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    John Carmack

    Person » credited in 51 games

    Co-founder of id Software, Carmack is a technical innovator in the video game industry. He is best known for his work in the Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake franchises. He officially resigned from id in November 2013 to join Oculus VR.

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    Early Life

    John D. Carmack II (born August 20, 1970) is a game programmer and co-founder of id Software. He is personally responsible for a number of significant enhancements and breakthroughs in computer graphics which have now become commonplace.

    Carmack grew up in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. He has said of himself as a child,

    "I was sort of an amoral little jerk when I was young. I was arrogant about being smarter than other people, but unhappy that I wasn't able to spend all my time doing what I wanted."

    What he wanted to be doing was program computers. He has stated that he knew from the age of 12 that he wanted to work with computers, but at that time his opportunities to work with them were scarce. When he was 14, Carmack and some friends broke into a school to steal Apple II computers and were caught. He was sent for psychiatric evaluation and according to the report, it said that the "boy behaves like a walking brain with empathy for other human beings."

    The interviewer asked Carmack, "if you hadn't been caught, do you think you would have done something like this again?" Carmack honestly replied, "yes, I probably would have done that again." The man then said "you know, it's not very smart to tell someone you're going to go do a crime again."

    "I said, 'if I hadn't been caught,' goddamn it!" Carmack spent a year in a juvenile home. Most of the kids were in for drugs. Carmack was in for an Apple II.

    After finishing high school, Carmack studied computer programming for two semesters at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, but dropped out. "It just didn't seem all that worthwhile," Carmack later said. "In hindsight, I could have gotten more out of it than I did, but I hadn't acquired a really good attitude towards learning from all possible sources yet." Carmack worked as a freelance programmer for a time, but found making money difficult. He was then hired by Softdisk, a company based in Shreveport, Louisiana, to program games for their monthly subscription service. It was at Softdisk that he met future id Software co-founders John Romero, Adrian Carmack (no relation), and Tom Hall.

    Softdisk and id

    It was also at Softdisk that Carmack developed the graphical breakthrough which would be instrumental in the creation of his first successful game. Carmack came up with a method that allowed PCs to mimic the smooth scrolling of so many console platform games of the era. Tom Hall, John Romero and John Carmack used this new technique as the foundation for Commander Keen, a side-scrolling platforming game which was distributed as shareware by Apogee Software (later 3D Realms). In the wake of Commander Keen's considerable success, Carmack, along with Tom Hall, John Romero, and Adrian Carmack, departed Softdisk to form id Software, which was officially founded on February 1st, 1991.

    John Carmack at work
    John Carmack at work

    An early id game, Hovertank 3D, is referred to by id's website as "the first 3D PC game ever!" This claim is open to dispute, but Hovertank 3D was certainly noteworthy for its graphics engine. With it, Carmack pioneered a technique in which the computer would only render the area which was visible to the player, rather than the entire level. This conserved processor power, which could then be devoted to more detailed graphics. This technique was instrumental in the later creation of the first extremely popular first-person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, which was released by id on May 5, 1992. Carmack and id would follow up the success of Wolfenstein with Doom in December of 1993. Doom was powered by Carmack's Doom engine, also known as id Tech 1. This same engine powered the sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth, which was released in October of 1994.

    For 1996's Quake, Carmack developed another engine, the Quake engine, which represented another significant step forward for first-person shooters. The engine allowed for preprocessing and pre-rendering of the 3D environment, reducing the amount of processing and improving overall speed and performance, and brought with it innovations in lighting as well.

    Carmack continued to develop game engines for id games, designing id Tech 2 for Quake II, id Tech 3 for Quake III: Arena, and id Tech 4 for 2004's Doom 3, which featured unified lighting and shadowing.

    His most recent engine is called id Tech 5, and will be used to power Doom 4 and Rage, a game for PCs and consoles which combines driving and shooting action in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-inspired setting.

    End of An Era

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    Carmack resigned from id Software in November 22, 2013 to focus his time at Oculus VR, a company he joined in August. Being a true believer in virtual reality, Carmack had been an instrumental part of the Oculus Rift headgear from the start. He helped popularize the device before Oculus became a company, and before its successful Kickstarter project. Originally, Carmack wanted to divide his duty in both companies but it proved to be impossible and so he made a bold decision to leave the company to work at Oculus full-time. He was at id for 22 years.

    "I wanted to remain a technical adviser for Id, but it just didn't work out. Probably for the best, as the divided focus was challenging."

