gotcha!' compartment. Being wary was useful in that game.

Doom 3 could have had the sexiest engine in history, but it wouldn't have changed the poor gameplay design.

Sure, after a while Doom 3 became boring and self repeating, but hell, it was one scary motherfucker to play in the middle of the night with your headphones on. I remember playing Doom 3 on my original Xbox and I just couldn't do it many times, as it was so damn scary.

Most of this had to do with the excellent sound design though, and this scary effect kinda ended when you got the bigger weapons in the game.

I've tried to play it a couple times but the first half hour or so is walking around with no shooting and nothing happening and that's pretty unforgivable for an id shooter.

Even Carmack admitted that in retrospect the lack of radiosity contributed to the poor gameplay. He also lamented that most of the art was never seen because it was too dark.

> Their decline began with Doom 3.

That was some 9 years ago, already...

Yep, this.

I'm extremely relieved that he's gone onto new things. As much as I loved and grew up on Quake, the company is still rehashing their greatest hits with little to no inventiveness or creativity.

I'd much rather see Carmack's talent applied to Oculus which I am incredibly excited about, rather than another extremely anodyne shooter. Gaming's moved on.

I am absolutely blown away by the video you linked. I recommend everyone here watch it to see John Carmack's brain at work. Just an example: he used his sensor experience from Armadillo Aerospace to calibrate the gyroscopes on the Occulus for significantly reduced display latency.

I'm buying one just because of this video.

I agree. Carmack's enthusiasm about this project is infectious. My heart rate increased at least 20 bpm by the end of that video, and I only understood fragments of what he was talking about.

Same feeling. Followed by, "Oh good, he's going to focus on Occulus."

If there's a man you want as CTO, it's Carmack. One of the all time great programmers working full-time on VR is the best possible outcome.

Hmm... I'm not convinced. I think you want john carmack as an engineer with a lot of freedom and resource and a limited amount of management responsibilities. He seems far better suited to being first among equals (first among equal engineers) than to being a technical business-decision maker. Give him the role of arguing for the right decisions rather than making them, and I think you'll get a lot better value for your money.

Can't say I'm too surprised by this. I mean, the guy's amazingly talented and has been working almost exclusively on technology for basically the same game for like 20 years. Granted, the hardware has changed considerably during that time, but I can see how that might become just a wee bit tiresome after that amount of time. Definitely looking forward to what he's able to do for VR though.

Wow that was one of the most informative interviews I've ever seen.


Is Vinny using a wrench... on a hammer?

This is fantastic news.

I loved Id back in the day. When all it took for a game studio to be great was the most advanced code, Id was king! Then FPS games became more like movies, and Id became a bit like Michael Bay. They still pushed the technology forward, but almost everyone was making FPS's that had better plots, characters, etc.. The technologies Id licenses to other game studios are put to better use by them than in Id's own hands!

VR has been around for decades, but it has always sucked. Low resolution displays and poor head-tracking have historically been problems, but latency has long been a problem that trumped all others. Carmack and Oculus were already working on getting Rift's latency down to levels that would make VR a less nauseating experience for users.

This move just means Carmack is finding his work at Oculus more rewarding than at Id. That means we can probably expect great things from Oculus in the near future.

I think this check had been in the mail for a while. He is clearly far more excited these days about VR and where it can go. I'm sure he has more than enough money too to never have to worry about working again if he wanted.

I really wish him the best of luck, truly one of my favorite people in tech. I hope we still can get his annual keynotes, because they are great to listen to.

He was always excited about VR. One of his life's ambitions is to create the Holodeck from Star Trek. Games were an important stepping stone along the way.

Games aren't a stepping stone. The holodeck is just the ultimate game.

"He is clearly far more excited these days about VR and where it can go."

Actually according to the book Masters of Doom he's been that since the beginning of iD and not just these days.

It also gives the perception that he's always been more about pushing gaming technology (or just general technology) rather than being in it for the gaming itself.

It's weird they didn't designate him as "Spiritual Leader" instead or something that fits him better long ago.

Everyone knew this, so it's weird it had to end in this drastic manner.

Perhaps I'm unaware of the circumstances, but what about this is drastic? His company got acquired, he stayed for a few years, and now he's moving on to the next thing that excites him.

