In a recent interview with Wired, id Software founder and CTO of Oculus, John Carmack, gave a rather startling opinion on the current state of the PS3 and Xbox 360. According to Carmack, he’s often struggled with leaving the low end of gaming behind, even when he decided that Doom would require a VGA adapter and a 386.
“[T]here’s so much you can still do on the previous console generation. The 360 and PS3 are far from tapped out in terms of what a developer could do with them, but the whole world’s gonna move over towards next-gen and high-end PCs and all these other things,” Carmack told Wired. ”Part of me still frets a little bit about that, where just as you fully understand a previous generation, you have to put it away to kind of surf forward on the tidal wave of technology that’s always moving.”
That’s a little surprising to hear, given that Naughty Dog — creators of the hugely successful and gorgeous PS3 game, The Last of Us,” have said that they pushed the PS3 to 110% to create the title. According to Lead Designer Jacob Minkoff, “With The Last of Us, we are as efficient as we can possibly be. It’s just squeezing every last drop of power out of the system. And it’s a system we know really, really well. We know its constraints, so we can push it to the edges and play it really fast and loose because we know what the system can handle.”
Two gaming titans enter, one gaming titan leaves! Or maybe not.
System power versus flexibility
Minkoff gives specific examples of how his team’s inside-out knowledge of the PS3 allowed it to implement things like real-time radiosity for flashlights. It’s clear that the PS3 developers took advantage of every scrap of capability they could squeeze out of the console in the name of telling the story they wanted to tell. But that’s the point Carmack is making — those same lessons could be applied in other ways, to create other great gaming experiences.
To this day, there are active homebrew scenes for the Atari 2600 and the NES. Small indie developers still find ways to create great games on platforms decades past their prime, treating the limitations as challenges and finding new ways to tease better performance out of hardware a tenth the speed of your average smartphone. So Minkoff is right — there’s no way you could build The Last of Us on a PS2, much less an older system — but game developers have been building amazing moments since color output was a thing. To The Moon is considered one of the most emotional PC games of the past few years, and it’s built on the SNES-style RPG Maker XP.
Carmack, meanwhile, is the quintessential hacker. Later in the interview, he remarks how GPUs brought enormous graphics capability but tossed out the flexibility and off-the-wall approaches that characterized the early 3D industry. Once upon a time, the question was whether voxels or polygons were going to drive 3D engines. A great deal of mud was flung at the wall in the late 1990s, before Direct3D and OpenGL emerged as the twin gods of game development.
Is there still potential in the Xbox 360 and the PS3? Undoubtedly. That’s one reason why most game developers are pushing out multiple versions of 2014′s AAA titles. But, as Carmack notes, every console generation departs leaving something on the table. Game developers build amazing titles every single generation, and then use the capabilities of the generation after to push certain elements a little farther.
Next page: The next-gen jump
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