Life In First Person – John Romero Interview

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There are only a few people that can be called true rockstars in the videogames industry – John Romero is one of them. With a legacy of over 40yrs creating games, the Doom Guy himself turns his hand to being an author as his highly anticipated autobiography – Doom Guy: Life In First Person hits the shelves.

Doom Guy – John Romero

If life wasn’t already so crazy busy with running his studio Romero Games, working on the sequel to Sigil – Sigil 2, while also working on the recently announced, highly anticipated, brand new FPS game,  then taking on a load of writing an autobiography and all of what that entails is certainly no easy task.

author John Romero holds his book Doom Guy Life in First Person in his hands
The book in First Person

I had the great pleasure to sit down with John recently to chat about his upcoming book, his early days making games, his passion for gaming and life in Ireland as an indie developer. What really shines through when talking to John is his absolute passion for games, his really positive attitude and how much fun he has making games.

He really is a gamer first and foremost who also happens to be a legend and an icon of the industry.

The book comes out on July 18th – How did it come about?

JR: I was at a conference in Montreal, probably four years ago and so they said why don’t you talk about your life and like what made you be the person to make these kinds of games? Like where’d you come from? Like how’d that happen? We haven’t heard anything like that.

So I was like, Okay, that’s not a bad idea. I did the talk and people were just shocked because of all the shit that happened when I was a kid – the family was selling drugs, murdered cousins because of the drug trade, like all kinds of alcohol, all that shit. They were just like “Ehh.. What??” they were just blown away. So I thought yeah… I should probably write a book and just put it in there, put all that stuff in there and at the same time because I’m a game historian, I can be the id software history book as well, and this is the definitive, “this is when this game was ideated, started, shipped”… every single game.

Even the ones that are all overlapping like crazy in 1991. Exactly, when things happened and in the middle of this game we founded the company and one month later that game shipped, you know, just like being super diligent about and correct about everything that’s in there. So it’s a game history book and it’s also to tell everybody about stuff that they’d never heard before. But also to refute anything that was in the other book and anything that was incorrect in there. Also to fill in the 20 years since that was released, a lot has happened in 20 years and to do all of it, you know, in one book.

The title is so apt “Life In First Person”. Who gets the plaudits for coming up with that?

JR: I think Brenda did. Yeah, I think Brenda might have come up with that. “Doom Guy” came from the fact that I’m the guy who was the Doom Guy on the cover that was me posing. And because I’m most well-known for making Doom, I did so much of that game, you know, from the design, programming, tools, sounds you name it. I did everything that’s in it, you know. And so the title really represents what I did in that game.

the artwork for 90's classic videogame Doom is which a soldier wearing a helmet and green armor fights off demons with a machine gun as they grab at him from the depths of hell.
nice abs Mr Romero

How was the experience of writing the book?

JR: It was just a lot of what goes into it and what doesn’t go into it. Like there’s a tonne of legal checks that you have to edit stuff out. This is a really positive book, I’m not trying to take anybody down, but it’s like even telling the truth, there’s things you can’t do. So I can’t actually put those certain details in there and that’s fine. Then, it’s okay, well it’s 30k words too big, you’ve gotta cut 30,000 words. What are those gonna be?

So stories that are not the book, it’s writing all that stuff and then editing it down, legal checks, it’s just a huge process to make sure that everything goes in there. I remember pretty much everything so there was some research to pinpoint exactly the day, certain things happened as well just to make sure that okay, that is correct. It’s researched, and it’s correct that I remember it, but I want to make sure that in the world, that’s what it is.

Because I remember for a long time, my memory of the Doom 2, release date is October 10th, that was Dooms day. That’s when we held our big press event and moby games is like September 30th… it’s like, Yeah, you’re right. It was in stores before we did the launch party. Because the publisher got it out as soon as they possibly could. Okay, you know, so that’s actually hit the stores on September 30th. But for me, it was always October 10th because that’s when we actually went to The Limelight New York to do the huge press thing.

You recorded the audio book for it too – How was that experience?

JR:  It was really fun… It was really fun. The guy who recorded it, he’s on Wikipedia, he’s really really great, he’s a DJ but is also just an amazing producer and recording engineer. It was in Ballyvaghan, a really small town that you drive through in 10 seconds, everywhere in Ireland you’re going to run into somebody you know anyway too and this guy had a really great place. It’sreally good recording studio.

