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John Romero, the veteran developer and id Software founder who helped create FPS touchstones like Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein, is planning a return to the genre in which he made his name.
Romero, who's currently CEO of social game studio Loot Drop, Inc., told Eurogamer that although he hasn't formally started work on the project he has the design nailed down.
"Yes, I'm definitely going to be making another shooter and it will be on PC first," he explained.
"I don't want to talk about the details but I already know what it is. I've already kind of designed the thing and it's pretty cool - though of course, I am going to say that. I think it's a neat design, I haven't seen the design anywhere else."
Romero didn't go into much more detail but added that it'll be "MMO-ish" and will offer a new twist on genre traditions.
"It's a persistent game, it has persistent player data, the character grows and gets better over time. I think most gamers expect that now anyway, but this was a design I'd done a while ago. I think it's pretty valid.
"You will be playing the game as you would expect a shooter to feel, but the specifics of your situation, narrative wrapper and reward system are all unique. I wouldn't want to give out any specifics until I'm close to shipping it. I've learned my lesson about talking too soon about specific game features and release dates."
He couldn't confirm when work will begin or if it'll be a Loot Drop production.
It's been a long time since Romero last brought out a shooter - the 2003 N-Gage version of Red Faction. We asked him whether he thinks the skills necessary to make a successful modern shooter have changed since then.
"I don't think it's changed other than that the 3D graphics have to be good and there are a tonne of basics in the design that have to be there for players to feel that it's a current game.
"But I already have a lot of that stuff designed and none of what I've done has become invalid over time based on today's shooters. So I don't think there's an issue with it feeling dated or feeling old. It's not going to be an old-school shooter - it won't be pixelated. But it will probably have some faster movement than most games have right now."
Romero also offered his take on how the genre has evolved since his time at id Software. While he appreciates that Gears of War is a quality product, he's not a fan of the shift towards slower, cover-based gameplay.
"I'm not a fan of cover systems or the player being a bullet sponge. I'm not that interested in the tank-like player; I like feeling that I have skill in the game," he explained, before theorising that the rise of the console game pad has pushed developers in that direction out of necessity.
"I do realise that a lot of the movement in new shooters is directly attributable to the console controller because you can't play well and fast with them so they had to come up with some design to make it so the player can do something else if they can't skillfully move quickly. They have to do something different.
"But I'm a PC mouse and keyboard type player," he countered.
"I love twitch 180s, fast targeting, fast firing, fast movement. So anything that's not like that - like current shooters that are basically a track going through a level to the exit and everything is closed off - is not interesting to me.
"I like to explore my levels, y'know? So I'm not a fan of on-rail shooting or slow-moving cover systems. That's not to say that Gears isn't a great game but as a player I'm more interested in speed and fast movement."
Loot Drop's only current confirmed project is Ghost Recon Commander - a social spin-off from Ubisoft's tactical shooter series due out on Facebook and mobile platforms some time this Summer.
Has John Romero - the abundantly-haired creator of games Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein - given up on making an old-school FPS?
"Definitely not!" retorted John Romero on Twitter. "I have plans..."
But those do not include Daikatana 2. As Romero succinctly put it: "There will be no DK2!"
Romero's best known for co-founding id Software and designing Doom and Quake and Wolfenstein. Romero also co-founded Ion Storm, where he worked on delayed and underwhelming FPS Daikatana.
Today, John Romero has a new company - Loot Drop (formed 2010). Romero and team specialise in mobile and social games.
Here's one for the history books. Jordan Mechner, the veteran game designer responsible for Prince of Persia, has dug up a fan letter he received nearly 30 years ago from a 17-year-old called John Romero - the very same guy who'd go on to create FPS touchstones Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake at id Software.
Dated 25th March 1985, the letter, published in full on Kotaku, sees Romero praising 21-year-old Broderbund employee Mechner for his work on one-on-one fighter Karateka.
"I was absolutely stunned by the graphics, shadows and all," he gushed.
"You did a tremendous job and have, I think, defined the state-of-the-art for future Apple games. The technology has been in the Apple all along to do those graphics, it just needed a programmer like you to use it."
Romero then admitted that he was a budding programmer himself, before asking Mechner to impart some of his wisdom.
