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John Carmack Keynote: Quakecon 2013

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: Quakecon

Carmack Continued: Displays, Software, and Everything Else Imaginable

Displays
 
Mr. Carmack is very happy about where displays are going.  They are much improved over the years for a variety of reasons.  A lot of the early TN issues have been solved, and the number of quality panels that a user could buy for very low prices is impressive.  Latency is still an issue though.  While most panels advertise very low times for pixel response, the other aspects of latency are not addressed.  Once the signal comes out of the graphics card, it is often slowed down by the circuitry in the panel before it is output as a pixel change.  
 
Refresh rates need to be improved as well.  Currently most panels are at 60 Hz and not all that many are at 120 Hz and above.  There are also some tricks users have to do to get their panels to run at 120 Hz in games and in the desktop.  Connectivity has improved with DisplayPort, but there is still a lot of work to be done to get panels to where they should be.  He is not entirely pleased with the push for 4K, as he feels that obviously more work needs to be done to get 120 Hz implemented effectively before we go for a big push in pixel density.  For most usage cases, he is very pleased with the 1080P resolution.  While more "retina" type displays are great to look at, he feels that the advantages to higher Hz outweigh that of greater pixel density for both desktop applications and games.
 
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There needs to be greater improvements for head mounted displays as well.  This is both in terms of pixel density and latency.  While pixel density will get rid of the "latticework" type effect that we see in current HMDs, the latency involved is the bigger problem.  The human eye (and brain) is pretty sensitive when it comes to movement and visual cues.  When the head moves, and the visual side is out of phase with this movement, nausea and other negative effects soon overtake the experience.  Pixel persistance and judder are also big issues when it comes to these usage case scenarios.  Any kind of pixel smearing in HMDs can again cause disorientation and nausea because visual cues again do not match what the brain is experiencing with movement.
 
One very interesting area that he talked about was stepping away from fixed Hz modes.  Unlike CRT screens, LCDs do not necessarily need fixed refresh rates.  He commented quickly on more isochronous schemes that can be implemented.  Instead of waiting for a refresh, as soon as the GPU is ready to present a frame, it is sent to the panel.  This would get rid of tearing and a lot of the other visual artifacts that simply should not have to exist on a modern LCD panel.  So a panel should be able to run a game for example at 72 Hz without vsync issues such as tearing or runt frames when it is forced to run without vsync at 60 Hz.
 
Input
 
Touch has become incredibly important for input.  Touch was pretty much maligned until we started to get into the smartphone era.  Now it is essentially superfluous with both cell phones and tablets.  We are starting to see more use in notebooks and desktops, and it has been a disruptive technology.  While the mouse and keyboard is very accurate and low latency for games and applications, touch has become much more intuitive and natural.
 
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He is not a big fan of game controllers.  While very early gen controllers like the NES did great for what they were made for (making Mario go right/left and jump), they have become much worse due to the complexity of the games.  Pushing in analog sticks has become very problematic for fine grained control in games.  Gamers have to deal with very coarse movements and low control over increasingly complex games.
 
Audio
 
This has been the red headed stepchild for quite some time, for a variety of reasons.  The primary one is that transistors and software had much greater returns in terms of CPU and GPU power rather than concentrating on sound.  This is going to change.  The primary movement for this will be the use of head mounted displays.  Audio is going to become much more important to get a truly immersive environment, so we will see the return of much more complex HRTF (head-related transfer function) algorithms.  John hopes that at some point users can simply close their eyes and "echo-locate" objects in a room.
 
Software
 
This was an area that John really pushed hard, but unfortunately I am not a programmer.  Much of this was unfamiliar territory for me, so I will try to pass along what he said.  iD has been doing a lot of code optimizations to clean things up.  There is still code in their latest engine which dates back to the mid-90s.  Some things just have not required changes, but we are getting to the point where some things need to be updated so they can be more effectively ported over in the future.
 
John is really pushing for less complexity and more "purity" in code.  Many functions in the past had to be referenced to external values that may not be ported over easily to modern operating systems and consoles.  John wants to focus on code that is first robust, then predictable, and finally has good performance.  He believes that this will obviously enable code to be more long lived and more easily portable.  He spoke at great length about this, and how he is implementing this at iD and what work he has done with other programming languages and tools (Haskell and LISP).  If a reader really wants to know more about what all he said, they should certainly watch a replay of the speech.  It is far too much to really cover well in this article.
 
