co-founder and lead programmer John Carmack has returned from his trip to Tokyo where he participated in
the keynote address
for Macworld Expo Tokyo. The eyes of the game world quickly turned to Japan this week for two reasons: it was the first public demonstration of Nvidia’s new flagship consumer product — the GeForce3 graphics chip — and it was also the first time that Carmack had shown off his company’s next generation game engine.
“We had quite a bit of discussion about whether we should be showing anything at all, considering how far away we are from having a title on the shelves, so we probably aren’t going to be showing it anywhere else for quite a while,” said Carmack in a recent update to
his .plan file.
“We do run a bit better on a high-end wintel system, but the Apple performance is still quite good, especially considering the short amount of time that the drivers had before the event,” said Carmack.
Carmack is enthusiastic of the new
GeForce3 graphics hardware.
“The short answer is that the GeForce3 is fantastic. I haven’t had such an impression of raising the performance bar since the Voodoo 2 came out, and there are a ton of new features for programmers to play with,” said Carmack.
Carmack suggested that consumers will see a distinct performance benefit, even compared to the GeForce2 chips that now occupy the top echelon of PC consumer video cards. Carmack cautions that “it will be a tougher call” for consumers, who will need to balance the perils of early adoption (such as paying a high premium) against the potential performance benefits of the card, once optimized applications arrive in droves.
Carmack waxed technical, getting into quite significant detail about what he perceives as the GeForce3’s benefits. He also lauds the robustness of Nvidia’s drivers.
“The drivers just worked for all the new features that I tried,” said Carmack. “I have tested a lot of pre-production 3D cards, and it has never been this smooth.”
Carmack confirmed that Id is hoping to release their next product simultaneously on all three platforms they’re developing for, as well.
“It is still our intention to have a simultaneous release of the next product on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux,” said Carmack.
Carmack is openly critical or ambivalent about some technical points of the new hardware as well. He lobs some knocks at Nvidia’s support of OpenGL, as well.
“Nvidia’s OpenGL extensions expose things much more the way they actually are: the existing register combiners functionality extended to eight stages with a couple tweaks, and the texture lookup engine is configurable to interact between textures in a list of specific ways,” said Carmack.
“The market may have shrunk to just ATI and Nvidia as significant players. Matrox, 3D labs, or one of the dormant companies may surprise us all, but the pace is pretty frantic.
“I think I would be a little more comfortable if there was a third major player competing, but I can’t fault Nvidia’s path to success,” said Carmack.
Carmack also hopped into the fray of a discussion on “News for Nerds” site Slashdot.org. He had some comments that may be bitter medicine for Mac advocates to take.
“The 733 G4 was not as fast as my 1GHz PIII in any of the trouble areas.
“Apple is doing a lot of good work, but the CPU’s just aren’t as fast as the x86 ones,” said Carmack.
“AltiVec can compensate in some cases, because it is way, way easier to program for than SSE, but it takes a very simple batched, computation intensive task for it to pay off in any noticeable way. Amdahl’s law and all that,” said Carmack.
Amdahl’s Law is an argument put forth by former IBM engineer Gene Amdahl more than thirty years ago that suggests the implementation of faster calculation methods — like the Velocity Engine or AltiVec architecture — is limited by the fraction of the time such methods can actually be used. It’s been a source of fierce debate in parallel processing circles for years.
“We did a couple functions with AltiVec, but they didn’t make much difference,” said Carmack.
Carmack’s comments come at an interesting time, because his colleague Graeme Devine, who’s continuing to refine Quake 3 Arena’s engine for Power Mac G4s — has reported great success with AltiVec optimizations. Mac users are still awaiting a new update for Quake 3 Arena with these G4-specific optimizations, but Devine has said repeatedly that they’ll be out soon.