By: Geoff Keighley
Designed By: James Cheung
Selected Photography By: Ric Moore
It's just past midnight on a windy February evening in Dallas, Texas, and game designer John Romero sits in his office, scrolling through e-mail. The glow of his 21-inch monitor illuminates his face, while the glass of a framed photo on the desk behind him - which depicts Romero with former partner John Carmack of id in front
of a red Ferrari - reflects the monitor's image. Romero keeps scrolling at a breakneck pace, as if his inbox is its own deathmatch where dealing with each e-mail translates into one more frag in his column. As he reads, Romero shoots off replies, complete with his e-mail signature that proclaims, "Daikatana: Almost Done!" above an ASCII-text representation of a Hummer vehicle.
John Romero, designer of Daikatana.
But tonight one message stands out from the rest. Romero's reply tempo is upset when he begins to read a message from a game fan who seemingly picked up Romero's e-mail address off an online site. "Make a public statement that Daikatana is really a thought and some screenshots," the pithy e-mail begins. Then it gets more personal. "I'm here to tell you: Your
days as a game developer are absolutely over." Each word of the author's prose further accentuates the prevailing theme that is stated in the concluding paragraph: "I think it would be impossible for you to sleep at night, knowing that you milk the industry and blanket yourself under the sheets of pity."
- E-mail in John Romero's inbox
After Romero's eyes zero in on the words "sheets of pity," he swivels his chair away from the screen. While not articulating it, it's clear the e-mail vitriol fazed him. "I get that kind of mail on a daily basis," he attests, trying to brush it off. But you can tell no matter how dispassionate he tries to be, each e-mail acts as salt to his wounds, wounds that have grown deeper and wider throughout the development of Daikatana, a first-person shooter that is the first full-scale production from infamous Dallas-based developer Ion Storm.
John Romero turns away from his monitor after reading a harsh e-mail message.
Yet before you pull out your violin to help paint the somber portrait of Romero being a game designer misunderstood by his fans, you remember the ads that ran three years ago, the ones that screamed, "John Romero Wants To Make You His Bitch!" Back then Daikatana was billed as the glorious follow-up to Quake that was going to be done in seven months. Now, it's a game that is more than two years late, has gone through five lead programmers, and is produced by a company that has reportedly burned through $30 million in a few short years. For a second you think that maybe the e-mail author was right - who is Romero, the legendary designer of games like Doom and Quake, trying to fool?
BEHIND THE GAMES|
What do you think of Ion Storm?