id Software’s yearly event has finally been announced. Quakecon is one of the world’s largest LAN parties often called the “woodstock of gaming.” Fan’s of id Software and Bethesda are the focus here, although there are all types of games being played in the BYOC room. That’s Bring Your Own Computer. Besides that, id Software usually shows off something new and juicy for fans including panels with industry giants including Valve and more. Last year’s was great, showing off the Oculus Rift, where we were on the scene and got to try it out (amazing by the way). John Carmack gave an almost 3 hour keynote, and he, along with Palmer Lucky and Michael Abrash, discussed virtual reality. This year, there is a possibility we may finally see some Doom 4 footage. Here’s hoping for Quakecon: Doomcon Edition.
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.
Here is an interview that Tom did with Tim Willits, Studio Director of Id Software. This interview was given during QuakeCon 2012. Tim discusses his history at the prolific game development studio, how he got started making FPS’s, Doom: BFG Edition, Rage and even a single detail about Doom IV!
Tom E: How long have you been with Id and where would you say your story really started with Id?
Tim Willits: Well, I’ve been with Id since ’95. So I came in March, ’95. And my story really started with the shareware version of Doom 1 and I was in college, I was a computer science major at the university of Minnesota. And I downloaded the shareware episode of Doom 1 and I just got a new PC. So I never even played Wolfenstein. So I was running around the shareware, the first room of Doom and I didn’t realize that in the hallway, that gray thing was a door, because it kind of looks like a wall. And just in that shareware… that first room… you know E1M1, I was like, ‘This is cool! Yeah I could see this. I’ll buy the full game.’ And then when I found a way to open that door at the end of the hallway, I knew my whole life changed when that door opened.
Tom: That was your Id moment?
Tim: That was my Id moment. Then, I started working on levels and back then, there really wasn’t much of an internet. So, I uploaded them to Software Creations BBS. And then the company was looking for folks to do the “Master Edition“, The Doom II Master Edition levels. So I contracted that and then, you know, they hired me. And the first thing I actually did was the Ultimate Doom, which was awesome since it was Doom 1. The Ultimate Doom, when we added an extra episode.
Tom: That was my personal introduction to Id. We had our own custom Acer our dad put together. One of the games we always played on there was Ultimate Doom on DOS.
Tim Willits: Now you can get the BFG Edition on the 360 and the PS3 and you can play Ultimate Doom and Doom II and Doom 3, The Resurection of Evil, the new stuff. But you know what? Doom, the way that the guys implemented the PS3 version of Doom 1 and 2 is so ingenious that it runs at 240 hertz. It’s awesome. [laughs] It’s pretty sweet.
Tom: How do you feel about this modding community, the way things have really just exploded? The fact that people are still making mods for Doom 1… and even Wolfenstein 3D sometimes.
Tim: Yes, I know. You know what’s really cool about the Doom 3source code, is now people are actually making super mods. Or whole different kinds of executables. It’s one of the things that John Carmack has always pioneered and championed, is the giving stuff away for people to mod. It’s really exciting to see what people do. Heck, I still think its the best way to get a job in the industry.
Tom: Id does seem to bring a lot of people off the net. That is how you boosted development for Doom II, isn’t it?
Tim: Well, Quake II. Because I came right after they finished Doom II and then we worked on the Ultimate Doom. And then we didn’t hire anyone off the net during Quake 1. And then Quake II, we hired Brandon James.
Tom: Now, I’m gonna ask you a question and it’s a bit of a sensitive spot for Id. How a lot of people would say was sort of a dark time for Id Software when John Romero had split up…
Tim: That was not a dark time for Id. It was a shining light for Id.
Tom: I understand there was a lot of internal conflict.. how would you say a lot of that turned out? Like when they unfortunately kicked out Tom Hall, who has gone on to do his own successful games, and actually now is doing a bunch of stuff with Romero again. It’s a weird thing when you see you were best friends and then that one thing just kind of drives a wedge in it. I think a lot of people forget, you guys are people… you’re not just a company.
