Rage on the iPhone 4: Serious Eye Candy

Gaming circles were buzzing yesterday after a sneak peek at id Software’s “id Tech 5″ engine running “Rage” on an iPhone 4. At 60 fps no less! What was so impressive about the demo was that it really does resemble some of the high quality Playstation 2 titles that we were seeing at the very end of that consoles mainstream life.

What is also immediately noticeable about Rage, and id’s new “dungeon crawling” engine is just how mature and contemporary its graphical output looks generally. The lighting effects, seamless textures, and frame rate of the game puts most other so called iPhone “AAA” offerings to shame.

Am I surprised at what id have achieved. Not particularly. Impressed, yes. Surprised, no.

They’ve simply brought a wealth of experience writing AAA game engines, of a specific genre, to bear on the iPhone ecosystem. With efficient asset management, and a focussed approach to the flavor of game you want to produce there is absolutely no reason why more iPhone developers can’t be pushing out games (or at least tech demos) of this quality.

One feature of id’s engine that we should keep an eye on is the “mega-texture” component. In simple terms a mega-texture is a super large texture that covers entire areas in a game environment. It actually allows artists to produce more seamless environments, and once the heavy lifting is done in logic, enables easy asset management for engineers.

What it does do also is use a lot of space, and rely on compression great deal. Compressed textures are something the iPhone GPU is good at dealing with. But there is a slight loss of quality ( which if employed skilfully is barely noticeable), when they are endeared. Predefined textures for environments also enable designers to do amazing lighting effects with low overheads for the game’s engine.

They are in effect “baked” into the environment, so are less dynamic, and consequently less taxing on GPU and CPU resources at run time. The tradeoff is that by and large these lighting effects are atmospheric, and don’t move around. Clever lighting, and texture expanse are prominent features in the iPhone Rage demo we have seen. What remains to be seen is how much actual content we end up with in the final product.

In reality all we are doing on the iPhone and Android devices today is applying desktop techniques in macro. It’s all about batching our graphics so that our GPU and CPU do as much heavy lifting as they can, efficiently as they can manage without tripping over each other. After that it is all about managing our assets to get the maximum from limited resources.

id do not plan to actually release Rage as a 60fps game, as it will drain battery power too quickly on the iPhone at that speed. But they do envisage “Rage” running on the iPad and earlier iPods as well as the iPhone 3GS. On all those platforms they plan to run the actual game at 30fps. Saving some battery life, and probably allowing them to squeeze some time for the game logic into the CPUs workload!

John Carmack of id, also said it will run just fine on an original iPhone 2G. And it probably will. No doubt with a few less bells and whistles visually. My own procedural planet engine, demoed at SIGGRAPH last year, runs on every iOS device too, including the humble iPhone 2G. It took a lot of work to get my engine to run on both OpenGL ES1 & ES2, as id have obviously had to do for their engine to run on all generations of iOS devices. So I take my hat off to them for their effort and dedication in doing that.

Its an excellent sign of a developers technical capabilities, and confidence in their product to continue to support older hardware. It also shows a great deal of respect for ones customers in my opinion.

It only remains to be seen what the actual gameplay ends up like on Rage. id’s John Carmack said they plan to launch “Rage” initially as a mini-game, and teaser to a more full length iPhone ‘Rage’ title, to coincide with the 360 and PS3 launch next year. So expect an eye-candy advertiser in the App Store in the future, with more meat to follow…

Have you seen the demo? Are you looking forward to some serious gaming action on your iPhone or iPad? Let us know your thoughts on this in the comments.

[Kotaku]

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Stephen NorthcottRage on the iPhone 4: Serious Eye Candy