Game designer John Carmack talks about Wolfenstein and iPhone

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Id Software, the developer of the Doom and Quake games, has worked up a version of its beloved Wolfenstein franchise for mobile phones. John Carmack, an Id founder and the company’s lead programmer, has cranked out an all new rendering engine to give the game a three-dimensional feel.

Old-school gamers will remember that the first version -- Wolfenstein 3D, which came out in 1992 for the PC -- is considered by some to be the original first-person shooter game.


When Wolfenstein RPG, which will be published by Electronic Arts, arrives on cellphones this holiday, players old and new can once again take on the role of BJ Blazkowitz, an American soldier trying to blast his way out of a Nazi prison. Whereas most cellphone games confine players to a two-dimensional horizontal plane, Carmack came up with a way to let players angle shots up and down. Hello, 3D! The game packs nine levels, 17 weapons and about eight hours of game play in about 2.5 megabytes, thanks in part to Carmack’s hyper-efficient code.

‘We could have just made a couple of games on the old technology,’ Carmack said, referring to the engine he wrote for the Doom RPG and Orcs & Elves mobile games, which collectively sold 2 million copies. ‘But we wanted to make a game we were really proud of.’

What Carmack really wanted to do, but couldn’t, was make a game for the iPhone. ‘I’m sad we didn’t have anything at launch for the App Store,’ Carmack said, referring to last week’s launch of the Apple App Store for iPhone applications. ‘I’m super excited about the iPhone.’

By the time Apple released its software tools for iPhone developers, Carmack and Id were already overcommitted. Although Id has a big reputation, it has a relatively small team of 60 people, six of whom work on games for cellphones and the Nintendo DS hand-held console.

Wolfenstein 3D will be ported to the iPhone eventually, but Carmack said he wanted to make a game that’s specifically designed for the Apple device. We already know consumers are gaga over the large screen and, to some extent, the touch screen. Why does it appeal to a hard-core programmer such as Carmack?

One answer: Its processing speed. ‘The iPhone is far more powerful than the DS,’ he said.

Also, instead of being limited to a few megabytes, iPhone games can be far larger because they can be downloaded via computer or streamed via Wi-Fi.


Carmack promised an original iPhone game in the not-too-distant future. He said he has a game in mind but wouldn’t divulge details.

-- Alex Pham