"How did you make the scrolling background? Ever since Choplifter I have been stumped on what kind of data drawing algorithm would be used to draw a scrolling background like yours," he wrote.
"If you decide to write back I would be eternally grateful if you explained this to me."
Elsewhere in the letter, the young Romero invites Mechner to check out a few of his own games.
"Many people feel that it is better than Lode Runner," he wrote, referring to an early effort called The Pyramids of Egypt.
"Anyway, ask me for it and it is yours. I'm currently trying to sell it to anyone I can (Broderbund is first on my list). My next game is going to be totally awesome. I can't wait until I get an idea for my next game!"
He signs off "John Romero, Disciple of the Great Jordan, and worshiper of the Magnificent Mechner".
Five years later, Romero would meet John Carmack while working at Softdisk. The pair, along with Adrian Carmack and Tom Hall, left the company a year later to set up id Software. Its seminal FPS Wolfenstein 3D would follow in 1992.
Mechner has been fairly quiet in recent years - his last game credit was on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time back in 2003.
Next Wednesday Romero and Mechner will share a stage together at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, along with Canabalt creator Adam Saltsman, Minecraft man Markus 'Notch' Persson and Epic Games boss Tim Sweeney, for a talk titled "Back to the Garage: The Return of Indie Development".
See below for some vintage Karateka footage.
Jan 18, 2012
id Software's seminal FPS Doom returns to Xbox Live Arcade today, publisher Bethesda has announced.
The 1993 classic will set you back a mere 400 Points.
The game was originally made available on Microsoft's download service way back in 2006 but was pulled in October 2009 due to Activision's original publishing rights expiring. Happily, it seems like that's all been sorted out with control reverting to id's owner Bethesda.
It's a rather timely re-release - the game was the subject of a Eurogamer retrospective last weekend.
"The fingerprints (or perhaps the clawmarks) that it left still remain, permanent impressions left in not only our own gaming memories but also across the collective unconscious of modern videogaming," wrote Paul Dean.
Jan 14, 2012
Holy s***, there's a monster in the lift.
That's not supposed to happen. The lift is the end of the level. It's a safe zone, a chance for a breather before the game totals your score. For God's sake, it's a universally acknowledged cessation of hostilities. But this time, there's a monster in the lift and both my friend and I physically reel with shock, spasming backwards as the thing lurches towards us. Later, at school, we'll laugh with our classmates at all the stories of involuntary noises and slapstick jerking that this new game produces. Then we'll go home and make it happen again.
I suppose it means that we're suckers for punishment, but we're giving as good as we get and our screens are frequently full of pixelated gore, our ears ringing to the sound of screams and explosions. Yeah, that's just how our evenings go.
The two of us are 13 and we've both been playing video games in some form or another since we were toddlers. Doom is not only the best looking thing we've ever seen, but it's also the first game that's ever given us any sense of fear, that's ever reached right down to our brainstem and tugged hard.
The fingerprints (or perhaps the clawmarks) that it left still remain, permanent impressions left in not only our own gaming memories but also across the collective unconscious of modern videogaming. For two young teens in the early 90s, Doom is merely the next big thing in a rapidly-accelerating gaming industry that soon leaves it behind. We never really notice that it's Doom itself which had stamped its boot on that accelerator, but we'll have Doom to thank for so much that we'll come to take for granted, its influence scattered across modern video games like shotgun pellets.
Doom was released in December 1993, and on those long, dark winter evenings we both find moments where we absolutely, positively do not want to progress, where the game makes us so nervous that we refuse to participate. It's a strange experience, feeling nervous about playing a game you so enjoy, but it might be that, just as we're hitting puberty and getting to grips with our emotions, we find our video games are also coming of age. Doom only wants us to get in touch with our emotions too, it just turns out that the most basic of these happens to be fear.
It knows about darkness, it knows about environment, it knows about pacing and it knows about surprise. It likes to cut the lights, to groan from the shadows and, like some wicked labyrinth in a gothic fairytale, even its very structure can't be trusted. Floors fall away into pools of acid, walls suddenly disappear to reveal hordes of hungry hellspawn and, just when you need it, you tentatively reached for a new power-up or weapon only to find yourself enveloped in blackness, listening to the howling of approaching demons. Everything about this game is geared around giving a response to its players, to where two boys go and to what they do.
