Slide to Play Q and A: John Carmack talks Doom

John Carmack has never been shy about from speaking his mind. The influential developer spoke to us about id Mobile’s latest iPhone release, Doom Classic. We also chatted about id Mobile’s iPhone strategy, John’s personal relationship with Apple, and the next set of games they’re developing for 2010. In Part 1 of our interview, it’s all about Doom.

We gave Doom Classic a 4/4, and it’s our third id game to receive a Must Have score. What’s your reaction?

A lot care and effort’s going into these projects; I’m glad that it’s being appreciated. It’s tough, I know, to look past the graphics on the games, but when we’re doing a classic game on here that’s just going to be what we wind up with. I think on everything else that I’ve been able to put effort into, we’re doing a really good job.

You improved the graphics for Doom Classic, right?

Yeah, certainly I did a very high quality Open GL implementation for it. We looked at going in and actually recreating the graphics, but it turned out that either the graphics were going to look basically the way they do, or it was going to look like a different game.

The final straw on that was when I slightly upgraded the graphics for Wolfenstein Classic, the backlash– a bunch of people actually complained when the graphics were better. So that sort of made my decision easy for me, because I was sweating the technical requirements about the memory, of quadrupling everything on this, and atlasing textures, and all these things.

It was like, ah, I can do it, but it’s gonna cost on here. Then when it got to the point that it was like, well it looks great already, there’s going to be a backlash if I do anything else, and it’s harder. So, problem solved. Work on something else.

Doom still stands out as really being extremely violent, having a lot of Satanic themes. Can you describe when you were first developing the game, were you trying to push it, to make it a very frightening game?

Well it’s funny nowawdays in that, in modern games this all looks so tame and pedestrian in comparison. There definitely was an aspect to the fact that we were a few guys in our early 20s at the time, and we were trying to make a game that would offend the easily offended in some ways. Some people take the wrong message from it, where to us it was always completely clear that you’re the hero, you’re the good guy, you’re defeating the demons and the forces of evil.

We thought that the game is more exciting when you have more ultimate bad guys in there, not just talking about someone who made poor choices in life, we’re talking about demons from the pits of hell. What better thing to blast with a shotgun or a rocket launcher?

I can’t say that the same things necessarily motivate us nowadays. Historically of course it was interesting to watch, for the longest time it was Doom and Mortal Kombat, that whenever the senators would get on their biannual rage against the decline of culture in society or whatever would rail against. But now that we’ve got things like Grand Theft Auto, we look positively like good citizens in comparison.

Is there anything about the level designs of the original Doom maps that you look back on as an artifact of the school of 90s level design?

Yeah, I think that when you look at the game now, I think that Episode 1 really holds up pretty darn well. I don’t think that there’s anything particularly embarrassing in the first episode of levels. But when the player actually went into Hell in episodes 2 and 3, there’s a bunch of stuff in there that I kind of cringe at, where it was clearly the designers reaching beyond what the technology could effectively do.

And that had always been a problem for technology. It’s not really a problem today. With the high-end games that you can do on consoles and PCs, a designer really can do just about anything that they want. You could still break an engine by being stupid, but any vision that a creator has now can be done at least pretty damn well on a console.

But in the early days, you had to think very carefully. You had hard limitations on the technology, and the best designs were the ones that were crafted around the limitations of it. And in the early days through Doom, Quake, and Quake 2, the levels that stand out well were the ones that didn’t choose to fight and push the technology beyond what it could effectively do.

You can read more notes on the development of Doom Classic on John’s blog. Tomorrow, we ask John about working with Apple, publishing on iPhone, and future id Mobile iPhone games.

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