John Romero Is Batshit Crazy

John Romero

Doing one of my regular turns around gaming news sites, I came across an interview with John Romero, of Doom and, dare I say it, Daikatana fame, now Founder/President of Slipgate Ironworks. You can find it over at Adrenaline Vault. Slipgate is supposedly working on a new MMO for the PC.

What I found interesting is this particular exchange:

3. Where is it all going? What do you see happening in the next five years and beyond?

JR: Right now MMOs, mobile and PC episodic are really polarizing into the newest most important segments in gaming. Next-gen console is big but its future isn’t too bright with the emergence of cheap PC multi-core processors and the big change the PC industry will go through during the next 5 years to accommodate the new multi-core-centric hardware designs. My prediction is that the game console in the vein of the PS3 and XBOX 360 is going to either undergo a massive rethink or go away altogether. The Wii has the perfect design for a console that doesn’t pretend to be a PC and is geared more toward casual gamers than hardcore gamers. The hardcore gamers are going to either be playing on their PCs or a new PC-like platform that sits in the living room but still serves the whole house over wifi, even the video signal.

This answer struck me as wrong in almost every important respect possible. Where it isn't wrong, it's self-contradictory. Let's take a closer look.

Right now MMOs, mobile and PC episodic are really polarizing into the newest most important segments in gaming.

I'm not even sure any sense can be wrung out of this sentence. The majority of games still aren't MMOs. It's a relatively new business model for gaming-- subscriptions as opposed to single unit sales. I'm not sure why the distinction "PC Episodic" is made except to underscore what he says later about PCs and consoles. Given that two of the three next-generation consoles currently shipping include network connections and hard drives either standard or as an option, I don't see how these consoles are any less a potential target for episodic content than a PC. In fact, since consoles offer a stable development target over its life, in theory it should allow episodic content to be delivered more quickly, as the QA process can be streamlined. If you've shipped a game engine for a console and that console is on the market for 5 years, you can develop new content for that engine from year one through year 5 and know it will work, and you only need to test it against the platform you developed it for; no need to try and cram new and better graphics into each successive episode and then still have to worry about lower-spec'd machines, the way PC games do.

Next-gen console is big but its future isn’t too bright with the emergence of cheap PC multi-core processors and the big change the PC industry will go through during the next 5 years to accommodate the new multi-core-centric hardware designs.

Here, Romero manages to be both wrong and to contradict himself, which is no mean feat. He acknowledges that next-gen consoles are big, but say they don't have a bright future because of what will happen in the next 5 years. That's about what the usual lifespan of a console is. So I'm not sure if they're big or not in his eyes, it's a bit unclear.

What is also unclear is how multi-core-centric hardware designs and cheap multi-core processors somehow favor PCs over consoles. I own a laptop with one CPU with two cores, and a console with three cores. I've lost track of how many cores the PS3 has, I'm not even sure anyone even agrees on it anymore. It's somewhere between 8 and 10, though. Gaming is also arguably the most difficult of applications to effectively utilize multiple cores and multiple processors for. Game developers, by and large, have been skeptical about whether or not optimizing for multiple processors is worth it, even while the console manufacturers push it.

I don't see how anything that can be done to give a PC an advantage in the area of multi core architectures can't be applied to a console. This is especially true of the Xbox 360, which is a multi-core console with a hard drive and a network connection, just like a PC, and is promoted by Microsoft as an attractive target for PC game developers (as well as the reverse).

My prediction is that the game console in the vein of the PS3 and XBOX 360 is going to either undergo a massive rethink or go away altogether. The Wii has the perfect design for a console that doesn’t pretend to be a PC and is geared more toward casual gamers than hardcore gamers.

The entire industry seems to have its collective head up its ass right now regarding the words "hardcore" and "casual". Everybody uses them, but no two agree on what the heck they mean. While I realize it's very hip to give Nintendo well-earned kudos on the Wii's innovative design and quick sales success so far, to declare its design tradeoffs a win in this generation is, I think, pretty darn premature. Each successive Nintendo console since Sony entered the market has sold fewer units than the one before. The Wii has not yet surpassed that figure. When the Wii has sold as many units as the GameCube or the N64, I'll be willing to say they've reversed the trend. Until then, I'd say their spectacular sales to date have been fueled by pent-up demand for their first-party titles (Zelda) and interest in their innovative controller (Wiimote). It's also due to the fact that since they did not feel the need to be absolutely bleeding edge with their hardware, the Wii is a device they can comfortably manufacture in sufficient amounts, and sell without taking a loss. That's a great strategy that has stood Nintendo in good stead over the years, and I think will continue to do so.