No game had ever been able to use technology to create such an emotional response before. id's previous shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, was a cartoon shooting gallery in comparison. Doom played with its world as much as it could, demanding that you never trust it, that you always second-guess it. While John Carmack, creator of Doom's game engine, might have pooh-poohed the idea of any sort of background or plot for the game, insisting that "Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie," he was nevertheless able to bury his players into an experience more tangible and visceral than anything they'd ever known.
But to an idealistic young boy like me, Doom was far more important for introducing two things to gaming that I'd long, long yearned for, two things that I'd secretly dreamt of but that I wasn't sure anyone would be able to realise. They were also two things that would have an enormous and lasting impact on all of gaming.
The first was frantic, extraordinary and unpredictable: it was other people. Not other people clustered around the same keyboard or taking turns in some tedious hotseat arrangement. It was other people on other PCs, even people in completely different towns or countries. Anyone who had an internet connection, access to networked PCs or enough money to buy a simple null modem cable could unlock a whole new gaming experience.
In my head I'd imagined how multiplayer Wolfenstein might work, what it would feel like to be part of a cadre of scarred veterans battling the odds and grasping at our gut wounds, but I'd never pictured this much energy, this much sheer adrenalin as you watched one friend's rocket turn a bad guy into pure goo, while another was torn apart beside you by the talons of a gurgling imp.
Nor had I imagined the alternative to this: deathmatch. We could turn the guns on one another, celebrate senseless murder and use every cruel trick of the environment to our advantage. Wickedness overtook us as we became the monsters lurking in the shadows, or the hand on the lever that dropped some unsuspecting soul down into a sea of radioactive waste. We were more devious and deadly than any of the game's monsters, turning its levels into slaughterhouses and abattoirs. We were bastards and we loved it.
Doom also introduced the concept of modification, encouraging its players to tweak and tinker with its media and its levels. Carmack deliberately programmed the game so that replacing sound and graphics would be both simple and reversible. He also made the code for the game's level editor available to the public.
While the move might have seemed like poor business sense, as if id was giving its secrets away for free, it only encouraged even more people to play and to talk about the game while, of course, fostering a whole generation of modders and level creators. I desperately wanted a Star Wars FPS and, a year before Dark Forces was released, I got it. The early internet was afire with discussion and development as both amateurs and professionals tried their hand at modding, inspired by Doom's own devious designer, John Romero.
And these names themselves - Romero, Carmack - became a currency among my friends, the first game developers that were household names to us. We finally saw game developers being treated like film directors and rock stars, being the heroes we'd always felt they were and even behaving like them. The long-haired, trash-talking Romero enjoyed meeting with his fans as much as they enjoyed meeting him, and when five students in Austin, Texas scraped together to buy a space above a café where people could pay to play multiplayer Doom, he turned up to give them his blessing. A dedicated social space, purely for the playing of computer games? I was jealous that we didn't have one.
Developers like Peter Molyneux and Will Wright would become just as fascinating and famous, but it was Doom's designers who were the first to stand out, the first names to become as important as their games. As I turned the pages of the technology and games magazines I collected, I would read of their latest public appearances or, as the years rolled on, their growing estrangement: id software hired and fired more and more staff; the development of their mysterious follow-up, Quake, stalled; Romero eventually left to form Ion Storm.
Among teenage gamers like us, such news spoke of great potential and of great drama. We wanted to know more about the people behind our games, more about who made them and how, and the spats and the self-destruction, the fallouts and the firings gave us all the soap operas and drama that we ever needed, at least as worthy of a dramatisation as Facebook's story was. (And after Carmack and Romero split, neither would develop anything as truly groundbreaking again.)
Doom was also the first time that I ever saw my hobby validated by the wider world. It grew large enough and reached far enough that both the media and the general public began to understand that, young or old, people play games. Doom II was featured in ER. Queen guitarist (and amateur programmer) Brian May expressed his astonishment at the game's technical achievement.
