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The Undertow                                             Home
A column dedicated to sucking you into the muck and mire of gaming.

Why John Romero May Actually be Dead
Monday, August 31, 1998

Updated:  See bottom of article.

Aahhhhh, took a bit of a vacation from the rigors of the keyboard and the online hysteria of the gaming world.  Felt kind of good, invigorating.  Now it's back to business, friends.  And today's topic:  ego, hype, and John Romero.  Yeah, that looks good.  I think those three words meld together quite nicely.  You could almost call them synonyms.  Seems an appropriate time to address these triple crown terms of the gaming community.

The Adrenaline Vault recently reported the untimely death of John Romero, past Doom/Quake guy at id Software, and present Daikatana guy at Ion Storm.  Mode of death:  bullet through the brainpan.  Do you think they jumped the gun a bit? (no pun intended)  Oh, I think so.  Why?  Because you have to be the first with the scoop, bottom line.  Just print a retraction and that's that.  I guess the term "professional journalism" hasn't found its way to the internet yet . . . but that's a topic for another day.

In a nutshell, here is what the AVault wrote in their retraction:  The Adrenaline Vault retracts its previous news story about John Romero's death.  Noooo! . . . you really think he's alive?  Way to go AVault, keep up the good work!   Report any UFO landings lately?

Though the AVault may have been a wee bit premature concerning his physical death, John may actually be dying a slow professional death.   Now before all you news hounds go screaming "the sky is falling" in a rush to post a hot scoop, I'm speaking figuratively.  So calm down.  He's rotting away from the two terms closely linked to his name:  ego and hype.  Case in point, the following picture from Texas Monthly magazine that helped perpetuate this online silliness:

It's not real boys and girls.
Calm down AVault, he didn't get
killed again !

Hey, I dig the nerdy little Quake necklace.  Disco is dead dude.  Is this a case of ego?  Or just sick and morbid?  Probably a little of both, an indication of someone with too much time on their hands to promote himself.  Maybe John should spend a little less time yacking about Ferrari's, the anniversaries of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom II, Quake, Apple II reunions, and (insert material here that everyone knows or no one is interested in).

Let's throw a little more time into finishing up that development gem Daikatana.  Yeah, you know the one.  A 3D role-playing game with a plot . . . hmmmm, I smell several oxymorons there.  Daikatana has been in development (reportedly) for about 17 months now.  And guess what, the ship date was AGAIN pushed, this time to Q4 '98.  Eidos runs on fiscal quarters, so that means sometime around March '99.   Am I surprised?  Not a chance.  Are you?  At this point, I doubt it.  Eidos pushed the ship date this time.  I highly doubt it had to do with a shortage of cardboard for the boxes or a drought in the availability of jewel cases for the CDs.  Eidos knows what they're doing.  If anyone on the face of the Earth wanted Daikatana to ship by Christmas, it was Eidos.  So who's to blame?  Retracing our steps leads us to the overly posh penthouse offices of Ion Storm, and to the very door of Daikatana's Project Lead . . . Mr. John Romero.

According to John, "Design is Law", but so is the schedule.  He should stop hyping himself and his company, and finish the game before it becomes another has-been!  Sure, people will buy it up by the droves.  They'll slap it onto their machines for a weekend and oo-and-ah over it.  But in the end it will be another Unreal; cool, but tossed aside because it had become a has-been game.  Hmmmm . . . that wouldn't quite hold up to his mantra of "Design is Law."  But what does it matter, right?  He'll make his money, buy another Ferrari, and eventually yack about the anniversary of Daikatana.   He will have come full circle without moving forward.  Maybe John should take some lessons from one of the only companies out there that can deliver a bug free game, on time, and probably on budget:  LucasArts.   When was the last time you downloaded a patch or got shafted by a schedule pushback from them?!

Okay, let's give Daikatana the benefit of the doubt.  It has potential of being cool, and it looks hot . . . as hot as any 3D accelerated shooter can look in today's glutted market.  Hey, lets go check it out at their website, shall we?  So what is the first thing we are inundated with when we visit www.daikatana.com?   Information about the game we have come to seek?  Fat chance. You'll have to dig into the site to get that.  What we get is a flashy little Shockwave number promoting John and his gang rather than the game itself.

Here are the hype on the Daikatana team for those keeping score:

  • Designer/Project Lead (a.k.a. Master of Hype) - 1
  • Art Director (dreaming he had a Mac, wishing a goatee looked good on him) - 1
  • Programmers (check in the closet, behind the pizza boxes) - 9
  • Map Designers (architecture student dropouts) - 4
  • Music/Sound (yeah dude, I'm in a band!) - 1
  • Sound FX (shhh!  they'll never know these are canned sounds used on TV!) - 1
  • Artists (the guys driving VWs home to play on their Macs) - 9
  • Screenwriter (no doubt for the deep and complex two page plot) - 1
  • Producer (what do I do besides take up space?) - 1
  • Marketing (I thought that was John's job; ooooh, marketing the GAME) - 2

Grand total?  Thirty . . . yup, three-zero.  Now ask yourself.  Why does it take a team of 30 people, two years to make a game that began from a known, stable Quake 2 codebase . . . a codebase that John Romero was probably VERY familiar with?  Do textures really take that long?   Is the plot really more than a couple pages of script?  C'mon John!  Nose to the grindstone!  You guys have been around for two years with no original product to show for it.  I think those penthouse offices are making you guys soft.  Ion Storm isn't exactly riding a wave of success.  Dominion: Storm of Gift3 (a half finished product bought from 7th Level) didn't exactly burn up the charts.

Are people getting a little sick of John?  The gaming community has spoken.  A poll held over at Gamecenter (John Romero's favorite site, I'm sure) is asking whether the god of game design is overrated or underrated.  To date, approximately 10,500 votes have been tallied.  Results:  85%-overrated, 15%-underrated.   Hold on, let me get out my Stats 301 book.  Yeah, I think that 10,500 is a statistically significant population sample to call this a valid result.

Finally, as proof of John's way of thinking, I point out the slogan for his new 3D darling.  Daikatana:  Believe the Hype.  There it is, shoved right down your wide open throats.

If design truly is law, then I hope he proves me wrong and puts out a game that will become a classic and will be spoken in the same breath as the names Doom, Civilization, Final Fantasy, and the rest of the classics.  With his "designer" talents and large team, this should be a challenge he can handle.  If he can do this, I will post a retraction of his untimely professional death in exactly the same manner The Adrenaline Vault did, and everything will be just peachy.

And to all you conspiracy theorists out there attempting to link his recent "death" to Daikatana's coincidental pushback (building of hype), theorize away . . . hey, I love trailer park theories!

No matter what happens, John's not going to "make me his bitch" nor am I going to "suck it down" -- brilliant hype from the early Daikatana marketing campaign.

R.I.P. John.

~ Neal Ulen

Update (Nov, 98):  As a sign that "good things come to those who wait", almost the entire Daikatana development team quit Ion Storm during November and took jobs elsewhere, or formed their own companies.  So take the team listed above, place 0s in each position, and start from ground zero.  If this doesn't point to poor project leadership (and lack of confidence of the team members), I don't know what does.  I wish John luck in delivering Daikatana sometime before the turn of the century.   If you really want to now how to liscence the Quake II engine and make a game, go visit Valve.

Drop me an e-mail and let me know what you like and/or dislike about gaming, a particular title, or the industry in general.  As always, all (non-belligerent) criticism welcome!

The Undertow Copyright (c) 1998-99 Neal E. Ulen and GamesFirst!