The following is an original content essay authored by myself, along with an interview with Sandy Petersen. Though I will appreciate any typographical and minor content improvements others may have, I wish to retain rights to the original text. It should go without saying that the interview is qouted, and should not be edited in any such way.
The main reference for most of the material comes from the wikipedia article on Lovecraft, as well as Kushners Masters of Doom. As a result, quite a lot is old hat information for people familiar with the sources. Towards the end though, I follow the thread into more original research. Over time, I will be expanding upon this and making the relations of Quake\Lovecraft\Howard the main focus of the essay, without all the silly introductory information.
Gaming Influences: Lovecraft, Howard, and Quake
Fictional horror has a firm grip in American culture. In film, literature, and games, the horror genre captivates the darker corners of human psyche. Horror films draw large audiences to theatres, and are among the most popular genre in the film industry today.
Not everything produced in the horror film industry is quality, of course. Low budget ‘horror’ films are not of the highest caliber, neither do they elicit fearful emotions from viewers. Nevertheless, the subject matter draws many cult followings of these ‘b-movies’.
It is the subject matter in particular that most are attracted to: the dark fiends, the undead, the nameless rites… If these images do not frighten, they do certainly capture the macabre attention of human imagination. But when did the genre emerge in novel and film? How did the now-cliché ideas plant themselves firmly in the psyche of the masses? There are several primal fears of course that can be credited to no creation, but there are specific images that are associated with horror.
Who gave us these images?
Common answers would include early authors such as the Brothers Grimm, Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker, and Poe, as well as modern writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Actors like Bela Lugosi and even Bruce Campbell may come to mind. These writers and actors helped shape the modern concept of fictional horror, but one name is commonly left out of thought by the general public: Howard Philips Lovecraft.
Lovecraft is not as well known as, for instance, Poe, but his imaginative works affect many preconceptions in modern horror. The creation of the Necromonicron, the obscure Book of the Dead, the theme of something ancient and malign dwelling beyond the mortal plane, the images of elder temples and cyclopean marble cities can all be attributed to Lovecraft’s work. Many modern horror writers and actors are heavily inspired by Lovecraft, and he has affected them to an undeniable degree. He was not appreciated during his life, however. In the 1920-30’s, Lovecraft published the majority of his writings in pulp magazines, such as “Weird Tales” and “Astounding Stories”. Few authors who submitted in these magazines are remembered today for their excellence in writing; Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, was one of these few.
Other authors such as Howard became his peers and correspondents. He wrote them numerous letters on a variety of topics, from philosophy and poetry to ethics and politics. At times he touched on his own writings, attributing inspiration to his nightmarish dreams. This is probably one of the major causes for the longevity of his works, and the depth of their unique nature. Interesting to note is that while many of his tales are dream-inspired, they share a continuity that is contrary to the usual nature of dreams. Whether this continuity is reflected in his dreams is a matter of speculation. It may be possible that Lovecraft did have a ‘dream-world’ created subconsciously, with its own consistent geography and history.
To be sure, his early work did not portray any such unique nature; most of it was juvenile and imitative of authors such as Poe and Dunsany, who Lovecraft admired greatly. As time progressed, however, his voice took shape and the landscape of his works unfolded into something unknown and unencountered in literature before. Lovecrafts work fall into three distinct chronological categories, though probably not through the conscious effort of Lovecraft.
The first of these ‘cycles’ were heavily macabre. Stories such as “The Statement of Randolf Carter”, “The Beast in the Cave”, and “Dagon” characterized this period. The earliest of these stories were just on the verge of Lovecraft finding his voice, “Dagon” seemed to be the turning point in his writing, with its elaborate and fantastical descriptions of solitary horror in uncharted areas, populated only by those that are very ancient. This is what is considered to be among the first stepping stones in the creation of his pseudo-consistent fantasy world. Others, however, were independent of these deeper ties and were self-contained pieces. “The Beast in the Cave” depicts a tourist visiting a cave network and becoming separated from the rest of the group. Stranded in the dark, the man gropes along, trying to keep his wits about him and systematically find his way back. After some time, however, he begins to sense another presence in the dark; the presence of some sort of creature. He is attacked, and the protagonist defends himself valiantly, knowing only what he can tell from his other senses what its nature is. With a stroke of luck he kills the beast with a stone, or at least incapacitates it. Shortly after he is found by the tour group, and the light finally reveals the creature. Though deformed and grossly disfigured, the startling realization is made that the beast unmistakably had human origins. This short piece is what really started Lovecraft's publishing career, as it was well received and left the publishers eager for more.
The second of these cycles is often called the ‘Dreamlands’ cycle. Many of these stories take place in the Dreamlands, the fictional parallel world of dreams, with its own pantheon of malevolent gods and creatures. A few of these tales probably had a bit more Dunsanyish tones than was good for the writing, but Lovecraft quickly grew into his own style of dream-inspired fantasy. While aspects of the eldritch and horrific are apparent, they are simply part of the world Lovecraft created. Most of the stories portray the valiant quests of dreamers who wish to dwell forever in the Dreamlands, though at times against the gods will. The prose often has a very dreamy nature, with misty descriptions of far-off cities of wonder and journeys that do not parallel any terrestrial time or space.
