This month we’re privileged to share a special diary from the legendary John Carmack, technical director and co-founder of id Software. In addition to his current work on RAGE — coming to Xbox 360, Games for Windows, and PlayStation 3 on September 13, 2011 — and id Tech 5 technology, John has been working on an iPhone/iPad/iPod touch version of RAGE that will introduce gamers to the game’s story and world.
Round of applause for John Carmack…
RAGE for iPhone
Our mobile development efforts at id took some twists and turns in the last year. The plan was always to do something RAGE-related on the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch next, but with all the big things going on at id, the mobile efforts weren’t front and center on the priority list. There had been a bit of background work going on, but it was only towards the end of July that I was able to sit down and write the core engine code that would drive the project.
I was excited about how well it turned out, and since this was right before QuakeCon, I broke with tradition and did a live technology demo during my keynote. In hindsight, I probably introduced it poorly. I said something like “Its RAGE. On the iPhone. At 60 frames a second.” Some people took that to mean that the entire PC/console game experience was going to be on the iPhone, which is definitely not the case.
What I showed was a technology demo, written from scratch, but using the RAGE content creation pipeline and media. We do not have the full RAGE game running on iOS, and we do not plan to try. While it would (amazingly!) actually be possible to compile the full-blown PC/console RAGE game for an iPhone4 with some effort, it would be a hopelessly bad idea. Even the latest and greatest mobile devices are still a fraction of the power of a 360 or PS3, let alone a high end gaming PC, so none of the carefully made performance tradeoffs would be appropriate for the platform, to say nothing of the vast differences in controls.
What we do have is something unlike anything ever seen on the iOS platforms. It is glorious, and a lot of fun. Development has been proceeding at high intensity since QuakeCon, and we hope to have the app out by the end of November.
The technical decision to use our megatexture content creation pipeline for the game levels had consequences for its scope. The data required for the game is big. Really, really big. Seeing Myst do well on the iPhone with a 700 meg download gave me some confidence that users would still download huge apps, and that became the target size for our standard definition version, but the high definition version for iPad / iPhone 4 will be around twice that size. This is more like getting a movie than an app, so be prepared for a long download. Still, for perspective, the full scale RAGE game is around 20 gigs of data with JPEG-XR compression, so 0.7 gigs of non-transcoded data is obviously a tiny slice of it.
Since we weren’t going to be able to have lots of hugely expansive levels, we knew that there would be some disappointment if we went out at a high price point, no matter how good it looked. We have experimented with a range of price points on the iPhone titles so far, but we had avoided the very low end. We decided that this would be a good opportunity to try a $0.99 SD / $1.99 HD price point. We need to stay focused on not letting the project creep out of control, but I think people will be very happy with the value.
The little slice of RAGE that we decided to build the iPhone product around is “Mutant Bash TV”, a post apocalyptic combat game show in the RAGE wasteland. This is the perfect setup for a quintessential first person shooter game play experience — you pick your targets, aim your shots, time your reloads, dodge the bad guys, and try and make it through to the end of the level with a better score than last time. Beyond basic survival, there are pickups, head shots, and hit streak multipliers to add more options to the gameplay, and there is a broad range of skill levels available from keep-hitting-fire-and-you-should-make-it to almost-impossible.
A large goal of the project has been to make sure that the levels can be replayed many times. The key is making the gamplay itself the rewarding aspect, rather than story progression, character development, or any kind of surprises. Many of the elements that made Doom Resurrection good the first time you played it hurt the replayability, for instance. RAGE iOS is all action, all the time. I have played the game dozens of times, and testing it is still fun instead of a chore.