Friday, July 8, 2011

Doom Generation

A somewhat fictional biography told in five parts (not chronologically) of perhaps the most influence computer game programmer of the last 20 years, John Carmack.  He grew up in Overland Park and went to college at the same place I did.

Everything here was taken from actual events that I was not at, and I took a lot of care to walk a fine line between fiction and non-fiction.  Although a lot of these quotes are real, I limited my research on purpose because I didn't want the facts to get in the way of a fun read.  I've never actually met John Carmack, so my apologies if he comes off a little like Patrick Bateman ala "American Psycho."

Los Angeles, 1994

Ponytails on fat men, 20-year olds dressed as elves, Archers, Argonauts, insider men from Intel wearing tie-less suits with the top two buttons far away from the buttonhole, and flannelled hackers that snuck past the guards. They all hold plates of finger food and have “Hello” squares clipped onto neck-dangling lanyards resting on their bellies.  They scream toward the stage saturated with cellophane-covered lights.  The podium where HE will set the few papers with his speech is surrounded by fog.  These pony-tailed men sent to Los Angeles for work – ha! – start a feverish bounce up and down to the cardiac techno.

Oh, and the booth babes.  The ones hired for their suburban Rotterdam accents to wear bikinis and sex these virginal men up for hours – well they don’t care, even if this place is louder than the Spearmint Rhino on a Saturday.  The girls just heave their tops forward – with id Software printed on that skimpy top – and sashay through hooting crowds of yellow-teethed men with plates of cocktail wieners.  One booth babe – god bless her soul – tries to talk to a stringy man with an awkward hotel-shampoo part in his hair, but he just points up to the podium and starts doing some sort sideways pogo hop.

The stage lights go out.

“He gave a speech once at Microsoft,” some guy says to another.

“Heard Gates said he could still write cleaner source code then him."

They both laugh and the spot light comes on.

Through the stage-right portico, John Carmack emerges.  The lead-programmer of DOOM and DOOM 2.  Sure he designed the game engine for WolfensteinThe Wolfenstein, The original first-person shooter.  But c’mon, that was just killing Nazi’s with machine guns, not Doom with a space-marine trekking through a Martian portal that leads to Hell and those spike-shouldered demons that need to be splattered with plasma rifles, chainsaws, and rocket launchers.  Oh, and the BFG 9000.  The Big Fucking Gun 9000 – or if your mom asks, the Bio- Force Gun …or whatever.  Damn that gun can shoot.  PC Gamer’s number-one video game weapon of all time.  One-hundred and eighty damage per round! 

There he is walking across the stage with the same dumb part in his hair as everyone else.  And there’s a lanyard swinging over that tucked-in cotton button-up.  He’s got a lanyard too!  But there’s no name tag attached . . . of course!  Everybody knows Big Fucking Carmack! 

Sweet Martian marine base!  Who wouldn’t give their Freon-cooled IBM with an over-clocked Intel 486DX4 just to strut like that across the Los Angeles Convention Center stage?  Well, those booth babes, but even they are looking up from their fingernails to this skinny man who has brought this crowd to a middle-class riot. 

The audience’s mouths, already slackened from hours of having cheese-cubes fisted into them, somehow gape even further.  The mass quiets in reverence, and Carmack clears his throat in the podium’s microphone.

God these are the times!

Shawnee Mission, Ks., 1984

John Carmack stares across to the tweed-suited psychiatrist tapping his pen against a notebook. 

“My parents can’t afford to buy a computer,” Carmack says.

“Had you not been caught, would you consider doing it again?” the psychiatrist says.

“My parents can’t afford to by a computer,” Carmack says.  “Probably.”

“Why do you want a computer, you’re only 14?”

“I’m smarter than everyone at school, classmates, teachers, everyone.  I just want to program all day, not be in woodshop.”

“Do you understand that by stealing computers, you are depriving students like yourself of their ability to program?”

“I don’t care.”

The psychiatrist does a little half-swivel in his chair and jots down Carmack’s quotes, but omits the ‘had you been caught’ line from the State of Kansas Evaluation form issued by the court. 

“John,” he says, “You have shown no empathy for other human beings.  I am going to ask that you be but in a juvenile home for at least one year.”

Dallas, 2007

Another rousing moment at Quakecon 2007.  The 7,000 of twenty something’s – 2,700 of which brought their home computers – who grew up playing Quake have torn themselves away from the worlds largest LAN party to hear John Carmack announce id Software’s newest game, Rage. 

The video for it with tanks running over big dudes with super-shotguns, boils up the crowd.  The bass thuds of mortar shells outside of some snow base on a distant world causes one man to seize into a dolphin screech.  The explosions and that melodramatic symphony music which always has too much timpani, shakes the auditorium. 

Carmack comes out after trailer for Rage to even louder hoots.  Like kissing your grandma after a night in Amsterdam, Carmack’s squeaky voice is such a let down after the video. 