OpenGL has slowly taken over the world.  This was not a foregone conclusion some years ago.  OpenGL was often too slow in implementing changes, but the rise of mobile computing utilizing OpenGL and OpenGL ES has enabled the API to regain prominence.  While Microsoft has done a good job in implementing changes in their closed garden DirectX, OpenGL has done quite a bit of advancement themselves and the mobile market has really powered this transformation.  We also must consider that the PS3 and PS4 will be using OpenGL.  DirectX will obviously not go away, but it is not nearly the dominant rendering platform that it once was.
 
Wrapping Up
 
Obviously a lot more was said in the 2.5+ hours that John talked, as well as the Q&A session.  He quickly touched on HSA and how important it will eventually be, but there are many hurdles in the way.  The primary issue is that there are few usage cases in modern games that can actually utilize heterogeneous workloads.  They have experimented with some OpenCL code, but it still is not mature enough to really lean upon.  Eventually the learning curve and workloads will adjust to HSA type solutions, but so far that has not been the case.
 
I highly suggest watching John's keynote if there is time.  It is a fascinating couple of hours, but it certainly is not for everyone.  The breadth of knowledge about many subjects held by John is impressive.
August 3, 2013 | 05:00 AM - Posted by praack

love the Carmack comments as they are already adding to the next gen console hype. yet in programming language he is correct, you have AMD chip, AMD Graphics though you have the differences with the memory infrastructure you are probably using the same underlying system programming.

bit better than hearing more drivel that you code for the worse piece and so nothing with better graphics will ever look good.

that is always a lie- unless you don;t allow for the chance of the other platform to tap into their additional headroom.

he is also correct on 30 vs 60 hz gameplay - we have been wallowing in the woods for too long and need to pump our game a bit more

August 3, 2013 | 05:54 AM - Posted by windwalker

Thanks for the summary, Josh.
It's quite useful to have the chance to spend several minutes instead of a few hours to learn what the Quakecon keynote was about.

August 3, 2013 | 06:26 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Indeed :)

August 4, 2013 | 05:37 PM - Posted by derz

Invite Carmack to the PC Perspective Podcast. I wonder how long it would run for.

August 4, 2013 | 05:37 PM - Posted by derz

August 5, 2013 | 01:33 AM - Posted by PsiAmp

John Carmack's keynote at QuakeCon 2013

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqSz8wYk5VJTsadQnU9EId6G0AJWA6o0q

Quick summary

Part 1
- new console cycle
- AMD hardware
- game controllers

Part 2
- Kinnect
- Digital distribution
- Portable consoles
- Andriod and iOS
- Cloud gaming
- Creative vision vs technology
- Unified memory
- PowerVR and tiled rendering

Part 3
- displays
- head mounted display
- movement tracking
- sound
- large scale software development
- optimization
- OpenGL

Part 4
- OpenGL
- functional programming
- Haskell
- Lisp
- Scheme
- strong and weak typing
- multithreading
- events
- garbage collection
- QuakeC vs Scheme

Part 5
- programming
Q&A:
- space
- AMD vs Nvidia vs Intel GPUs
- CPU architectures
- GPU computing
- id Tech 5
- id Software company

Part 6
- PC and upcoming console hardware
- MegaTexture
- virtual reality, augmented reality and Google Glass
- voxel, ray tracing
- AMDs virtual texturing
- console cycle beyond Xbox One and PS4
- SSD
- strobe lighting in LCD technology
- control devices advancement
- when single person can do a AAA game like MW3?

Part 7
- id Tech5 and Tango Gameworks

August 8, 2013 | 09:03 AM - Posted by HyperMinimal (not verified)

It seems the real solution to frame pacing and rendering can be achieved through hardware implementation in the monitor itself! Why are LCD monitors even made to have a static refresh rate now? CRTs are long gone, and I wonder what is holding the manufacturers back>?

August 8, 2013 | 12:11 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

But that's the way it has always been done!

August 31, 2013 | 10:51 AM - Posted by Poci

Didn't IDs latest game Rage fail? Kinda like the new Daikatana?

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