Interview with John Romero, Part 1 - Go to Part 2

Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in haphazard order over the course of many sessions and has been ordered as neatly as possible to have a semblance of flow. Other than that, no sentences were rearranged afterward and no answers were censored. The things said in this interview are in no way doctored or mangled.

The original Quake preview, circa 1990
scar3crow: Why Quake? I've heard rumor of a game following Commander Keen where you played a character named Quake, which got scrapped to make room for Wolfenstein, and I have also heard tale of Quake originally being more centered around the Mjolnir and having a more traditional fantasy atmosphere.
John Romero: After we finished our original Commander Keen series (1-3) in 1990 we made mention of a game called "Quake: The Fight For Justice" that we were going to make. We did some prototyping and decided that it just wasn't time to make that game - tech needed to advance. So we spent the next year working on Softdisk games (1991) and Keen 4-6. Then in 1992 we started Wolf3D.

scar3crow: Is there any relation beyond that of the name to what we know as Quake today? And if so, how was the tech holding it back?
John Romero: The tech we had was only 2D scrolling tiles. We wanted Quake in a full 3D world. So we waited.

scar3crow: Full 3D to the extent of a true z-axis or more akin to what was accomplished with the Doom engine?
John Romero: Quake as it turned out is not what Quake was supposed to be in either that original prototype (TFFJ) or in the original concept of what Quake1 was going to be. The idea completely changed and the only reason we didn't change the name of the game is because everyone in the world already knew what we were working on.

scar3crow: So would you call Quake an almagamation of ideas from different projects compressed into one title unduly brought about by the press and general community knowledge?
John Romero: Nope. Quake was one original idea that got changed 7 months before shipping to something totally different and the name remained because the world already knew what the game was called.

scar3crow: Only 7 months? Would you mind shedding some light on how it was changed so quickly? I know many people, including myself, had the impression that it went through varous stylistic changes, and believed that the texture set was evidence of such. Put that on top of the rumors one hears of it beginning as an RPG, to a hack and slash, up into a first person shooter, and one can construe many ideas as to what the designs were originally like.
John Romero: Originally the game was going to be much more like an adventure or experience - you traveled through a full 3D world with your massive hammer which increased in power as you defeated enemies, much like Link's sword in the Zelda series. That was the idea but there was never any game code to prove out the idea. So we reached a boiling point where some of the dev team was very worried that we wouldn't be able to release the game within a year after our first year of development and they started to freak out. We held a vote and the vote was to just slap in DOOM-style weapons and polish it off and get it out the door. So i rewrote the design, defined the weapons, level-order, etc and we just plowed through it and released it on June 22, 1996. We did have another texture set created for Aztec-style architecture but one of our level designers couldn't get any ideas or inspiration from it so we had to drop the entire texture set...

Dissolution of Eternity
scar3crow: Was that texture set reincarnated in Dissolution of Eternity by Rogue or was that their own creation? And on that topic, how happy were you and the rest of the Quake team with Rogue and Hipnotic/Ritual's work?
John Romero: I don't think so - I believe Rogue created all their assets themselves. I was very happy with Ritual's "Scourge of Armagon" - I was the guy who decided to help them start their company and give them their first deal. I knew they were crazy-talented and the other id guys agreed so we got them started up. I wasn't excited about Rogue working on a Quake pack because of the way the Strife project was developed (although I must say that Strife, the game, was *excellent*! It was very unique, had amazing twists and turns in the story, and had clearly delineated fighting and non-fighting areas.)

scar3crow: Speaking of the missionpacks, many people preferred them, music-wise over Quake itself. I myself am split on the issue, Jeehung Hwang did an excellent job creating some cool music with both, whereas (in Quake) Trent Reznor crafted textures that had me convinced early on that the CD soundtrack was actually just the in-game ambient sounds. Both were instrumental (pun intended) in building up the products involved. How did the Quake soundtrack affect the creation of the levels and the monsters? Was Reznor involved before the vote to make the game more akin to Doom?
John Romero: Yes, I'm sure actual music was better than what Quake had. Trent didn't spend much time on it and the only real standout track was the title song. If we had played the music as MP3's instead of CD Audio i believe people would have really identified with it more - 99% of people who play Quake don't play it with the CD in the drive. During Quake's development we were playing MP3s in the game that were created by a friend of Trent's that were really really great - I wish we would have kept those songs and played them as MP3s.

