John Romero on Testing Games, Backlash Against Devs & Doom Legacy

Doom creator John Romero discussed the reasons why devs often get negative feedback from players, spoke about the key elements to the success of a title, and shared that it was his team who first invited people to test games.

During a recent The House of The Dev podcast, John Romero, best known as a co-founder of id Software and designer for many of the studio's games, including Doom and Quake, spoke about his career as a game designer and how to create a successful game and discussed how Doom has influenced the industry.

One of the first questions from the hosts was about the backlash developers often get from players and journalists these days. Romero believes that one of the reasons for that could be the fact that people are used to constantly releasing new games, including free ones  – and with such a flow, some players start to appreciate them and their creators less.

Romero also noted that development is a very complex process, and the appearance of the game itself is comparable to a miracle. Therefore, he tries not to pay attention to the possible hate and enjoy the process of creation.

"I don't really get into the negative press stuff because as a dev I already know how hard it is," Romero shared. "So you can go ahead and rip on somebody's game but when you run it you can see how much work went into it and you know there's a lot of reasons why things go wrong when you're making a game that players will never understand."

Romero also believes that releasing a game too early can be one of the factors why players can be unhappy with the result. He added that developers are not always to blame for the final quality of the project as they often can be pressured by upper management which wants, for example, to fulfill the quarterly plan at a cost of the game's quality. As an example, the game designer cited Cyberpunk 2077 which was released ahead of time.

"A lot of games are like 'If we just had a month, you know, one more month.' It's like Cyberpunk," the developer said. "I had been looking forward to that game for a long time and when it came out and I saw the issues around the game I didn't get it. I didn't get it because I was gonna wait until they fixed it because I knew it was gonna be a really great game when they finally had the time to polish it."

Speaking of a game's quality, Romero shared that he thinks the key element to the success of a title is a core loop because people launch a game to enjoy the process, and when this process is boring, playing it doesn't make sense.

Towards the end of the interview, Romero discussed Doom and its legacy. The developer shared that he believes that it was his team that first invited people to test games that happened during the development of Doom. Romero told the hosts that when a gamer started playing the game, he sat nearby and watched the tester go through, making some notes. This helped the developers fix issues with level design and deliver a better experience for the Doom players.

According to Romero, soon other teams began to conduct similar tests: for example, Valve. Moreover, the developer says that he personally explained to Gabe Newell why game designers are needed in a team and how to recruit a team to create a shooter.

Romero also recalled that it was in Doom that they redefined the approach to the arsenal, making every weapon useful. Before that, according to the developer, players often didn't use the current weapon, finding something which is more powerful.

"With Doom, it was like 'We need to have a bunch of weapons and none of them can eradicate any other weapon.' and you know even when weapons use the same ammo which is how you wipe out a weapon right there has to be a reason for that weapon to use ammo in a special way that keeps the other version of the weapon right," Romero said. "So you have a pistol and you have a chain gun – they both use bullets – but the chain gun is a high rate of speed and it is more random so it's hard to hit exactly what you're trying to shoot. Then the pistol is less fast but you were very on target for the pistol."

Romero also believes that Doom has contributed to the popularization of mods and multiplayer, the emergence of a community of speedrunners and eSports, as well as the release of demos. The developer shared that while releasing Doom, id Software contacted small publishers and offered them to distribute the first episode of the game. The developers did not profit from this, but the game appeared in stores and inntrigued the public, who then bought the full version.

You can find the full podcast here

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