At Dublin Comic Con I was lucky enough to interview John Romero. If you know who he is then you’ll be as excited about this interview as I was. If you don’t know well read on and be prepared to learn a metric ton of information about gaming.
You stated that what brought you into gaming was Pac-Man. What was it specifically that sparked your imagination?
John Romero: Everything about that game changed my perception of video games. Before Pac-Mac, games were all black and white and you were killing enemies with ships or guns. Pac-Man let you control a character running away from enemies, eating dots in a maze, and sometimes turning the tables on your pursuers. It had comedy in the form of intermission animations, it had an amazing sound chip that produced the most crisp, clear and new sounds. That chip played iconic tunes and sound effects. It was the antithesis of all that had gone before it, and it changed the world of design. After Pac-Man, an explosion of color and game design followed for generations. I was just as affected.
I believe your first title was Dodge ‘Em. What was it like in those early days of game development?
John Romero: Dodge Em is the game listed first on MobyGames, but I did write a couple games before it that were lost to accidental deletion. The early days of game development were full of mystery – so much I didn’t know and hardly any books to learn from, so experimentation was the most valuable process to develop. It was such fun seeing all kinds of new programming techniques appearing and new design ideas turning into games. Even with static hardware like the Apple II there was so much to do with it and always a deeper understanding to be had with more digging.
I don’t want to make you feel old but you’re edging close now to four decades in the industry. How has the field changed in your eyes over the years?
John Romero: This summer was my 39th year making games. The field has changed completely in every way. Some things are constant: tech improves, design improves, there’s a breakthrough game that influences everyone. Those are the things I live for.
The gaming industry was quite new when you began so what did your parents think when you began your career?
John Romero: My parents were not happy that I played so many arcade games. They liked that I was learning how to program computers, though. I talked about programming so much that they finally bought the Apple II. After that point, they never saw any of my games, however. My Mom finally saw me deathmatch in DOOM in 2017.
You’ve been a part of some incredible titles: /Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D/, and /Half-Life. Can you discuss what it was like developing those titles?
John Romero: It was a blast. The original id Software team was only 4 people when we developed id’s first 15 games before Wolfenstein 3D. We ended Wolfenstein 3D with 6 people in the company, 5 of those in development. DOOM ended with 6 developers total. We made Quake with 9 developers. The entire company was on a rocket from day one, so it was a real blast riding that over the five and a half years I was there.
Of all the titles you’ve worked on which one are you most proud of?
John Romero: It’s absolutely DOOM. The other big FPS’s are close, Wolf and Quake, but DOOM was the real turning point.
In 2015 you founded Romero Games Ltd. with your wife Brenda and for those who may not know it is actually based in Galway. What’s it been like working in Ireland?
John Romero: We love Ireland so much. I could go on for hours talking about how amazing this country is, but I’ll hold back. We are having a great time making the game, watching the kids grow and love where they’re living, and living a European life.
In 2017 several indie developers joined your company to do work on a new title. Can you let us in on any further details?
John Romero: We started a new game and hired lots of people, but can’t talk about the games because the publishers are in control of marketing and PR.
As we end the interview I’ve always wondered how did you coin the phrase “Deathmatch”?
John Romero: I was walking from John Carmack’s office after having seen the first network packets move two characters around on the screen. The first automatic thing to do was to shoot each other since that’s all you do in DOOM. I thought that you would be playing in a match to the death, so why not call it Deathmatch?
Well, there you go. I hoped you enjoyed that as much as I did. Stay tuned to GamEir for more interview with talent hopefully as impressive as John Romero.