John Carmack

John Carmack

John Carmack, the Godfather of video games, comments on the shift in how we consume media today.

5 min read

The name John Carmack, co-founder of id Software, and the genre of FPS are synonymous. So much so, that at one point in time before the genre existed, first-person shooter games were once deemed Doom clones. Although he did not create the genre explicitly, he is credited with popularizing it.

A visionary and pillar within the video game industry for three decades, Carmack’s impact on both video games and technology in general has put him in a tier of his own.

His impact and influence on video games has been documented time, and time, and time again. Carmack was also on the VR wave long before many knew what it even was.

A gifted engineer in many aspects, his interest did not stop at just computers.

Thresh Wins Carmack’s Ferrari

To say Carmack likes cars is an understatement. More akin to passionately obsessed with anything that moves fast and has a turbo in it, Carmack’s love for vehicle speed and modifications has a long history. An excerpt from Masters of Doom:

John Carmack stood in the Ferrari dealership admiring a cherry-red 328 sports car and had one thought: How fast can it go? … To the dealer’s surprise, the wiry twenty-two-year-old in T-shirt and jeans wrote a check for seventy thousand dollars and took the keys.

When he drove into Norwood’s, the crusty owner walked out with greasy hands. “I got this 328,” Carmack said cautiously, “and I want it to be a little faster.”

For fifteen thousand dollars, Norwood rigged the Ferrari with a turbo system that would activate when Carmack floored the gas pedal. … As it lowered, he felt a force build until the pedal hit the metal and the car accelerated almost twice as fast, reaching nearly 140 miles per hour.
The 328, as of 2012
A shot of the 328’s engine bay

He later spent another $30,000 on the 328 during an engine rebuild.

That 328 would eventually be put up for the grand prize of a 1997 video game tournament that would change the course of esports forever.

The Ferrari that Dennis “Thresh” Fong won from John Carmack himself is something of legend. After defeating Tom “Entropy” Kizmey in the Grand Finals of the 1997 Red Annihilation Quake 1 tournament, it was Fong’s to drive home.

A year later, Carmack would go on to purchase a Testarossa, going on to modify it north of 1,000HP.

A dyno sheet from his twin-turbo Testarossa in 1998, hitting 1,000HP; he got it up to 1,008HP eventually
A rare glimpse at his twin-turbo F50’s engine bay
May 1997, Dennis “Thresh” Fong [sitting] wins John Carmack’s [headshot shirt] ‘87 Ferrari 328 convertible

Thresh winning the Ferrari from Carmack is the esports equivalent of Michael Jordan’s Jumpman Dunk. A definitive moment in the scene’s history which has been, and will continue to be, remembered. Ask anyone who was around back then, and they’ll have their own unique story about it. Whether it’s an anecdote, they watched it on TV, they were in attendance, or heard from one of their friends.

It was foreign both as a concept and as a moment; something so valuable put up as a prize, for playing video games. Many people had to process what exactly was occurring here, wondering if this was a one-off to showboat, or if Carmack was crazy enough to believe this had some staying power.

Sure, the worth of competitive gaming was there both literally and metaphorically, but could its potential be long-lasting? I wanted to know what Marcus thought, since he was getting his feet wet in the scene at this time.

This was coming up on ’96 or ’97, right? Thresh wins Carmack’s Ferrari.

Right, yeah. Even then, it felt like a sixth-degree of exposure.

Still foreign.

Mm-hmm. So far away from me still; Thresh wins the Ferrari from Carmack, then it shows up in EGM [Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine] two months later, so like… it existed, right? It did fuel me, because at the time we were playing Jedi Knights 2, joining clans, Tribes was blowing up, and Quake 2 got released.

[takes a moment to reflect]

My first thought wasn’t that I was going to broadcast these games, it was just creating a station we could listen to while we could listen to it while playing the game. It was stuff like that, more or less, until Quake 3 dropped. That’s when I realized actually, this game is where everything changes.

It was even before December ’99, because Q3Test was release earlier that year on April 24th.

In John Carmack’s Own Words

I’ve had the same three questions in the back of my mind since I started this piece, and to make it complete, I needed answers. Hearsay wouldn’t satisfy me; there was only one option: asking John Carmack himself.

Say you had to grant a D&D alignment to the revolution of media consumption, such as streaming services.

I would say that the massive choice in streaming video is a slide from lawful to chaotic – a few national networks giving way to hundreds of cable channels, giving way to millions of streaming options.

I see broad freedom of choice as a much stronger value than the occasional poisonous media impact, so I’ll go with chaotic-good.

What do you want your legacy to be remembered as?

I don’t think much about my legacy, because I hope my current work will have more impact than all of my previous work.

If not Quake, what would have been the next go-to name?

Naming games is pretty miserable, because it involves a trademark search minefield. What you want isn’t the dominant factor.

The entire Quake series of games is a result of that—the title has exactly nothing to do with the game content.

The Legacy, Part 7: Family
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The Legacy, Part 7: Family

25 years removed from when his journey began in esports, Marcus reflects on why without family, none of it would have been possible.

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