Interviews

John Romero, part I

We open the gate to Hell to meet the fiery co-creator of the demonic daddy of first-person shooters - Doom

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When we eventually set up id Software, I said "OK, what do you want to focus on, because we can't be working on the same thing?" And Carmack said "I kind of want to work on the graphics." I was pleased because I was good at working on tools and the game design stuff, so that's how we both went on our paths.

How did you come up with Wolfenstein 3D?

John Romero: About four months after starting id, Carmack said "I want to work on some 3D polygon stuff," so our designer went and came up with an idea called Hover Tank. It was a really big challenge to make in 3D, but Carmack did it - this was May 1991 and we had our first first-person view game. John then created his own texture-mapping technology in six months, to allow us to place an artist-drawn texture on a polygon - the result being Catacomb 3D, which was pretty much lost to the world because it was published by SoftDisk and hardly anyone saw it.

However, we thought that first-person perspective looked awesome and were wondering about our next game, initially titled "It's green and pissed", which was a biological research lab going mad, mutants - the typical mad scientist stuff. I thought it was really lame, like a really bad B-movie, so I suggested we remake the Apple II classic Wolfenstein. I thought that game was awesome and I love the name "Wolfenstein". There were just four of us - John, Adrian Carmack, Tom Hall and myself - and although Adrian wasn't a gamer at that time, the three of us were all Apple II nuts.

Carmack had the engine up and running after just two months of work, so we were actually doing full-on level design by February 1992. When we finished the game at the end of June we were going to work on something else, so we figured we'd work on a Wolfenstein sequel Spear of Destiny straight away, which only took two months! There were basically new levels, new graphics, new bosses - not too much - and we got it done very quickly.

Tell us about the creation of Doom...

John Romero: John was already thinking about what was next, what's the next level of the technology, so he modified the engine and put in some variations of form - sloping floors, ramps, new lighting and stuff. But he wanted to get further than that. He brainstormed on it for the next few months, when the engine was kind of growing in his brain. When he was telling us about the things the new engine could do, Tom and myself were like "Yeah, now we can make something really cool!" We all loved the movie Aliens, because we were all about action, and we found out that we could actually get the license. We didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it though - we thought that it'd suck to work on that game because we wouldn't have full control over it. We'd constantly have a movie company smacking us around.

So, we came up with our own idea that was very Alien-ish, but not typical aliens. Everyone expects aliens in space, but then John came up with the initial idea of "How about we have demons from hell in outer space?" and we thought "Yeah! We can totally do that." We kind of merged the whole Aliens things with the demons, chainsaw and shotgun and stuff from Evil Dead - that's where we got the idea to do the chainsaw. We were doing a lot of concept stuff back then, and every time we did a new 3D game, it was a lot of work for us mentally to break our previous design habits.

When we did our first Doom level, it looked exactly like a Wolfenstein level with 90-degree corners, fixed heights and stuff. I wasn't happy with it, I was like "Right, we need to make sure that no area of the game looks like Wolfenstein" - that needed to be our design goal. It was the same thing with Quake. I didn't want to ever look at any area of the game and think that it could've been done in Doom. I knew movement through the space was going to be similar because we were still doing a run-and-gun type thing, but I didn't want the space to look the same. I wanted it to be impressive and I wanted people to look around with the look function - maybe there's a glimmer, some detail in the distance that makes you think, "Hey there's a lot of stuff up above me!"

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