Was John Carmack a really good programmer or...

Mr. Bluntman

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Carmack is easily one of the most talented video game programmers there has been. But great programming alone doesnt make a game good, that has more to do with the design.

And id's design is what gets people so polarized in here. You either love id games or you hate them.
 

Exitwound

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Carmack's tweets are amazing: twitter.com/id_aa_carmack Take a glance. He's way ahead of most people in the business.
 

shawnmramsey

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Carmack's tweets are amazing: twitter.com/id_aa_carmack Take a glance. He's way ahead of most people in the business.

Way to take me down a notch jeez, think if those tweets were around 12 years ago, it would be like Native American markings on a wall, and would have advanced the way we "hunt" new game engines.
 

Nytegard

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Carmack was a fantastic programmer. Much of game design today has little to do with how good a programmer you are - and is more about art and vision. But dooms games stood out because he was able to get a ton out of the hardware..with very low level programming..

A better question is who are the programmers better then Carmack?

As for the current programming - they are working from an API - so there isn't the kind of optomization available there was back in the day when they wrote to the metal.. So I don't think his game engines will stand out as much.

The problem is, game development is more like football than golf. You can be the best at what you do, but if you're working on a team and aren't the lead developer, you'll be unknown. People need money, and often this requires working on another person's vision. The days of programming superstars is long behind us.

I often feel that part of the reason we as a whole overrate many people, such as Carmack, is because even if he was as the right place at the right time, he still had help which complimented his weaknesses. Would Carmack really have been where he is today without Romero? Would Jobs be where he is without Wozniak? Gates without Allen? Etc. In most of those cases, I think the answer is no.
 

travbrad

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Or rather, you either love Doom 3 or you hate it. There wasn't a whole lot of polarisation back in 1999...

Yep. Their last major game was almost 7 years ago, and wasn't received very well, so it's hard to be too excited by them.

Also while Doom3 was graphically impressive, I thought HL2 was pretty much on par graphics wise (partly due to great use of artwork/textures), yet HL2 ran at significantly higher frame rates.
 

Zohar78

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I agree this type of post really doesn't seem right. If it was checking to see if he was truly a programming genius, a better question is "what did he do that made his engines better than the others?.

Simply put. He was the right person at the right place at the right time. There isnt a development studio that wouldnt bend over backwards or sell their soul for Carmack to come work for them.
With games becoming more and more complex, requiring bigger development studios, its going to be harder for a single person to stand out. Even id software has grown way bigger than what they once were and they are still a very small studio.

About the polarization about id games that happend with doom 3. I think it has something to do with their really wasn't many choices at times when id games were released. They were generally ahead of their time tech wise and lot of modders and gamers would jump at the new game to abuse. Doom all the way to quake 2 was pretty much a free ride. With quake 3 finally starting to get some tough competition from new and established games. Doom 3 while technically the engine itself was amazing, the gameplay itself didnt feel as revolutionizing as previous games felt across the gaming community.

Performance wise, Doom3 engine does perform well. Some of those special features that made it graphically superior to HL2, hit the graphics card alot harder. Im thinking especially the amazing lighting in it. Its sorta the issue with crysis. Is going from high to ultra really that much improvement graphics wise compared to performance drop? From what i have seen and read, most people say no. Also dont forget that Carmack was (is he still?) on the boards of atleast nvidia or ati or both of them as a consultant about what features to put in graphics cards. I know 32bit colors was one.

Rage on one hand does look to be quite different than the games they have done. Graphics look to be equal to any of the games coming out at the same time with a special feature or two. Now if only they fix the sound. I hope they go to 8 player multi over 4.
 

Jay_2

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Its probably been said many times over but the Doom3 engine was a work of art.
 

NeoMatriX724

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Carmack has an idea of what his ideal shooter plays like. He doesn't really mess with that formula. SO in this day and age, his game design and shooter design is pretty uninspired in style.

However, the man is brilliant when it comes to underlying engine design. Much of the technology used in FPS and general high-end graphics can be tracked back to things that Carmack and designers from his generation envisioned and came up with.

So while he might not be an awesome game designer, he is awesome at creating engines (just look at the RAGE performance he eked out on an iPad).
 

meatfestival

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christianw

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Carmack good? yeah, hes good.

but Tim Sweeney is everything in a programmer John wishes he was.
 

phide

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What components of id Tech 4 have you determined to be attributed to Hook?
 

spicey

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Are we discussing if John Carmack is a good programmer!?

Erm, yes. better than you or I, I would say.
 

Dreaz

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The problem is, game development is more like football than golf. You can be the best at what you do, but if you're working on a team and aren't the lead developer, you'll be unknown. People need money, and often this requires working on another person's vision. The days of programming superstars is long behind us.