Every personnel change at id seems to happen "in a drastic manner."

Definitely would be a shame to lose the yearly keynotes.. Not sure if he will do them anymore as their usually about his research to push idsoftware to newer technologies and improving their games. Maybe a yearly keynote from Oculus VR?

He said this on Twitter: "If they don't want me to talk on stage at Quakecon next year, we'll just have to fill up the lobby like the old days. :-)"


Haha, that's great to hear. He's just such an upbeat guy all the time, his enthusiasm is always infectious.

I have a theory that I'd be super upbeat if I had achieved massive, world-class success doing something I love, that was game-changing, in about as pure a form as it gets.

First Winamp, and now John Carmack leaves id. This has been a brutal week.

On one hand, it's exciting to see John working on VR tech. I really do hope we see something amazing out of it. But it still feels wrong, an id Software without Carmack. Hopefully they can continue on and reclaim some of their former glory as well, and let's hope Carmack keeps in the spotlight.

Both are positive things, the best Doom has already been made and Winamp stagnated for years now.

Time to stop being lazy, learn foobar2000 and buy an Oculus Rift.

Too bad IdTech6 won't be as awesome as it could be, but again VR will be so much better instead.

Feels weird to be in a world without Carmack at iD. What's next? Winamp at Microsoft?

Obligatory mention of "Masters of DOOM", the biography of Johns Carmack and Romero:


Like reading iWoz... a lot of stories of brilliant engineering at an elite level.


And I can recommend the audio version, Wil Wheaton does a great job.

This book is absolutely fantastic. I devoured it in 2 afternoons, unable to do anything else. More exciting than some fictional thriller.

Slightly testy tone in that iD statement, isn't there?

Not sure why anyone is downvoting you- this is the quote:

"John Carmack, who has become interested in focusing on things other than game development at id, has resigned from the studio,""

It does sound kind of testy/flippant to me. But it could be out of context.

This is from his twitter:

I wanted to remain a technical adviser for Id, but it just didn't work out. Probably for the best, as the divided focus was challenging.

And then:

If they don't want me to talk on stage at Quakecon next year, we'll just have to fill up the lobby like the old days. :-)

I'm pretty sure they'd PAY him to talk at Quakecon. Although it's not a big money event, so they'd probably just ask really nicely. :)

I am pretty sure there is 0 chance that I would pay attention to quakecon if not for Carmack's talks.

Amen. That is the biggest thing I'll miss as a result of him stepping down. They'd really be screwing up their conference by taking him off the docket.

Yup - I read it as something akin to "my husband, who has become interested in focusing on things other than his family, has separated from me... but his children are incredibly smart, and we'll do fine without him".

Could also just be careless writing by someone not trained in the art of writing statements that will be dissected by the media and public.

It doesn't read like a statement that has been carefully crafted by a team of copywriters, PR flaks and corporate lawyers.

I think the author is perhaps just worried that the perception will be that there's something wrong with iD.

I don't think it's flippant at all.

It comes across as very succinct and matter-of-fact to me. His focus is elsewhere, so it's not a great fit for him to work there anymore, even if he is the founder.

Yeah, that's some real passive aggression there. If Willits ever gets tired of living in Texas, I'm sure he would be well received in Seattle.

It definitely doesn't sound like they're happy he's gone, it sounds as if bridges were burned and they're pissed.

They probably did something to piss him off and he walked instead of bowing to their demands, and now they're screwed and it's starting to dawn on them. (Have we not seen this movie before? Have they not learned yet?)

This is the end for id.

The only thing id has had going for it are Carmack's engines. In recent years his stuff has been as amazing as ever, but so many commercial engines are only a fraction of a step behind, and the difference hardly matters.

Design-wise id is a complete mess. They're stuck back in the 1990s. RAGE appears to have had no leadership and no vision, and the actual design work that shipped is amateur-hour at best.

ZeniMax will fold the id software llc, keep anybody worth keeping, and work on making money with the intellectual property (either internally or farming it out). There's nothing else left at id that's worth what ZeniMax paid for the company other than the IP and the game engine. I'm sure they knew the day would come sooner than later that they'd lose the Carmack value factor in id.

