I hate to bring this story up, but this is probably as good a place to do it. John Romero never worked on Quake, or Doom, or Wolfenstein. But it’s even more fucked up than that.
Romero was murdered in 1991 during the production of Hovertank 3-D. He was trying to break up a fight in a McDonald’s and was stabbed thirty-six times in four separate episodes. The reports say that Carmack was ordering a Big Fucking Mac at the time, and he got a first-person view of the incident. It completely devastated the guy, seeing his co-worker and friend left in a pool of his own blood. An ‘O’ of destruction, so to speak.
That’s why id Software shifted from kid-friendly games like Commander Keen to the raw violence that defined the company. It wasn’t about the money. Carmack was haunted by the murder, and ever since, he has been trying to bring Romero back to life. That’s why Romero got designer credits in each of their games, and that’s why all of “Romero’s games” were bloodier and more depraved than the last. Carmack’s “artistic genius” was little more than the trail of a madman, an attempt to recreate Romero in a digital reality.
I mean, give Carmack some credit…in his own mind, he almost made it happen. By 1994, he optimized the Doom engine to the breaking point, and was able to render Romero’s head on a gore-laden pole. But in 1996, while everyone was calling Quake a huge leap for 3D graphics, the rendering technology was a huge setback for Carmack’s efforts, since the Quake engine couldn’t do long hair correctly. For him, his “epic game” was just a failed attempt to bring Romero back from the Netherworld.
By that point, Carmack realized it would be disaster for his company if the lie went public, that the “company rockstar” was actually dead for over half-a-decade. So after the completion of Quake, Romero “resigned from the company” and id Software paid Eidos a huge sum of money to create Daikatana with “Romero” at the helm. (Whether the game was good or bad didn’t really matter. Carmack just needed to cover his dark secret.) And since then, id has been paying smaller sums of money to less prominent developers in order to feature Romero in their credit rolls. As far as the popular narrative is concerned, it worked. Romero “took the failure of Daikatana to heart and then moved on”.
But down inside, every day, Carmack is trying to create the technology that will bring his friend back knee deep from the dead. This time, it’s going to be the Oculus Rift. And, I mean…have any of you been paying attention to the Rift? Right now, it can only render a single triangle at thirty frames per second. It may be years before it can render a square. It’s the shores of development hell over at Oculus, and no one has the heart to tell Carmack that it’s going to fail.
It’s just going to be another chapter in Carmack’s personal hell on Earth. There’s a dimensional shambler waiting at the DOS prompt and it’s only a matter of time before the man presses “Y”.