The third, and arguably the most well known and influential era of Lovecraft's writings, is what is known as the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ cycle. The term was coined not by Lovecraft, but by one of his friends and co-authors, August Derleth. The term ‘mythos’ refers to the artificial, yet surprisingly concrete, mythology Lovecraft devised - or perhaps interpreted through his dreams and ponderings. Cthulhu is one of the extra-planar Old Ones, though not by far the key player in the mythos; Cthulhu is simply one of the most popular (and physically tangible) pantheons in the stories. The mythos themselves carve a harsh reality wherein many extra-planar and extra-dimensional beings await the time ‘when the stars are right’ where they will reclaim Earth as their own kingdom, extinguishing the human race. However, there are higher beings of which the human race do not even impact their consciousness – the human race is grimly painted as insignificant. There is no good versus evil struggle in Lovecraft's mythology; humankind just… doesn’t matter. Yet the fact that the stories are told from a singular human perspective really brings out the side of horror and starkness that Lovecraft is known for. The sheer sense of scale and age elicits something primal in our minds, but something that has not been perfectly pinned down in the past the way Lovecraft has.
When Lovecraft died in 1937, August Derleth, took it upon himself to perpetuate Lovecraft's stories, and keep them from being swallowed by the pulp magazines. He founded Arkham House in 1939 with Donald Wandrei, another associate of Lovecraft. “Arkham” is a reference to Lovecraft's fictional city in Massachusetts, where many of his stories took place. Later that year they published the first collection of Lovecraft tales and published it under the name of ‘The Outsider and Others”. This contained the bulk of the known works of Lovecraft at the time. Further anthologies were published as more of Lovecraft's works were discovered and collected. The success of these compilations brought Lovecraft to the masses, and enabled Derleth to turn Arkham House into a regular publishing company, though Lovecraft anthologies remained the focus.
Today, Lovecraft’s tales are wide spread and much more popular than they were during his lifetime, though not as commercially known as, say, Stephen King. The impact is apparent, however, if one takes the time to look, especially in today's games. Computer gaming is quickly becoming one of the largest media industries existing today, already surpassing movie box revenue each year, with a growing margin. It can be important for those studying the industry to realize the forces behind it, and when it comes to major gaming forces, one name consistently comes up: Id Software. Id Software can be arguably credited for the creation of modern “first-person-shooter” gaming, as well as spurring the market for advanced hardware capable of running their games. In their games, Lovecraft has a definite influence; levels named after Lovecraft tales, monster designs reminiscent of the Beast in the Cave, and the general aesthetic of the game itself. With a company like Id at the very roots of modern gaming, it becomes worthwhile to look closer at the people behind the games, and, more importantly, the influence of an author forgotten in his own time.
Id and Virtual Realities
Mankind has always had a primal drive to create and exist in artificial realms of his own design. It may be a strong will to escape from what can be a harsh reality, or it may be a deeper conviction to mirror his creator. Expansive, panoramic paintings in a first-person perspective have been discovered in Lascaux, France, and are considered to be among the earliest 'immersive environments', giving the viewer the illusion of having entered the painting. Later paintings during the Renaissance added to this effect, with perspective tuned to give the feeling of depth.
In Aldous Huxley's “A Brave New World”, written in 1932, Huxley describes futuristic movies (called “feelies”) that depict three-dimensional images accompanied by tactile and olfactory stimuli. He described the feelies as “dazzling and incomparably more solid looking than reality.”
In 1955, something like feelies were attempted by a cinematographer named Morton Heilig. He built a machine incorporating senses of sight, as well as smells and sounds. It was passed off mainly as a novelty, but the same thing that drove the cave painters in prehistoric France drove Heilig, as well as many other entrepreneurs at that time who dreamed of a fully fleshed artificial experience, one that would be “so life-like that if gives the spectator the sensation of being physically in the scene.”
What may be more than just a wish for pure escapism, man may strive for these pseudo-realities for the sheer fact that it gives him control over the environment. A chance to bring to life and motion that which has dwelled previously only in mind and text. Although these 'feely' devices were not successful, or even fully realized design-wise, they were a conceptual step towards a perfect virtual reality.
Having multiple-sense feedback alone is not what makes a convincing immersion, however. One thing that these feely-alikes lacked was interactivity on the recipients’ part. A viewer could do only that: view. Being able to manipulate an environment is as constructive to a simulation as sight or smell.
In the 1970s, a Wisconsin University computer artist named Myron Krueger used computers to create images on walls with audience members projected within the image itself. He wrote that “the environments suggest a new art medium based on a commitment to real-time interaction between men and machines... This context is an artificial reality within which the artist has complete control of the laws of cause and effect... Response is the medium!” MAZE, one of his projects, projected an image of a maze onto the screen that the audience members would try to navigate through.