    - John Carmack's tweet after leaving id

    "John Carmack, who has become interested in focusing on things other than game development at id, has resigned from the studio. John's work on id Tech 5 and the technology for the current development work at id is complete, and his departure will not affect any current projects. We are fortunate to have a brilliant group of programmers at id who worked with John and will carry on id's tradition of making great games with cutting-edge technology. As colleagues of John for many years, we wish him well."

    - A statement from Tim Willits, id's Studio Director

    "Best wishes to John – onward and upward!"

    - John Romero, Creative Director at Loot Drop and co-founder of id Software

    "I expect awesome things as a result of this. Can't wait to see the true next-gen emerge out of this collaboration. Best wishes for John and Oculus."

    - American McGee, CEO of Spicy Horse and former Level Designer of id Software

    Carmack and His Codings

    His job, his world
    His job, his world

    Carmack is an advocate of open-source software. He has made id Tech 1, 2, and 3 available for download and has stated that eventually id Tech 4 and id Tech 5 will be open source as well. He is opposed to the notion of software patents, saying,

    "The idea that I can be presented with a problem, set out to logically solve it with the tools at hand, and wind up with a program that could not be legally used because someone else followed the same logical steps some years ago and filed for a patent on it is horrifying."

    He is also known for refusing to provide projected release dates during game development, frequently responding to inquiries about when a game will be released with, "When it's done."

    Carmack has also dabbled in the development of mobile titles. He was frustrated with what he saw as the poor quality of mobile games after receiving a cell phone from his wife, machinima producer and Fountainhead CEO Katherine Anna Kang. He has since worked to develop two successful mobile games, Doom RPG and Orcs & Elves.

    He is driven more by a love for programming itself than by a love for games, saying in a 2000 interview,

    "In the gaming industry, there are a lot of people that are specifically in it because they love games and they want to create things. My love for programming is a more abstract thing. I'm taking a great deal of enjoyment writing device drivers for Linux. I could also be having a good time writing a database manager or something because there are always interesting problems. There are some things that are inherently more rewarding than others. Graphics and games are probably the most generally rewarding area of programming."

    He also spoke, in the context of Quake III, about his philosophy surrounding designing games, and what he feels sets him apart from a number of other designers.

    "Specifically what we set out to do with Quake 3 was just a completely eyes-wide-open-focus on the game just being fun while you're playing it. There's no sense of hubris about the grand design or anything about it, or trying to impose a story or a tale on top of all this. It's looking at a game in its fundamental sense of what you're doing has to be fun. It's not a matter of beating the game into submission or accomplishing something, the actions have to be fun. There has to be something that you wanna just go out and do. People don't play softball because they want to beat the game of softball; it has to be an action that's fun by itself. I think that we succeeded in a lot of ways there.

    Unlike many people in the games industry, I have absolutely zero desire to be making movies that go on the computer. And that's the downfall of a lot of companies. A lot of game designers wish they were directors, but I think you should make up your mind. And I'm clearly in the game designer part, rather than the director part."

    When asked about his reaction regarding former id co-founder John Romero's calling the Zenimax deal "disgusting," (which he apologized on his Twitter account) Carmack's response was:

    "(Long pause) You know, it would take me a long while to formulate a real answer to that. John likes...well, let's just say he's probably happy people are mentioning his name so much. That's all I really have to say about that."

    Additional Info

    • Since youth, Carmack developed a unique speech impediment, adding a short, robotic "mmm..." humming sound to the end of his sentences.
    • He started wearing glasses since before he was one year old.
    • His favorite "programming" food is pizza and diet coke and to this day, he has the same delivery guy from Domino's Pizza delivering pizzas to his office everyday and they still charge him 1995 price.
    • Carmack was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame in 2001, and, as a founder of id Software, was presented with two Emmy Awards in 2007.
    • In addition to his work as a game designer, Carmack is also the founder and lead engineer of Armadillo Aerospace.
    • He has studied judo and jujitsu.
    • During the early id years, Carmack had a cat named Mitzi from his stepfamily. He was very attached to his cat that his co-workers listed her on the company directory as his significant other. Sadly though, Carmack took her to the animal shelter when she peed all over his brand-new leather couch.
    • His favorite id Software game is Quake III: Arena.
    • John met his wife Katherine Anna Kang when she organized the first all-female Quake tournament.
    • In the movie adaption of Doom, released in 2005, the names of the fictional scientists Dr. Todd Carmack and Dr. Willits are references to Todd Hollenshead, John Carmack and Tim Willits, co-owners of id Software, and developers of the Doom franchise.

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