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Exclusively Games Interview with Doomguy

The Doom series has long been a cultural phenomenon, one that has transcended the world of gaming and garnered recognition in wider entertainment culture. The series revolutionized game design, and set a technical benchmark for game engines. It also made celebrities of the devs behind it – John Carmack, John Romero, American McGee – but the biggest celebrity of all, far eclipsing his creators was the Bane of Hell himself, Doomguy.

With the hotly anticipated Doom Eternal nearing release, I decided to get in touch with Doomguy and have a chat about the past, present and future of the Doom series, and what it’s been like living as the literal embodiment of ass-kicking.

I touched down at LAX on a sunny Friday afternoon, and after a restless, jet-lagged sleep, I jumped in an Uber the next morning and headed over to Manhattan Beach to meet Doomguy at his beachfront home. It’s a beautiful two-story building in the Spanish Hacienda style, and evokes an oddly calming aura, considering that it is the home of one of the most violent and dangerous people to ever exist. I was even more surprised when Doomguy himself answered the door – but as he later explained, when you have a habit of crushing the skulls of demons with your bare hands, you tend not to get uninvited guests.

Doomguy took me through to his second-story study overlooking the sparkling sand of Manhattan Beach. The walls and shelves were adorned with all sorts of Doom-related paraphernalia – a photo of Doomguy, Romero and Carmack at a bar & grill in Shreveport, Louisiana, an original Doom shotgun mounted on the wall, and even a pristine BFG 9000 in an ornate display case. As we sat down to begin our chat, Doomguy took a big cigar from a wooden box, engraved with the message “To our favorite Marine – thanks for all the inspiration and guidance. I hope you enjoy these – Sarge and the Quake 3 crew”. He was kind enough to offer me one, and as the air slowly filled with the aromatic smell of the finest tobacco, we began the interview.

The Interview:

Gavin: Doomguy, thanks much for letting Exclusively Games have this chat.

Doomguy: It’s my pleasure. Please, call me DG.

Gavin: Sure… well then, DG – Doom Eternal is coming soon – but where did it all begin?

Doomguy: Oh boy, you’re making me feel old man. You know, my first gig wasn’t actually Doom? Not a lot of people know that. I was actually working with Nintendo for a while, behind the scenes on Donkey Kong.

Gavin: Donkey Kong? Really?

Doomguy: Yep. That endless supply of barrels? I was haulin’ ass up and down scaffolding carrying those things. Hell of a job, but I got damn fit. Anyway, I was out for a drink with one of my buddies, BJ Blazkowicz, and he’s telling me he just landed this gig with these guys down in Louisiana for their game Wolfenstein 3D. He’s tellin’ me they’re the next big thing, blah, blah. Anyway, BJ was into the Budweisers pretty heavy that night, so I sort of congratulated him and left it at that. Next thing I know, he’s shirtless in the window of every computer store in the country, with his boot in the face of a Nazi. I was happy for him – he needed the break. The 2D platformer thing never really took off for him.

Well, you wouldn’t believe it, but a few months later, he gives me a call, tells me to come down to Shreveport, Louisiana. He’s says got some guys he wants me to meet for a job opportunity, bought me the plane ticket and all. So, I head down there, to the id Software offices and walk in on the biggest bunch of nerds I’ve ever seen.

Doomguy walks over to the bookshelf and picks up a small, framed photo to show me. It’s the photo above, of the id Software staff, way back in 1993.

Gavin: Did you get along?

Doomguy: Not so much at first, we were just too different. But then, one day I walk into the office and Promise Land by Crimson Glory is blasting on the stereo; and there’s Romero, standing on his desk, holding a keyboard and pretending to play it like a guitar while he’s whipping that long black hair back and forth. I freakin’ love Crimson Glory! So, I just go on and jump up there with him, doing my best air guitar. Me and Romero just clicked, and before long we were all best of friends.

Gavin: How did it all go once Doom was released? What happened to BJ?

Doomguy: Even before release day, we knew we were on to something. It was just so much fun to play! Romero has always said that he was the “model” for the guy on the front cover, but he’s so full of it. I mean, how does a programmer get a six-pack like that? They don’t. It’s all me baby.