The term 'virtual reality' itself was finally coined in the 1980s, as well as the term 'cyberspace', which was created by science-fiction author William Gibson. The term 'cyberspace' describes an interactive virtual realm that exists between computers and computer networks. Persons in his novel 'Neuromancer' were able to project their consciousness' into this space as fully three-dimensional avatars.
By this time, science-fiction dramas such as Star Trek heavily popularized such virtual environments, with the Holodeck being the most recognizable. The Holodeck was a room that had the ability to project holographic, three dimensional images within it, as to give the user a totally immersive experience.
Later in the 80's, a NASA engineer named Scott Fisher designed a hybrid of head-mounted video goggles and special gloves with sensors built in, birthing what became the archtypical conception of a virtual reality interface. With it, users were able to manipulate the virtual realm in a first person perspective as projected to the goggles.
The next major breakthrough, however, can be credited to two young programmers working out of a small software company in Texas, John Carmack and John Romero. Talented programmers with high aspirations and voracious appetites for gaming, they felt that their current jobs at Softdisk were holding them back creatively. Both had grown up interested both in games and computer software, and had made small names for themselves writing games out of their rooms and publishing to local enthusiast magazines. Having met at Softdisk, they quickly became friends and mutual mentors, though Carmack quickly surpassed Romero in terms of technical skill. Romero, however, took advantage of this and encouraged Carmack in his endeavors.
While there they met and befriended Adrian Carmack (No relation to John Carmack), an artist working on graphics for business and home applications with no relation to gaming. While Adrian was growing up he had worked at a hospital photocopying snapshots of emergency care patients. Already streaked with a taste for the morbid, Adrian took this all in and let it bring his art to a level of visceral realism. Naturally, being stuck doing clip art for business applications did not satisfy him as an artist. The programmers and artist, along with their friend Tom Hall, broke away from Softdisk and created their own highly successful title, Commander Keen. Commander Keen was a breakthrough technologically in the way that it brought smooth, two dimensional environments that scrolled seamlessly to the side to the PC, where technology of that kind was previously only possible on console systems, such as the Nintendo. This feat was brought about by John Carmack. John Carmack, Tom Hall, and Adrian Carmack turned John Carmack's technology into a smash game filled with quirky characters and light, fun gameplay.
Propelled by their success, John Carmack wasted no time in sizing up his next task: three-dimensional environments on the PC, in a gaming context. This had been done before, but the gaming reality had been represented mostly with wire-frame models and slow gameplay. Everybody at the young Id Software had a love for games with fast, intense action. Previous games that placed you in a three dimensional realm were often chunky and slow. John Carmack set himself to find a method to render a fully realized seamless virtual reality with solid architecture. Furthermore, the player would observe this world from a first-person perspective, as if the player was looking through the game character's eyes. This gave the illusion of actually being in the game. While Carmack was dreaming up this method, Romero, Hall, and Adrian Carmack were cooking up game ideas. After throwing around a few ideas, including Commander Keen in 3d, one of their old favorites came up: Castle Wolfenstein. In Castle Wolfenstein, The player viewed the game in a top-down perspective, navigating through mazes and dealing with Nazis in World War II Germany. The game's rights had been given up to the public, so Id had the chance to bring Wolfenstein to a plateau it had never reached before. It would be fast, it would be brutal. There would be blood. In-depth gameplay was considered, such as the ability to drag enemy corpses into hiding as to avoid detection from the guards, but these ideas were ditched, as they slowed down the game.
When Carmack unveiled the graphics engine that would power the game, everything fell into place, and the game was released over the infant internet on May 5, 1992. Players ate it up as fast as they could. The combination of visceral artwork, pulse-pounding gameplay, and immersive three-dimensional, first person perspective gave gamers something they had never experienced before. Id was now a notable name in the gaming industry. John Romero, always the company cheerleader, took on the role of spokesman for Id, and was in all respects their own biggest fan. He basked in the fame, as well as the profits, enjoying himself in the spotlight. John Carmack, on the other hand, had bigger things on his mind. It had never been his style to dwell on the past; once something was finished, his next objective was already set in place.
Graphically, Wolfenstein 3D did have its limits. The method used to draw the game allowed textures (that is, pictures put on a surface to convey a material, such as brick) to be placed only on the walls, not on the floors or ceilings. These walls were also limited to ninety-degree angles, and they all had to have the same, static height. With growing computer power and experience on John Carmack's part, the next step was ready to be taken.
John Carmack's next engine would allow textures mapped to all surfaces, moving surfaces, light levels that diminish with depth, texture mapped floors and ceilings, variable height surfaces, and support for non-orthographic wall angles. It would be sleeker, beefier, and more realistic than anything before it. All it needed was a game behind it.
