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Meet John Romero, One of the Godfathers of the First-Person Shooter

The designer of DOOM and Quake takes us behind the scenes.
May 28, 2015, 7:15pm

Never mind that John Romero designed DOOM and Quake, two of the most influential video games ever created, and ushered in the era of the first-person shooter with Wolfenstein 3D: "I was just trying to make stuff that I really liked to play," he says with a humble shrug.

Romero recounts with a grin the day he was introduced to computer gaming, at the Sierra College computer labs. There he saw Colossal Cave Adventure, one of the earliest text adventure games, where there are no visuals and users merely respond to written instructions. "'Holy crap,'" Romero remembers thinking, "'that's the best game I've seen.'" It made creating games seem "attainable," Romero says.

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And then, in 1982, his family got their first computer: an Apple II Plus. "I was done going outside," Romero recalls. "It was over. I then spent all of my time learning how to program."

This passion eventually led to the creation of a company, the now-legendary id Software, founded by Romero, John Carmack, Tom Hall, and Adrian Carmack. The first few shooters they designed weren't very dynamic, but they hit on something during the development of Wolfenstein 3D, a title that wasn't technically the first entry into the first-person shooter genre, but nevertheless is widely accepted as the genesis of the modern first-person shooter. It laid the groundwork for every first-person shooter in existence, and for every future entry to the genre.

The reality of the violence and gameplay innovation only increased with DOOM: stricken targets fell backwards in a spray of blood, and the sound effects became more realistic. "That was really cemented with DOOM," Romero says.

The guys at id were so confident in DOOM's potential, they sent out a press release before they even began development. "In 1993, we fully expect to be the number one cause of decreased productivity in businesses around the world," the release cheekily boasts.

But they were right: DOOM was an immense success, unrivaled by anything that had come before it. In this new video interview, Romero reminisces about developing DOOM, Quake, and Wolfenstein 3D, showing off some of the relics he's collected over the years.

"[DOOM] defines so many things about what a [first-person] shooter is," says Romero. And they weren't too worried about a sophomore slump, either: "To top DOOM, we weren't really worried about it, because at the time we just felt invincible."

Their next game, Quake, was indeed just as popular, and featured a soundtrack created specifically for the game by none other than Nine Inch Nails. But the pressure Romero experienced during Quake's development led him to leave soon after its release.

Because he left right after Quake's release, Romero says he made no money from designing the game. He doesn't seem too upset about it, though. "If I can keep making games, I'm happy."