I often feel that part of the reason we as a whole overrate many people, such as Carmack, is because even if he was as the right place at the right time, he still had help which complimented his weaknesses. Would Carmack really have been where he is today without Romero? Would Jobs be where he is without Wozniak? Gates without Allen? Etc. In most of those cases, I think the answer is no.

Ah, so if things were different, they wouldn't be the same.

Good insight.
 

TBJ

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There are not many games during the past decades that will make your jaw drop and stare at it in awe.
For example first time seeing Doom on a pc at Radio Shack, there was nothing else like it.
 

Nytegard

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There are not many games during the past decades that will make your jaw drop and stare at it in awe.
For example first time seeing Doom on a pc at Radio Shack, there was nothing else like it.

This can be tricky though. The first time I saw an Apple II, I was in awe. The same with King's Quest. I mean, my gawd, a game that has 16 colors and is animated, just like a cartoon!

But the thing is, while each of those were pioneers, what can be accomplished today is far greater. And I'm not talking about the tools to accomplish greater. Rather, I'm talking about people who needed a stepping stone to see the future, but had the ability to improve upon it.

Another sports analogy: It's like how many athletes today are actually better than the athletes of yesteryear. Even the mediocre pro athletes are better than the best of yesteryear. Higher salaries which can equate to not having to take a job in the offseason, better weight training, better medical care for injuries, etc.

As for games which make you drop your jaw drop, of course there are going to be fewer games over the past decade. Even forget consolization. Technology just isn't making the leaps and bounds it use too. Going from text to graphics was a huge improvement anyone could see. Going from monochrome to 4 colors was a huge improvement anyone could see. Same with 4 colors to 16, or 16 to 256. And going from 2d to 3d anyone could see. But while technology is improving, the difference between 8 million polygons and 12 million polygons just isn't as noticeable.

Another factor is that to get the jaw to drop, you need to develop something people haven't seen before. And that requires risk. With game development significantly more expensive, that risk just isn't worth it.
 

Youn

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But while technology is improving, the difference between 8 million polygons and 12 million polygons just isn't as noticeable.

I've tried to use this argument here and it doesn't work. People think each generation should be huge leaps and bounds of difference and they seem to blame it heavily on consoles...

but yeah I agree, it's an exponential curve, and we're past the "knee" of it... IMO
 

DITC

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If you have doubts regarding Carmack's programming skills... become proficient at c++ and assembly language, I'm talking proficient to the point you're making realtime 3D engines, SINGLE HANDEDLY, then get back in this thread and talk about how overrated Carmack is.
 

JohnMsc

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I stumbled across this post when searching if John Carmack is a genius and couldn't help myself other then resurrecting this thread purely out of nostalgia I guess ;)
I think we can safely say that Carmack is a genius when it comes to engine design. The things he pulled of with doom and later quake are simply amazing. If anyone doubts this, get yourself a NeXT and try to replicate it. You're even allowed to use a copy of Michael Abrash's Graphics Programming Black Book and use the Internet (both of which they didn't have back then) and I wish you all the luck. Even if you don't admire him for being a technical guru then at least admire him for his view on free and moddable software that he created

On the other hand, if you read masters of doom (and have some experience with software development teams) you'll realize that if takes two to tango. While Carmack was brilliant at engine design, it takes a lot more to create a game that people want to play and even more to make fortunes out of it. It's clear that Romero fulfilled that other role and that those two formed the magical combination even if they didn't realize it themselves back then. So yes, I do agree that their success of the games they made and the fortune they gathered is more more luck than anything else. This also shows that after the split-up neither one of them made successes that even come near to the ones they had together. In a parallel universe where Carmack doesn't meet Romero, he could just as good ended up being a rockstar developer for some game studio, building awesome engines but maybe never make any fame (or real fortunes) because the games that studio produced never became a bestseller and his work could simply endup being re-used for other games. A bit like Dennis Ritchie. The man dies, no one even knows who he is. On the other hand the world's most narcissistic capitalistic remorseless hipster dies (hint: logo is a fruit) who gave us old hardware in a shiny box and the world cries ;)
 
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viivo

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He's no Derek Smart*.


*Apologies if this joke was already made, but if it was I'll sue them and then complain about it for 20 years while claiming mine was better.
 

M76

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I still think Doom is the most amazing work Carmack has done.

He had the advantage of being the first, but he also made some amazing technical things. His game engines were the most robust and stable. They feel better for example compared to others like the Unreal Engine. Not necessarily better looking, I don't know how to explain it, it's just a feeling. As a programmer you get certain vibes off games while playing them which reveals a lot of their inner workings, that probably goes unnoticed by the regular player base, and as such they're unimportant in a capitalist sense. But the feeling of satisfaction you get from playing a game with a great engine, instead of just a good engine is something unique. I'm sorry if I sound sentimental, but if there is an art to programming then Carmack is one of the greatest artists in that genre.