Adrian Carmack by now had been growing bored of the brightly-colored art for Commander Keen, and while Wolfenstein let him exercise a bit more of his darker talents, he still felt suppressed. When game ideas were being discussed, it became apparent early on that the next game would have a darker feel to it, perhaps with a horror or science-fiction setting. It was agreed that usually the driving force behind most good horror and science fiction films is something 'green and pissed'. The lighting capabilities of the new engine would allow things such as flashing and strobing lights, offering itself easily to a darker setting. “Aliens” was a favorite movie of the whole crew, and doing something similar, with monsters and technology, really appealed to the team. Adrian flew with the ideas, finally finding a place to explode into as an artist.
Soon, the game was given a name, originated from a line from a Tom Cruise movie: Doom. As Adrian Carmack spouted out design concepts, the aesthetic of the game took shape: A military base on Mars overrun with demons summoned from Hell after an experiment gone horribly wrong. The player would act as the only surviving marine on the base, and he would have to fight his way through demonic hordes in order to stop the invasion.
As creative director, Tom Hall felt disappointed at the notion of another plotless run-and-gun shooter; he felt that the game should have a cinematic feel. He had always been a fan of Commander Keen's quirky gameplay and style; this dark stuff didn't appeal to him. Ever since Wolfenstein, he had continuously pushed for a return to the Keen series, though he did not give up hope for this new game. In a design document for Doom, he proposed a lengthy plot and opening sequences to better immerse the player in the game. This did not go over well with the others. Even John Carmack, usually a cool-headed programmer who leaves himself out of issues such as this, stated that “Plot in games is like plot in a porn movie: it's expected to be there, but it really isn't that important.” The design document was pitched, keeping only the bare bones of Tom's proposed story. As far as character interaction and immersion, they felt it would be better to have the main character be totally transparent within the game. The player took the role of the lone marine. The player would become the lone marine. There would be no forcing of a pre-conceptualized character on the players.
Once design on the game levels began, Romero took John Carmack's engine and flew it. His levels were tight, atmospheric, and most of all, fun. The player would be running down corridors, blasting away at zombies, when all of a sudden the lights would shut off, panels would open in the walls, and terrible fire-spewing demons would jump out at him. Though the designs were not realistic, they were what was agreed was the flavor of Doom.
Tom Hall, however, was still left in the dark after the rejection of his design document. He was the team's game designer. What could he do if he could not design games? Romero and the others felt that his level designs took too much reference from reality, with accurate renderings of military bases and buildings. Though wonderful to look at, Romero felt that they lacked any of the fast-paced action that the game needed. Soon, it was decided that Tom had to go. The break was hard, though to Tom it was a form of release. Finally, he was free to make the games he wanted to make. He quickly signed up with another ex-Id partner, Scott Miller, with a job for game design house Apogee.
Id Software did have the need to find someone to replace Tom Hall as a designer. They received dozens of resumes from those interested in the role, but one name caught the interest of the owners of Id: Sandy Petersen. Unlike the numerous young applicants eager to work with the greats of the gaming industry, Sandy was an older man of thirty-seven, and no stranger to game design.
In the early eighties, Petersen signed up with Chaosium games to take over a project to create a pen-and-paper role playing game set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. The person who had been working on “The Call of Cthulhu” until then was unenthusiastic and not making much progress, so when Sandy asked eagerly to help out, the whole project was turned over Petersen. Shortly after, the first edition of the game was released, and, surprisingly, people bought it. Petersen and Chaosium had found a niche in those craving an outlet for their taste in the macabre and horrific. Undoubtedly, the game brought the name H.P Lovecraft home to many people, while at the same time appealing to those already familiar with the author's works. What before was the realm for the enthusiast and literary oddity, the role playing game brought Lovecraft up a few steps in terms of cultural awareness. Today, “The Call of Cthulhu” remains one of the most popular horror role-playing-games, and is now in its sixth printing since its release in 1981.
Drawn by the financial promise in computer gaming, Sandy went to work for Microprose in 1988. There he worked on numerous titles, including the popular historical strategy Civilization. Intrigued, Id brought Sandy in to see what he could do. They were only perturbed by the fact that Petersen's resume listed him as a Mormon. John Romero was uncertain how a game about blasting demons with buckshot would come across to a 'holy roller'. When Sandy arrived, Romero was impressed by the man's enthusiasm for gaming. Shortly, they sat him down at a computer with software loaded up for the creation of levels for Doom. Sandy quickly whipped up some levels that Romero took an instant liking to; where Tom Hall didn't seem to understand the sort of desired gameplay for Doom, Sandy apparently had understood it right off the bat.
The only matter left on Romero's mind was the issue of Sandy's apparent Mormonism. When asked about what his views were on a game portraying demons, Sandy simply replied, “They're just cartoons, and besides, they're the bad guys”. He was hired.
