With the release of Doom 3: BFG Edition we thought it would be relevant and cool to post this interview with Todd Hollenshead, the President of Id Software. At first glance, he looks like a jock with a pony tail. He’s got a cute girlfriend and he’s pretty buff to boot. Certainly not what you would expect of a corporate exec type. None of this stopped him from being a really gracious, intelligent guy. We talk about Id Software’s glorious past, some of its struggles, its future and fast cars.
Baby Soft Murder Hands: When did your story begin at id Software?
Todd Hollenshead: Well, I started at id in October of 1996 but I was introduced to the company in early 95 or late 94. They became a client of mine. My former career was in public accounting and so id was a client of mine. I worked with the guys on the business advisory side. Back when it was, you know 10 guys, 8 guys.
BSMH: So having a career in accounting and business management makes you sound a lot like you’re a numbers guy. Would you say that you’re more business and less hands on with the game product part or are you a gamer yourself?
TH: Oh, I’m a gamer myself before I ever worked with id. My real introduction to the company was… my girlfriend actually bought me Wolfenstein 3D and I started playing it until I was literally so sick I had to lay down in the bed because I’m susceptible to motion sickness. I was hitting the space bar going around all the walls trying to find all the damn secrets in the game, because I didn’t realize you needed to look for the funny textures. I grew up in the 80’s playing stand up arcade games and pinball. I had the original Atari 2600 and played Pong before that and Super Pong my parents bought me when I was a little kid. So, I’m a video game fan at heart, I spent a lot of time playing. I’m a big fan of id games, not just from a ‘Oh I have to be because this is the company I work for’ but because I spend an enormous amount of time playing them as well. My classic training is on the business side and accounting, but I guess my heart side is on the games.
BSMH: That’s good to hear. What is your favorite “classic” id moment? Let’s say pre Quake III.
TH: I would say my favorite classic id moment is the lava monster at the end of shareware episode for Quake. When you go in and you’re like, ‘I really want that room but I know some bad shit is gonna happen.’ I remember playing that… I was playing on my laptop in bed and my girlfriend was laying at the side of me and I go in and grab it and it goes ‘Grrrr!’ and we’re both like ‘Ahhhh!’
TH: My Pentium laptop by the way, that was a bad ass machine back in those days.
BSMH: Having a laptop in general in those days was bad ass.
TH: It was color too.
BSMH: My first time was on a Mac, I was a Mac kid back then… Over the last few years, id Software has been working with Bethesda. What would you say is the benefit of being part of the Bethesda family?
TH: There are a number of benefits. Number 1 I think is the ability to work with really smart people on both the development side, like a Todd Howard where you can bounce ideas off the guy and get his input and thats absolutely unfettered. Working with a publisher that really understands the business of how to market and distribute games versus the old independent days… not really having to worry about whether you’re being taken to the cleaners by your publisher. So really having everybody on the same team is amazing and of course, just the corporate level support for how we make games and all that is very strong. It would be difficult to imagine life not part of the Zenimax family right now.
BSMH: Whats your proudest moment in modern day id business?
TH: I don’t know, I really think of id by game release. Like, I remember when Quake II came out and we were releasing that. I remember when we released Quake III and Doom 3 came out… when Castle Wolfenstein came out… and all that, when Rage released. To me the business accomplishment sort of only goes so far as how great the game is. Because its not like ‘Oh we signed this contract this is awesome.’ I think of them in a company wide perspective. There was probably a moment after I had been at id, when I really kinda had the magic light bulb go off at the top of my head where I sort of figured out the game business. Because, they had been a client of mine, but I had been into high tech industry, manufacturing and accounting but had not had entertainment software as something I had a lot of experience with at the time. So it took a little while for me to get my feet wet, but at one point after working until 2am, I don’t know how many nights in a row, I was just like ‘ah-ha!’ here’s how this stuff works. [laughs] But that was pretty early on and it didn’t take me long, because once I got to id, I jumped in with both feet and went in over my head and figured out how to swim up to the top again.
BSMH: Having done a lot of research on id Software by reading interviews from the past and also the book “Masters of Doom“, the Doom developers were famously known for having fast cars and driving Ferraris, stuff like that. Are you yourself part of the Ferrari club and whats your sports car of choice?
