John Romero, cocreator of the popular first-person shooters Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein 3D is one of the video game industry’s best known designers. In his new book, Doom Guy: Life in First Person, Romero relates the many ups and downs of his life and career.
“It’s kind of an Id Software history book, plus my autobiography,” Romero says in Episode 546 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It’s a chronicle of early game development by a team that was trying to make the best games ever, and it goes all the way up to today and everything that’s happened.”
The story of Id Software has previously been covered in books such as Masters of Doom and Rocket Jump, but Romero’s exuberant firsthand account fills in a number of fascinating details. “There was a lot of painstaking research into making sure that the dates that I had were absolutely correct because I wanted to make sure that this was going to be an authoritative book about Id’s games, so that was important to me,” he says.
Romero attracted heavy criticism after the failure of his much-hyped game studio Ion Storm. Doom Guy details the company’s many problems without dwelling on the past. “I have no bridges to burn or axes to grind, anything that went wrong I totally own it,” Romero says. “It’s just a positive energy book.”
Doom Guy also explores Romero’s tumultuous childhood, including his complicated relationship with his father and stepfather. “I hope the people who grew up like I did will find hope in this book when they read it and see that you can still have a great life,” he says.
Listen to the complete interview with John Romero in Episode 546 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
John Romero on Richard Garriott:
Ultima II came out, and he had programmed it in assembly language, which really blew me away. Everybody in the industry was surprised and really happy that there was a massive upgrade to the technology of Ultima. I beat Ultima II multiple times. I even wrote a character customizer for it, where I could take the character disk and customize it. … I have a framed Ultima II map signed by Richard Garriott in my office above my desk. Richard was a hero. He was a rock star in the industry. He was just unbelievable. I really looked up to him a lot, and because of that my first job was at Origin.
John Romero on John Carmack:
He created stories on the fly for us while we were playing D&D. He created an amazing world that we could play in, and the stories that happened, a lot of them came from him and were a consequence of our actions inside that world. But when it got to the point where we’re making games—the games that we were making at that time, when we were starting to innovate on that stuff—they didn’t need the stories that anyone else would probably put into them because the focus of those games at that time wasn’t story. The focus was the technology and the speed. John has been portrayed like a computer, and sure his brain can work like that, but he’s a super creative person.
John Romero on deathmatch:
When it comes to deathmatch, my favorite is one-on-one. I’m less of a fan of free-for-all. I was a big fan in Quake III Arena of Rocket Arena 3, where you are in a queue with a bunch of other people watching a match that’s a one-on-one match, and when somebody dies, the next person slots in and starts a new match. I loved that rocket arena style. … For me, it’s about the strategy and psychology of playing in a level that both people know, and you’re trying to out-psych each other. You can’t out-psych someone when there’s 20 people in the level running around everywhere. There’s no psychology going on there.
John Romero on MyHouse.WAD:
It’s creepy. Really, really great. And it’s pretty amazing that 30 years later, after Doom, we have one of the best WADs made. You would think that that would have happened in the ’90s. It’s happening today, just because the love for Doom is so strong, the community is massive, the source ports are incredible. The support for that game is unlike anything in history. There’s no other game that has had this level of support for 30 years and still has some of the best stuff released 30 years later. It’s just incredible.