I’ve written about computer games on a couple of occasions, so you if recall those, you know I’m a fan. I don’t play games as much as I used to, but from time to time, I’ll fire up the big machine in the office and have a go for an hour or two. Once in a while, I wonder if there’s such a thing as a “Computer Gaming” Hall of Fame. I’m thinking of a place of enshrinement for individuals who have had a tremendous impact in this arena.
If there was, I can already think of a few names that would have bronze busts displayed. There might be Gilman Louie, who brought Spectrum Holobyte’s Falcon series to life in the late 1980s. Next to him might be Leon Rosenshiem, who led the development of Falcon 4.0 (which I still consider to be the greatest flight sim ever). Roberta Williams certainly deserves a place as the designer of King’s Quest, one of the great adventure-game series from the 1990s. There should be a spot for Chris Taylor, who revolutionized the world of strategy games with Total Annihiliation in 1997.
But few individuals have put flesh on the face of modern gaming as has John Carmack. He stands as, far and away, the biggest name in first-person shooters. The list of games to his credit are among the most recognizable in the industry. There was Wolfenstein 3D, which got Carmack’s company, id Software, really going. It was followed up by Doom which, like its predecessor, has seen several iterations over the years. Then there was Quake and all its variations. In all of these titles, you play a gun with different types of guns and you are required to shoot your way out of trouble, killing everything in your path. Pretty simple, but oh-so engaging.
I remember well the first time I played Wolfenstein. A co-worker gave me a shareware copy and said to give it a try. I loaded it up on my office computer after hours (of course!) and was hooked! I became some guy named Blazkowicz – or something like that – shooting my way out of a Nazi stronghold. I can’t tell you how many hours of sleep I lost. I remember hearing rumors of a better game called Doom, but said to myself, “There’s no way it could get any better than Wolfenstein…”
Until I installed Doom’s shareware disk. Oh my…this was even cooler! And it had a chainsaw! I showed it to my co-workers and pretty soon, we were playing “penny a frag” games over the network (a Netware IPX token ring, to give you an idea of age). It was absolutely hysterical.
It continued into the Quake series. Carmack, who’s younger than I am, is a genius with a keyboard and processor. Each game brought with it new technologies that revolutionized gaming. And it made John, who was Kansas-born August 20, 1970, a lot of money. I remember a story (and don’t know if it’s actually true) of Carmack’s mother repeatedly telling her son to get a real job until he purchased his first car…a Ferrari.
But for this developer and his company, there was much profit to be found in licensing the game engines. Other companies have purchased the engines, re-skinned them, and created all new games. This is where the incredibly popular Half-Life and Medal of Honor franchises got their starts.
In the ever-more-difficult world of building computer games, John Carmack’s wizardry has more than kept the bills paid. For a while, he was big into buying and customizing Ferraris. But he has taken a new interest in rockets and invested some of his money in an aerospace company called Armadillo Aerospace.
But it’s the games that make him recognizable to me. If you’re roughly my age and like computer games, you’ve probably played some version of Wolfenstein…or Doom…or Quake. And you know why John Carmack belongs in the Hall.