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The Self-Made Man: John Romero

This week’s Self Made Men returns to the tech community, but this week’s entry is more old-school than usual. We here at TSB fondly remember downloading the shareware version of DOOM and, a few years later, buying and installing all four million floppy disks of DOOM II and playing it for hours. Even now, there’s a certain charm to killing heavily pixelated zombie soldiers in a hellscape filled with radioactive slime.

Some of us are old enough to remember the original Castle Wolfenstein, which awakened us to the gratifying experience of killing Nazis.

What I’m getting at is that the company that made those games, Id Software, was a revolutionary force in gaming. It was also built on the labor of entrepreneurs, especially this week’s Self Made Man, John Romero.

Romero co-founded Id with John Carmack, Tom Hall, and Adrian Carmack, who isn’t related to John, oddly enough. The four of them met through work (then as now, the video games industry is fairly small), and decided to make their own games. They met with disappointment early on when Nintendo refused to help them develop PC titles.

Undaunted, the four continued to work on their personal projects, often using work computers after hours for this purpose. By grinding away and making lots of simple games, they figured out how to improve gaming technologies for PCs, which were still fairly primitive in the late 1980s. By the time they quit their day jobs and formed Id Software in 1991, they were ready to make a splash.

The Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM franchises brought significant upgrades to 3D computer graphics technology, as well as custom in-game graphics and processing engines that saw heavy use throughout the rest of the industry.

Romero, being the lead game designer, was at the forefront of all this creation, especially because he’s the one who brought the original Id team together in the first place. He was the executive producer for a couple of Id’s more obscure titles (Heretic and Hexen, anyone?) and also wrote most of the tools his team used to make their games.

Romero’s work, as well as that of his friends, introduced first-person shooters and multiplayer gaming to the world, which are two major components of modern video games, and he also bolstered the idea of shareware by being an early supporter of it; Wolfenstein and the first DOOM game were both distributed as shareware.

Granted, Romero has made some missteps along the way (*coughDaikatanacough*), but he’s still an active member of the video game industry, having started companies like Monkeystone and Ion Storm, and taking the lead on projects for developers like Midway and publications like Gamesauce and Retro Gamer.

I’ll leave you with this clip of John Romero, in all of his long-haired weirdo glory, talking about his start in the industry and reminiscing about the good old days of gaming.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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