Think the iPhone isn't a gaming rig? Carmack disagrees.
June 29, 2009 - John Carmack is excited about the iPhone. And what better day to express such enthusiasm than the launch of Doom Resurrection, an iPhone shooter developed by Escalation Studios that really pushes the hardware. It follows Carmack's recently released Wolfenstein 3D, a port of the first-person shooter that launched a genre, which was a success in the App Store.
In the past, though, the chief technology officer of id Software has not always been bullish on Apple. "Half of the year, Steve Jobs thinks I'm an asshole because I said something not complimentary of an Apple platform," riffs Carmack before catching himself. Well, Jobs should be happy about the praise Carmack offered Apple during our interview this morning, such as calling the App Store the "wave of the future."
As for the iPhone itself, Carmack sees it as a real-deal gaming rig with real power, especially the new 3G S model, on which he thinks he can get an amazing engine up and running. But it's not just the power of the iPhone that interests Carmack. It's the size of projects -- specifically, the smaller scale and scope. "There's still a sense that it's small enough, it's limited enough that I can see what's the best thing possible." A smaller environment means more opportunities to try new things without breaking the bank, which is what attracted Carmack to mobile gaming in the first place.
"The mobile stuff was interesting, going from a four-year, high-end development process," says Carmack about the freedom smaller platforms offer versus the pressure of a big PC or console title. "You can't just go off and try things. You have to figure out a $20 million budget and convince a publisher."
Going off and trying something is exactly what Carmack did with Doom Resurrection. Working with the team at Escalation Studios, headed by managing director Tom Mustaine, Carmack was able to quietly experiment with a new take on Doom. Using assets pulled directly from Doom 3, Resurrection is an on-rails shooter that unfolds in a very familiar Martian hellscape. The decision to go on-rails occurred somewhere at the mid-point of the game's nine-month development cycle when creating the game as a first-person shooter just wasn't working out how they had hoped.
"It wasn't fun," Mustaine flatly says. "You're covering the guy's face with your fingers. You can't see the blood. The game was looking great but it wasn't feeling fun at all."
Carmack confirms that Resurrection was almost canned at the five-month mark. "We weren't positive this was going to work out. We were going to cancel it if it wasn't going to be fun."
However, Mustaine says his team had a "eureka moment" when they settled on accelerometer-driven controls, which then lead into the decision to turn it into an on-rails shooter, like House of the Dead. Your marine moves through the game on a set path, and tilting the iPhone directs your crosshairs. Tapping a fire button just unloads. "You got that core compulsion of 'Oh, I'm going to aim at this guy's head.' That was the moment when we got our special sauce together."
Everybody is happy with how the accelerometer controls for aiming works. In fact, Carmack thinks every other development studio will be happy with them, too. "We think that this core mechanic of how you aim and shoot will be widely imitated," says Carmack. And why will other developers choose these tilt-and-tap controls for first-person shooters instead of something more traditional, such as MachineWorks Northwest's Prey Invasion, which is not on-rails? "We don't think anybody has hit on the right combination of controls."
With nine months in development, Carmack recognizes Doom Resurrection did not follow a typical iPhone game development schedule. "It's been a little longer and a little more expensive than any other iPhone game," he states. But he thinks the time and money will certainly pay off on a platform he sees dominated by ports. "We're the first, real triple-A, from-scratch game for the iPhone."
Surely, publishers like Gameloft and ngmoco would disagree.
Doom Resurrection is surely not to be the last of Carmack on the iPhone either. In the near future, Carmack says EA Mobile will release the finished Wolfenstein RPG, which was originally a mobile game. "The mobile team here at id will be working on the iPhone version of Doom RPG 2 when they are done with the BREW version. We'd love to bring over Orcs & Elves. We're probably doing a Rage-themed game on there, too," says Carmack, referencing the upcoming PC racer to be published by EA under terms solidified long before last week's announcement that Bethesda Softwork's partner company was buying id Software.
As for Bethesda on the iPhone, Carmack confirms that we will indeed see something from them in the near future. "Todd Howard of Bethesda is a huge iPhone fan. Bethesda hasn't figured out which foot to put forward. But they want to be there."
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