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August 23, 2013 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Lead programmer John Carmack is clearly the main reason behind the technical superiority of Id's games.... When the contractor Id hired to do the network drivers for Doom didn't come through, Carmack matter-of-factly wrote a network driver and had it up and running the next day.

[Project] specialist John Romero ... plays the latest beta making his own sound effects with his mouth to compensate for the game sound effects that haven't been added in yet.
Monsters from the Id: The Making of Doom (reprinted from Game Developer magazine issue #1, January, 1994.)
posted by griphus (18 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. Rated 4.7 of out 5 with 111 reviews. No secret one of the best books on gaming ever, really almost mandatory to understand gaming culture, which is sort of like understanding an entire generation or two.
posted by stbalbach at 9:29 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is that book actually good? Based on the reviews and what I've read about it, it comes off as a bit of a hagiography.
posted by griphus at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2013

Here's the print-friendly version, for people who dislike multipage articles.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:36 AM on August 23, 2013

hagiography because it was written before Daikatana was a glimmer in Romero's eyes..
posted by k5.user at 9:43 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

And of course the shocking conclusion that John Carmack is now CTO of Oculus Rift.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:44 AM on August 23, 2013

Is that book actually good? Based on the reviews and what I've read about it, it comes off as a bit of a hagiography.

Ehhh...it's a bit sensationalist at parts, but it doesn't really come off as anything like a hagiography. No one comes out of it looking particularly awesome or shitty, and the "where are they now" epilogue ("now" being the mid-90s, at least in my paperback copy) is rather sobering, particularly Romero's story.

Also, Kushner also has a book about the making of the Grand Theft Auto series, told mainly from the point of past and present Rockstar employees, but with significant content about and from Jack Thompson. It's pretty good, IMO, although there are some points I feel he tries a bit too hard to make Thompson out to be misunderstood, and other times where he talks up Rockstar a bit much.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:51 AM on August 23, 2013

Sadly, I found out a couple of months ago that Game Developer magazine has closed up shop.
posted by JHarris at 11:05 AM on August 23, 2013

"now" being the mid-90s

Crap, being the mid-00s.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:06 AM on August 23, 2013

2bucksplus: "And of course the shocking conclusion that John Carmack is now CTO of Oculus Rift"

Did he leave iD, or did he just take this job as well? I've seen him referred to as working for iD still, pretty recently.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:28 AM on August 23, 2013

His based on his Twitter handle ("ID_AA_Carmack" where AA is Armadillo Aerospace) and that he still links to Id ("iD"? "id"?) in his profile, I think he just took on a third incredibly high-skilled and time consuming job.

Dude is like Secret Leonardo da Vinci.
posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

The console system that Id is now looking at is the Atari Jaguar. The Id designers were very excited about it initially and were going to develop for it after they completed the SNES version of Doom. Id is betting that Atari will ship over 500,000 Jaguar consoles. After their experience with Nintendo, the Id designers decided to primarily work for the Atari Jaguar.

Bodes well for the Rift.
posted by mittens at 11:37 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Atari Jaguar is alive and well. It just grew up, put aside those childish video games, went back to school and became a dentist's camera casing.
posted by griphus at 11:41 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sidenote: recently I found the first ever WAD. Memories.
posted by bdz at 11:45 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

For tech-nostalgia, there's also the BFG FAQ, breaking down the technical elements of the BFG 9000. Probably want to throw that link into a reader though. There's also an outdated version on Gamefaqs.
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

John Carmack, Libertarian?
posted by CrazyJoel at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2013

The console system that Id is now looking at is the Atari Jaguar. The Id designers were very excited about it initially and were going to develop for it after they completed the SNES version of Doom. Id is betting that Atari will ship over 500,000 Jaguar consoles..

From the introduction of Jaguar in late 1993 through the end of 1995, Atari sold approximately 125,000 units of Jaguar (page 8)
posted by ersatz at 5:00 PM on August 23, 2013

That was such a cultural moment — I was very involved with it from the fan side.

There was a community of interested fans who closely followed the development of Doom through 1993 before its release. If this seems unremarkable to you, that's because Id almost singlehandedly changed the dynamic between the game developer and its customer base. This was enabled, of course, by the rise of the Internet, it was a moment when this sort of thing really became possible.