Petersen became a lead map designer, eventually designing approximately half of the levels for the final game. Many of his levels were not very nice to look at, but those levels placed the player in situations where he had to strategize in order to survive the hordes of demons coming against him. This design philosophy perfectly complemented and counterbalanced Romero's own levels, which were fast, hard, and brutal.
Even though Sandy was officially a level designer, he provided his own dark input into other areas of the design process as well, including sound effects and monster design.
The development of Doom was now charging on full speed ahead; John Carmack had perfected his engine, tuning rendering speed until it simply flew. Adrian, with his new outlet for all things macabre, was churning out monster and texture designs quickly and efficiently. His designs included zombies, varieties of humanoid demons with the ability to throw balls of slime or fire, bull-headed demons with grotesquely large mouths, and, his personal favorite, the cyberdemon. The cyberdemon was a gargantuan beast with machinery composing a good quarter of his body. His sinews intertwining with wire and metal, culminating with a rocket launcher at the end of his right arm. The unnerving juxtaposition of flesh and metal became a main visual theme in the game. The level designers where producing what would become over 40 levels in the final game. They had hired longtime partner Bobby Prince to design the music for the game, taking influences from heavy metal and sci-fi soundtracks.
Finally, on Dec 10, 1993, the first episode, or part, of Doom was released to thousands of eager users over a computer network. Their marketing plan, as it had in the past, relied on making the first portion of the game available for free over the internet, and would send off the rest of the game to those who paid. This had proven over time to be a viable and successful strategy, as was apparent by the vast amounts of people waiting to download the game. Id actually had to kick some people off of the network in order to log on. As soon as Doom was uploaded and available, the network received so many requests that it actually buckled under the load. The system was restored, this time with a barred limit on the number of people who could be on at once. Now on the global network, Doom spread like a virus, being played by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. For players, this was something entirely new. Where Wolfenstein had a slower pace, this was intense, sometimes too intense for people to digest all at once. Rumors of motion-sickness afflicted players spread throughout the community. This game was also something new in the way of content. Adrian's personal style shone through the game, revealing itself in every demon and gory texture. While there had been blood in games before, this took it to a whole new level in terms of volume, along with the fact that the first person perspective put the player in the game. The effect was visceral and totally immersive. The game was by no means realistic in terms of physics or gameplay, but players felt themselves drawn into a state of simulated reality nonetheless. Where others had tried to make a realistic world through life-like renderings, Doom's sheer speed propelled it into the perceptive state of the human mind. Those other games chose to render scenes one at a time, in a staccato slideshow of interactivity. Though nice to look at, the world portrayed didn't move; it didn't have a life of its own. In its simplicity, Doom was perfect. Even more, Doom had hit mainstream popularity, really bringing the phrase 'first-person-shooter' to the home. Everybody played Doom: students, parents, teachers, employees (and sometimes bosses) at work. Doom was quickly becoming a productivity issue at some workplaces (including the offices of processor designer Intel), and programmers had to use programs designed to wipe Doom from every computer in the workplace in order to restore order. While other's of the genre had existed before, none had been this sublime. This is what it was all about. In this way, Doom spawned the market for such games, and is now one of, if not the most popular form of computer gaming today.
Quake – Cthulhu in 3d
John Romero basked in the glory that Doom brought him, attending tournaments held nationwide, giving speeches, and playing up to the crowd. He had always dreamed of being a big celebrity, and now, to these gamers, he was. He really was Doom's number one fan; nobody was more enthusiastic, or spent more time playing the game than he did. He won just about any tournament he competed in, playing in a mode he called 'Deathmatch'. This allowed players to hook their PC's together and play against each other over the network. Sure, shooting computer-controlled demons is fun, but the only thing that can really provide a true challenge to a player is another player. This competitive mode was really the first of its kind, allowing friends to 'frag' each other in a totally seamless, first person perspective. Romero loved it.
John Carmack, on the other hand, never had aspirations to become a big name. He was content simply to program. As soon as he was finished working on Doom, he immediately starting preparations for his next engine. While the Doom engine had height variations, it was not truly 3d, but merely an illusion. In the Doom engine, a floor could not be rendered above or below another floor. On a given point in space, only two horizontal surfaces could occupy the same area. These surfaces could not be sloped; they remained at a static perpendicular angle to the players’ perspective. The next logical step in John Carmack's thinking was to create a world that could be rendered fully in three dimensions. There would be multi-tiered platforms, sloped areas, and, for the first time, the creatures and items portrayed within the game would be represented by three-dimensional figures. In the Doom engine, objects were represented by two-dimensional images, or sprites. They were given the illusion of depth by never letting the player see their flat side. As the player moved around the sprite, the sprite would rotate to keep itself flat in the player’s eyes. Now, with three-dimensional figures, they would have true depth. Furthermore, where an artist had to animate frames for different angles of a sprite, now he would have to merely make a single model.