This makes me happy. I have a feeling that iD were dragging John down. He could always make a brilliant tech that they somehow always failed to makes decent game of after q3 arena.

I really hope that he will be able to push the limits of possible about graphics technology once again.

Very happy for John - his early days were at the very forefront of PC game development and while iD still does great stuff, video gaming is in a very stable, iterative place right now.

Hopefully chasing this VR dream will take him back to those early pioneering days.

> John's work on id Tech 5 and the technology for the current development work at id is complete.

So he's leaving just before starting to work on the voxel/polygon id Tech 6 hybrid gaming engine. Darn it!


Hopefully id Software will continue that without him, but I doubt it.

It has to be uncertain whether iD's commitment to open-sourcing its engines will continue after his departure, too.

Most likely not.

The FOSS culture is not part of the gaming industry.

Carmack is going full-time and the company is doing a lot of hiring...


I'm not into VR, but this could be one of those "this changes everything" moments.

Off topic but why do so many people capitalize "id" as "iD"? I did myself years ago as well but I have no idea why I did. None of their logos use that capitalization and my memory of the early games is too poor to recall where, if anywhere, it was written like that.

I've never seen id written as iD until these comments, so I'm not sure and it looks very odd seeing it that way. I used to write it as Id, though perhaps because I was confused on when to capitalize a name vs a company who writes their name in all lowercase

Yep, iD is definitely wrong.

(And for anyone who pronounces it "eye dee" instead of the correct "idd", you're doubly wrong!)

I've seen this usage in the wild a few times. It makes me twitch just like when someone types out "FireFox".

or "BitCoin"

Apple Derangement Syndrome, is my guess. To some people, anything beginning with a lowercase "i" has a capitalized second letter by default.

I find it interesting that iD and Carmack are still described in terms of Doom and Quake.

They've embraced it to a large extent with a huge number of sequels. Aside from that, Quake 3 is considered by many to be the apex of fast-twitch FPS skill games. It certainly makes Call of Duty look like grandma's bridge club.

Quake 3 was pure perfection. That game never crashed. And I was playing on Linux in the bad old days of the late '90s, when sound and graphics drivers were spotty at best. I don't think we'll see anything like it again. It's a FPS that plays more like an action arcade game than a simulator. It took some of the elements of Quake 1 and 2 but placed them in a Snow Crash cyberpunk world.

The Quake games probably never exposed any driver bugs, because they were the games the driver authors used to decide which code paths to test, optimize, and (in some cases) even which bits of the driver to actually write in the first place. I wouldn't be so quick to infer anything either way, from the fact they never crashed ;)

(I used to have a PowerVR PCX2. Its OpenGL driver did exactly what Quake II needed - and absolutely nothing else. As I recall, they didn't even bother to get the OpenGL screen savers working. I believe the Voodoo GL drivers "worked" along similar lines.)

It's bittersweet for me. I grew up with id games and John Carmack has just always been there as id's genius programmer guy. Feels like the end of an era.

On the other hand, John Carmack is working full time for Oculus VR!

Yeah, now he's the Oculus genius programmer guy.

This is extremely good news. There's only so much one person can do to push forward 3D rendering engines, and no doubt he's done a lot in this regard. It's diminishing returns now. The engines look fantastic, and you have a choice between Unity, Unreal, Source, and the various Quake-derived ones.

There's a lot of low-hanging fruit in the VR world, plus tough problems to solve. Carmack will be at home here.

Yes, as their CTO. Which makes me wonder if we've seen the last of his Code God skills. (But maybe not...)

I seriously doubt it. You should read his tweets. He's still very much a programmer.

About 10 years ago he talked to some of us guys writing 3D drivers for Linux, he is all kinds of awesome when it comes to code skills and spent a few hours geeking out with us at Siggraph. About a year before, I got to see his coding in action when we were first bringing up the first Matrox G200-GLX driver. He would accomplish so much in just a few days when he donated some time to helping us get the MGA-G200 working with Quake. He would accomplish in days what most of us at the time would have taken weeks to do. He just naturally understands 3D and 3D hardware and is a geeks geek. I will bet he is spending most of his day to day coding and hacking.

