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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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So when you finished Doom you really thought that you had something quite special?

John Romero: Yeah. The last 30 hours were a lot of work, a lot of stress testing, mastering it for download and the whole time we had people calling the office, we had people on the internet who knew where we were going to put the game and they were creating fake file names like "Where. Is. It." There were 250 users or something, which back then was a lot. When we finally uploaded it, the University of Wisconsin FTP server went down, so we uploaded it a second time and the server went down again. Finally, after they limited the users or something we finally managed to upload it, and we were exhausted. Sandy Peterson was sleeping on the floor under his desk, and we were tired of seeing the game as well - for us we had seen it so much over the last year that we were glad to be done with it.

The reaction was obviously amazing and Doom became a smash hit. How does it feel having millions of people loving your game?

John Romero: It was really cool. When Doom came out, everything that happened before was like nothing. Every single game magazine wrote about Doom and every issue we saw for at least a year or two. Everyone was talking about Doom - complete addiction. It was insane, definitely the biggest cultural thing I've seen in gaming so far. Maybe EverQuest and World of Warcraft were similar, but back then and probably for about 10 years after that there was nothing like it. It was cultural rather than just games.

People were spending a lot of time on the computer, but hardware had only just become good enough to do great stuff with. Games before that point were never high on action and engaging, but when Doom came out it was almost "Here's what a computer is for." There was the craziest violence you've ever seen on a computer screen too, and since everyone was so addicted it was almost like it was accepted. There was some backlash, but it was so minor compared to the overwhelming tidal wave of acceptance that I think violence became a lot more mainstream in the media because of it.

How did your head end up on a spike in Doom 2?

John Romero: That was a funny little Easter Egg thing. At the end of a project, that's usually when you want to stick your Easter Eggs in - especially if you don't have a QA team. What happened was, I was working with Bobby Prince on getting some music and sound in the game, and I was on the boss level 30. We needed sounds for when the boss got hit and died, so to test it, we had a sprite behind a wall in a little room - some kind of object to represent the brain of the evil thing that you'd hit it with the rocket.

Every object always had a little graphic associated with it, and I guess Adrian decided it would be funny to put my head on a stake back there. So he secretly drew my head on a stake, which was funny because I had to play through the level and hit that object with a rocket. So I ran through the level and as I was getting close to it I thought for second that I saw my reflection, but then I got closer and I thought, "No way!" I knew they wanted to keep it in there as an Easter Egg so that after the game had shipped they could say "Guess what John! Ha-ha-ha!"

So, I went to Bobby Prince and I showed him, and I was like "I've got to have an even deeper Easter Egg for these guys, to show that I knew that they did it." And so we decided to do a scary evil backwards sentence that played when you came out of the teleporter. I wanted to say "To win the game you must kill me, John Romero." Bobby recorded it with his microphone, pitch shifted it and did all of this stuff to it to make it sound all evil and slow. I was thinking that when the game was shipped they'd be like "Ha-ha-ha! Your head's on a stake!" and I could be like "Ha-ha-ha! I already knew!"

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