Tom Hall (founding member, creative director, and designer of id Software) recently met online with Matt Barton on Barton’s YouTube podcast, “Matt Chat”. Over the course of the interview they discussed Tom’s legacy at id Software, his creative role in everything from Commander Keen to Doom, and his reasons for having to leave id at the peak of their company’s powers just after the release of their immensely successful PC game, Doom.
During the interview Tom Hall begins to iterate the beginning fissures of tension that would soon culminate into Hall’s overall devalue within the very company that he founded. Throughout, Hall is continually humble, measured, and appreciative over the entire experience clearly conveying no ill will over the events. Despite this wise wizard tone, you still can’t help but to imagine that these issues were far more intense at the time.
The respectfully successful Commander Keen (1990) was id Software’s first released game and the brain child of Hall. However, after the building success of Wolfenstein 3D and into the development of Doom it became more clear to Hall that the rest of the team had little interest in furthering the success of Commander Keen.
“Well, I think the part of the thing was that Commander Keen was left there,” Hall told Matt Chat. “And that’s very sad that Commander Keen got left behind and I don’t think that they’d really done anything with it. They did a Game Boy Color game which really wasn’t in the spirit of Keen. They just let some other company do it and it wasn’t that good. At the time… it was obvious that my need for creativity and [John] Carmack’s need for technology… were just not working out.”
I know at the time, I personally presumed that it was the demonic content of Doom itself that may have pulled the team apart (apparently Wikipedia thinks so too). Satanic Nazi imagery was pushing things past the envelop back then so it would have been no surprise to me that the creator of Commander Keen was at creative odds with the visceral violent direction that id was now going in. Matt Barton brings this question up and surprisingly, the content had no role in Hall’s departure.
“I was drawing demons and all sorts of stuff… we all loved Aliens. We all loved this comic book named, “Mage”… and then there’s “Demon Knight” and those kind of merged together… and Evil Dead 2 all kind of merged together to be the content of Doom,” iterated Hall. “So I mean we all watched crazy bloody stuff.”
Instead, the source of the tension at id would lie squarely where they typically do in a development studio. In the logistics and work flow within the studio itself. The fracturing of the not so typical id Software would begin is an all too typical way.
“I think the thing that was the problem was that the initial talking of Doom was, ‘Let’s make this one seamless world. Let’s make an engine that you can seamlessly walk between levels, unlike Wolfenstein.’ I fought against that,” laments Hall. “…horribly fought against it. That’s not the innovation we need to make here… So I say ‘okay’ and I’ll make this big story… I worked a month on creating this base, this base on this other side so you journey from reality to a slice of hell, and then you come back and reality has been converted to hell, which is kind of what they did in Doom 2.”
After a month of Hall’s work, fleshing out an expansive open world campaign, Carmack would come back to Hall and simply announce that they were just going to design the game around the level to level format that Hall had insisted upon in the first place. Without any discussion or warning most of Hall’s work was thrown into the wastebasket or to be carved up to create the new Doom level to level campaign. Hall was hurt, his friends and co-founders had flippantly changed directions without any regards or sympathies for Hall’s efforts.
Hall describes his dwindling sense of influence within the team, “I was just getting less and less enabled and the stuff I was doing was less seen as important…”
With his efforts on Doom complete, Hall would leave id Software on mutual terms with the team. He would go on to work on such memorable titles as Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem II, and Deus Ex. In the end Tom Hall summarizes best the trajectory of his career in the gaming industry, “I’ve had a varied career in all sorts of different things. I’ve tried some projects and some have been okay. But at least I’ve been able to express myself and that’s – I mean I’ve managed to steer my career away from fortune and fame *chuckles* but I’ve enjoyed the things I’ve worked on and felt creatively enabled and that’s more important than anything.”
The entirety of the interview between Tom Hall and Matt Burton can be found below.