John Carmack Talks Doom on 20th Anniversary

Yes, you read that heading right: Doom made its first appearance 20 years ago. The file was uploaded to an FTP server site located on the University of Washington network by an id Software executive. The file name was doom1_0.zip, and it weighed a mere 2 MB transfer. Yet back then that was a huge file, and took seemingly forever to download using a dial-up modem. The zip file multiplied as gamers downloaded and uploaded it to other FTP sites, and eventually made its way across the globe.

In an interview with Wired, John Carmack looks back on Doom, talks about game development in general, the old shareware model, his role in the gameplay design of Doom and more. He is also seemingly regretful that id Software fell into the "when it's done, it's done" mentality.

"The worst aspect of the continuing pace of game development that we fell into was the longer and longer times between releases," Carmack told Wired. "If I could go back in time and change one thing along the trajectory of id Software, it would be, do more things more often. And that was id's mantra for so long: 'It'll be done when it's done.' And I recant from that. I no longer think that is the appropriate way to build games. I mean, time matters, and as years go by—if it's done when it's done and you're talking a month or two, fine. But if it's a year or two, you need to be making a different game."

As for Doom 4, he really couldn't provide any information, but admitted that designing the fourth installment is a challenge. "It's been hard," he admitted. "One of the things that was a little bit surprising that you might not think so from the outside, but deciding exactly what the essence of Doom is, with this 20-year history, is a heck of a lot harder than you might think. You get multiple Doom fans that have different views of what the core essence of it is, and there's been a design challenge through all of it."

On the gameplay front, Carmack said that he was responsible on how weapons work, how world interactive items work, how the AI works and so on. However, the personality of the game – how much damage things do, tuning it, changing speed – mostly came from John Romero. Carmack then goes on to admit that he is perfectly happy about the game's demonic theme.

"I pushed certainly for the demonic aspect of it," Carmack said. "That's still something that I feel good about, looking back. In later games and later times, when games get attacked with some of the moral ambiguity or actual negativity about what you're doing, I always felt good about the decision that in Doom, you're fighting demons. There's no gray area here, it is black and white, you're the good guys, they're the bad guys and everything that you're doing to them is fully deserved."

To read the full interview, head here.

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  • The problem with "When it's done it's done" is that the pace of tech development means any code you developed 6 months ago is prime, 12 months ago is mainstream, 18 months ago is outdated. If you've got a 5 year dev cycle I'd argue that you're guaranteed to fail - your game will look like something for the last gen console.
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  • for me, doom was a 14" crt monitor, a 486dx2 (you actually saw the blue disk flickering) no alpha blending so you could hardly see anything in a dark corridor, and you actually feared running into the cyberdeamon. Doom 3 tried to recapture that dark theme, but the graphics were horrible. People looked like lumps. But doom was more, it was also a puzzle game, looking for the keys. I think that is an element everybody underestimates. It gave it a purpose, instead of just running around and killing people. But that's just how i experienced it.
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  • Doom really came into it's own when you got a pile of drunk buddies together to frag each other all weekend. When we first started 10baseT was not yet affordable so we all had Token bus adapters... we'd spend from 7pm until 3am on Friday just getting the stupid network running (if any one leg of the ring wasn't right or the terminators weren't right... no network). Once it was running though... Doom was pure magic. We modded the game for more fun (rocket launcher shooting a couple shells a second) and the games would be simple "If it moves... kill it"... which back then was still novel enough to be fun. Good times.
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