Fantasy maestro Terry Pratchett decided to applaud the game's approach to the problem of evil: "Over the centuries, mankind has tried many ways of combating the forces of evil," he said, "Prayer, fasting, good works and so on. Up until Doom, no one seemed to have thought about the double-barrel shotgun." It even earned a passing reference in Friends (characteristically unfunny, of course).
And then I witnessed controversy unprecedented in both its scope and its ignorance. Even before Doom's release, it was already marked as a game that corrupted young and, despite its popularity waning, it was blamed for inspiring the Columbine Shooting in 1999. After Doom, video games would increasingly find themselves the scapegoats for all social ills, frequently being misrepresented and misreported. Doom II would be the first game that the Entertainment Software Rating Board would classify as "M" for Mature, an implicit acceptance that video games were not just for children, particularly when they involved thrusting a chainsaw into somebody's mouth.
Doom would echo down the years and I saw it reflected again and again in my favourite games, whether I was watching enemies fight one another in Halo; seeing the walls fall away in System Shock; aiming for parts of the environment that would explode in Crusader: No Remorse; watching the shadows in Thief; reloading my shotgun in Counter-Strike. It was the first game I played in a window and the title Bill Gates used to (personally) promote Windows 95's gaming potential.
Both its engine and its ideas had an incalculable influence and more than a few were ahead of their time. It's not always acknowledged that, a decade before Steam existed, Doom's initial distribution happened online.
David Datta, a sympathetic computer administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, allowed id to upload the shareware version of Doom, its first third, to the university's network. From here, other gamers would be able to log in, download it and further host and distribute it online and offline.
id was not interested in a traditional publishing deal, but instead in word of mouth, hoping gamers would pass on shareware copies any way the could, only paying to order the full version. While online distribution may have seemed like a good place to start, id set the trend of developers drastically underestimating their capacity to cope with demand. The University of Wisconsin-Parkside's network collapsed like a house of cards.
When I told my girlfriend that I'd be writing a retrospective on Doom, she asked me if it was scary. I was a little dumbfounded, but she'd been too busy playing on her SNES back then. I tried to explain that Doom was the scary game, but that it wasn't just about fear. Doom pushed gaming in a dozen different directions at once, some of which mattered to me then, some of which I only appreciate now.
There's an old philosophy adage that all western thought is really "a series of footnotes to Plato," so influential was the ancient Greek. When I look back, two decades later, I realise that if my own love of gaming isn't a series of footnotes to Doom, it's at least as peppered by id's shooter as if it had been blasted by a shotgun.
Nov 23, 2011
Rage developer id Software has released the entire source code of its seminal shooter Doom 3.
Aspiring developers can now download the code completely free, id co-founder John Carmack tweeted last night.
Doom 3's inner workings were ready to go at the start of the month, but last-minute legal issues temporarily held up its release - Carmack was forced to re-write some of the code to placate "skittish" lawyers nervous about the release of a particular section.
The release was announced by Carmack during his keynote speech at this year's Quakecon event, where he expressed the wish for other developers to follow suit.
The full code is available to download from Github.
Nov 17, 2011
Legal issues have held up the planned release of Doom 3 source code.
According to a Tweet from id Software co-founder John Carmack, as reported by Shack News, the studio's lawyers are concerned about the patent for a stencil shadowing technique used in the game known as 'Carmack's Reverse'.
"Lawyers are still skittish about the patent issue around 'Carmack's Reverse,' so I am going to write some new code for the Doom 3 release," he explained.
Carmack didn't mention exactly how long that might take.
Id announced its decision to make the code public at this year's Quakecon, explaining that it hoped it would help aspiring developers learn their trade.
Oct 9, 2011
There's a peculiar tension at the heart of Quake. Something's not quite right. For this reason it's a game that sits apart from id's other efforts while at the same time still being fundamental to the overall Brown Corridor heritage of the shooter genre.
It was a game that did so very much to evolve and define the FPS, and yet it does not fit so easily into the conventions that the Texan Doom-makers' other games wallow in. This tension is what makes it one of the developer's most interesting games.
Like all the shooting games whose existence has spilled from the number-fuelled mind of John Carmack, Quake's primary contribution to the history of games was technical. The 3D engine was a significant development atop what was prevalent at the time, and it introduced the minor revolution of "mouse-look" - that is free all-axes viewing using the mouse - to the majority of 1996's shooter players.