He talks for twenty minutes then gets a modest applause.  The audience leaves the room quickly, so they can return back to the yearly LAN-orgy known as Quakecon, and play the best-selling multiplayer game of all time.

New Mexico, 2008

Carmack stands in front of an American flag in the pressroom of Holloman Air Force Base.  “The work that I do in video games is more difficult than the work I do for aerospace.”  The crowd laughs, and then a man – a NASA engineer or something – hands over one of those oversized trophy-checks written for $350,000. 

Since he founded Armadillo Aerospace in 2000, Carmack does all the speaking at their press conferences.  Until this one, they had mostly been about problems during test flights.  But even today, as NASA’s 2008 Lunar Landing Challenge winner, the Armadillo Aerospace spokesman looks unsatisfied. 

A crowd of at least 30,000 had gathered out in the New Mexican sun to watch the competition.  Teams of international physicists and engineers have each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a rocket that should lift off from a thirty square-foot platform, cross 100 yards of Alamogordo desert to land on a platform of the same size, and then return back to the launch pad it started.  Each team gets three opportunities to complete the roundtrip, and at least two flights must be successful to win.    

The winning check from NASA won’t cover the millions Carmack has spent during the last three years.  The victory, in front of 30,000 rocket scientists and engineers doesn’t make him smile in the Holloman pressroom, because he knows he’s going to have to win for at least the next couple of years. 

“I don’t pursue anything unless I think I can money off it.” 
           
Dallas, 1995

“I don’t have any problem with police,” Carmack says in his Testarossa.

Like any Ferrari collector, most of Carmack’s are red.  When he induces that 600 horse power engine under that poly-plastic frame down Dallas’ LBJ Expressway, his blond ponytail nearly curls itself onto the top of his head. 

The designer of the most popular first-person shooter of all time, DOOM II, drives out into the Texas plains listening to the mix Trent Reznor made for Carmack’s upcoming game, Quake.  There are already unrealistic expectations for Quake.  Surpassing the sales of the DOOM series would be like trying to win a tennis match against a brick wall. 

He turns the soundtrack up.  DOOM’s given him enough money to retire at 25, so why does he spend his nights driving Ferrari’s?  That stupid Quake game.  It’s going to be impossible to get the pixel resolution high enough with the current 3-D engine. 

He nearly rear ends a minivan driving down the right lane.   At 130 miles-per-hour, who can be expected to think?

2 comments:

  1. wow great post! cant wait for more...
    +followed

    ReplyDelete
  2. +followed. Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete

Friday, July 8, 2011

Doom Generation

A somewhat fictional biography told in five parts (not chronologically) of perhaps the most influence computer game programmer of the last 20 years, John Carmack.  He grew up in Overland Park and went to college at the same place I did.

Everything here was taken from actual events that I was not at, and I took a lot of care to walk a fine line between fiction and non-fiction.  Although a lot of these quotes are real, I limited my research on purpose because I didn't want the facts to get in the way of a fun read.  I've never actually met John Carmack, so my apologies if he comes off a little like Patrick Bateman ala "American Psycho."

Los Angeles, 1994

Ponytails on fat men, 20-year olds dressed as elves, Archers, Argonauts, insider men from Intel wearing tie-less suits with the top two buttons far away from the buttonhole, and flannelled hackers that snuck past the guards. They all hold plates of finger food and have “Hello” squares clipped onto neck-dangling lanyards resting on their bellies.  They scream toward the stage saturated with cellophane-covered lights.  The podium where HE will set the few papers with his speech is surrounded by fog.  These pony-tailed men sent to Los Angeles for work – ha! – start a feverish bounce up and down to the cardiac techno.

Oh, and the booth babes.  The ones hired for their suburban Rotterdam accents to wear bikinis and sex these virginal men up for hours – well they don’t care, even if this place is louder than the Spearmint Rhino on a Saturday.  The girls just heave their tops forward – with id Software printed on that skimpy top – and sashay through hooting crowds of yellow-teethed men with plates of cocktail wieners.  One booth babe – god bless her soul – tries to talk to a stringy man with an awkward hotel-shampoo part in his hair, but he just points up to the podium and starts doing some sort sideways pogo hop.

The stage lights go out.

“He gave a speech once at Microsoft,” some guy says to another.

“Heard Gates said he could still write cleaner source code then him."

They both laugh and the spot light comes on.

Through the stage-right portico, John Carmack emerges.  The lead-programmer of DOOM and DOOM 2.  Sure he designed the game engine for WolfensteinThe Wolfenstein, The original first-person shooter.  But c’mon, that was just killing Nazi’s with machine guns, not Doom with a space-marine trekking through a Martian portal that leads to Hell and those spike-shouldered demons that need to be splattered with plasma rifles, chainsaws, and rocket launchers.  Oh, and the BFG 9000.  The Big Fucking Gun 9000 – or if your mom asks, the Bio- Force Gun …or whatever.  Damn that gun can shoot.  PC Gamer’s number-one video game weapon of all time.  One-hundred and eighty damage per round! 

