Ion Storm's Dallas office, rocked by political in-fighting (which led to a near-complete walk-out of Romero's Daikatana team) was closed in 2001 by Eidos following a bail-out deal in which the publisher had acquired a controlling interest in the hemorrhaging game company. The company flag was then moved to Austin, Texas, where industry veteran Warren Spector had been hired in 1997 to create a small arm of Ion Storm away from the tumult to the north. Spector's team had succeeded where Ion Storm's other designers had failed, creating the critically acclaimed, best-selling science-fiction action/adventure game, Deus Ex. Spector then presided over a sequel to Deus Ex and a long-awaited follow up to Looking Glass Studios' Thief games, before parting ways with the company to pursue other interests. Ion Storm was closed for good in 2005.
After leaving Ion Storm, John Romero founded his own company, Monkeystone, with former girlfriend and game industry icon, Stevie Case. There, the pair, with Tom Hall, produced games for the mobile phone market, until Romero joined San Diego-based Midway, long-time maker of arcade games such Spy Hunter and Mortal Kombat. For Midway, Romero developed a follow-up to the successful arcade game Gauntlet and a PS2 remake of Area 51. Romero has since left Midway to found a new company, tentatively called Slipgate Ironworks, which has recently begun hiring programmers and artists to work on a new, super secret massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), which the man himself has called "super stealth," and which he promises will be bigger than anything he's ever made. Looking back over his resume, one has to wonder how such a thing is even possible.
The Escapist recently spoke with John Romero about his past, his present and his mysterious future.
The Escapist: So, let's start off by going back to the heady days of Castle Wolfenstein 3D and Doom shareware releases. There's a lot of ink being sacrificed right now on the topic of "indie" or "scratchware" development, and comparisons to id's success story have been made more than once. Back in those days, just before the entire universe became your playground, did you guys see yourselves as "indie" game developers?
John Romero: Yeah, we definitely saw ourselves as indies, but it wasn't something we focused on - we were just doing our own thing. We developed our games in a pretty non-disciplined and non-organized way because so much of it was R&D. We were lucky that our first game trilogy sold well enough to afford us indeterminate [development] cycles on our games, which then fed the next game's dev cycle; it's not something many indies can do. We were also very active in trying to help other small game dev teams make great games (Raven, Rogue, Ritual, Valve).
TE: All of the id guys, but especially you, pretty much defined the role of "Rockstar Game Designer." A lot of us who've been playing games (including yours) for most of our lives have thought at one time or another that it would be nice to be John Romero. Who does John Romero want to be?
JR: I like being me, actually. I want to continue doing things I consider fun. As do we all. I still love developing games and as a daily job it just cannot be beat. No matter how much bitching you hear from overworked game employees, the work definitely beats just about any other job for the kind of work you do and the salary and benefits you can get. I've worked beyond insane hours and have loved every minute of it. You have to really love game development to go through that. Especially for 27 years.