scar3crow: I guess that is where I personally do differ, I have the soundtrack as oggs in the id1 folder which the DarkPlaces engine loads and plays as specified by worldspawn. What style was the music that you spoke of that was present during development? Was it more akin to other game music such as what you would hear in Doom, Duke3D or Blood?
John Romero: The MP3s we played during development were all ambient but had a much different feeling.

scar3crow: Would it be possible to describe that feeling? Because I've always gotten a rather rich sensation from the Quake score myself, and always identified the game's artwork and architecture heavily with that. In fact two of my first real impacting memories of the registered version is hearing the opening tones of the intermission song after finishing the Crypt of Decay and staring at that blue tower looming over the water. And also the first time getting lost in the Ebon Fortress, turning everytime I heard a sudden sound, as the soundtrack blended with the game's ambience.
John Romero: Well, the sound of those songs isn't what was going through our head while we were developing the game - it was only during our testing phases. And Quake's CD Audio was *never* played during development because it was the last thing created and put in the game. So the real musical influences were different per designer. The music that I listened to while making levels was a lot of Queensryche (The Warning, Rage For Order), Alice in Chains (Dirt, Sap), and Black Sabbath (mostly Tony Martin era).

scar3crow: So it would be safe to say then that Trent was influenced more by the final incarnation of Quake than Quake was by anything he had crafted. Interesting, one must wonder if he was influenced by his friends music that had been paired with the game earlier and the impression that lent itself to the world.
John Romero: Yes, I'd say he saw the game and knew where to go musically. And yes, he could have been inspired by his friend's music because we told him we liked it.

scar3crow: What was the logic behind the megahealth health rot? This created a unique gameplay pace division between Quake and Doom, as the rot negated any concept of health bonuses as seen in Doom, but also made the powerup more time-oriented a la Quad rather than a general benefit to the player (unless they were particularly low on health on pickup).
John Romero: The simple logic behind the megahealth rot was to have a timer like the other powerups and try to keep the health down to a fair level.

scar3crow: The monsters in Quake have been a focal point of discussion quite a bit lately, particularly of their design and features which are often not quite clear due to the games overall resolution, and thus leave a lot of room for the imagination. For example, there is debate as to whether Shamblers and Fiends have eyes, as well as Vores, and whether a shambler has fur, a shaggy coat, or pale skin. It is a rather trivial issue, but it has shown the myriad of perceptions each player has of the games universe. I myself get a small gleam of enjoyment out of assuming that all of the games upper level enemies are at least, as far as skins are concerned, blind, it brings about a sense of barbarity and an alien nature to them. Could you perhaps define some of these, or lend your own opinion on what the creatures are designed as ?
John Romero: You're right about the eyes - most of the monsters don't have them. The world of Quake is dark, wet and scary and they didn't really need em. The Shambler is supposed to have a shaggy coat.

The Quake Ogre, circa August 1995
scar3crow: Now whose idea was it to give an ogre a chainsaw AND a gun? And is there a connection between him and that old screenshot of what looks like a greenish ogre wielding the player's bloody axe?
John Romero: The chainsaw idea was there from the inital concept and the axe was the first weapon we modeled into his hand. The only problem was that both his weapons required close combat attacks and i wanted a distance attack - so we put the grenade launcher in his hand instead. One thing I wanted to have the Ogre do is laugh and piss on your corpse after he killed you. We ran out of time...

scar3crow: Another creature that was rather odd and not quite common was the Spawn, an enemy that it itself was the weapon. Why was he so rare in the singleplayer game?
John Romero: We came up with him later on and he was so tough that we couldn't use him too much.