TH: [laughs] That’s an embarrassing question to answer a little bit, but I do have a Ferrari, I also have a Viper. The Ferrari’s relatively new but I’ve been a fan of fast cars. I’m a guy and grew up you know, watching Magnum PI and wishing I had that car. And my dad had a Corvette and I wanted one of those. So as soon as I could afford it, I started buying stuff that goes fast. But I’m a conservative driver by the standard of what you see on movies these days with street racing and stuff like that. To me racing is for the track and race car drivers.
BSMH: Over last 10 years, while in my opinion id’s had solid games each time they’ve come out with one, there’s been some highly critical press reviews; mixed both with negatives and positives. Would you say at this point now, you guys are sort of rebuilding id’s brand in terms of ‘We’re back and making top games again!’ or do you think that part of id’s never been touched.
TH: You know, honestly, I guess I gotta quote LL Cool J on that one and say, ‘Don’t call it a comeback.’ [laughs] From our stand point, from my stand point, we always make top games and I really have loved all of them. You’re always gonna get critics that don’t like this or don’t like that. Even the best games that people say unanimously these games are great, theres always somebody who’s gonna be detracting on it. It doesn’t really matter what you do. It’s not like I think that we’ve been perfect or anything like that, but I don’t think there really is such a thing as perfect art. You do the best that you can and once you’re done with that, you learn your lessons and go forward and try to do even better the next time. As John (Carmack) says in his keynote every year is that every game id does has to be better than the last game that we’ve done. And I do think that is the path that we’ve been on. It’s a very competitive industry and there are lots of great games out there. It not like we’re the only ones who make shooters anymore. I mean when Wolfenstein 3D came out and back in the original Doom days, there weren’t a lot of people making 3D FPS games. In fact Wolfenstein 3D invented the genre and Doom popularized it would be the way I would say it. There are lots of companies that have a lot of talent that have been attracted to the industry. I think id has contributed to attracting talent to that industry through inspiring people’s imaginations for the games that we’ve made over the years and now we’ve gotta go compete with those guys, but thats cool because I think it just elevates the art form.
BSMH: Quake 5. Everybody’s talking Doom 4 but is Quake 5 something thats a possibility in the future?
TH: I have to be careful about how I answer that because I hate to speculate about stuff that we don’t have anything to show. I guess from my perspective is that I’m a huge fan of the Quake series, played Quake, worked on that at the very end. When Quake came to retail right at the same time, I was starting at id.Was there for the entire development process for Quake II, worked on Quake III, worked with Raven on Quake 4. Quake Live is kind of, sort of my baby now at id, so I sort of sit over that stuff. Quake is one of the franchises at id that I’ve had the most to do with of all of them. And oh my god, I could live years longer if I had the time back playing Quake II CTF and all the Quake III matches that I play. It would make my heart cry if there was not another Quake inside of id at some point, but thats about all I can say on it at this time.
BSMH: Often times people ask game developers what would help them most to get hired in the game industry. What I’m asking you instead is, what does a game company look for to find a successful employee?
TH: You gotta have talent, you have to have an ability to work and refine your craft because its always an evolving industry. You can’t just say ‘Oh I can do this now’ and just rest on that. You have to continue to hone your craft and develop your skill. Personally, I think you need to have a good attitude and be a fan of games. The stuff you work on. Its so much more fun to go to work when you take pride in your work, not only because it looks good, but because now look, I get to play it myself. That’s what I find makes the most successful employees. Its not necessarily that those are the requirements for every job in the industry, at every company, but if you get somebody who’s a gamer, who loves what they do, who always wants to better themselves… Just like Carmack was saying, he’s still learning things as a programmer even though he’s regarded as an industry luminary and he’s in the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, he still says that he tries to challenge himself. People like that are the ones who I think make the best employees. Now, if I were gonna criticize John, I’d say he should play more games. [laughs] But, you know John will say, ‘Well, I’ve only got so much time.’
BSMH: We really appreciate the interview and the hard work you put into the games id Software makes.
TH: Hey, it’s my pleasure because honestly, we enjoy the success of selling lots of games but I tell you what, what we really enjoy is people loving to play them. All the support the community has given, especially that you can see at an event like QuakeCon. Just fan appreciation. That really is a huge motivating factor for us. Making great games is the first thing and then everything else comes second.
This interview was conducted by BabySoftMurderHands.com at Quakecon 2012 in Dallas, Texas.
Watch the Doom 3 BFG Edition launch trailer below…
It’s priced fairly at $29.99 for PC and $39.99 for PS3 and Xbox 360.