GameSpy Articles: A Day in the Life of ID Software by Caryn “Hellchick” Law
Hellchick spends a day with the guys behind the DOOM and Quake series’, and tells you what it’s like to be on the inside with one of the most popular developers in the industry.
For years, anyone who wanted to find the icons of the gaming industry were pointed to a large, black cube of a building that rises jarringly out of the flat Texas plains just off of Highway 635 in the suburb of Mesquite. It was the location of id Software, the company that set off the 3D gaming explosion. Though they no longer live in the Big Black Cube but instead in newer offices only a mile or so away, a visit to id still holds that Mecca-like mystique for many.
Founded by John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall, and Adrian Carmack, the creative force behind the DOOM and Quake series’ has always been viewed as the Camelot of the gaming world. If you spend any time in the Quake community, you’ll hear people talk about a visit to the id offices as if it were a private audience with the Pope. “Dude!” Some Quake player might say, “I went to the offices and I saw [insert id developer name here] drive up in his [Ferrari, Viper, or other sports car] and he gave me a tour!” While many developers have acquired this aura of celebrity simply by virtue of the community nearly worshipping the games they make, none have garnered more of it than id Software.
Luckily, I run PlanetQuake. Being the webmaster of one of the largestQuake sites on the Internet, I at least have some excuse to harrass, harangue, and generally weasel my way into the offices of one of the most respected game development companies in the industry. So in a recent trip to Dallas on a fact-finding mission for Quake III: Team Arenaas well as Ritual Entertainment’s Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, I got the chance to spend a couple of days hanging out there and seeing just what your average day at id Software is actually like.
Getting Through the Door
Though I’d been to id before when they lived in the Big Black Cube, I hadn’t seen their new offices since they moved in. So I cut my way through the Texas heat and humidity to the new building where id had recently moved to. I headed up the stairs, found the door, and rang the bell.
Everyone who visits id has to get through Miss Donna first. Donna Jackson has been with id from nearly the start and has always been affectionately referred to as “the id Mom.”
It’s a fitting description; taking a look at her, you can’t help but like her, and you half expect her to come up to you with a wet napkin and wipe a spot of dirt off your chin. As she buzzes you through the door, her Texas twang rings out to greet you from behind an enormous desk. The reception area is decorated with DOOM and Quake artwork, posters, sculptures, and awards, and Miss Donna sits in the middle of it all, beaming a big smile at you as you walk in. The sight of the sweet id Mom sitting happily in the midst of all this hellspawn is worth the visit alone.
Miss Donna kindly showed me down the hall to the office of Robert Duffy, the id programmer who got his start in the gaming industry and with id Software through the creation of the level editor QERadiant. Since I know Duffy best out of the id crew, it was his office I was setting up camp in for a couple of days while I checked out the Q3A mission pack, Quake III: Team Arena. Fortunately for him–as well as the rest of the guys–each developer’s office is huge, giving them plenty of room for furniture, extra computers, and even some arcade machines (Robotron and Defender now grace Duffy’s office). So an extra person wouldn’t be too difficult to handle…right?
Once I got set up, I grabbed some coffee with Duffy from the plush id kitchen. When I say “plush”, of course, I mean that the kitchen is fully stocked with anything the guys could want. I imagine this is Miss Donna’s plan to keep the boys fed and healthy (I saw fruit on the counter). On the way back to the desk, I tried to make the rounds and say hello to the rest of the guys, who were trickling in for work that day. For the most part, like anyone in the gaming industry, the id developers tend to keep long hours, with John Carmack’s schedule being the oddest; he generally comes in in the afternoon and works until the early hours of the morning. It’s not at all unusual to see his Ferrari parked outside the office at 3 a.m. (however, if you’re an enterprising Mesquite resident who’s looking for just such a Ferarri, don’t get any ideas–it’s also not unusual to see the Mesquite Police Department in the vicinity of his car at 3 a.m.)
With coffee in hand, I sat down and got to work–running myself through every nuance of Team Arena so that I could write a PlanetQuake strategy guide for it. Meanwhile, the focus of the day for everyone else seemed to be putting the final work intoQ3:TA–for instance, I noticed Duffy working on finishing the mission pack’s user interface.
For those that are unfamiliar with them beyond knowing what games they’ve made, id Software is, like most developers, a small company of about fourteen people. The primary technology behind id’s games is created by John Carmack, considered to be the finest programmer in his field. It’s been Carmack’s technology that has pushed 3D video gaming and related hardware into new and uncharted areas over the years, beginning with Wolfenstein 3D and continuing up through their next title, a recreation of the original DOOM using completely new 3D engine technology.
While Carmack’s programming focus is on the technology driving the game, three other members of the id team provide additional coding support alongside their other responsibilites. Programmer Robert Duffy’s main work lies in both working with Carmack on the actual game programming as well as making the tools the rest of the team will use to create the game, such as level editors. Graeme Devine also provides additional coding support, but as the team’s game designer, he’s also responsible for creating the framework of the game so that the rest of the team can create what he’s got in mind. Recently, Jim Dose’ of Ritual Entertainment joined id and will be helping to fill out the coding responsibilities that the new DOOM game is going to require.
The more artistic roles in id Software fall to the level designers and the artists. Tim Willits, lead level designer, as well as Paul Jacquays and Christian Antkow are all responsible for level design–those who are rabid fans of the Quake series often claim they can see signatures of each designer in their levels. On the artistic side, Kevin Cloud and Adrian Carmack are not only co-owners of id, but are both artists who’s work has been a key element of every id game since the DOOM days. Kenneth Scott, who joined id Software about two years ago, fills out the art side; most of his work can be seen in the great skins for the models of Quake III: Arena.
While they concentrate on making a great game, someone has to take care of the business side, and that falls to two more guys: Todd Hollenshead and Marty Stratton. As CEO of id Software, Hollenshead has been responsible for the financial care and feeding of id since 1996. Marty Stratton, who joined up just this year, primarily takes on the public relations and business development type of stuff that a prominent company like id invariably has to deal with. And finally, Eric Webb rounds out the group as the id intern–he’s responsible for testing and for making sure the company’s hardware is up and running properly.
It all comes together to form a small team that has consistently put out some of the best and highest selling games on the market.