He always tried to bring new things into the fold, instead of just perfecting the old recipes. Of course that's why there were also times when he failed. Like with megatextures, where in concept it sounded good, but in practice it was pretty awful.
But for example I still remember Quake3 for the curved surfaces, instead of the game itself.

He is the type of guy who would rewrite hundreds of lines of code to get a new feature right, instead of just tacking it on top.
 

zamardii12

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I have always been a Carmack fan myself, and listening to his Oculus keynotes you really appreciate how much he loves his work. He also REALLY knows what he's talking about. I like listening to people who know what they're talking about even if I don't know what they're talking about.
 
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Kongar

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PS. Read the book tipping point if your all about being in the right place at the right time.

While Tipping Point was a good book - I think you meant Outliers. Great read and a good recommendation.

TLDR "I don't want to read a book" version. People can have great talent, but to be exceptionally famous/rich/successful/whatever, you need to 1) put in a LOT of time (10,000 hr rule) and 2) you need to be in the right place at the right time.

Fascinating how many things this applies to - Jobs, Woz, Gates, the Sun guy, hockey players, high school students, jewish lawyers, and most likely Carmack if someone bothered to do the research.
 

horrorshow

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Carmack is one of those people that can turn lemons into lemonade....

To quote an old friend of mine: "Wanna be a coder? I hope you LOVE puzzles."

His use of FPU for Quake was definitely masterful. That thing ran like butter in software-mode on my lowly Pentium 90. ("butter" meaning over 24 fps)

I mean, come on. That revelation literally DESTROYED Cyrix and turned 486 machines into fossils, overnight.
 

cyclone3d

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I'll say John Carmack was a good programmer. In the early days he was a key programmer in several exception games, proving his skill. Even back then, games were part of a very competitive industry.

The brain goes down hill just like the body, after around 20. By middle age, even geniuses are brought low.

I wouldn't necessarily say that.

As long as you keep challenging yourself and make yourself learn new things, you can stay quite sharp and even gain quite a few new abilities.

This is me looking back and where I was nearly 20 years ago and the progression I have made since then.

From what I have seen, it seems more like most people stop trying to learn or even practice what they were once really good at. That is what brings them down from what I have observed. Sure there can be other medical reasons as well, but a lot of it is by choice.

Where I work, until recently, we had one engineer who was over 80 years old and there is another that is still there that is not far behind.
 
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did he gain so much fame simply because it was such an early time for PC games?

I think he was simply in the right place at the right time. I realized this during my reading of Masters of Doom. I'm not good at explaining things so I'll keep this brief and hope others will chime in, but thinking about it logically, PC gaming was just an infant. There was so much potential and it would have just taken time for others to eventually come up with the same tech Carmack came up with. He was just the first to do so (and understandably. PC gaming was nowhere near as big and popular as it is today). Today there's so much competition, but back then there was very little. If you could draw a smiley as a texture on a wall instead of just one solid color, you were famous.

I don't know. I mean look at his recent games (and Romero.. his career after id is just a big lol) =/ He stopped being innovative after Quake, at which point first person shooters pretty much reached a stalemate in terms of impressive tech that is still in affect today.

Probably going to get flamed, but just wanted to express my opinion on the matter and hear some other peoples opinions.

The way I think of it, was back in the early 80s to late 80s, and very early in the early 90s, engines were like drawings. First someone discovered you could draw a triangle with 3 lines. Then 10 years later a "genius" figured out a way to add a fourth line, making a square! What innovation! Sure it's innovative, but sooner rather than later (especially when it's so early in PC gaming), someone else would have figured out that adding a fourth line makes a square. It's just that there were very few people who played around with drawing lines at the time, so innovation came easily.
If you read anything about him the man is a genius. He’s a self taught computer programmer. And not just simple business apps but games which require knowledge of physics and the like.

He’s one of the top 5 programmers ever I’d say.
 

horrorshow

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Where I work, until recently, we had one engineer who was over 80 years old and there is another that is still there that is not far behind.

Respect. My mom wrote COBAL in the late 70's / early 80's.

She "fell off" once she started makin' babies etc.

It's definitely a comfort to know that "Apollo mission"-era engineers are still honing the craft....
 

M76

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Where I work, until recently, we had one engineer who was over 80 years old and there is another that is still there that is not far behind.
Our lead programmer is over 65 as well. He's much sharper than the fresh out of university hirelings.
I know that if I can code something in 60 minutes he'll probably whip something up for the same problem in 20.
 
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