John Carmack was honoured with the Academy's highest honour, the Fellowship, at the British Academy Games Awards on Thursday 7 April.
There’s a certain irony in looking back over the career of a man who’s spent so much of it with his eyes set on the horizon. John Carmack’s work has consistently been at the cutting edge of games, his technical expertise helping the future arrive that little bit faster.
[Programming] was something that just clicked with me at a very deep level.
He proved his pioneering spirit early in his career when developing Catacomb 3-D, shifting the player's perspective to first-person in a seminal move that has been credited with shaping modern gaming. Carmack noted the dramatic difference this had on immersing players in the world on screen.
Someone would be playtesting the game and they’d unlock a door, and see a monster right there [in front of them]. Seeing someone literally yell and fall out of their chair was something that never happened with more conventional games. Yes, you’d get mad, you’d get scared. But there was not that same visceral intensity to it.
At id Software, a company he founded in 1991 with designer Tom Hall, artist Adrian Carmack (no relation), and fellow programmer John Romero, Carmack worked on some of the best-remembered games of the era including Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake and Rage, titles that became iconic pieces of gaming and pop culture.
Carmack’s career, then, has been all about removing barriers: allowing players to become more deeply immersed in a game, and designers to more fully realise their best ideas.
When I create a technology, I have a fuzzy idea of what people will do with it, but a great artist or designer will have a crystal clear vision that becomes a perfect realisation of that technology.
His penchant for working on the cutting edge has brought Carmack to Oculus VR, where he has served as Chief Technology Officer since 2013.
Making the technology work on mobile platforms may be one of the Virtual Reality’s toughest challenges, but Carmack remains palpably excited about its prospects and what could be the biggest leap forward for games since the advent of 3D gaming.
Courtesy of Oculus
And while Virtual Reality may seem a world away from the technology with which Cormack began his career, he maintains that solving the technical obstacles is remarkably like stepping back in time to the early days of id.
"Graphics, networking, extendable platforms, and now virtual reality; each has enabled magnificent new things that delight millions of people. I am as excited about the future today as I was when I started.”
Words: Chris Schilling