However, I think it's a colossal mistake to label Wii owners "casual" and Xbox 360 and PlayStation owners as "hardcore". This seems to be based more on popular conceptions about the kinds of games these consoles are known for: their first party titles. Microsoft has the sci-fi shooter corner staked out with Halo and Gears of War, and people feel comfortable calling that "hardcore". Sony, with their JRPGs and GTAs, can also be called "hardcore". For some reason Nintendo, with Link and Mario, are called "casual". I don't know about you, but I see just as many, if not more, fans dressing themselves up as Link and Princess Peach than I do the Master Chief and Cloud. Nintendo fans are just as hardcore, if not more hardcore, than anyone else. They're fiercely loyal, and Nintendo's low pricing and consistent franchises make it easy for them to be so. Everyone who bought a GameCube and liked it is going to buy a Wii, and then some. Until they've all got their consoles, nobody really has any idea whether the Wii is appealing to "hardcore" or "casual" gamers.

The hardcore gamers are going to either be playing on their PCs or a new PC-like platform that sits in the living room but still serves the whole house over wifi, even the video signal.

Romero's become full-blown psychotic here. He's just taken Microsoft and Sony to task for making consoles that "pretend to be PCs". He's lauded Nintendo for resisting those trends, by making a console less like a PC than either the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation. He's intimated that consoles need to undergo a "massive rethink". When he comes to describing that rethink, it looks exactly like what Microsoft and Sony are doing: making consoles a "PC-like platform that sits in the living room and serves the whole house over WiFi, even the video signal."

John, exactly what is an Xbox 360 with a wireless adapter, connected to a PC running Windows XP or Media Center? Isn't that a PC-like platform that sits in the living room and serves a house, including the video signal?

Romero wants to put the cart before the horse, reducing the console to the role of a peripheral in a living room where the PC is the dominant part. That's what we've got already. That's what's getting a major rethink or going away. The center of the living room is the last step in the chain, not the first-- the object that's plugged into your stereo receiver and your video hardware. The console. The console isn't going to give its features over to some other PC-like platform with PC-like problems; it's going to absorb the PC features that are needed (like networking and storage) to leave the PC whatever is left: management tasks. The PC is the platform on which you retrieve and manage your content; but the console is the platform you're actually going to use to interact with your content, since it's the point closest to how that interaction takes place: the video and audio hardware, and the interface that is most comfortable to use while seated in that viewing environment, which is some sort of remote or controller, and not a mouse or keyboard.

Romero also says it's the hardcore gamers who will be doing this. The hardcore gamers, presumably, buying the PlayStations (#1 console last generation) and the Xbox 360 (#1 console this generation, so far) and the Xbox 1 (#2 console last generation).

Sounds to me like wishful thinking. I'm not saying that PC gaming is going away; but just because I'm not doesn't mean that console gaming is going away. I think Romero would like to carve off a niche for himself and claim that it's the sole province of the PC platform (hardcore games and MMOs) that is unthreatened by consoles, but that's just not true. The closer consoles come to being affordable devices with PC capabilities, the less true it becomes.

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N1NJ4's picture
N1NJ4
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Joined: 04/18/2005
Multiple cores, computers and whatnot

Game devs are skeptical about writing code for multiple cores because they just don't know how to do it. From what I have seen more than half of all research going on in computer science right now is in the area of how exactly to use multiple processors effectively. Im sure that most xbox games are seeing some improvement by putting things like sound and networking on seperate cores, but (educated guess here) our new consoles rarely if ever get all 3 cores running at full capacity. Simply put, right now we are not even close to reaching the potential of multiple cores. Unfortunately we have no choice but to move to multi-core machines because we aren't going to see any performance increase for quite a while without them.

PCs and consoles do seem to be growing more and more similar in their functinality, or at least consoles are growing ever more PC like. Odds are this will tail off but who could say. With microsoft as a growing power, this gap could get narrower and narrower.

Also, did you really need to convince us that Romero is a nut?

Heptarch's picture
Heptarch
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Joined: 04/19/2007
I think Romero is on the

I think Romero is on the path, but missed a turn.

