On the Gaming Industry
FS: So it's interesting that you say movies on your computer are the "downfall of some companies," because a lot of the 3D card companies like 3dfx and Nvidia actually use that as their mantra - putting Hollywood on the desktop.
John: There are interesting aspects to that - one thing is that the amount of labor required to do the highest quality utilization of today's 3D engines is very quickly approaching what you need in Hollywood set design. Like right now, Quake 3 wasn't really even close to pushing the limits of what we could do if we were aiming for lush visuals, because we had to maintain this fast speed throughout the whole thing.
But if somebody took basically this year's level of technology, this Christmas's products and said "I want to do the most visually stunning thing that's going to be the closest to the movies," it's possible to do that right now beyond the level that people have really seen. The technology's there. And that's where it's been going for the past year or so on there,
specifically some things like full texturing of the levels where set designers have to go in and airbrush their sets in the different ways and build all these things up with models. That level of effort can now be spent in computer games. It didn't used to be that way.
In the days of Doom and Quake, you didn't have the ability to put that much labor into it. If you've got a room and a hallway and another room, it's like: hallway, block block ceiling. And that's it, that's all the possibility you have to do, so there are limits to how much work can be done there.
FS: So you're always going to be in favor of creating games with smaller teams of people; so that keeps the door open for the kid in his garage with his friends down the street…
John: It's not like we've tapped out all possible game genres. A lot of people do complain about the industry in various ways, and there is some real truth to the fact that the publishers don't want to publish a new idea. Chris Hecker from Definition 6, he's one of the guys pushing physics in a lot of ways; he does a lot of the geniusy stuff. He's had this little game demo that he's been working on that's a novel idea. And it's using physics as the core principle, but it's not like "let's take physics into a first person shooter," it's a completely different game. It's actually a good game design to tie in with the physics. But the publishers just aren't interested in that.
And that's too bad, but on the other hand, there are some positive signs from some other things, like the guys who do simple little games, and sell them over the internet and make a lot of money, like a couple hundred thousand dollars a year on downloaded stuff. I'm heartened by that, because it is neat to see that there are some people that can make good money doing games that are outside the mainstream; that's possible because of the internet.
We were successful in shareware early on. With the original Keen trilogy, we were making $100, 150 thousand a year on that. With the second trilogy, we were up to making half a million a year from shareware. And that was before we had any commercial boxes. And it looks like it's possible to do even better than that nowadays. So that's kinda cool. But the mainstream boxes on the shelves, buying your endcaps and shelf space, there's not a lot of desire from the publishers to do interesting new things. I'm sure there are new genres that are ready to pop up, but there's some resistance to that.