After 15 years of being right at the bleeding edge of gaming technology, John Carmack's decision to turn his talents to mobile phone gaming was unexpected to say the least. But maybe, after spending so long on creating the Doom III engine, what he needed more than anything was to get his teeth into a project that wasn't going to take four or five years to turn around. Like many in the industry, perhaps Carmack hungered for a return to the era when you could turn around a project in under six months.
Almost a hobby project, DoomRPG presented Carmack with the perfect opportunity to do just that, and at the end of last year mobile phone gamers were presented with the first all-new id mobile game. But unlike so many ill-fitting conversions, DoomRPG was designed from the ground up to fit the slightly quirky demands of mobile gaming, where clunky user interfaces and inappropriate input devices force all manner of odd compromises upon game developers. What emerged was a game that took all of these issues into account, yet delivered something that appears to use the essence of the original Doom titles sympathetically and yet uniquely.
But what might have appeared to be a one-off hobby horse could well be the start of an interesting new direction for Carmack and co. and the id main man reveals that he has more mobile offerings in store...
Eurogamer: How much personal creative involvement did you have with DoomRPG, and what inspired you to do a mobile phone-only Doom in the first place?
John Carmack: Getting into this was really a sort of random event - a year ago, I rarely carried a cell phone, and it was just an old black and white clunker. When my wife gave me a new mid-range phone with a decent colour display and some bad game demos on it, I had my curiosity piqued a little about the platform. It turned out to be really easy to develop Java applications for the phone, so I played around a little bit and started thinking about what elements would make a good game for the platform.
I wrote a proof-of-concept demo of the basic rendering and play style, and then turned it over to Fountainhead Entertainment to develop into a full game. I did some additional programming work when we started on the BREW version, and I acted as the producer for the project.
Eurogamer: What kind of technical limitations were you up against, and how did you go about overcoming them? How long did the project take from start to finish?
John Carmack: Starting on the Java phones, getting decent speed was the biggest concern. Towards the end of the project it became clear that the Java sound API implementations are hideously broken on most phones.
Total time for the Java version was about four months, and another two months to expand the game for high-end BREW phones.
Eurogamer: Is this the first of many id-related mobile phone adaptations? Any plans for taking an RPG approach to your other brands like Quake or Wolfenstein?
John Carmack: Probably not more RPGs based on id titles, but there is another mobile genre-swapping idea that we may be pursuing based on Quake 3 Arena. Stay tuned...
Eurogamer: With most of id's projects taking years to complete, was it refreshing to actually be able to make a game in such a short space of time? Does it make you hunger for a return to those kinds of working practises?
John Carmack: I have been harping on about the evolutionary benefits you get with short development cycles, and our second mobile game will be a clear example of this. It is a traditional fantasy-themed RPG built off the experience gained with DoomRPG, and it is just better in every way. Doing two evolutionary cycles in less than a year is a huge win!
I do wish that PC/console games didn't take so many years to create, but it is essentially a fact of life, so I don't waste any effort bemoaning it.
Eurogamer: John Romero obviously has mobile gaming experience and knows a thing or two about Doom - did you consider seeking his input at all?
John Carmack: No, John and I rarely talk.
Eurogamer: Doom the movie has recently hit the cinemas over here. What are your thoughts on the movie? Did they seek your input, and do you think it breaks the traditional game-to-movie mould?
John Carmack: I intentionally kept myself away from all production aspects of the movie, because I didn't want to butt in where I had no particular skills to contribute, and I wanted to see the end product with fresh eyes. I would have settled for "not miserable", but I actually enjoyed the movie a lot. It obviously isn't an Oscar candidate, but I thought there were some clever bits to it, and the action was basically non-stop.