We're definitely seeing a technoglogical convergence and blurring between consoles and PCs. The days of the discrete PC aren't over... but we're going to see more and more crossover products. Including, software for consoles and PCs. The Xbox 1 was a major move in this direction, using PC components to create a console.

My biggest gripe is that I've not seen developers catch up with this potential enough yet... I want World of Warcraft on my 360! There isn't any reason why it couldn't support that kind of gaming. You can even plug a keyboard in if you desire. (Which I have already, for messaging with friends)

Regardless... even if Romero can smell the wind, that doesn't mean he has any idea what to do with that information.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Gaming culture

I'm not sure how much of Romero's comments I agree or disagree with, though I do think you're right, Narcogen, that it's the consoles that will become more like PCs, than the PCs becoming like consoles. A "PC-like platform that sits in the living room but still serves the whole house over wifi" sure sounds like taking the long way to say the word "console." Kinda Orwellian, really.

It'll be interesting to see what happens, actually--I can see Microsoft approaching this "living room PC" via the Xbox, while Apple is apparently trying to just make something they'll brand a "living room PC."

But more germane to the discussion, I think there's also an issue of culture. Right now, the so-called hardcore gamers are either completely on PCs or have a PC and a console, whereas the casual gamers all have consoles. There's a distinct difference in PC gamer culture and console gamer culture, though I know there's a lot of overlap between the two.

Personally, I got tired of trying to keep up with the PC gaming market. I built a top-of-the-line PC in December '05 that won't be able to play Crysis. MMOs are already constructed with a pretty low bar in mind in terms of technical specifications (so as to reach the maximum number of users) and there are a number of MMOs being developed for the console market. Six million WoW PC players is great, but what if they could tap into a console market with millions more users who could just pop in the disc and play?

Also, your point, Narcogen, about the stability of a console over a five-year lifespan is true both for the users as well as the developers. I like knowing that not only will I be able to play any Xbox 360 game out of the box from now until the day I buy a new console, but that I'm on a level playing field in terms of visibility, control and otherwise with every other user out there.

--JFCC

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
master cheif hollding brute hammer

if u go to halo3multiplayer.com and look at the images youll see a master cheif holldin a brute hammer.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: John Romero Is Batshit Crazy

I'm not sure what makes you think you can just up and willy-nilly disagree with the creator of Daikatana like that. But while John Romero's point of view very well may be crap, he has a legitimate (if incoherently put) point. When he says that "consoles' business models will be rethought or die" (in his babbling way), I think he really means -- and would be better served by saying -- "Console hardware and PC hardware is going to converge more and more with each generation of consoles."

Some people don't want to work with an OS for better graphics or customizable content, and they prefer a joystick to a mouse and keyboard, and they'd rather play on the couch than at the desk. For these people, consoles are a better option. But the key point here is that console architecture and PC architecture will still converge, as we can see with the X360 and moreso with the PS3.

Now, about his comment regarding the 5-year life-cycle. I think what he means is that consoles are in great shape right now, but as dual-core PC technology improves, the PC becomes a better and better option for the "hardcore" gamer. He's saying that come the end of these consoles' life-cycles, PCs will be looking very good.

Both of these points relate to the divergence of consoles into "hardcore" and "casual" roles. The idea is that come the next console cycle, console designers will most likely converge with PCs, as the PS3, making them a more "hardcore" platform, or diverge from PCs, as the Wii, incorporating more unconventional interfaces in order to make them more of a family-friendly experience.

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narcogen
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Re: John Romero Is Batshit Crazy

Anonymous wrote:

I'm not sure what makes you think you can just up and willy-nilly disagree with the creator of Daikatana like that.

Ha ha, very droll Smiling

Anonymous wrote:

But while John Romero's point of view very well may be crap, he has a legitimate (if incoherently put) point. When he says that "consoles' business models will be rethought or die" (in his babbling way), I think he really means -- and would be better served by saying -- "Console hardware and PC hardware is going to converge more and more with each generation of consoles."

I think you're giving Romero a bit more credit by rearranging some of his words (and adding in a lot of your own) into a much more logical proposition. However I'm not sure it's one he would agree with.

Then again, I'm not sure what you mean by "converge". This is a word that gets bandied about a lot without really meaning much or being relevant.

