August 4, 2004

What if Doom 3 were open sourced?

Author: Frans Englich

ID Software has released all its major games under the GPL as soon as
newer ID releases take the spotlight. But what if Doom 3, the most
advanced game engine on Earth, were open sourced from the start?

Since 1991, Texas-based ID
Software
has showed the  gaming industry how state-of-the-art gaming
engines are created with each and every new release. Be it Doom, Quake 3
or any of ID's other titles, the next steps in physics engines and 3D
rendering have been taken. No wonder the ID code bases have been
licensed for games such as Half Life and Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

But what truly amazes me is how the ID folks have kept their passion
for the craft despite their monetary success and celebrity. Whether it's
answering questions for the KDE project, helping with game engine
modifications such as Quakeforge, or
in general paying respect to the community, ID is good at keeping the
conversation going. The architectures are open, there are plenty of
tools for game modification, and the majority of the games are open
sourced. When ID's native Linux binaries aren't there, the GPLed source
code has ensured platform independence, be it for Wolfenstein 3D or Doom
2.

One doesn't have to read the game-specific news media to have heard
that the big thing in the game industry is ID's upcoming Doom 3. Judging from the screenshots and video clip from the
game, it without doubt is unseen before.

ID Software releases its games under open source licenses when they
have started collecting dust and the spotlight is seeking their new
games. While the source is of great interest for the loyal community,
it's not much more than that.

When ID releases Doom 3 -- the next milestone in gaming technology --
what would happen if it were released under an open source license right
away instead of waiting?

  •     
  • As did Linux, it would turn the gaming industry upside down
    by making it a happy place for small and medium-sized enterprises, and
    by shifting it to a service orientation. As an operating system, a 3D
    engine is a far too big and complex project to write from scratch, but
    when standing on the shoulders of giants large accomplishments can be
    made. Small gaming companies, and the innovation they bring, would
    flourish.

        

  • When Doom 3 is the engine behind games, and its development
    takes on the speed and perfection of open source, the technical aspect
    of gaming would already be taken care of. We would see game development
    conquer new areas -- new technical features, and deep explorations of
    story line, art and design.

        

  • 3D engines are not only of interest in games. Ordinary
    programs, ranging from medical systems to CAD programs, also need 3D
    capabilities. With the Doom 3 engine, such projects would have a new
    horizon, especially those that lack the resources to develop or purchase
    their own, such as educational and government projects. The push ID
    would give such projects would be invaluable.
      
        
  • The engine would become a generic software component
    installed on most systems, referenced by games, effects in desktop
    environments and ordinary programs.

        

  • When a game can be built with the Doom 3 engine, does it make
    any sense going the proprietary path? The gaming industry would be
    converted to open source in two seconds. Open source's unique ability to
    establish open standards would make itself present. Goodbye
    DirectX!

What is hindering ID from taking this giant leap for the computer
industry, if not fo all of mankind?

Judging from ID's close relationship with the gaming community and
its passion for the craft, it cannot be a lack of motivation -- I think
they would observe the development such a decision would spur with great
interest.

Could it be financial reasons? MySQL is released under the GPL, and
MySQL AB makes money on proprietary licenses (paradoxical as it first
may seem). As long as a company is liked, open source is a fine business
model.

Fear of losing control? That open sourcing a piece of software would
lead to "anarchy" is a myth created by misunderstanding open source and
Internet marketing. If the open sourcing was done in a way suitable for
Doom 3 (which would radically differ from ID's previous source
releases), ID would still be in charge.

What about legal aspects? Certainly. Considering the engine's close
involvement with the hardware, the developers may have signed
non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), but they can easily be circumvented by
leaving those parts out or doing workarounds. ID may also have signed
contracts (such as licenses of the engine) which prevent them from
moving toward open source licenses.

ID Software has systematically, again and again, revolutionized.
Open source is storming the market. And now, due to groundwork that is
only recently completed, it is about to start moving into gaming.

Shouldn't open source be ID Software's next move if it still wants to
be "The" gaming industry innovator?

Copyright (C) 2004 Frans Englich

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