John Romero is the original Rock Star of gaming, the Godfather of the first person shooter, responsible for coining the now infamous term deathmatch. Need we say any more? Oh we will, John set the standard for first person shooter game play almost 20 years ago and simply put, every FPS you’ve ever played or heard of has been influenced by the work of this genius.
We got the chance to interview the man himself in easily the most high profile interview we’ve ever done, we were like 2 kids at Christmas! Check it out, we hope you enjoy it!
So what’s it like living in Ireland John, have you adjusted to the weather okay?
Oh we love it, we live in Galway and it’s really great here. The weather isn’t too bad, it can rain a lot but there’s so much wind that it just blows right over. I’ve lived in England, California, New Hampshire, Texas so I’m used to different kinds of weather at this stage.
You mentioned you have lived all over, what’s different about game development in the US as opposed to Ireland?
In Silicon Valley, you have tonnes of money and companies in a really small area, that’s pretty unique for the world. It doesn’t matter where you live, that’s a really neat location. When we started id Software, we were in Shreveport, Louisiana, basically the middle of nowhere! I don’t think it really matters where you are when you’re making games. All you need is a computer!
We pause for a slight moment as Marty to goes into “fan girl” mode and goes a bit off track. I wanted to tell John that DOOM is one of the greatest games that has ever been made, it had a big impact on me. That’s because when I was a young lad, my brother whipped out his BFG and started destroying everything in sight. (Of course I’m referring to the weapon in the game for all you dirty minded gits.) but that was enough to get me hooked and the rest is history
Whenever you were developing DOOM, did you know it was going to be such a big success?
Yeah we knew that before we even started making the game. We made Wolfenstein and it turned out to be a game that set the standard in that genre of first person shooters so when it came around to developing DOOM, we knew what we were going to do that would be a lot better. We started working on it and in January 1993, we put out a press release telling everybody that it was going to be the best game in the world!
As the FPS genre has progressed, do you feel like developers have tried to go for realism too much and are sacrificing the fun factor of the genre?
Every genre goes through different phases. Shooters really branched out in to a lot of different sub genres of work, tactical shooters or stealth shooters and all of that. When you have a couple of really big shooters that everyone else is paying attention to then that tends to be “the direction” of the FPS. There’s a lot of them being built that are not the AAA types that exploring a lot of other areas. Mainline FPS is more for the mass market I think and when you look at for example the new DOOM that came out. I think they did a really good job in reinterpreting the classic for today and kind of going “this is the way we want to have the single player experience” because everyone is multiplayer and jumping into multiplayer so it was really nice to see player again.
Just on the topic of FPS, we don’t believe any VR System has done it right but is this something you have any interest in doing?
Oh no, I’m not interested in VR at all. It just doesn’t work. It’s a fad; it’s something people use to show off the hardware they have but nobody is going to actually spend a serious amount of time playing games in VR, you just get really tired. The best thing I’ve played in VR is Resident Evil: Biohazard and it’s amazing, but you can only play it for a certain amount of time. It’s tiring, standing up, bending over and looking around corners you know you just get tired quickly.
In hindsight, would you change your approach in developing DOOM or is there a certain area you feel you could have done better or time was wasted on certain aspects?
Doom was great, we wanted to do something different and I just think everything fell into place and went perfectly. Quake was the game I wanted to take some design chances with but we didn’t have the team that could do it at the time, they were burned out so we basically turned it into a shooter which was still a super fun game.
Do you think it’s important to try new things on a creative level rather than just playing it safe?
Absolutely! I am not interested in doing the same thing over and over, that’s why I like to try new things. It’s like, here’s the first persons perspective, here’s how fast I like to move. What things can we do with these constraints and what can we do that’s new and that’s not the thing we did in the game before.
Does the success of a title inspire you create something better every time or do you feel apprehensive in trying new things?
I make different games all the time. In 2003 I did Red Faction on the N-Gage, so there’s a shooter on the N-Gage. After that I worked on an MMO for 4 years and worked on Social games for 5 years and mobile games. So I will try everything because new things are happening all the time and those games are not all shooters.
Battle Royale games are pretty hot right now. Do you ever feel restricted by the market or what the market demands based on the popularity of those kind of games?
Nope. There are a lot of people funding games that are “don’t go in there!” or “don’t do Battle Royale because everyone is doing it” simply because there are so many Battle Royale games that it is difficult to stand out.
Coming away from gaming for a minute John, is there anything about you that may come as a surprise to others?
