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Designer Threads feat. John Romero - 9/1/06

Doom co-creator and longtime industry veteran John Romero speaks with GameSpot's editor-in-chief Greg Kasavin about his favorite first-person shooters, the good old days of Ion Storm, working hard and working late, and much more.


Following is a brief excerpt of the conversation with John Romero. Listen to the full-length podcast for much more and also check out John Romero's Web site.

Greg Kasavin: What are some of your favorite more recent examples of first person shooters? Do you play a lot of games like that?

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John Romero cites Half-Life 2 and F.E.A.R. as some of his favorite recent first-person shooters. Can you blame him?

JR: Oh yeah, I love shooters. Definitely, hands down, Half-Life 2. Amazing, amazing game. I think a lot of people don't know the process of development that they went through to make Half-Life 2, but it's very different than any other game company. You can tell when you're playing through Half-Life 2, you're playing through a lot of different, cool experiences. You're running around in Ravenholm, it's dark and it's super scary, and then you're in an air boat, you know, before that. Then you're in a dune buggy with the whole thumpers and Starship Troopers aliens. And then you're in the Citadel later. And each one of those is like its own episode of gameplay, and the reason that that happened is because Valve organized the whole company into cabals, these teams of designers that basically create an entire chunk of the game--just that group. And then they just tie it all together. So their focus, every team's focus was on the experience of a certain part of that game. And you know, all the leads had really great communication--make sure everything was tying together well. It was very fluid and consistent and all that. They did an awesome job.

GK: Of course, they were fortunate to have six years in which to make all that happen.

JR: They had six years, they had the same formula. They didn't change their formula--which was a huge winning formula. No one had copied it and they just used it again and added to it. But what they did that was very rare to do nowadays, especially in a specialized genre like an FPS, is invent a whole new weapon that everyone's going to use in the future, which is the gravity gun, with the addition of the physics engine. You have it as a puzzle solving element which was really awesome. So I look at Valve, kind of like Nintendo, as a company to watch for innovation in gaming.

GK: Right.

JR: I also really like F.E.A.R. a lot. F.E.A.R. is a really great, scary game. They did a lot of great stuff that no other game's done, especially the scary stuff. I did get a little tired of the office building setting stuff that kind of got... you know, especially after going through Half Life 2's awesomeness of change of venue right.

GK: Right, all the variety. With F.E.A.R. it's like they just focused on nailing that feel of the actual combat down. It's amazing how far you can go on that alone, really.

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Romero considers Valve Software and Nintendo to be some of the chief innovators in gaming.

JR: It was awesome, the combat was just the most intense combat. And you know, the reason why they had so many office buildings, it was just a limitation of the technology that Monolith had created. They were trying to do some large outdoor spaces but they couldn't because the technology just couldn't do it. Kind of like Doom 3's technology was limited because...the textures on the walls were so elaborate, there were so many shaders going on at once that they had to have hallway turns all over the place, and the outdoor areas couldn't be big either.

GK: Right. I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure F.E.A.R. has got to be Monolith's big breakthrough game. It's nice that they finally kind of caught their break, because games like No One Lives Forever got a ton of praise from the critics but I don't necessarily think they were kind of huge commercial hits...maybe a little too, ah, conceptually not as straightforward as something like F.E.A.R. It seemed like everyone just got what F.E.A.R. was going to be all about.

JR: F.E.A.R. was very simple.

GK: Tough guys coming at you. And you've got big guns.

JR: Yeah, one of the winning aspects of a game to keep people going through it is to provide some sort of variety as you go, and F.E.A.R. threw plenty of variety all the way through the game. You'd get new weapons, you would see new enemies, new scary stuff.

GK: Yeah, interesting eye tricks. I mean, they kept the combat interesting.

JR: Love listening to those guys yelling at each other. It was awesome. I loved listening to the enemies on the radio, it was so cool.

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A first-person shooter fan through and through, Romero still can't really get into them on consoles because of the controls.

GK: Are you into the more realistic or tactical shooters like Counter-Strike or GRAW, stuff like that?

JR: I like Counter-Strike, but it's something that I know that I would have to spend a lot of time in to get good at, but I love, I really love tactical shooters. I'm a massive Ghost Recon fan. I'm actually more of a fan of Ghost Recon 1 than the other ones because I just like the PC better for any kind of first person action, I just think the mouse and keyboard... no one can touch the mouse and keyboard. Although Microsoft is going to be coming out with this new controller, we'll see if that solves any of the problems.

GK: Yeah, people have tried that for years though, right?

JR: Yeah, Logitech, you know--

GK: But there was the crazy--

JR: Cyberman...

GK: It was right in the Quake days actually the, like, Spaceball, I think that's what it was called...

JR: The Wingman. The Cyber--yeah, there was the Spaceball--

GK: A big ball that you hold on--

JR: There was the Space Orb--

GK: Yeah, the Space Orb, that was it.

JR: Yeah, the Space Orb, the Cyberman, the Wingman, you know, there's a lot of them out there. Microsoft' know, we'll see.

GK: Yeah, they're pretty good at taking other people's good ideas and making them better, right?

JR: Yeah.

Be sure to listen to the full-length podcast.

Previously on Designer Threads: Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert

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