From hell: a look at John Carmack's incredible and influential games

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John Carmack has left id Software. After helping found the company more than 20 years ago, where he helped craft experiences like Doom and Quake, Carmack has officially shifted his focus full time to virtual reality firm Oculus VR, where he'll serve as a chief technical officer. It's a position he originally took on back in August, but it seems that splitting his time between the two companies just wasn't working out. "The divided focus was challenging," he says. The move is perhaps not that surprising: Carmack has always had a fascination with building new technologies, making the Oculus Rift headset an ideal project.

"John's work on id Tech 5 and the technology for the current development work at id is complete, and his departure will not affect any current projects," id studio director Tim Willits told Polygon, referring to the game engine that will be used to power the in-development Doom 4. But while Carmack's time at id may be at an end, his influence will continue to be felt — here are some of his most important contributions.

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'Commander Keen' (1990)

Today id is best known for violent first-person shooters, but the studio's first notable release was actually a colorful platformer. As legend has it, when designer Tom Hall saw Carmack's new 2D engine, which allowed for smooth, Nintendo-style scrolling, the two spent a night building a Super Mario Bros. 3 clone for the PC. When John Romero, another id co-founder, saw the prank, he realized the potential of the engine — and the team would eventually use it to build the Commander Keen series.


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'Wolfenstein 3D'

In 1991 id developed a little known game called Catacomb 3-D: The Descent, which was quite possibly the first FPS ever made, and was the sequel to a pair of third-person shooters created by Carmack. But though the game may not be all that well remembered, the technology used to create that stunning first person perspective helped shape modern gaming — an improved version of the tech was used to build Wolfenstein 3D, a game that not only set the template for modern FPS titles, but also let you shoot Hitler.


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'Doom' (1993)

That same game engine would finally reach its zenith with the release of Doom. The seminal shooter put players in the role of a space marine, fighting demons and monsters across the moons of Mars and, eventually, through hell itself. It was scary and violent, blending elements of science fiction and horror. It was also a team effort: Carmack handled the bulk of the programming duties; Hall wrote the infamous Doom Bible, an elaborate world-building document; Romero focused on level design; while others implemented the art and sound that would turn Doom into an iconic piece of pop culture that was ported to just about every platform imaginable.


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'Quake III: Arena' (1999)

Though popular, the Quake franchise differed from other id shooters largely due to its robust multiplayer features. In fact, the multiplayer portion of Quake became such an integral part of the franchise that the third installment was focused almost entirely on playing with others. It was the first game built using the id Tech 3 engine, which of course Carmack had a hand in building. In addition to faster and more detailed graphics, it also featured improved networking capabilities. After Quake III the engine would go on to be used in notable games like the Jedi Knight series and Infinity Ward's very first Call of Duty game.


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'Doom 3' (2004)

The third release in the Doom series was a long time coming, released more than a decade after the original, and it didn't have quite the same impact as its predecessors. But that didn't make it any less beautiful: Carmack's newest graphics engine meant the game was one of the most horrifying experiences to date. It would go on to sell more than 3.5 million copies, making it id's most successful game at the time. One year later Doom's place in pop culture was further cemented with the release of a blockbuster Hollywood film, though unfortunately the Dwayne Johnson-led movie was not quite as well received as the games it was based on.


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'Doom RPG' (2005)

In 2005, Carmack's wife gave him a new cellphone to replace his old black-and-white device. And the color display got him thinking about the potential for games on mobile phones, a few years before Apple came and proved his theory right with the success of the iPhone. Carmack went on to build a small demo that was part Doom, part role playing game (it was even turn-based), and eventually the studio Fountainhead Entertainment built that demo out into a full-fledged game, with Carmack serving as producer. Doom RPG was latter followed by a sequel on iOS (above), a Wolfenstein spin-off, and other id mobile games like Rage HD.


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Rage (2011)

id is primarily known for three franchises — Quake, Doom, and Wolfenstein — but in 2011 the studio tried to change that with the release of Rage, a brand new series set in a post-apocalyptic future: think Fallout meets Mad Max. The shift in setting wasn't the only change, however, as Rage also showed id putting as much emphasis on game consoles as it did the PC. The result was a solid, if not quite groundbreaking, shooter that was released to favorable reviews. In traditional id fashion, the game was also the showcase for new tech: Carmack first demonstrated the impressive id Tech 5 engine at WWDC in 2007, and upcoming titles like The Evil Within, from the creator of Resident Evil, will also be using the technology, as will...


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'Doom 4'

Doom 4. To say that the creation of id's latest masterpiece has been troubled would be an understatement. Officially announced in 2008, we've seen and heard little of the game since then, though id still insists it's in the works despite reports that it's far from ready. That same year Carmack said that the game would differ from Doom 3's focus on horror, and instead be more action-oriented like the original game. "You're going to beat back all the hordes of Hell using all the tools at your disposal," he explained. With Carmack's contributions to the game engine apparently complete, hopefully it won't be another five years before we hear about Doom 4 again.

Doom 4 image courtesy Kotaku