The plan was set; John Carmack was ready to begin work. All they needed was a game. The iD team had always wanted to do an epic fantasy role-playing-game starring a demigod named Quake. After many years of wanting to follow up on this idea, they finally felt that the technology was right and the time ripe to do develop it. Work began on medieval-themed materials and creatures. Sandy Petersen chose at this time to consciously bring Lovecraft into the game, through his level names and designs, as well as monster designs. Some of his levels were named after Lovecraft stories, such as “The Nameless City”. Two of the game's bosses, Cthon and Shub-Niggurath, are obvious Lovecraftian names. Cthon sported a vertical mouth, very reminiscent of Lovecraft's description of Gugs, great subterranean scavenging beasts. The Shambler, a great, eyeless, white bear-like creature with an ability to project lightning, can be imagined to be a take on Lovecraft's creature from The Beast in the Cave. Shub-Niggurath, the game's final boss, was portrayed as a seething mass of tentacles, a common motif of Lovecraft’s. Sandy made no attempts to hide any influences, but instead flaunted them openly and proudly. However, the designers had no real direction in their work. All they knew was that they were going to be doing something vaguely medieval. No design document existed; the episode with Tom Hall had labeled design documents as taboo. John Romero had been spending no time on the project; instead he was milking as much as he could from the success of Doom, licensing the technology behind the game to other companies to make their own games. Romero knew that he had no game to make until John Carmack had finished his engine. Carmack, on the other hand, felt the absence of Romero's assistance and guidance in the development of the engine. It was taking longer than he had planned; this was totally new territory technologically, and had a lot of inherent problems to be dealt with. In this light, the designers had no idea what to create. Resentment started developing towards Romero's flamboyentness. He was out saying things about Quake that hadn't even reached conceptual stages yet! Cruel jokes started bubbling up, including Romero's head superimposed on a stake hidden in a later Doom level.
As time passed and hype for Quake was reaching a boiling point, many people were expecting a release date soon. Under this pressure, the vision of an epic fantasy seemed far off and quite unattainable. Tensions mounted, reaching a climax during a meeting where it was discussed that the original idea should be scrapped and that they should simply release another run-and-gun first person shooter. Everybody bristled at the idea, but time was running out. Soon, people would start asking where the game was, where the product was. The material designers felt most stranded about the decision, as they had so much work to make up, recreate, and backtrack on. Each designer was virtually left on their own to come up a vast amount of maps, monsters, and textures in time for the new release date. In this, Sandy Petersen was left free in his creative license to put his vision of Lovecraft into this three-dimensional world. His levels became the fourth episode, or the final quarter, of the game. Quake was finally released in the summer of 1996, and reaped great amounts of praise from deathmatch lovers all over the world.
As the first game to have a true three-dimensional world, it broke technology barriers across the board, as well as gamers' bank accounts. Since the game ran with such a high amount of graphical detail, players were eager for ways to experience the game smooth and quickly. This often meant spending more and more money for beefier systems that could run the game faster and at higher levels of graphical quality. Shortly after its commercial release, a version of Quake was released that ran off of a new technology called OpenGl. Though the technology allowed Quake to run at extremely fast speeds with a high amount of graphical detail, nobody’s computers could support it! In fact, apart from higher-end hardware used by development companies, support for OpenGL was nonexistent to the general market. For a time, software had to be hacked and cobbled together into makeshift drivers in order to have pseudo-support for OpenGL. Hardware companies soon got the point, however. People were raving mad for Quake, and were willing to spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars to be able to play it. Names such as 3dFX and Matrox cropped up, producing hardware cards geared specifically toward improving and accelerating graphical performance of three-dimensional games, with Quake being the main focus.
Today, 3d acceleration cards are a large part of the computer hardware market, with companies such as nVidia and ATI pulling in millions of dollars a year from gaming enthusiasts. Again, iD’s breakthroughs can be found at the roots of today’s gaming economy. Even though the gaming market is more spread out now than it was in the mid nineties, with many companies picking up on the first-person-shooter genre and adding their own chapters to the progress of graphical technology, iD still drives the market today, with later and improved incarnations of the Quake engine charging ahead of the competition. John Carmack (John Romero left iD after the release of Quake) continues to break graphical barriers in terms of lighting, geometry, and physics. His representational systems of virtual realities are ceaseless in their strength and stability. Though the company has lost many genius creative minds (including Adrian Carmack and Sandy Petersen), iD remains the technological leader in first-person-shooters.
