By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"I tell you, it's almost not fair to the rest of the industry," boasts id's vice president of marketing, Mike Wilson. Id has a lock on Dallas' prized talent in an extremely lucrative computer-game specialty, 3-D programming, which overall lacks good talent. One of the company's founders, John Carmack, is regarded as one of the top 3-D-games programmers in the world. Recently, id stole away another highly respected talent in this area, Michael Abrash, from Bill himself--from Microsoft's games division.
Based in Mesquite, id's original founders, Adrian Carmack, John Carmack (no relation), and John Romero--all still in their 20s--created the 3-D graphics technology and gunshot-induced blood carnage that scads of other games, including Apogee's Duke, have copied and improved upon.
"We like to think we're always a year or two ahead of everybody on what's coming in 3-D [computer games]," says Wilson. Regarding his company's upcoming game, Quake: "We're pretty sure we'll set a new standard," he says. "Hopefully, companies will be copying it for a couple of years like they did with Doom, and we'll be on to the next thing."
You really can't blame the competitors. Id's most popular creation, Doom, earned the 13-person company a reported $10 million in 1994 and maybe as much as $20 million last year alone. (These numbers are derived from industry sources and sales estimates. Id, a privately held firm, chooses not to reveal its earnings.) There's a very good chance that if you regularly play games on your computer, Doom is installed somewhere on your hard disk.
Several companies and universities banned Doom from their computer networks--where groups of people could play, each person traveling his own path in the game's world and thereby communally whiling away the workday.
Doom is so popular that Hollywood wants to turn it into a movie. (Hey, it worked, at the box office at least, for Mortal Kombat.) Director Ivan Reitman (Junior, Ghostbusters) plans to produce the Universal feature, which is set for possible release for this year's holiday season. Tom Berenger is being considered for the starring role. Never mind that Doom, the game, has no plot to speak of (you run through the subterranean caverns of Hell, blowing away demons).
Much has been written about id and Doom, most of it fawning, deconstructing how the company made its millions--initially through shareware distribution. The first "levels" of Doom were offered free for the downloading--then, once hooked, Doom junkies had to cough up cash for more levels. The few criticisms raised have concerned the violence depicted in Doom. The game's virtual brutality and astonishing success is, after all, to a large part responsible for the computer- and video-games industry's self-imposed ratings system after congressional hearings condemning video-game violence were held two summers ago.
Id is to computer games what Quentin Tarantino is to movies: an unrepentant purveyor of violence and damned successful at it. And if Dallas has only a minimal digital culture, Texas' overarching romance with the Wild West may be living large in the success of these games. Texas loves its guns, and though id's founders are transplants to the state, "Violent games didn't come about for them until they got together in Texas," Wilson muses.
"Maybe it's part of the Texas culture that you just do what you do and don't worry what the rest of the world thinks about it," he says. "That could have something to do with what has become known in the industry as our 'iditude': We don't give a shit what anybody thinks--we're just going to keep making our games."
Stockbrokers and headhunters making cold calls should hang up now. We are not interested, and you only piss us off when you ignore this message and ring through
--message on id's automated voice-mail
When you visit a company with this kind of attitude, you might expect to see architecture with fortress motifs or maybe a converted armory; a complex out in the middle of nowhere that would've made David Koresh proud, with a gun range or survivalist school nearby; an environment that would have obviously influenced and shaped this magic little company's success, controversy, and influence.
Instead, id dwells in an unassuming office building that looks like a giant black cube, which it shares with several other tenants. Worse, it's smack in the middle of Mesquite's suburban sprawl, amid shopping-center strips, fast-food joints and a mall, Town East. The only gun in sight is a plastic mock Gatling gun barrel--mounted to the front of an employee's Mitsubishi cargo van.
A few questions deepen the disappointment--nobody at the company is a firearm aficionado. The only employee who owns a real gun is the secretary.
Considering all the media attention, you'd think that it was id that created the first-person virtual-reality shooter. Actually, this basic video-game idea has been around since 12 years ago. Back then, the action was fairly benign; for example, in one game called Faceball, you'd run through mazes to hunt down "happy-faced" spheres and shoot balls at them. No one tried to make a game where you could gun down human enemies who screamed and bled in agony. If only for the technological limitations at the time, that was unthinkable.