Tim: No, it was really no problem for us. It was not a dark time for Id. You know, he had to go and they got rid of him.
Tom: There was no hard feelings like, ‘it kinda sucks to get rid of you but its for the good of the company’?
Tim: Yeah, its always unfortunate but it was more like yes, ‘it kinda sucks but its best for the company’. But you know what? He’s gone on to do his thing and we’ve gone on to do our thing.
Tom: A lot of people used to say that John Romero was the soul of Id and he had a lot of creative ideas. And argumentatively, he had a lot of ideas but he was often considered a bit impractical.
TIm: Sometimes what people see from the outside is not always necessarily what happens on the inside.
Tom: What would you say your experience was dealing with John Romero?
Tim: Yeah, he was fine. But I mean again, it was like ’96 or ’97. It’s not very relevant to stuff that we’re doing now. But he’s fine. I wish him luck. But, it’s not really relevant to what we’re doing now.
Tom: As you can see, we’re 90′s gamers… obviously for us, there’s a lot of nostalgia there…
Tim: There’s less nostalgia internally than externally.
Tom: How do you feel about the unfortunate fact that Doom 3 wasn’t as well received as it deserved to have been. I’ll be honest, I was just as guilty of this. I thought that the game was too suspense based and coming back to play it, I love it. But when it came out, I almost felt like it was a great game but shouldn’t have been Doom 3, in that it was slow. And I understand the BFG Edition will speed this up a lot?
Tim: Well, its not a ton. Have you played the new version?
Tom: Not yet.
Tim: You should play it. We can’t make the same game. Doom 3 is a great game. And every game that we do is markedly different. I feel sorry for game developers that have to make the same game, every… year. But no, it sold really well. And the demand for the BFG Edition has been great. So, I cannot be more happy for the current reception for the, kind of retro bundle package we’ve put together.
Tom: A lot of people, including myself who were a little harsh on Doom 3 in the beginning are now happy to see this coming out. How does that make you feel, that the community went from kind of a bit turning their backs on you because they got angry at you? More because of common nerd anger because we don’t want things to change…
Tim: It’s nice to say I told you so. But you know what? It’s great to have passionate fans.
Tom: It’s nice to have everybody back together and cheering Id’s praises again.
Tim: You know, there were always people cheering Id’s praises.
Tom: When you read the reviews on Amazon and you see someone complaining about the Steam download service, meanwhile, Rage is an amazing game, what do you think?
Tim: You know, I don’t let it bother me. Trust me, I’ve been in the industry so long…
Tom: What is it like for you during a common day at Id?
Tim: As Studio Director, it’s very busy. I deal with everything from needing a toaster in the kitchen to making sure that QA has the right build to test.
Tom: You’re everybody’s mommy…
Tim: Yes, but its very exciting. we’re much bigger now than we were before. We have a new office which is really nice. I still love working at Id. I love coming to work. I feel like one of the luckiest guys in the industry to have the job that I have and you know, there’s always exciting things that we do. So, I’m thrilled. I’m very busy, but I’m thrilled at the future.
Tom: How many versions of Doom do you think the average owner probably has, because very few people have just one?
Tim: Yes, hardcore Id fans have them all. They have iPhone versions and Genesis versions and Saturn versions…
At Quakecon 2012 we were fortunate enough to get an exclusive interview with Michael Abrash of Valve Software. In the interview was also a writer from Rock Paper Shotgun.
For those that don’t know… Michael Abrash is an esteemed computer programmer with a career spanning over 3 decades. He arrived in Dallas, Tx at this years Quakecon to speak with fellow geniuses John Carmack of Id Software and Palmer Luckey of Oculus. The subject: Virtual Reality. (You can watch the full 1 hour “Virtual Insanity” panel here.)
Here are some of Michael Abrash’s career highlights:
-Quake engine/IDTech 2 co-author
-Graphics programming lead for Windows NT
-The Larrabee project
-Pixomatic Rendering Technology
You can listen to the entire interview below. We cover topics including becoming a computer programmer, working with John Carmack on Quake, virtual reality, augmented reality and more!