Looking Deeper – Conan with Guns
Sandy Petersen brought Lovecraftian philosophy and intent to Doom and Quake. In these games, you are the lone human; everything is out to destroy you. The world in these games are by nature inimical and hostile to the player. The normal state of rest in these worlds involve military bases, ancient cities, and alien worlds infested with demons and Big Green Things. Your player is the alien factor; the disruption of normality. While a purely Lovecraftian take on these worlds would leave no chance of survival for the player, something else comes into the recipe. Your player pops into the world with a shotgun in hand, with a single intent: get to the other end of the level, massacring everything that gets in your way. You are given control, as well as the ability to impact this hostile world you have just entered. No need to think too deeply about your purpose there; simply kill everything. This outward philosophy strikes many as an unhealthy outlook and destructive method of gaming, and as a result, games such as Doom and Quake have been banned and blacklisted by many countries and organizations. “Why not have a game that involves personal interaction, as opposed to shooting?”, many ask. There have indeed been first-person games that incorporate deeper ways to interact with entities other than with buckshot, but one really has to look at how effective these simulations truly are. A game may portray human relations, communications, and nonviolent negotiations, but these games, in my opinion, do so *imperfectly*. The intent of any three-dimensional, first-person game is to immerse the player in the world created. By attempting to simulate human interactions, which are infinitely complex in subtlety, these games often break the immersion factor which so much effort has been spent towards creating.
In Doom, however, the world portrayed is simpler, and follows the creator’s rules. Players have no presuppositions or assumptions about this world; they are forced to take it as it comes. By whittling things down to the most basic of dynamics, the creator’s are able to portray the world flawlessly and perfectly. The world abides by its own rules; any attempts at making it follow the rules of real life run the risk of missing the mark.
This can be likened to the works of Robert E. Howard, a friend and colleague of Lovecraft’s. The stories of Conan make no excuses in their simplicity. Unlike Lovecraft, Howard does away with wordy descriptions and intricate subtlety. His writing, like Doom, is unapologetic in its brutal narrative. Howard gets straight to the point, often with bulky heroes slashing their way to the rescue of a maiden, or the destroying of an evil cult. The action is fast-paced, flowing neatly from stroke to stroke with each swing of his literary sabre. In this way, iD’s games incorporate the subtle, underlying horrors of Lovecraft while keeping the visceral here-and-now attitude of Howard. The square-jawed marines of Doom and Quake can be likened to the visages of Conan and King Kull, as can their attitudes.
This merging of two seemingly incompatible literary philosophies may seem dubious, but the formula has proven to be dynamite, time and time again, the same way it did with the friendship between Howard and Lovecraft. The responsibility now lies with modern game designers (movie makers have proven themselves to sell Lovecraft short) to explore and proclaim these philosophies. These patterns of horror can be discovered high and low, yet the name Lovecraft does not impact the collective consciousness to any acceptable extent. Persons such as Petersen have helped to drive the name forward and keep it alive, and a title recently released (“The Call of Cthulhu” – Bethesda Softworks) brought direct influences broadly forward. The game is a step forward, and I have hope that there will be others.
An Interview with Sandy Petersen
- How did you discover the works of H.P. Lovecraft?
[Sandy ==>] When I was 8 years old (this would be 1963) I found a book in my dad’s library titled “The Dunwich Horror and Other Stories” It had been printed in 1942 in a special format for armed forces personnel. I had never read anything like it and couldn’t find more stories by Lovecraft for years. The Dunwich Horror book itself vanished for 3 years, then resurfaced when a friend I hadn’t seen (in 3 years) gave it back to me. I’d loaned it to him. But that was my only source of HPL. I was obsessed, but had no way to relieve my obsession, other than thumbing through the pages of a shoddily-printed 20-year-old booklet.
When I entered high school I discovered that the local college library had copies of the old Arkham House editions of Lovecraft (The Outsider & Others, etc.). So I checked them out and was able to read them all. This was better than nothing and I checked out these books for weeks on end. When I was 17 the Ballantine Book paperback editions of Lovecraft’s works were released into the mass market and I immediately acquired them all. (Those books traveled everywhere with me for years.) A few months later, the college discovered that those old Arkham House books were worth a fortune and moved them into the locked case where I would not have had access to them. So I found myself a window of opportunity so to speak.
Anyway, now I was 17, and I finally owned my own collection of (most of) HPL’s stuff. It had taken me 9 years of addiction and search to accomplish this, which may be one reason I’m still an HPL fiend.
- How did you get involved with the Call of Cthulhu RPG?
[Sandy ==>] I had already been in touch with Chaosium with reference to a few articles and a book of monsters (Gateway Bestiary). RuneQuest was their big product at the time, and I suggested to Greg Stafford that I do a Runequest variation based on Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. Instead, he told me that he had someone doing a full game based on Lovecraft. This was pretty novel – not many games set in the 20th century had been released in 1979! It was all fantasy or science fiction.
I wrote back and begged to be allowed to see the manuscript – to help out in any way I could. This was the HPL addict talking, of course. To my amazement, Greg offered to turn the whole project over to me. Apparently the guy who’d been working on it had been slow-moving, and Greg knew that I (A) was an HPL fan and (B) never missed a deadline. So there I was, at age 25, handed the whole task of writing a game on HPL all by my lonesome. I’d never designed a game before.
- Were you surprised at how popular the RPG became? Did you have high expectations for it’s success?