Up until that time gamers had been playing along flat axes, usually with "faked" height. But Quake made things truly three-dimensional, and this meant two things: levels which didn't have to shirk vertical complexity and, well, you could perform rocket jumps.
"It was the atmosphere and tone of the game that left its biggest impression on my imagination."
Rocket jumps were, of course, able to make Quake's tortuous, labyrinthine multiplayer maps faster to navigate, and were an unintended side-effect of the game's blast physics that became a defined skill within that multiplayer game and also with the bizarre phenomenon of speed runs.
It was the architecture of that multiplayer game that defined Quake's second contribution. Despite the richness of the world, the single-player was almost a prologue against the appeal and longevity of the multiplayer. In fact it was not Quake's 3D engine that really mattered to Quake, as powerful as it was. The technical project that had far-reaching consequences for multiplayer gaming was John Carmack's work on network code, which produced the kind of online deathmatch that still prevails today.
The Quakeworld update for the game, which introduced network code that would work feasibly over dial-up connections, was transformative: an action game that could, thanks to predicting where players were going to be, allow play at the high latencies that early modems had the contend with. Almost unimaginable now, in a world of ubiquitous broadband, but there was a time when a good chunk of gamers was unreachable in the evenings by their home phoneline, for reasons of Quaking.
Despite being shackled with tin-can communications tech, the sheer pace and intensity of Quake would daunt most modern players: the unrealistic physics and breakneck pace make Quake's multiplayer more like a twitchy kung-fu rocketry than the rather more pedestrian combat situations that shooters since Half-Life have delivered to us.
Enthusiasm for Quake's multiplayer game was ferocious, and id were quick to sponsor it - putting up Carmack's Ferrari as a prize in a 1997 tournament, won by the first notable FPS pro, Dennis "Thresh" Fong. The Quake scene surged across a nascent internet, and it was to define the pattern of FPS games for several years to follow.
The Quake template is one that is rarer now, due to its demands on player skill, but its influences are still felt in odd corners of modern game design, where the physics bounce players from the ground, and frictionless rocketry dominates the deathmatch.
Technology, however, is not wholly where Quake's value lies. Not to me, at least. It might have been the tech that rippled down the years, but it was the atmosphere and tone of the game that left its biggest impression on my imagination.
What I refuse to forget when looking back at Quake is how strange the flavour of the game, both mechanically and in its setting, really is. Quake was a game peculiar for almost refusing to tell a story, and setting itself in a world disconnected from standard fantasy, sci-fi, military, or post-apocalyptic templates that we see reused so routinely. Today, when every shooter imaginable is hammered across the contorted spine of some story or other, to be dropped in a bizarre world that served as little more than a container for violence and secrets is unusual indeed. Hell, it was unusual in 1996.
While the Dooms were sparse, they still told their tale of space marines versus the occult. Quake 2 and 4 focused on the rather more conventional "Strogg" story of space war between humans and their alien enemies. Quake itself stood apart, practically unexplained. The character was dropped into a byzantine world, and fought for his life, while checking every corner of the spiraling maps for secrets and hidden passageways.
The reason for this weirdness can be found in Quake's difficult and unlikely genesis. It was in fact a failed combat-based RPG. The id team's original plans for something more expansive after Doom quickly led back to a game that was even pacier and more focused on first-person close-quarters combat dynamics than Doom had been.
"It is a rumbling, speeding, frenzied dark masterpiece that deserves never to be forgotten."
But that had not been the original intention, because Quake had even once contained dragons and other trad fantasy standards. The id team's work took a darker turn as the RPG was eroded, but on close inspection you can see the echoes of the RPG-action game that, for a while, id thought it was making. As it turned out they ended up making a slick and minimalist FPS, but the ultra-gothic fantasy overtones remain. Quake is a shooter set not within a science fiction, or really within traditional fantasy, but in some kind of brutal, mechanistic pseudo-medieval realm in between.
This sense of rough-edged, grim fantasy design permeates the shooter, from its environments of clanking metal and rough stone, through to its monsters: savage sword-wielding skeletons, shambling giants that throw lightning-bolts, and Cthulhu-mythos boss characters that lurk in disturbing dungeon underworlds.
