Quake creator's Mac support offer should be a boon

Even more so than this week’s news that Electronic Arts would release Mac games directly for the first time in years, Id Software’s demonstration of its new idTech 5 game engine harkens good news for Macintosh-using gamers for years to come.

Id CTO John Carmack took the keynote stage at the Worldwide Developers Conference to demonstrate the new technology, the existence of which was only confirmed about a month ago by Id’s CEO, Todd Hollenshead. idTech 5 is a powerful 3-D engine—Carmack demonstrated the software showing a 3-D racing track scene that he said used a staggering 20GB of texture data. It’s also the core of a new game Id is working on, with more details to emerge at the E3 Media and Business Summit this July in Santa Monica, Calif.

idTech 5 is being developed not only for the Mac, but also for the PC and game consoles. In addition to the E3 summit, Id Software will have more news from QuakeCon, Id’s gathering of gaming enthusiasts that happens in early August.

Carmack also cryptically added this near the end of his WWDC presentation: “And I expect to have another Mac-related announcement at that time [QuakeCon] that we can’t go in to now.”

This is excellent news for Mac gamers, for a few reasons.

Not to diminish EA’ renewed presence in the Mac market, but it’s bringing games to the Mac using Cider, a technology that enables Windows-compatible games to work on the Mac (with some reengineering). EA isn’t committing to the Mac with its own Mac engineering resources to create these games, in other words—not like, for example, Blizzard Entertainment, which creates simultaneous Mac releases for its games, like World of Warcraft, Warcraft III and the upcoming StarCraft II.

As I said in an earlier post, Cider is a great push in the right direction—but it shouldn’t be the only one. Hopefully it’s only the first step in EA simultaneously developing products for the Mac the same way it does for other platforms.

idTech 5, meanwhile, does represent, effectively, original Mac game development. Carmack explained that the technology demo that Id will provide to E3 media attendees next month will use the same data set regardless of platform—that means that games using the engine could be developed for the Mac, PC, and game consoles simultaneously.

This isn’t the first time that Carmack has shared the stage with Jobs. Way back in 2001, Carmack visited the keynote stage of Macworld Expo in Tokyo, Japan. At that time it was to present a development version of the engine that would ultimately power Doom III—a game that finally did make it to the Mac, although there were delays.

Carmack’s interest in the Mac market is understandable. For one thing, he’s an experienced NextStep developer. NextStep is the operating system that Mac OS X owes its core foundation to, and Carmack used it to help develop the original Doom and Quake games.

Also, Apple has long supported open standards where it makes sense for the company to do so. With Mac OS X, Apple has made OpenGL support a core part of the operating system, extending and expanding the technology with each additional release. Carmack has been a big booster of OpenGL as well, so it’s understandable that he’d want to see Apple do the right thing.

So it’s a great thing when Carmack uses an event like WWDC to show, for the first time, anywhere, new technology that Id is creating, on the Macintosh, and plainly states his company’s continued interest in the Mac platform. In fact, he mentioned during his presentation that some of Id’s developers have switched to using Macs. That’s a great sign.

Historically, Id has worked closely with Activision to publish its games, and Activision has, in turn, worked with Aspyr Media to bring forth Macintosh games. So one big question is whether or not Activision will publish these titles directly, will do another deal with Aspyr, or find another partner to work with—only time will tell.

There’s one more element to idTech 5 that’s worth noting. Id Software isn’t as well regarded a game developer as it is a game-engine developer. John Carmack is one of a handful of major talents in the game-engine creation business. So what Carmack makes ends up being licensed to a sizable number of other game developers for use in their own titles. So Id’s continued support of the Mac market means that other games that use the same game-engine technology will have an easier time coming to the Mac.

  
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