John Carmack’s Keynote and the HardOCP Workshop

If there is one thing that is more anticipated than the gaming at Quakecon, it is John Carmack’s nearly-annual keynotes.  Though last year his wife was pregnant and delivering, and the year before that he was sick, this year there were no complications and John’s live keynote was a big success. 

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And also as typical, John’s speech was full of valuable information for anyone that even has the slightest interest in hardware.  In many cases John’s words are looked at more than most highly paid analyst’s as he is someone actually developing on the hardware that is discussed.

The first topic that I found interesting was John’s comments on the upcoming console systems.  He emphasized that most of the hype that both Sony and Microsoft are building about the performance and power of their systems is really just that: hype.  He said that people should use the ‘rule of half’ when comparing the clock speeds of the console CPUs to that of modern day PC processors. 

On the topic of the new multi core processors in both the Xbox 360 and the PS3, John mentioned that the industry might have been better off not going to such a revolutionary architecture this early in the game.  Game developers and coders in general working on applications that are not ’embarrassingly parallel’ are still having a difficult time with even coming up with a theory on correctly utilizing multiple cores and thus much of the potentional in these consoles might go unused for many years.  By the time the next generation of consoles arrives, we might have a better solution.

That doesn’t paint a very good picture for the state of multi core gaming on the PC market either, and Carmack emphasized that point as well.  Though his own Quake III code was perhaps the first to implement multi threaded support (by running the render in one thread and the game engine in another) he found the processor to be difficult and easily ‘broken.’  Users of Quake III will remember the on-again/off-again scenario that was SMP support in the game. 

Carmack also made mention of the current buzz in the hardware world about physics technology and physics hardware acceleration.  John recited what I and many other industry watchers said about the PhysX hardware; it will be very difficult for anything more than ‘fluff’ and other non-gameplay enhancements to be included in games for physics hardware.  Because physics can not change its ‘resolution’ or fidelity like graphics can (to run better on old, slower hardware), physics is something that really must be always on, and always running.  Just because a user can’t see a rock behind a wall doesn’t mean that the rock shouldn’t react when we shoot through the wall.  Carmack dashed some hopes by telling us NOT to expect any radical changes in the game world because of dedicated physics processors.

The only complaint that Carmack discussed about the hardware industry was in the lack of support for virtual texture mapping in the current GPUs.  This feature would allow programmers to store much larger amounts of data in system memory as well as video card memory and potentially allow the game artists to create more realistic worlds with less repetitive texturing and more unique texturing. 

Overall the keynote from Carmack was very positive this year and painted a bright picture about the future enhancements and increased power of the graphics industry and other fields of hardware.  The console market is now a more important field for Carmack and id Software and that surely means we’ll see some great titles from the company spanning all the major systems including the PC.

The HardOCP Hardware Workshop

Another annual favorite for the hardware junkies that attend Quakecon is the HardOCP Hardware Workshop where site founder Kyle Bennett brings in some of the industry representatives to talk with the gamers and enthusiasts in attendance and of course, to give out lots and lots of prizes.  This year’s was not a let down.

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The crowd nearly filled out the room full of chairs and I estimated there were 1300-1400 people watching the events unfold. 

The companies that took the time out to speak to their core audience included NVIDIA, ATI, Falanx, AMD, Ageia and XXX.

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The only really exciting news, which should be taken with a grain of salt, was that the ATI representative stated that the R520 would definitely ship in September.  We’ll see if this pans out…

And of course, Kyle also had lots of prizes to give away.

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Final Thoughts

This year’s Quakecon was a huge success and anyone that was there would surely have to agree.  There were thousands and thousands on hand to participate in the BYOC, the tournaments or the keynote and workshop. If you get the chance next year, I would highly recommend you make the trip to the Dallas area and take part in what is surely the industry’s most anticipated show.

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