The Dragon
scar3crow: In QTest one can find a model for a dragon, and also a creature called the Vomitus, along with a dragon.qc. What was the Vomitus going to be like, as it has a very curious name, and is the Dissolution of Eternity dragon similar at all to what was planned for Quake's dragon?
John Romero: I can't remember the DoE dragon, sorry. Our dragon was going to be a massive fly-by that traveled along a path outside the level, dropping in for some firebreathing every now and then. Mostly it was gonna be for a cool, huge character event. The Vomitus was going to be something disgusting that vomited small versions of itself that attacked you.

scar3crow: One thing that seems unique to Quake as opposed to other id games (excluding Commander Keen), one cannot help but notice that the dead seem to outweigh the living, for example the slaughterhouse in level 27 of Doom2, yet in Quake we encounter little in the form of such morbid decorations. Short of the textures used in the shotgun room in Place of Two Deaths and the stretched skin of faces over flames and crucified zombies, the Quake universe seems oddly devoid of recent death beyond the havoc you bring upon it. Was this a, excuse the pun, casualty of the change of workflow due to time?
John Romero: It was definitely a case of "not enough time" to put a lot of polish on the game.

scar3crow: Only in a line of work such as yours, can the crafting and placement of mutilated corpses be categorized under polish ;)
John Romero: Wicked sick polish :)

scar3crow: Quake is not exactly renowned for its AI, but was there anything planned before time became a big concern?
John Romero: Well, Quake's gameplay was coded pretty quickly so that "feature" just slipped through the cracks. :)

scar3crow: Doom and Quake are both episodic games, however in Doom we experienced bosses - the barons of hell, who though a common enemy later on, were a huge step above the typical undead-fauna of Knee Deep in the Dead, and the Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind were basically exclusive to their levels and were unique entities unto themselves. Quake on the other hand has only 2 direct bosses, Chthon and Shub Niggurath, both of which involve environmental triggers to defeat, the latter not even taking a direct offense against the player. Is this another casualty of the time scale? Was Shub planned to do more or were other bosses planned?
John Romero: Yes, the boss situation was due to time constraints. Although you might notice that I placed the Shalrath creatures in the end room of E2M6 as a sort of boss - it's the first time you meet them and we reuse them later on (a la Baron of Hell). I designed Shub to do exactly what he does - it was a really quick and easy boss to implement and an analog to DOOM II's final Icon of Sin boss.

scar3crow: I had taken notice of the use of the Vores at the end of Dismal Oubliette, though I would say they werent quite as tough as the Baron encounter (sure you might have 10+ rockets for the barons, but the blast damage is likely to kill you, whereas you have room to retreat with the vores). Why did the monster name switch from Shalrath to Vore? How about the Scrag being referred to as a Wizard in the code?
John Romero: In development you always have other names that originally were used but before release are changed to something more appropriate. The name Shalrath was one from, I believe, John C.'s D&D; campaign. Likewise, the Scrag was originally called a Wizard. At the end it didn't do many wizardly things so we changed the name. If the creature *did* do some interesting magic the name would have been great to keep as it would have been one of the most unsettling wizards that anyone could have imagined.

scar3crow: How do you feel about the fact that many speak of Painkiller as Quake's spiritual sequel?
John Romero: Though Painkiller is a great game I wouldn't call it Quake's spiritual sequel - maybe DOOM's. Anything that's going to be a true Quake 1 sequel would have fantastical, dark, raw and unsettling environments with twisted and grotesque creatures - something that belongs in an H.P. Lovecraft story.

scar3crow: How do you feel about the fact that the Quake community has expanded into engine mods, to the point of it being used to create new games (Zymotic, Nexuiz, Darsana amongst others, as well as Transfusion, a recreation of Blood in the Quake engine, an irony since once upon a time Blood was supposed to be 3D Realm's answer to Quake)?
John Romero: I think it's just great that the community is alive and doing well modding like crazy. Ten years later it's still going strong and it's good to see.

scar3crow: Did you try many of the mods over the years? If so, any particular favorites or ones that you did not expect to see?
John Romero: No, I actually don't spend much time downloading and installing mods - there's too much out there for me to play on all platforms that I don't deal with mods myself.
scar3crow: I must say then, you are missing out. Straight DM is still a wondrous event, but I have many memories of Zerstorer and Team Fortress that still bring a gib eating grin to my face.

scar3crow: Is there any relation between your new company's name and the demise of many military bases? Are you employing rottweilers?
John Romero: Haha no, the name Slipgate Ironworks is supposed to invoke visions of a factory where slipgates are being built. It's not the real, final name of the company though - that will be announced next year.

Continue to Part 2 for the second half of this revealing interview, where we cover such topics as QuakeC, deathmatch, speedrunning, and the Quake weapons...