It is even reflected in the weapons: an axe, an archaic shotgun, a clonking gatling gun, a nail gun, a lightning gun like a giant magic wand. All this is set against a backdrop unlike normal fantasy Big Bad backstories, and quite unlike the other Quakes' galactic war, and even unlike the exposition-free Mars-demons of Doom.
Quake was set in a dimensional war of some kind, where raiders travelled through sinister "slipgates" to murder in other worlds. There was a whiff of beserk magic to the power ups, and the whole thing reeked of the dead remains of the game it might have been. Quake is a genre outlier in terms of setting and atmosphere, and as such one of my favourite games.
You can see why when people look at the other Quake and Doom games, they question whether a return to these evocative hybrid roots might not be a good idea.
Playing Rage this week has once again seen people raise the nature of id's "derivative" settings, as has happened numerous times in the past decade. Indeed, Rage does borrow heavily from post-apocalyptic cliche, lifted from Mad Max by countless driving and combat games, and most recently carved into our mainstream consciousness by Borderlands and Fallout 3. It seems to have almost no connection to Quake at all.
When contemplating the studio's colourful history of shooting games it's perhaps easy to glaze over the first Quake in the lineage. Not as infamous or as influential on mainstream perceptions as Doom, not perhaps as widely recognised as its first and second sequels, nor as notably disappointing as Doom 3, Quake is the game which is beginning to get fuzzy in our recollections.
It should not, because it is a rumbling, speeding, frenzied dark masterpiece that deserves never to be forgotten. And forget it I will not.
Aug 12, 2011
id Software has explained why Rage, its upcoming first-person shooter, is better than Doom 3.
Sci-fi horror Doom 3 divided opinion upon its 2004 release and drew criticism for perceived repetition and monsters jumping out of cupboards.
Rage, due out in October, trumps it because, according to id CEO Todd Hollenshead, it's bigger, has more depth and seamlessly teaches players how it works.
"Rage is a huge game," Hollenshead told Eurogamer at QuakeCon last week. "It's the deepest game we've ever made. If I was as smart as John [Carmack] I could figure out the math of why it's bigger than everything else.
"I compare it to Doom 3. Doom 3 was great when it came out. I loved that game. But I think about the single-player experience for Doom 3 compared to Rage
"There are elements that are the same. You still have guns. You still have bad guys you're shooting and areas you're shooting them in. I still think Doom 3 looks good.
"It doesn't look anything like Rage."
Despite some not warming to Doom 3, it set tills alight. id shifted more than 3.5 million copies of the game. It remains the most successful game by the famed developer.
Eurogamer's 2004 Doom 3 review of the single-player portion of the game fragged a 9/10.
"It may not feel like it's taking gaming forward to any appreciable degree in terms of astounding new ideas, but when it's as all round immersive and entertaining, who cares?" wrote Kristan Reed.
"The thrill of Doom III is simply that id has not only created something genuinely stand-out impressive on a technical level, but has gone on to create a beautifully unpretentious game that feels at home with itself in that it's not trying to be something it isn't."
Another area Rage improves upon Doom 3, according to Hollenshead, is in how it teaches the player how it works at the beginning of the game.
"I could take you over and say, sit down and play, and have complete confidence you'll know everything to do," he said.
"But with Doom 3, when you boot up the game on the PC, there's no, like OK, your control is WASD. We had some very simplistic stuff, like, walk around behind a robot, in the opening level before the invasion happened, but that was our version of a tutorial.
"I love the way we've done it in Rage. We teach you how to do everything that's integrated completely into the game so it's completely seamless to the player. Honestly, that's been one of my pet peeves with the company for years.
"I was like, we are not teaching people how to play deathmatch in Quake 3. This is not enough."
Aug 4, 2011
id Software is to release the source code for its 2004 shooter Doom 3 to the public later this year, technical director John Carmack has announced.
Speaking during his keynote at this year's QuakeCon event in Dallas, Carmack revealed that parent company ZeniMax had given it permission to do so, and that the code will be available some time after the release of Rage in October.
He added that it needed a quick polish before you can all get your hands on it, and that it still has to be run past legal.
He then called on other developers to follow suit and release some of their old code, arguing that it helps young developers better learn their trade.