- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

How Doom & Quake Creators Achieved the American Dream

John Romero and John Carmack fondly remember the 1980s working through the night hunched over their computers. They weren’t hackers trying to break into the Federal Reserve Bank, but computer game creators. At the time, they didn’t know each other, but in less than a decade they were about to collaborate to create the most successful computer games to capture the imagination of hard-core video gamesters.

Unless you’re a fanatical computer game player, the names Romero and Carmack are meaningless. Their creations “Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake,” are considered breakthrough video games, accordng to David Kushner, author of Masters of Doom, How Two Guys Created an Empire and transformed Pop Culture (Random House, $24,95). Romero and Carmack were largely responsible for playing a leading role in creating a $11 billion computer and video games industry.

Contrary to myth the barely understood computer gaming industry was dominated by mostly 20-30-year-olds rather than teenagers. Romero and Carmack were its master-craftsmen who helped define an art form that is still “under the radar screen,” as Kushner defines it.

The relatively short collaboration of Romero and Carmack, which began 1990 and ended in 1996, represents the frenetic relationship of two driven innovators who enjoyed almost instantaneous success.

Romero and Carmack came from troubled homes, yet shared a fascination with computers. Romero’s father, an officer in the army, didn’t see any future writing video games and insisted he write business applications. It was1982 and all Romero wanted to do was learn assembly language so he could write faster and more cryptic code.

Meanwhile, Carmack had his own problems which began when he was barely walking.

For starters, he was a late talker. But, he made up for it with brilliance, and a lightening fast mind that could think abstractly. When he was seven, he achieved perfect scores on every standardized test. As he got older, his parents, especially his mother, demanded perfection, and what they got in return was rebellion. Later on, it led to a powerful bond between Romero and Carmack. The result were wild irreverent creations that turned on a generation of video game addicts. It also made the two men multimillionaires.

Romero and Carmack were stereotypical geeks obsessed with soaking up everything about programming. Kushner says it was their tenacity and their willingness to work hard which drove them to achieve what other gamers only fantasized about. Like most computer game creators, they were nocturnal, often working through the night communicating with others code jockeys. Like many gifted programmers, Romero and Carmack are self-taught. Their worlds didn’t extend far beyond their computers and imagination.

The best way to gain insight into the computer gaming world is by dropping in on a gaming convention in Las Vegas. Gamers of all ages, equipped with PCs and a stash of potato chips, Twinkies and a few dozen cans of Coke, play nonstop for days. When they are tired, they crawl under the table, and curl up on some newspaper to get some shuteye. Then it’s back to the game.

The prospect of making a pile of money in the computer gaming industry is certainly compelling enough to give it a shot. But, Kushner says it’s not as easy today as it was when Romero and Carmack made their mark. There is more competition and mega companies like Microsoft have jumped into the fray. “Americans spend roughly $11 billion annually on computer and video games, which is more than they spend on movie tickets,” says Kushner. Initially, the two men sold their games through magazines. Later on they released the games over the Internet, which is more difficult.

The process of creating a computer game is complex and time-consuming. Still, companies are always looking for skilled programmers who can hack and modify code into a spell-binding game. Creating best-selling games in your bedroom in the wee hours of the night might be harder. But, anything is possible.

Yet, the road to recognition could be a long one. Romero and Carmack are the exception and not the rule. In six years, they rode the success wave and had one of a hell of a time. Now, each one has gone off on his own. Carmack is creating his own inventions and Romero is intent on building a large company.

Even though they’re doing their own thing, Romero and Karmack as still obsessed with achieving. And, they always will be.

If you have any questions contact Bob Weinstein at [email protected]

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