When John Carmack was appointed as Oculus VR’s new CTO earlier this month, it represented a giant leap for the virtual reality company. In Carmack it has snared one of game development’s greatest minds, an industry figurehead with a great deal of knowledge, experience and a desire to explore what this new technology might do.
His standing isn’t being underestimated by Oculus VR’s founder Palmer Luckey. “He’s a game god,” he says. “People can look and see someone like John getting involved with something – especially with a startup – is a really good indicator of something being legitimate.
“John Carmack wouldn’t leave id Software and go to a new company if they were something that he didn’t think would be successful, and he’s had a pretty good track record of predicting successful technologies in the past, influencing them and making sure that they maximise their potential.”
I ask whether the move reflects a certain restlessness in Carmack – firstperson shooters have evolved plenty since Wolfenstein 3D, but we’ve not really seen a fundamental change in the genre beyond the obvious technical improvements. Was this great pioneer getting bored of what’s possible with PC and console gaming?
“It’s not necessarily boredom,” says Luckey. “There’s so much more you can do with VR than you can with traditional gaming on a console or on a PC. There are still ways to innovate on console and PC but it’s not this undiscovered, uncharted territory like in VR.”
Oculus has a growing number of senior games industry figures joining its ranks. Former Activision senior vice president Laird Malamed became the VR firm’s COO in January, and he elaborates further on why Carmack chose Oculus. “I think something that also drove John early on – and continues to do so – was storytelling and experiences that were the most immersive possible. I think VR continues that trend.
“It’s not like he woke up one day last year and thought ‘Oh, I think VR would be cool.’ He’s been following it for 20 years so his help in showing it initially and then coming to join us is him following a passion he’s had for a long time.”
Luckey and Malamed are keen to emphasise that Carmack’s role at the company is full time, though there was a little confusion around the nature of his appointment. Malamed says that Carmack “became available as someone who could be hired recently,” and that he’d actually been working as a technical advisor for Oculus throughout July. “That migrated into a full time position,” says Malamed. “John has a number of advisory roles which he can talk about, it’s not right for me to talk about what he does. We’re comfortable that he’s putting the effort in – he’s sort of a workaholic so he’s never not working.”
Luckey interjects mischievously: “But it’s worth noting that it wasn’t Carmack who said he was staying at id – that was id saying he was staying at id.”
A few commenters have suggested that with Carmack on board, id’s games could end up as exclusives on Oculus Rift. “I know the speculation you’re talking about because I’ve been reading it – that he’s been working there and now he’s going to Oculus to integrate Doom 4 with the Rift as an exclusive,” says Luckey. “There’s nothing like that going on. Carmack was hired to work on our technology, not to port id titles to the Rift.”
Oculus VR will now be opening a new office in Dallas, Carmack’s home town, and is currently recruiting more staff in the area.