id Software

Todd Hollenshead and Tim Willits on technology, development, Manhunt and QuakeCon.

If you ask any PC gamer over a certain age to track their hobby through its most significant milestones, you can bet that at least one relates to id Software. For me it's more like half a dozen - the first time I loaded up the Quake shareware, my first network Quake experience, the Christmas morning I got Quake 2, playing it again on my first 3dfx card, Q3Test, actually managing to railgun Rupert more than once on Q3Tourney4. And I was a late developer. Apparently they made other games too. Doom or something. And let us not forget Dangerous Dave! Although that was Romero and Softdisk, really. But I'm getting off the point. Which is: id Software did more for PC gamers in the 1990s than virtually anyone.

Change abounds though, and in 2007 things are very different. The PC's no longer the primary platform for technology, let alone a mature audience. It's provoked big changes at the Texas developer, which will see id Tech 5 - the company's latest licensable game technology - catering to PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 alike. With all this in mind, we sat down with CEO Todd Hollenshead and lead designer Tim Willits at E3 last week to discuss the changing face of technology and game development, the latest news on its games old and new, current trends like Microsoft's Games for Windows and Nintendo's ambition to bring gamers together, and what to expect from QuakeCon.

Eurogamer: How has technology licensing changed since you first started doing it?

Todd Hollenshead: Well, id first started doing technology licensing before I was even at id. Back in those days John [Carmack] wrote an engine, id released a game, everybody said 'wow that's really cool, I want to release a game on that same engine,' and that's kind of the way technology licensing worked.

That worked exceptionally well up through probably the Quake 3 stuff, which was the peak of where we were at from a technology-licensing standpoint. You're talking about Quake, Quake 2, Quake 3, which includes id's games plus all of our licensees' games, but that's a lot. Half-Life, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Jedi Knight, two Star Trek games, right? On a worldwide revenue basis it was over a billion dollars in games that were sold using id technologies. I don't know if anybody else can make that claim, and I'd certainly stack those numbers against anybody's.

But the Doom 3 stuff, because there was a technology transition, the presence of the licensing fell off and I think we also got caught in between the console transition. What we were coming out with was really targeted for the PC and the Xbox, just as the Xbox was transitioning to 360. And the Doom 3 stuff never really worked on PS2 - it was never our intent to run on that hardware - and PS3 stuff wasn't ready, so we kind of got caught in-between.

That approach is completely different for us [now]. We're showing technology - just like when John got up at the worldwide development conference at Apple - showing not the game but the technology first, and talking about it as an implemented cross-platform solution from the get-go. You can see, unless you're blind, that there's a Mac, a PC, there's a 360 and there's a PS3 [in this room], and we're showing the engine running to prospective licensees across all platforms. Not videos, but actually running on the hardware right now.

That's been a big change and a big transition for us, just from an internal philosophy standpoint, and I think it works for the game development as well as the technology side - we've had a far, far greater emphasis on early development of tools that allow us to create all the media and game maps that go with making a game, whereas before John would work on the engine and the tools, and maybe there was one other person to help him out.

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Quake 3 Team Arena - back when id reckons it was peaking.

Eurogamer: It did seem that way - that you were tremendously dependent on what John was doing with technology.

Todd Hollenshead: And we still are - you know, he's still the genius behind all of it - but we have three, four programmers whose primary focus is on tools and then other guys are on subsets of the engine like physics, and then others are working on the different platforms as opposed to just the main SKU. John's primary development platform is PC/360, right?

Tim Willits: Yeah. We've engineered our development team and the game design and the architecture of the software to work on all four systems. All the content, all the media assets are identical across all the systems. We have dedicated tools people, we have a new support system for potential licensees. We've really geared not just our game toward the licensing paradigm but actually our whole development system. We think we've restructured and rebuilt our team to take advantage of making great games and technology at the same time.

Eurogamer: There's been a lot of controversy about Manhunt recently, and in the past you've been entangled in the press reaction to nasty events elsewhere. How do you feel about the mainstream press and political response to games? Has it changed since the days of Columbine?

Todd Hollenshead: I think the media is always looking for stuff to make headlines, and they sensationalise things. They take something that they know will make news and they run with it and then figure out whether it's true or not later.

When you talk about a game like Doom 3, if somebody is thinking that a six-year-old is going to be playing it, then they might be shocked that it's so violent. But the thing about it is that the games aren't for small children, and id hasn't made games for small children since Commander Keen.

I think that the wider videogame market doesn't understand that they're not just for kids, they're for adults too. That's where paranoia and lack of rationality comes into it. You wouldn't go and get a Quentin Tarantino movie and go, 'Oh my God! I can't believe someone was shot in that film!' because you know there's Disney for kids and there's Quentin Tarantino for adults, or there's Spielberg for everybody.

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Doom 3 divided gamers, but when it comes to mainstream reaction it's important to respect the rating, says id.

Eurogamer: So how do we move beyond that, and how do we educate people that games are to be held in that context and not misjudged?

Tim Willits: Well, it takes time. I believe that as our generation and our kids get older and older, eventually we will have a president that had a PlayStation growing up. It's just going to happen.

One of the things that I see with my kids - I have a ten-year-old - is that they love to play online games and get together, and when they play these games, their world shrinks. They're solving problems and playing against each other or with each other, amongst all these different cultures and people throughout the world, and I believe that when our kids get older and become the politicians of the future, it will probably be a more peaceful world because they have grown up knowing that they can just play with people from China or Russia and everyone's the same and everyone solves problems together. So I actually have a brighter outlook on the future based on the social interaction, the social connectivity that we have in videogames in our youth.

Todd Hollenshead: At id, we've always been the first to say that our games aren't appropriate for all people and I'll extend that to say that there are lots of games that I don't think are appropriate for everyone - for small children. If someone's easily frightened or have nightmares, maybe they shouldn't play Doom 3. If they're a fan of Nazis, maybe they shouldn't play Wolfenstein!

But with respect to being able to control that stuff, from a console standpoint being able to lock out that content by the parental controls stuff that's embedded in all the consoles now is...the industry is doing that stuff. Even on the PC platform.

Plus, the fact of the matter is that by and large when you're talking about consoles and PCs, these are activities that are going on in people's homes, which is where the parents, generally, should be and have an opportunity to supervise the activity. It's not something that kids can sneak around - they haven't got a backup generator on their bike!

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