As for BJ, things didn’t go so great for him. After Spear of Destiny he sort of went off the rails a little, got back into the booze. He had a sequel in the works with 3D Realms for a little while, but he kept showing up to work drunk, so they hired some new crew called HUNT and renamed it Rise of the Triad. It was a pretty rockin’ game actually – I had a bit of a thing with Thi Barrett for a while. That leather body suit? I mean, DAMN. But yea, BJ, he had a rough time for a while. Had a bit of a comeback in the early 2000s before he relapsed, but I’m really glad to see him back on his feet now.

Gavin: He’s definitely doing pretty well for himself now. Did you have any other big stars you used to hang out with?

Doomguy: Oh man, all of them. HUNT, Corvus and the Hexen guys, Caleb, Kyle Katarn, Lo Wang, and Duke Nukem of course.

Gavin: Was there a bit of rivalry with Duke?

Doomguy: It was all friendly rivalry. We were great friends, and Duke knew how to party. A little too well, it turns out. Duke, Lo Wang and I used to hit the clubs every week. Babes, booze, metal, it was never-ending. Duke couldn’t stop – he was in and out of rehab for years. I had my own struggles too. I just couldn’t stop smoking those blue soul spheres. The guys at id Software wanted me for the next game, but they just couldn’t rely on me. So, they hired some hotshot new guy, Ranger. He thought he was some big shot with all his polygons. That attitude backfired. Romero couldn’t stand him, and left id Software. Even id Software ditched Ranger in Quake II. The Q2 guys were a whole lot better, we got along quite well, being space marines and all.

Gavin: How about after that? You had a bit of a role in Quake III Arena.

Doomguy: Yea, in 1998, Epic showed up on the scene with Unreal, and then Unreal Tournament in 1999. Carmack gave me a call – I was clean by then – and said they needed me for a new project. I hit the gym hard, and before long I had a pretty nice set of polygons myself. I got the cast together and gave them a bit of an FPS master-class! Ranger had toned down his attitude by then, and we started to get along. In the end, I think we did a pretty good job.

A couple years later, I was out for lunch with Carmack and Tim Willits, and they pitched this idea for a next-gen Doom game. I was interested in trying something different, so I signed up straight away. I’ll admit, Doom 3 was different, but it was a nice change. But back then, it was all about that Gordon Freeman guy. Guy presses a few buttons and pulls a few levers and all of a sudden he’s a physicist.

Doomguy stood up and walked to the window, taking a long puff of his cigar before continuing.

Doomguy: They were some rough years. People weren’t interested in us dinosaurs anymore. They wanted “thinking” shooters, or they “modern” warfare. Duke finally made it out of rehab and tried to get back into the FPS game in about 2011, but he’d lost his touch. Not even the Unreal Tournament guys were getting much attention. Me and the id guys were playing with some ideas for another Doom game, but nothing really stuck.

Then, out of nowhere, HUNT got back together with a new team of devs and released Rise of the Triad. It went better than expected. I remember running into Thi Barrett – she hadn’t aged a day. Couple months later, Lo Wang gives me a call and invites me to a Shadow Warrior premiere. He’d stopped drinking by then, just kept to tea. He said he’d channeled his addiction into his work. Decapitating hordes of demons really helped, or so he said. Still had a filthy mouth on him though.

Gavin: So, there was a complete turn-around in the industry again. When did you decide to make your comeback?

Doomguy: It was actually my old buddy BJ. We hadn’t spoken in a few years, and I get this call, out of the blue. He said he’s getting back into work, and he’s looking for a gym buddy. So, we head down to Gold’s, and BJ – he’s looking good for an old guy. Could still bench them like back in the 90s. We get talking, and he tells me about his new game Wolfenstein: The New Order. He said I should give the industry another shot, that everyone is craving classic shooters again. Next thing I know, id has hooked me up with Marty Stratton and I’m covered in demon blood. The rest is history. Sure, you’ve still got those squeaky clean Fortnite types, and those Call of Duty sell-outs, but it turns out the industry is now big enough for the both of us.

Gavin: Amazing, and now Doom Eternal is one of this year’s most hotly anticipated releases. How does it feel being a household name again?

Doomguy: It’s good. The industry has changed, sure. But it’s nice to know that old dudes like me can still frag with the best of them. I think I’ll be crushing demon skulls for a while yet.

Gavin: I certainly hope so. DG, thanks for chatting to Exclusively Games.

Doomguy: No problem.