So Carmack regularly updated his .plan file, practically daily, visible when one fingered him over the net. I can't find any archives of his .plan files from those early days, but there's an archive available from 1996-2010. If you take a quick look at the 1996 archive, you'll get an idea of how much of a peek into his daily work as well as his goals and philosophies he provided.

Most of us who learned of Doom's development were fans of Id's Wolfenstein 3D, itself of major importance because it's primarily where user mods began when gamers reverse engineered the packed game data format, discovered the file structure and syntax for map design and object placement, and began to create their own content and distributed it via BBSs and the Internet. Unlike other developers and publishers, Id took the (then) radical stance of welcoming this. This was serendipity, but from Doom onward, Id officially designed with end-user created content in mind.

Word was that Doom was going to be a huge leap in technology, a 3D environment with a rendered 3D view, like we'd seen on, say, Ultima Underworld, but with much more detail and at full-screen resolution. Oh, and immersive, sampled sound.

So, aside from fingering Carmack regularly, we quickly learned that there was a super-fan by the name of Hank Leukart. Hank maintained a Doom development news mailing list. I believe that I first subscribed to Hank's list perhaps six or eight months before Doom was released. Something like that. The mailing list grew into Hank's mammoth, frequently updated Doom FAQ.

DOOMsday, December 10th, 1993, was the day of Doom's release. By that point there was a frenzy of interest and it snowballed from there. What had been a relatively small community of highly interested gamers following Doom's development grew many orders of magnitude into an involved gamer fanbase, with map design, technical help with networking using a null modem cable and configuration for coop play (because this was quite finicky at first), bug reports and news on updates, and eventually full conversions, particularly the Aliens TC (total conversion), which was revolutionary in several respects.

One thing that was truly remarkable about Doom at the time and which people have forgotten, is that Doom created a level of game environmental immersion that no one had really experienced before. Pretty much everyone in that first year or so of playing the game would involuntarily move in their chairs as they navigated the level environment — of particular note was the tendency to attempt to peek around corners by tilting in one direction or the other as if this were possible through the monitor. Aliens TC's particular virtue was that it took a game that was already unusually frightening, because of how immersive it was and that the levels were designed to be frightening in a sort of lurid, comic-book direction, and created a deeply anxious quiet fear and sudden terror, like the film, and which was a different kind of experience from Doom. And deeply, indelibly, memorable. In any event, the mod represented the first instance of a meticulous creation of new content, from maps and sprites and items to sound samples and music and interface graphics, it was a "total conversion", and it was created by gamers.

It was also targeted by the owners of the Aliens IP, but that's a different story.

The subject of this post is the personalities and environment at Id, particularly Carmack. There's nothing I could write that isn't widely available elsewhere — read the posts and the other sources people have linked. I'm just trying to get across how revolutionary it was that gamers were given a view into this, as it was happening. It was the creation of the game fan community before release, and not in the "I've heard that such-and-such is making such-and-such game" but rather, "yesterday Carmack wrote about how he optimized the code to allow for x amount of rendered distance into nearby regions, and he used this cool trick blah blah blah".

With the fan/customer accessibility pre- and post-release and allowing mods and then encouraging mods, and the shareware model and the encouragement of distribution over BBS and Internet, Id half fell by accident into building the foundation of the Internet-era of gamer involvement and media relations and marketing of interest in the developer and all that stuff, including, importantly, this social aspect represented by Leukart and the rest of us, and half understood what they were doing, recognized that tiger for what it was and grabbed its tail and let it lead where it would. Id changed gaming in revolutionary ways in 1993-1995, I'm not sure how much this has been forgotten, but it oughtn't be.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:05 PM on August 23, 2013 [13 favorites]

My first exposure to Doom was on David Gerrold's "Fatal Distractions", an excuse to charge $20 for a CD full of shareware games by including a book with screenshots and David "The Trouble With Tribbles" Gerrold talking about each of them. In addition to the shareware episode of Doom (and copies of the latest versions of Nethack and a ton of text adventures), they included Leukart's Doom FAQ and a copy of the Aliens TC.

This might seem like small potatoes, but to a 15 year old who'd never been in the same room as an internet-connected computer and had never played anything more advanced than Super Mario World, it was pretty damned amazing. I must've spent hours and hours and hours reading that FAQ and memorizing all the bits.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:05 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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