I should add that I hope we haven't seen the last of his Code God skills. The title of "CTO" kind of scares me in that regard, unless, of course, Oculus is still small enough that the CTO might still be expected to put his hands in the source.

I don't believe he would take any job where he wasn't programming.

Basically confirms that VR is in the "Slope of Enlightment".

"Slope of Enlightment" assumes that the peak excitement of the technology is already behind us. I don't think we've seen that peak yet. VR in the 90s never came close to living up to expectations and was a dud.

The peak is yet to come in my opinion. When the oculus consumer version comes out, people are gonna go crazy and predict that we're all going to live in the virtual world very soon. That won't pan out in the short-term, but we will slowly get there. That's when the Slope of Enlightment will hit.

John can make real impact on the videogame industry a second time at Oculus, the same couldn't have been said about id. This is a win for everybody.

It doesn't seem like an amicable parting. You never want to have a guy like Carmack just leave. He's a giant in your industry, he's popular and highly respected and you gain a lot by having him be associated with your company. So at the very least you give him a honorific title and invite him to all the corporate parties. It didn't seem like this happened here.

A developers developer taking the opportunity to flex his wings on something new, what a fantastic turn of events for us all.

Sounds like good news - I'd rather see him working on core technologies that can benefit all games than working on iD's games, which I'd characterize as merely being "pretty good" (albeit very technically impressive).

In the early days of PC gaming John Carmack was a genius, and Quake 3 was his masterpiece. I guess he is still a genius, but from an outsider's perspective the advancements he has made since then don't seem to changed the world in the same way.

Graphics get prettier, but gameplay stays the same, or even gets worse because the prettier graphics require higher budgets which require lowest-common-denominator appeal to recoup.

So it's good that he is trying something truly new now, where he has a chance to make a difference again.

It will be interesting to see how the future pans out for both companies. John Carmack is a brilliant person and I think that Oculus VR will do very well with him on board full time.

This is a good thing. Carmack said at a recent Quakecon that he didn't let us have a light on any gun in Doom 3 because he didn't want another light source in his rendering..

this is a guy who has no business making games. And none of his games have been good for a long time (and they were always pretty bland, Quake was the peak).

Having Carmack out of id's games is a good thing. Having him geek out on technical problems without being allowed in game design decisions of any sort is also a good thing.

What a strange move. Maybe he wasn't spending enough time at iD and was forced to leave?

You'd think his having a leg in gaming and a leg in VR would create a wonderful synergy. Knowing all the in's and out of both worlds he could have insured great integration of Doom 4 with the Oculus rift - making sure iD was on the technological forefront while the Oculus would have a great demo from day 1.

(see the Leap Motion for an example of what happens when you don't have a good demo day 1)

I'm not sure how to feel about this... He's always been an inspiration to me. But I don't really care about VR tech, and would much rather see Carmack working on games (at id or any other company). But I wish him success anyway.

I guess I should feel dumb, because I thought Carmack left id when he joined OculusVR.

Am I the only one surprised to find that Carmack was still working for iD? I had thought his taking a position with OculusVR implied his departure months ago.

I felt the same way when he was doing Armadillo Aerospace too. There are more people than JC who have said: "I invented some cool tech, made a lot of money, started a family, and also I think I'll start a rocket company on the side." How much time/energy to these people have? This is like a thing now.

Well apparently he didn't really have the time/energy to keep AA going.

This is truly the end of an era. John's work has given me countless hours of joy and I look forward to seeing what he produces next.

Initially this is depressing until you see where he is going. I think Oculus and VR in general will change the gaming industry.

Wherever he goes, he shall kick ass. Best wishes, Carmack!

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

At first I was elated, but then I realized I was confusing Carmack with the egotistical John Romero.

It's a little sad news but exciting as well. I'd rather see John's mind helping push VR/AR and 'cheaper/nimbler/entrepeneurial/hacker-maker/DIY' aerospace forward than churning out yet another 3D FPS game. We have tons of great games/engines of that type already to choose from, and lots of great people continuing to work in that space.

smells like vesting and/or end of golden handcuffs period (in the context of the prior Betheseda -> iD acquisition)


He and the rest of iD seemed to have lost themselves once Bethesda came into the picture, but these types of things are almost a certainty after a big M/A event. Good luck to John!

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