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Carmack attacks next-gen super status

Xbox 360 and PS3 power claims should be "taken with grains of salt", apparently

John Carmack, id head honcho and development legend, has aired his thoughts on what we're likely to see from the Xbox 360 and PS3 over the course of the next-generation, at this year's QuakeCon - and it's maybe not as earth-shattering as Microsoft and Sony would like us to believe.

Carmack is currently deep in preliminary work on development for Microsoft's next-gen machine and has spoken out about the multi-core processing systems favoured by both the Xbox 360 and Sony's machine. Despite lofty promises from both companies concerning their powerhouse technology, Carmack is dubious about what can be achieved in practical terms. Are you ready for the science bit?

"Hardware wise, there's a lot of marketing hype about the consoles. A lot of it really needs to be taken with grains of salt about exactly how powerful it is," claims Carmack "The Xbox 360 has an architecture where you essentially have got three processors and they're all running the same memory pool and they're all synchronized, and cache coherent, and you can spawn off another thread in your program and make it go do some work. That's kind of the best case and it's still really difficult to turn into faster performance or getting it to get more stuff done in a game title."

While Carmack acknowledges that the internal architecture of both Microsoft and Sony's consoles are likely to create more than their fair share of headaches for developers attempting to reach the levels of graphical finesse touted during each company's E3 console unveiling, it seems Microsoft has the edge in terms of ease-of-use.

"Sony sort of takes this position where, [they say] 'Okay, it's going to be difficult, maybe its going to suck to do this, but the good game developers are going to suck it up and make it work.' There's some truth to that," continues Carmack, "There will be the developers that go ahead and have a miserable time and do get good performance out of some of these multi-core approaches. And Cell is worse than others in some respects, here."

But what does this all mean in terms of the games we'll be playing in the first months of the next-generation and onwards?

Carmack believes that the first generation of next-gen titles (keeping up?) won't be "anywhere close to taking full advantage of all of this extra capability. But, maybe by the time the next generation of consoles roll around the developers will be a little more comfortable with all this and be able to get more benefit out of it. It's not a problem I actually think will have a solution. I think it's going to stay hard."

What's more, Carmack debunks grandiose claims from Microsoft and Sony concerning the supposedly hitherto unseen graphical whiz both machines will offer: "Personally I'd rather see our next generation run at 60 frames per second [but] I actually don't think we'll make it. I think we'll be at 30 frames per second for the consoles for most of what [id will be] doing. We're going to be soaking up a lot of the CPU just for normal housekeeping types of things."

Given id's penchant for pushing graphics to their absolute max, it's perhaps not surprising to hear Carmack bemoan the possibilities available on next-gen machines, especially given his stated goal to create visuals on par with "the Lord of the Rings trilogy" in real-time sometime in the future.

However, when other developers are already pummelling our retinas into frothy submission with their initial wave of next-gen titles (Project Gotham 3 and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, anyone?), it seems pretty clear that no-one's going to be in a hurry to dismiss the next-generation of consoles on the back of Carmack's comments just yet.