Last night John Carmack took to the stage at QuakeCon and inadvertently ignited a fanboy flamewar. id's upcoming open-world shooter Rage, he told the assembled gamers, will look worse on the Xbox 360 because of storage issues. I asked id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead about that this morning, now that the comment has had time to sink into gaming forums worldwide. "That's a pretty gross over simplification," he said. And it was. In fact Carmack's and Hollenshead's views on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 as platforms are fairly complex. While Carmack has long said he thinks that the architecture of the Xbox 360 is better, it sounds like he and others at id Software feel that the PS3 has done a much better job of future proofing. This issue with Rage? It's just the tip of the iceberg unless something is done.
The problem with Rage is two fold, Hollenshead tells me. First there is the economics of spreading a game across multiple discs. The more discs you use the higher production costs are. "We have concerns (about the 360 version of Rage) because of the economics of the platform in terms of what it costs to go to multiple discs," Hollenshead said. "There is disc space issue on the 360, and if we cant find a clever way or compromise with Microsoft to address that issue... even though we feel the 360 has superior hardware, the size limitations may mean that we may not have as much texture density or resolution on the 360 version. "Let me be clear, this is an open question, we have these tech issues and we are working with Microsoft to solve them." And the issue isn't just about the game being too big, Hollenshead says that developers lose upwards of 2 gigs of space per a disc because of information Microsoft requires developers to put on the discs. While allowing the game to be installed on the Xbox 360's harddrive may help, it actually wouldn't solve that problem, Hollenshead added. While spit-balling ideas and possible solutions, Carmack even talked about the possibility of streaming some game data to Xbox 360s through the Live service, but that raises a litany of other issues, like how you would ensure that all of your gamers had a harddrive or broadband connections. Ironically, early on Carmack was pretty clear on the fact that he felt the Playstation 3's cell technology was not the boon it was made out to be to developers. "I know that John is pretty much brass tacks on these issues and before the PS3 was ever released he raised the same issues then as now," Hollenshead said. Sony "had a bunch of hardware engineers talking about theoretical power, but (Carmack) said 'yeah, this isn't how software people work' and they said 'yeah, this is how they should work.'" To date, Carmack still feels the architecture of the Playstation 3 doesn't deliver the power promised. But Hollenshead points out that there's no use crying over spilled milk. "Complaining about that is sort of a worthless exercise at this point," he said. "The PS3 is what it is and it's not going to change. You have to adapt. That's what we have done with id tech 5." One of the promises of id Software's new engine is that it will make cross-platform development a breeze. Something Hollenshead said is proven with Rage. "Today we are saying that Rage may look better on the PS3 than the 360," he pointed out. While id may not be fans of the Playstation 3's architecture, they are fans of how future proof the console seems to be. "I think the blu-ray strategy and some of the other things they've done in terms how (the PS3) is positioned as a home entertainment device, shows that (Sony) is placing their bet on the PS3 as a marathon runner not a sprint and Microsoft was a little more focused on the short term goals." Storage, and Microsoft's early insistence that the Xbox 360 wasn't going to run into issues with its DVD-based games, is a key win for Sony, he said. "As soon as you start saying you have enough memory, you better hide and watch brother."