John Carmack, co-founder of id Software and one of the game industry's most important luminaries, doesn't think the next generation of games consoles will offer a significant leap in gameplay over the existing crop of machines. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Carmack said:
"Any creative vision that a designer could come up with, we can do a pretty good job representing on current generation and certainly on PC. In many ways I am not all that excited about the next generation. It will let us do everything we want to do now, with the knobs turned up. If you take a current game like Halo which is a 30 hertz game at 720p; if you run that at 1080p, 60 frames with high dynamic frame buffers, all of a sudden you've sucked up all the power you have in the next-generation. It will be what we already have, but a lot better."
For the less technically-minded, what Carmack is saying is that the current generation has difficulty rendering everything in full HD at a high frame-rate. A few games, like WipEout HD, manage to render everything in full HD and at silky-smooth 60 frames every second. But with most other titles, it's a trade-off between one or the other, or in the cases of especially graphically-intense games like Uncharted, both are sacrificed in order to display the gameworld at the level of detail required.
Above: Uncharted 3. Will games look vastly better than this on next-gen machines? Carmack is suggesting they'll just be smoother, slicker and higher reolution, but essentially the same
The implication is that next-gen machines will be able to run games like Uncharted in glorious full HD, with all the lighting and filter effects on full quality and at a super-smooth frame-rate… but that’s it. No fundamental leap like the first time we saw polygonal 3D on our home consoles, or when texture-mapped graphics made us think we were looking at real video footage.
Instead, he says the next genuine leap for gaming will come from something more like Nintendo's motion control, which shook up the entire industry while using old hardware tech to do it – something like Virtual Reality. It all stems from the prototype headset that Carmack has been working on and was showing off so enthusiastically at E3 this year.
Above: Look closely through either of the eye holes here - you can actually see the future
"[Gaming on next generation consoles] will look a lot better, it will move towards the movie rendering experience and that is better and better, but it's not like the first time you've ever played an FPS. It won't be like putting yourself in the virtual world. All the little things you can do on that, such as playing an audio cue over here, and turning your attention to that. That will be more of the discontinuous step like we've had with first going to 3D or first using a mouse," he elaborated.
Virtual Reality has long been the joke of the industry because it forever seems to be 'hotly tipped to take off' without ever demonstrating anything worthwhile. However, people who have sampled Carmack's take on the technology have come away genuinely impressed. The technology of Carmack's headset reduces lag between movement of your head and seeing that movement played out in front of your eyes to the point where the brain can be convinced that it's looking at a solid world. The head moves independently to your gun, the display is 3D and fills your entire field of vision… it's how VR should probably have been done in the first place. Hollander saw it at E3:
However, there is one thing that could potentially prove Carmack's statement about next-gen incorrect. Only yesterday, Sony's Andrew House told MCV: "The right time to talk about new advances in hardware is when you can demonstrate a significant leap on the current experience, and something that is going to be attractive. That remains our philosophy. Beyond that we have nothing to say at this point."
You could conclude from those words that PS4 will offer a significant leap, despite all of the above. Unless you put two and two together (and make five) when Carmack says: "As a fully consumer thing, it is hard to imagine [the VR headset] happening in less than a year. Sony is already interested in this thing, and they are interested in seeing how they want to follow this up. I can easily imagine something like that. Sony conceivably could have a product out in the next year. I have no inkling on internal plans, but as a company I think they can do it."
So PS4 will be based on Carmack's Virtual Reality technology, then? We're 90% joking, but the other 10% says we'd actually be very interested in that.