July 14, 2024

Daikatana didn’t come up — In first person: John Romero reflects on over three decades as the Doom guy Id Software co-founder talks to Ars about everything from Catacomb 3-D to “boomer shooters.”

Kyle Orland – Jun 24, 2024 11:00 am UTC EnlargeAurich Lawson | Id | GDC reader comments 0

Further ReadingDooms creators reminisce about as close to a perfect game as anything we madeJohn Romero remembers the moment he realized what the future of gaming would look like.

In late 1991, Romero and his colleagues at id Software had just released Catacomb 3-D, a crude-looking, EGA-colored first-person shooter that was nonetheless revolutionary compared to other first-person games of the time. “When we started making our 3D games, the only 3D games out there were nothing like ours,” Romero told Ars in a recent interview. “They were lockstep, going through a maze, do a 90-degree turn, that kind of thing.”

Despite Catacomb 3-D’s technological advances in first-person perspective, though, Romero remembers the team at id followed its release by going to work on the next entry in the long-running Commander Keen series of 2D platform games. But as that process moved forward, Romero told Ars that something didn’t feel right Catacombs 3-D is less widely remembered than its successor, Wolfenstein 3D.

“Within two weeks, [I was up] at one in the morning and I’m just like, ‘Guys we need to not make this game [Keen],” he said. “‘This is not the future. The future is getting better at what we just did with Catacomb.’ … And everyone was immediately was like, ‘Yeah, you know, you’re right. That is the new thing, and we haven’t seen it, and we can do it, so why aren’t we doing it?'”

The team started working on Wolfenstein 3D that very night, Romero said. And the rest is history. Going for speed

Further ReadingDoom co-creator John Romero skeptical of virtual reality fadWhat set Catacomb 3-D and its successors apart from other first-person gaming experiments of the time, Romero said, “was our speedthe speed of the game was critical to us having that massive differentiation. Everyone else was trying to do a world that was proper 3Dsix degrees of freedom or representation that was really detailed. And for us, the way that we were going to go was a simple rendering at a high speed with good gameplay. Those were our pillars, and we stuck with them, and that’s what really differentiated them from everyone else.”

That focus on speed extended to id’s development process, which Romero said was unrecognizable compared to even low-budget indie games of today. The team didn’t bother writing out design documents laying out crucial ideas beforehand, for instance, because Romero said “the design doc was next to us; it was the creative director… The games weren’t that big back then, so it was easy for us to say, ‘this is what we’re making’ and ‘things are going to be like this.’ And then we all just work on our own thing.” Advertisement Enlarge / John Carmack (left) and John Romero (second from right) pose with their id Software colleagues in the early ’90s.John Romero

The early id designers didn’t even use basic development tools like version control systems, Romero said. Instead, development was highly compartmentalized between different developers; “the files that I’m going to work on, he doesn’t touch, and I don’t touch his files,” Romero remembered of programming games alongside John Carmack. “I only put the files on my transfer floppy disk that he needs, and it’s OK for him to copy everything off of there and overwrite what he has because it’s only my files, and vice versa. If for some reason the hard drive crashed, we could rebuild the source from anyone’s copies of what they’ve got.” Page: 1 2 3 Next → reader comments 0 Kyle Orland Kyle Orland has been the Senior Gaming Editor at Ars Technica since 2012, writing primarily about the business, tech, and culture behind video games. He has journalism and computer science degrees from University of Maryland. He once wrote a whole book about Minesweeper. Advertisement Channel Ars Technica ← Previous story Related Stories Today on Ars