I do a lot of cooking, I love it! I’m Mexican so I eat Mexican food all the time but the only difference is we just call it food. *light-hearted chuckles all round*
Do you have any guilty pleasures in gaming, something nobody would expect you to enjoy?
I play Drop7 a lot on my iPhone, Zynga bought the company that made it and they’ve been keeping it alive. It’s just a really fun and interesting game, one that you can take your time with and just enjoy playing, it’s an interesting game.
What are your thoughts on the mobile gaming market? Have you embraced the development side of mobile gaming?
Mobile is huge, it’s giant! It’s basically the biggest market. Everybody has one! We’re about to release a mobile game that we made for Hewlett Packard and the Girl Scouts. Our daughter basically wrote the story and it’s on web, desktop and mobile. Before that we released a game called Gunman Taco Truck which was featured on by Apple on Games we love on both iOS and Mac OS.
They also did a story about it on their App store relaunch, they contacted me on September and asked me if I would update Gunman Taco Truck for the iPhone 10 and 10 S Macs. If you knew that 20,000 games a month are put onto the App store and Apple are asking me to update a 2 year old game, that’s pretty crazy. It’s a really fun game, it doesn’t matter what platform is you just got to spend time making something you think is fun and that you like.
Do you still get the same buzz when you’re creating games today as you did back in the days of Wolfenstein and DOOM?
Yeah, it’s all Game Dev you know and when I’m making games I’m working on so many different parts of it, from design, programming to audio and all that. It makes it really fun to be able to do so much stuff. I’m still heavily involved in the creative process, I’m making levels, I’m designing and programming and working on audio.
Do you think there are any games out there that would be considered detrimental to the industry or maybe just wasn’t worth the time in creating?
I think anyone should be able to make anything and if no one wants to play it, then they won’t make those games anymore because no one will buy it. I wouldn’t want to restrict anybody from trying anything. Somebody might see something that’s a horrible game. Let’s say an example of a really horrible game where a really great game would be say Golf Story, which is a cool game. Or Desert Golf, you know, here are 2 golf games, done totally differently. They’re both really great games.
Then there’s this golf game that I got that is the most microtrans piece of crap. It doesn’t care about golf, it cares about putting so much stuff in there to make you spend money. It’s just useless garbage, you know? And, and the thing is, I wouldn’t play that game, but you have to try it to know whether you’re going to do it or not and in when you try it. There might be an interesting way that they design part of the monetization scheme. You could be thinking “Hey, if I took that idea, but I changed it to be friendly and like this”, that could be a really good way to do it, you know? So some crap game actually helps you design something better.
Do you play games purely for enjoyment or do you play it as a programmer, a developer and see how certain engines work and how you could improve on it?
It’s everything, I’m hoping it will be fun and I’m paying attention to every detail and making note of something new that’s happening. I don’t start a game to be done in an hour whatever the game is, I want to like it and I don’t to sop playing for no reason.
Is there one game out there that you wish you’d created?
Oh Minecraft, it’s just amazing! It was done so well that it was copied I don’t know how many times. It’s a game that was built with everything that they wanted in place; it wasn’t a bunch of ideas thrown together for someone else to interpret. It’s a nice surprise when games come out that nobody is expecting. I’m sure there’s one being made right now that will change things once again.
Is there a certain genre that you haven’t tried yet that you would like to try in the future?
Well I haven’t done RPG so that might be cool. I don’t really try to limit myself to any genre when I’m coming up with new things. There’ll be elements of a genre but I tend to try to create a new way of playing. So yeah, it’s just what do I want to do and maybe that does slot of different genre, but I kind of think more about experience and then it kind of will possibly go into a genre. I’m primarily into into the design of the experience and then kind of see where it goes. I’d love to work with Blizzard, I think their team is awesome.
What’s next for John Romero?
Oh wow, so much! Episode 5 of SIGIL for DOOM will be released in April. We have a game we’ve been working on for a couple of years now. We still have a lot time left on it and that game is……Unannounced! Can’t say anything about it!
We are working on so much stuff, we can’t talk too much about it at this moment but it’s very exciting and I’m sure it’s gonna make a lot of people happy!
John will be at Dublin Comic Con on March 9th-10th at the Dublin Convention Centre, if you do nothing else with your lives this weekend we suggest you get down to Comic Con and meet this legend in the flesh. It’s been an honour and privilege to interview the master of FPS and we just want to say a massive thank you to John for giving us the time to interview him! See you at Comic Con 😀