On May 13th, Doom – one of the most influential video game franchises ever – blasted back in all its bloody, heavy metal, demon-splattering glory. As the latest installment of the seminal first-person shooter, which debuted from id Software in 1993, the game’s arrival generated its usual fervor online. Gamers trashed the Open Beta in April, calling it slow and sluggish. Critics feared the worst when Bethesda, Doom‘s publisher, which acquired id in 2009, didn’t send out pre-release code for review. As gamer Hellstorm Archon posted on the forum Zandronum: “I’m just praying that this new Doom doesn’t suck.”
Fortunately, for Hellstorm and the generation who grew up on Doom, it doesn’t. Early reviews, particularly among the diehard PC gamers, have been positive. “Big arenas, lots of guns, waves of demons, and a generous helping of gibs,” as PC World put it in its four-star review, even though, as it noted at the end, “it may not be as influential as the original…”
Then again, few games are – as I chronicled in my book Masters of Doom, the story of Doom‘s original rock star co-creators, John Romero and John Carmack. The new Doom marks the first one without the participation of either of the Two Johns, who are no longer with id Software, the company they co-founded. First published in 2003, the book chronicles how Carmack and Romero rose from broken homes to create some of the most influential and controversial games of their generation. To me, it was a classic tale of gumption and innovation, and an inspirational one at that.
So what grand new things have Carmack and Romero been up to since ? As you might expect, plenty. For Romero, the original rock star of the game industry, the past decade has been lower profile but highly productive – often in ways that many of his most ardent fans and critics might not realize.
When I last wrote about Romero, in the 2004 edition of Masters of Doom, he and id Software co-founder Tom Hall had moved to San Diego to work for Midway, creator of Mortal Kombat and other classic games. But before long he was back on his own again. In 2005, Romero moved to Silicon Valley and co-founded a new development studio, Slipgate Ironworks, a nod to the teleporters in Quake. When announcing his plans, he hit back against the gamers who still took him to task for his post-id shooter, Daikatana. “Hey, Daikatana‘s old, old news now,” he said at the time, “and the fact that everyone remembers that particular game instead of the dozens of other games I’ve made just shows how negatively slanted the media is – negativity sells.” He also hinted that gamers would likely be surprised to see what was coming from him next.
What came were massively multiplayer online games, or MMOs, a genre that was gaining popularity with the recently released World of Warcraft and had long been of interest to him. Romero folded his company into another he co-founded, Gazillion Entertainment, which struck a high-profile deal to develop MMOs for Marvel, and gobbled up Net Devil, the company behind another high-profile online brand, the Lego Universe.