There are many icons in the world of videogames, but in my opinion, few come close to the dynamics, personality and impact as John Romero and John Carmack. There were tensions between the two that ended with Romero no longer working for their company before, however some of the animosity may have been overplayed afterwards for dramatic effect. It seems, after hearing from both of them in later years during interviews that it may have boiled down to differing measuring sticks when it comes to contribution and productivity, stemming from the very differing toolsets they both had.
A long time game creator before iD, John Romero did it all - beyond being a masterful programmer, he was also an artist, level designer, composer… Everything you needed to create a game. He also had people skills with being able to find and recognize people who did these things better than himself and put them in a place where they could do this. It was, according to Carmack, during a weekend race to port one of their games from PC to Apple II when Romero realized that Carmack was the stronger programmer, and humbly specialized himself more in the design direction of things.
A true genius of our time who will excel at anything he sets his mind to. He is a workaholic who, when he doesn’t lock himself up for weeks to do programming full time, will work 60 hour weeks without getting burned out.
He uses this approach not only for realizing his ideas but also for learning new skills, which he repeatedly put to use to deliver groundbreaking game engines that ran faster than anyone else, developed in a shorter time than by anyone else and looked the best, as the cherry on top. Apart from video games, Carmack is also interested in rocketry, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
Carmack is also a big fan of open source and releases his engines as open source, so anyone can learn from them.
The best game ever created. So influentual that other games in the same genre would be dubbed Doom clones for many years after its release.
That’s all I’ll note on Doom for now, because it deserves its own article.
During Sundays, the iD team would sit together and play Dungeons & Dragons, with Carmack as the game master. During their campaigns, a notorious character was a paladin named Quake, who was so powerful he could level buildings with one strike. The John’s felt they wanted to incorporate him in one of their games somehow.
During its the development there were huge creative differences on the team. Most of the team was tired from a previous crunch and just wanted to get done with it. Carmack wanted to let the game stand on its technical merits on its new engine, while Romero wanted to explore what the engine could do and be more open creatively. There were some restless in the team who wanted to release the game and get paid, so not everyone was on board with this creative exploration.
Beyond this, Carmack felt that he was doing most of the work. When iD started out, they were all “equal partners”, to ensure that some external company wouldn’t one day end up telling them what to do. This also fuelled some bad blood when some people felt they were carrying a heavier load than other people. Such as Carmack, who felt that other people didn’t keep up with him. He felt that Romero was just messing around making maps and not getting involved enough in the development of the game. However, Carmack has since this stated that he was young and not as mature when he was thinking this and that Romero were contributing in ways that were not immediately clear to Carmack at the time.
On August 6, 1996, Romero was called to a meeting, with Carmack stating the following:
“You’re not doing your work! You’re not living up to your responsibilities. You’re hurting the project. You’re hurting the company. You’ve been poisonous to the company, and your contribution has been negative over the past couple years. You needed to do better but you didn’t. Now you need to go! Here’s a resignation and here’s a termination! You’re going to resign now!”
After those harsh words, our John’s parted ways. Carmack continued to work on Quake II, while Romero went on to found Ion Storm, where he used the Quake I engine with a team of modders to start work on Daikatana.
The overambitious brainchild of Romero, it was first slated to use the game engine developed for Quake. During development, iD showcased an early preview of the Quake II engine, prompting Ion Storm to license it. It came with a caveat, which was that development of any games using the engine could not begin until Quake II had been released. Since Daikatana would be remade from the ground up using this engine, all previous work was scrapped and it was delayed even longer. Daikatana wouldn’t be released until Quake III was coming out…
The game is named after a powerful sword that lets its wielder travel through time. It was in turn inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns run by Carmack, as a legendary sword that Romero got hold of and destroyed the world with.
Romero saw his kindred spirits in modders from other games, people who were perhaps less technically savvy, but very creative. Lacking the brainpower from Carmack, the ambitious features such as AI allies did not work as intended and Daikatana got a very poor reception. It was marketed very aggressively, with phrases such as “Romero is going to make you his bitch”, which coupled with a flawed game coming out after being so anticipated, sent a very different message than intended.
Well, under Ion Storm, Romero approached Warren Spector and offered him a chance to make his dream game, which then turned out as Deus Ex, which is regarded as a huge PC classic. While Romero himself had little (or none) involvement with the actual development of that game, it may very well be thanks to him that this game saw the light of day.
While iD released 2 sequels to Quake without Romero (Even though they may not lorewise count as sequels, more on that some other time) iD would eventually start to work on a Doom game again. Technologically, this game blew everyones minds again when it came out, with very impressive lighting and shadowing techniques. It probably harkened back to an old idea about Doom being a horror game, with plenty of dark rooms and jumpscares. The thing is that you will really notice Romeros absence in this game - there is no way he would have let past the mechanic of guns and flashlight being exclusive, as you have to pick between the two when you walk around in the game. The pace is considerably slowed down from the previous Doom games, so much that this is a Doom game only in name. It wasn’t until 2016 we would receieve a proper sequel.
Some excellent sources on the subject that is worth your time if you enjoyed this read: