Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake—these are the foundational titles that first enabled all subsequent first-person 3D video games, and the 3D rendering engines behind all of them were built principally by John Carmack. And as of this morning, Carmack is now the chief technology officer of Oculus Rift, the company that seems best positioned to bring virtual reality into the mainstream.
Carmack has been integral to the development process of the Oculus 3D goggles, being the first programmer to make one of his games compatible with the device, says a blog post on the Oculus website announcing Carmack’s new role. The news is not entirely unexpected, considering Carmack’s past involvement with the company, including showing off an early prototype of the headset at the 2012 E3 video game convention.
The implications of Carmack’s move are likely to eventually be much bigger than a simple upgrade to the gaming experience of couch-bound Xbox enthusiasts everywhere. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the 3D graphics engines Carmack pioneered drove huge consumer demand for faster microchips to deliver those graphics, creating such modern-day silicon giants as NVIDIA. Those 3D capabilities now enable things like Google Earth and, eventually, 3D interfaces on tablets and PCs. Those chips have also created a minor revolution in high-performance computing, and are now integrated into every mobile device, down to our smartphones. Or in other words, envelope-pushing technology that starts in gaming doesn’t stay there for long.