8 Lessons from Masters of Doom

Takeaways from the most notoriously successful video game franchise in history

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Games Create Novel Worlds

Gamers overlooked the crudeness for what the games implied: a novelistic and participatory experience, a world.

Though Carmack was not aware of it, he was joining a pursuit that had begun thousands of years before. The dream of a realistic, immersive, interactive experience had consumed humankind for millennia. Some believed it to be a primal desire. Dating from 15,000 b.c.e., cave paintings in Lascaux, in the south of France, were considered to be among the first “immersive environments,” with images that would give the inhabitant the feeling of entering another world.

This belief has existed since ancient Greece, when Plato said, “Every man and woman should play the noblest games and be of another mind from what they are at present.

Don’t Wait for the Muse

Carmack didn’t believe in waiting for the muse. He decided it was more efficient to use other people’s ideas.

All of science and technology and culture and learning and academics is built upon using the work that others have done before, Carmack thought. But to take a patenting approach and say it’s like, well, this idea is my idea, you cannot extend this idea in any way, because I own this idea — it just seems so fundamentally wrong. Patents were jeopardizing the very thing that was central to his life: writing code to solve problems. If the world became a place in which he couldn’t solve a problem without infringing on someone’s patents, he would be very unhappy living there.

Create What You Know

Mario, this was not. As a hero, an eight-year-old misfit who steals his dad’s Everclear for rocket fuel was more identifiable than a middle-aged Italian plumber. It was as if the gamers had followed that golden rule of writing about what they knew.

Start with Research

Carmack began the project as he often did, by reading as much research material as he could gather. He paid thousands of dollars for textbooks and papers, but everything was purely academic.

I will likely make week long research excursions a fairly regular thing during non-crunch time. Once a quarter sounds about right.

Learn to Love the Process

Many game developers are in it only for the final product, and the process is just what they have to go through to get there. I respect that, but my motivation is a bit different. For me, while I do take a lot of pride in shipping a great product, the achievements along the way are more memorable.

Barriers Just Aren’t There

In the information age, the barriers just aren’t there,” he said. “The barriers are self-imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.

Small Teams Win

For any given project,” he posted in his .plan file online, “there is some team size beyond which adding more people will actually cause things to take longer. This is due to loss of efficiency from chopping up problems, communication overhead, and just plain entropy. It’s even easier to reduce quality by adding people. I contend that the max programming team size for id is very small.

The Metaverse is Coming

The end effect, Fisher wrote in 1989, is a “kind of electronic persona. For interactive theater or interactive fantasy applications, these styles might range from fantasy figures to inanimate objects, or different figures to different people. Eventually, telecommunication networks may develop that will be configured with virtual environment servers for users to dial into remotely in order to interact with each other’s virtual proxies. . . . The possibilities of virtual realities, it appears, are as limitless as the possibilities of reality. They can provide a human interface that disappears — as a doorway to other worlds.”

Written by

Growth at Hugo. Previously data science at Squarespace. Writing here now: https://www.conordewey.com

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