Has writing the book given you an itch to write more?

JR: Yeah, it’s kind of funny because there’s a ton of stuff that I know that has nothing to do with that book. Which is just like game history, knowledge stuff. And You know, maybe someday I’ll write something about that, just so, it’s somewhere, you know.

But sometimes I’ll talk to people who are interested in that stuff that’s from the late 70’s or early 80’s game history and I’ll just talk and talk about it and tell them all the stories, all the stuff that’s not anywhere and they’re just like “That needs to be in a book!”. So yeah maybe there will be something like that in the future.

One final question on the book… Does it run Doom?

JR: *Laughs

Since the move to Ireland has it been difficult to find and attract talent with the games industry here being in its infancy?

The funny thing is that two things have made it easier, I guess – one of them was the pandemic. Because remote work became a totally acceptable thing. So it was easy for us to say  “We need to hire someone to do this”, and it’s like they’re in Slovakia. I guess that’s not a problem. They can’t be here. We can’t work in the office with them anyway, so they might as well be there. We’re all virtual anyway, like you immediately became virtual and it worked really well immediately.

So that was really, really great, You know, like I mean for the game industry is super great because everyone stayed home playing games. So game purchases moved through the roof. Yeah so for the industry, that was amazing. For us here in Ireland, we could staff a team without having to have people in Ireland. Although we prefer the people to be here, because being in the same room is always way more fun and synergistic, you know.

With such longevity in the industry, what has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

JR: Well, I guess just being really excited when something cool happens, like when I got my first job in Origin that was really amazing. That I wanted to get into the industry for years and I finally decided to go do it. It was funny because it’s like well they don’t know who I am. Like no one is going to contact me to be like,Will you be a programmer?”, they wouldn’t even know who I am.

So I knew that I had to go out and put myself out there and that’s how I got the job in Origin. I had to work really hard to get that job.

TC: How hard was it back then to keep going? Getting all these knockbacks how difficult was that?

JR: Just keep on making stuff! Send it in and whenever I would get a rejection slip, I probably made two other games already. HaHa. You just keep on making games, you know, because that’s how you get better, you just keep on practising and each game was usually a reason for making the game. It was because I was going to learn how to use the joystick or was going to learn how to do music. I was going to learn how to do hit detection in a certain way or going to learn how to traverse a maze.

The focus of any game was to learn a new thing. And so, I would come up with a game design around that idea, and then just start making it. And when it was done I was like, I’ll just send it in somewhere and see if I can get published – if I thought it was a good enough, you know.

And so at some point, they started accepting pretty much everything I made and it was after I figured out the formula for being published in a magazine. So, I figured that out and then that was like, Easy. After that, I just made a thing and sent it out and they’d take it, but I’d already have several other games going on when I do that. It was a lot of that.

Any words of wisdom for budding indie/solo developers?

JR: Focus on making a smaller game – you need to focus on that and make a really simple game. It’s critical to just see how hard it is to actually finish making a small thing instead of something you’ll never finish. Focus on a small thing.

Do you have a bucket list creator that you’d like to work with in the future?

JR: Hmmmm. Not really, I mean, I really like the team, the team that we have is really great. I’m working with some really cool people. We will make announcements at some point who they are but, you know, it’ll be a big surprise to a lot of people.

TC: John, thanks so much for your time. It’s been amazing.

JR: It’s been awesome.

TC: I look forward to reading the book and I wish you all the success in the world.

JR: Thanks a lot.

Doom Guy: Life In First Person launches on July 18th. John Romero is a big advocate for supporting your local book stores so if you are planning on picking it up consider supporting local shops. You can also pick up an autographed copy from the Romero Store.

If you are a game collector and you would like to show your support for his studio Romero Games, you can find some very cool stuff on the store on the website. Also if you are anticipating the release of the book and have never played any of his games, you can actually play his recent release Sigil for free in the original Doom on PlayStation Plus which is very cool indeed.

add-on menu screen in classic videogame Doom showing Romero Games add-on Sigil which is denoted on the right as downloaded
do yourself a favour and go play Doom & Sigil

We really appreciate John and his wife Brenda for being so welcoming and taking the time out of their extremely busy schedules to chat with us.

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