There he is walking across the stage with the same dumb part in his hair as everyone else.  And there’s a lanyard swinging over that tucked-in cotton button-up.  He’s got a lanyard too!  But there’s no name tag attached . . . of course!  Everybody knows Big Fucking Carmack! 

Sweet Martian marine base!  Who wouldn’t give their Freon-cooled IBM with an over-clocked Intel 486DX4 just to strut like that across the Los Angeles Convention Center stage?  Well, those booth babes, but even they are looking up from their fingernails to this skinny man who has brought this crowd to a middle-class riot. 

The audience’s mouths, already slackened from hours of having cheese-cubes fisted into them, somehow gape even further.  The mass quiets in reverence, and Carmack clears his throat in the podium’s microphone.

God these are the times!

Shawnee Mission, Ks., 1984

John Carmack stares across to the tweed-suited psychiatrist tapping his pen against a notebook. 

“My parents can’t afford to buy a computer,” Carmack says.

“Had you not been caught, would you consider doing it again?” the psychiatrist says.

“My parents can’t afford to by a computer,” Carmack says.  “Probably.”

“Why do you want a computer, you’re only 14?”

“I’m smarter than everyone at school, classmates, teachers, everyone.  I just want to program all day, not be in woodshop.”

“Do you understand that by stealing computers, you are depriving students like yourself of their ability to program?”

“I don’t care.”

The psychiatrist does a little half-swivel in his chair and jots down Carmack’s quotes, but omits the ‘had you been caught’ line from the State of Kansas Evaluation form issued by the court. 

“John,” he says, “You have shown no empathy for other human beings.  I am going to ask that you be but in a juvenile home for at least one year.”

Dallas, 2007

Another rousing moment at Quakecon 2007.  The 7,000 of twenty something’s – 2,700 of which brought their home computers – who grew up playing Quake have torn themselves away from the worlds largest LAN party to hear John Carmack announce id Software’s newest game, Rage. 

The video for it with tanks running over big dudes with super-shotguns, boils up the crowd.  The bass thuds of mortar shells outside of some snow base on a distant world causes one man to seize into a dolphin screech.  The explosions and that melodramatic symphony music which always has too much timpani, shakes the auditorium. 

Carmack comes out after trailer for Rage to even louder hoots.  Like kissing your grandma after a night in Amsterdam, Carmack’s squeaky voice is such a let down after the video. 

He talks for twenty minutes then gets a modest applause.  The audience leaves the room quickly, so they can return back to the yearly LAN-orgy known as Quakecon, and play the best-selling multiplayer game of all time.

New Mexico, 2008

Carmack stands in front of an American flag in the pressroom of Holloman Air Force Base.  “The work that I do in video games is more difficult than the work I do for aerospace.”  The crowd laughs, and then a man – a NASA engineer or something – hands over one of those oversized trophy-checks written for $350,000. 

Since he founded Armadillo Aerospace in 2000, Carmack does all the speaking at their press conferences.  Until this one, they had mostly been about problems during test flights.  But even today, as NASA’s 2008 Lunar Landing Challenge winner, the Armadillo Aerospace spokesman looks unsatisfied. 

A crowd of at least 30,000 had gathered out in the New Mexican sun to watch the competition.  Teams of international physicists and engineers have each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a rocket that should lift off from a thirty square-foot platform, cross 100 yards of Alamogordo desert to land on a platform of the same size, and then return back to the launch pad it started.  Each team gets three opportunities to complete the roundtrip, and at least two flights must be successful to win.    

The winning check from NASA won’t cover the millions Carmack has spent during the last three years.  The victory, in front of 30,000 rocket scientists and engineers doesn’t make him smile in the Holloman pressroom, because he knows he’s going to have to win for at least the next couple of years. 

“I don’t pursue anything unless I think I can money off it.” 
           
Dallas, 1995

“I don’t have any problem with police,” Carmack says in his Testarossa.

Like any Ferrari collector, most of Carmack’s are red.  When he induces that 600 horse power engine under that poly-plastic frame down Dallas’ LBJ Expressway, his blond ponytail nearly curls itself onto the top of his head. 

The designer of the most popular first-person shooter of all time, DOOM II, drives out into the Texas plains listening to the mix Trent Reznor made for Carmack’s upcoming game, Quake.  There are already unrealistic expectations for Quake.  Surpassing the sales of the DOOM series would be like trying to win a tennis match against a brick wall. 

He turns the soundtrack up.  DOOM’s given him enough money to retire at 25, so why does he spend his nights driving Ferrari’s?  That stupid Quake game.  It’s going to be impossible to get the pixel resolution high enough with the current 3-D engine. 

He nearly rear ends a minivan driving down the right lane.   At 130 miles-per-hour, who can be expected to think?

2 comments:

  1. wow great post! cant wait for more...
    +followed

    ReplyDelete
  2. +followed. Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete