RVG is please to announce our latest interview with John Romero. John does not really need an introduction but he is an award-winning game designer, programmer and artist whose work spans over 130 games, 107 of which have been published commercially, including the iconic works Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM and Quake.
How did the formation of id Software come about?
The “Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement” demo that John Carmack and Tom Hall made in 5 hours on September 20 was the instant catalyst for the creation of id Software. How did you come up with the idea for Wolfenstein 3D?
It just popped into my head, really. In remembering one of the most influential games we, id Software, had played in the 80’s, it was Silas Warner’s classic Castle Wolfenstein that stood out. I thought, “What if we remade Castle Wolfenstein with our new 3D texture mapping tech? Blowing away Nazis? Seriously – let’s do this!” I think I said that out loud to the guys and they agreed immediately.
What challenges did you face when programming the game?
Well, John Carmack had already programmed an EGA texture-mapped raycasting engine for Catacomb 3D a couple months earlier. We just used that engine and started making new graphics. Then Scott Miller told us to ditch EGA and go VGA-only. That made it even easier! So we dumped all our EGA artwork we made (not much) and did it all in VGA. There really wasn’t a challenge making Wolfenstein 3D because it was mostly all art and level design. John C. had to write the VGA renderer and AI, and wrote all the menu code and save/load code, and we made the game in 4 months.
How did why did you get started in the video game industry?
First, I got started because I wanted to make video games. Why? Because I loved playing them and wanted to make my own. How I got into the industry was by learning to code, wrote and released dozens of games by 1987, then applied for a position at my favorite game company, Origin Systems and got the job.
Can you tell us about your experience at Midway Games and the work you did for Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows?
I got to Midway a few months after the Gauntlet project started, became the Project Manager, and decided to completely change its direction and redesigned the high-level idea of the gameplay. Then I hired Josh Sawyer to be lead designer. The game was turning out to be pretty great with an epic story and awesome background for the four main characters. Then Midway decided the game had to come out in 2005 by Christmas, no matter what, and told me and the Studio Director to take a hike so they could shred the game up and put it in a box. I loved working with the team on Gauntlet – they were a really great, pro dev group.
What do you think of the video game industry currently?
I think the game industry is doing great. I love how many games are available now and how many people are making them. And playing them!
What is your favorite Doom level to play in deathmatch?
I love DOOM II level 11. I think it’s pretty well-balanced for one-on-one, but also four players.
Doom has become a competitive game in both multiplayer (deathmatch) and single player (speed running) circles. When you designed the levels for Doom, were you keeping in mind the hardcore gamers who would try to take the game to its limits? Does it amaze you that people in the year 2015 still have not found its limits?
Well, speedrunning was definitely in the plans because there were par times for each level, just like Wolf3D. But I designed the levels for single-player first.
Were there any discussions within id Software when Wisdom Tree acquired the license to develop Super Noah’s Ark 3D with the Wolfenstein 3D engine, and have you ever played it?
No, the Wisdom Tree license was totally handled by our CEO, Jay Wilbur. We wrote the SNES Wolf3D engine/game, and didn’t mind licensing it to anyone. I have never played Super Noah’s Ark 3D, though.
Doom was one of the bloodiest games of its time and was released just as Mortal Kombat hit arcades. Was there a general sense among developers in the early ’90s that game design would need to go in an edgier, more realistic and more violent direction?
No, there was no pervading sense in the industry that violence and being edgy was the new thing. We just did what we felt would be really effective and cool. Wolfenstein 3D was super fast and violent, but also hilarious. We wanted DOOM to be the same, but look better, and be about demons and hell with sci-fi weapons. Our violence and gore was really just dark comedy. There was a line we didn’t cross because it would have been too much. For example, in Wolfenstein 3D, I had the idea that if you took someone down to ONE hitpoint they would be lying on the ground begging you not to kill them, pleading you to not finish them off. We talked about it for a bit and decided that was too much. It humanized the enemy and that would destroy the way we were portraying them.
Have you read any of the Doom novels?
I haven’t. I have them all, though.
Have you ever been involved we a game or games that never got released? Any info if so?
Oh, several of them. Some were just ports of games like 2400 A.D. on the Commodore 64 (the Apple II version wasn’t selling well so the port was canceled), and Tower Toppler on the Apple II (Epyx was running out of money and canceled all their port projects). I designed and worked on an MMORPG for 4 years before having to cancel the project because of engineering issues.
Out of all the games you have had a hand in creating, do you have a favourite?
DOOM, Quake, Hyperspace Delivery Boy, and Gunman Taco Truck are my faves.
Was there a lot of opposition to the violence in your early games at id, either from inside or outside the studio?
No, not really. We didn’t pay attention to anything negative being written – we kept making new games.
What do you think of the modern Wolfenstein and Doom games? Do you play them?
I haven’t played the new versions but I hope to. I use a Mac so if it’s PC-only, I don’t play it.
And have you ever been asked to be a consultant on them?
What do you think of the evolution of the first person shooter in general?
I think it’s going in a good direction but evolving slowly.
Dangerous Dave was a fantastic game, can you tell us how that came about?
I wanted to make a Super Mario Bros.-style game on the Apple II, so I made Dangerous Dave in about 2 months in 1988. In 1990, I had to make a game in one month so I chose to port Dave to MS-DOS. I recently released the iOS version of Dave with classic mode, and HD remix mode.
Dangerous Dave has a long history and it has several sequels. I’ve taken over the IP again and plan on making some newer ones.
What was the deal with you have to still create games for Softdisk after leaving to setup ID Software?
We left Softdisk to start id Software suddenly and didn’t want Softdisk to sue us for making Commander Keen on their computers so we came up with a deal to continue making games for them for one year while their internal team got up to speed with our technology and started making games after we stopped. It worked out. Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion, Rescue Rover, Hovertank One, Keen Dreams, Rescue Rover 2, Tiles of the Dragon, Scubaventure were all 7 games we promised them.
Do you feel some of your earlier games don’t get the recognition they deserve do to Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein?
Well, those games are the biggest and have vast communities around them. I’ve made so many games that having communities around all of them would be insane. Plus, my earliest games were horrible by commercial standards back then. They were learning projects that got published.
What is your definitive version of Doom on console?
I don’t count any console version as a definitive version of DOOM.
How do you feel about being a gaming icon?
I love talking to fans of my games and signing things for them. It’s great to see how many people my games have affected in a very positive way. People always have great memories of them, and that’s really nice.
What are you up to these days?
Still making games every day!
Retro head and key holder of RVG.