If you mean that consoles will take on more functions of computers, then that's true. We're seeing it now. Consoles didn't used to use multicore processors (although they already did by the time he made his remarks, so I've really no idea what he was talking about there). Now they do. Consoles didn't use to have network capabilities. Now they do. Consoles didn't use to have messaging capabilities. Now they do.

However, this is a very limited convergence. The console is changing from a machine dedicated only to gaming to a machine dedicated to audiovisual entertainment in general, by adding the ability to play movies and music. That just makes good sense, given that it's a device in the living room hooked up to the TV and the stereo.

Beyond that I see limited avenues for convergence. Perhaps DVR capabilities. However these are still dedicated hardware and software functions relating to entertainment, and not general computing tasks.

Anonymous wrote:

Some people don't want to work with an OS for better graphics or customizable content, and they prefer a joystick to a mouse and keyboard, and they'd rather play on the couch than at the desk. For these people, consoles are a better option. But the key point here is that console architecture and PC architecture will still converge, as we can see with the X360 and moreso with the PS3.

Console architecture and PC architecture never really diverged. In fact, Microsoft and Sony had their multicore consoles on the drawing board when most people (especially laptop users) were still using single core processors. Microsoft's first Xbox, despite all the denials, was essentially a standard Windows PC with a stripped down Windows NT-based operating system and an Nvidia GPU.

I don't see how there's any "more convergence" with the PS3. It uses a nine core architecture. There's nothing like it comparable in the consumer computing space. In fact, it is less like a regular PC than any console made in recent years, and its architecture is less suited to general computing performance than it is for streaming media-- video, textures, sound.

If anything, console design is diverging from PC architectures. And so far Sony's efforts at copying Microsoft's convergent features-- namely XBL-- is a bit weak. But that's a software, not a hardware issue anyway.

Anonymous wrote:

Now, about his comment regarding the 5-year life-cycle. I think what he means is that consoles are in great shape right now, but as dual-core PC technology improves, the PC becomes a better and better option for the "hardcore" gamer. He's saying that come the end of these consoles' life-cycles, PCs will be looking very good.

Looking very good to whom? The PC is already the choice of the hardcore gamer, as defined by those who prefer games that cannot be played on a console. Those people already have a PC, and many of them also have a console.

The relative market sizes and overlap being what they are, it is very likely that a true "hardcore" gamer, if he or she owns a gaming PC, also owns a console, perhaps even more than one. Whilst a large number of console owners do not own a gaming PC. There's nothing here to converge. As long as there are a few console exclusives, that overlap will continue. Few Halo fans, for instance, will wait two years for each game to be (half-heartedly) ported to the PC. A lot of them will go for a console to play it.

I've already got a dual core laptop I've had for almost two years. I'm not sure what that has to do with gaming. Romero's diatribe is essentially a preemptive strike against the cries of "PC gaming is dead" that inevitably follow observations of how much larger the console market is, has been since the resurgence of Nintendo following Atari's demise, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Some pundits can't fathom that PC gaming won't kill console gaming or the reverse. The fact is that while these markets have some overlap, neither is going away in favor of the other any time soon. As Romero does point out, the PC has so far proven a superior platform for certain genres of games, like MMOs. Very deep strategy games also. Until Goldeneye most console shooters were terrible.

Console gamers are console gamers because of choices of interface, display, price, and titles. Dual cores have nothing to do with it-- my Xbox 360 already has three cores, so I'm not even sure how dual core PC architecture is relevant to the discussion.

Even if every hardcore gamer who owns both a gaming PC and a console threw out their consoles and vowed only to continue gaming on their hardcore, multicore gaming PCs, the console market would still be many times larger than the PC gaming market.

Anonymous wrote:

Both of these points relate to the divergence of consoles into "hardcore" and "casual" roles. The idea is that come the next console cycle, console designers will most likely converge with PCs, as the PS3, making them a more "hardcore" platform, or diverge from PCs, as the Wii, incorporating more unconventional interfaces in order to make them more of a family-friendly experience.

What do you mean when you say "console designers will most likely converge with PCs"? Because that really makes no sense. Convergence means the combination of more than one device into one device. So either you mean console gaming moves to the PC, a la Windows Live for Gaming (which isn't working out that well at all) or that the console becomes a general productivity device (which isn't happening).


Rampant for over se7en years.

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