[Sandy ==>] Yes I was surprised. No I didn’t have high expectations. My theory was that I would do the game for me and the pathetic few other HPL fans out there. In other words, I was just trying to please myself – to write a game that _I_ would like to play. It turned out there were more people like me than I thought.
This was a lesson in game development I never forgot. Ever since I’ve tried to make a game for ME, instead of for someone else. This hasn’t always led to smash hits, but when I’ve failed to follow this rule, the game is never a hit.
- How did you get started on PC gaming, and later, level design?
[Sandy ==>] In 1988 I’d worked for Chaosium for years. I had four kids and was basically penniless. I decided that much as I loved Chaosium’s style and the other workers, I owed it to my family to find a better job. So I went looking specifically for a job in the PC gaming world. I found one at MicroProse software. There, I was part of the team for Civilization and Darklands, and was lead designer for several games you probably haven’t heard of. When MicroProse started imploding around 1993 a friend sent my name in to id Software, who was looking for a designer. The name “level design” hadn’t really been invented yet. I got the job, worked there until 1997, and got my current job which I love unconditionally at Ensemble Studios. It’s the best place I’ve worked – it’s as fun as Chaosium, but I actually get paid. Woohoo!
- Some would say that your level (and monster designs) in Quake have a Lovecraftian angle to them. Did you go into it with that decided, or did it come out as you worked?
[Sandy ==>] This was precisely my intent. Adrian Carmack’s art style lent itself towards making Lovecraftian horrors and they’re the best monsters anyway, in my opinion.
- What was more fun for you, level or monster design?
[Sandy ==>] I liked them both, but the fact is that there are better level designers out there than me, and they should probably do that particular job.
- Did any of your coworkers at iD share your enthusiasm for Lovecraft?
[Sandy ==>] not really. Or even horror in general. I tried to show Dead Alive (by Peter Jackson) to John Romero once, and he got physically ill and left the room.
- How did you get involved with Ensemble Studios, and what are you working on now?
[Sandy ==>] after I had decided to leave id Software I went to GDC and encountered an old friend Bruce Shelley (we’d worked together at MicroProse). He told me Ensemble was looking for a designer and I applied. My work on Doom and Quake clinched the deal. My current project has not been announced so I can’t really talk about it yet.
- What are your plans for the future? Do you plan on returning to Lovecraftian material?
[Sandy ==>] well as an employee of a good-sized firm, I don’t necessarily pick and choose my own projects. Obviously I always keep a keen eye out for horror-related projects or elements. I did manage to sneak a “Miskatonic” indian scout into Age of Empires 3.
- What are your thoughts on how Lovecraft's works have, or have not, influenced games (as well as movies) today? Do you see a growing popularity for games and movies (such as the recent Call of Cthulhu) that are directly taken from the Mythos?
[Sandy ==>] Lovecraft has clearly experienced a kind of boom since the mid-80s, with films, games, and even comics all based on them. Even Japanese manga “tentacle porn” is clearly HPL-influenced. I don’t know if my game helped stimulate that boom, but I’d like to think so.
- What aspect of Lovecraft's fiction would you say had the largest impact on you?
[Sandy ==>] he turns the horror story on its head. In a “normal” horror story, you have Normality invaded by the Other (whether supernatural or not). The protagonist(s) either survives or is destroyed by the Other, and then Normality returns. Lovecraft pioneered a whole new type of horror – sure it starts out in Normality, then the Other seems to invade, but then HPL shows you that the Other is the real state of things, and what you perceived as Normality was illusory – a fragile denial of facts which is destined to be ripped away. His protagonists cannot return to Normality, for it no longer exists for them.
- How do you view other authors, such as Derleth, writing Mythos fiction? Does this impede on canonical Lovecraft? Do you have the same views as applied to roleplaying?
[Sandy ==>] I think horror authors – in fact authors in general are best off when they are trying to write their own stories, rather than imitating someone else. That said, I have no objection to people using Lovecraft’s concepts in their tales. There have been some pretty good stories coming out in the last 20 years based on Lovecraftian models. That said, in the 60s and 70s there was a lot of Really Bad HPL pastiches that I think gave the whole Mythos a bad name.
- In your view, what attributed to the vast popularity of Doom and Quake?
[Sandy ==>] interactive network play
- Are you optimistic for iD's future? What are your views on their recent and upcoming releases?
[Sandy ==>] I wish them well. I thought when they went back to Doom that showed a certain lack of imagination, though.
- Lovecraft, H.P. The Dreamcyle of H.P Lovecraft. New York: Random House Publishing, 1995.
- Kushner, David. Masters of Doom. New York: Random House Publishing, 2003.
- Wikipedia. “H.P. Lovecraft”. Wikipedia. 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lovecraft>
- Wikipedia. “August Derleth”. Wikipedia. 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Derleth>
- Wikipedia. “Wolfenstein 3D”. Wikipedia. 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfenstein_3d>
- Wikipedia. “Robert E. Howard”. Wikipedia 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_E._Howard>
- Stentz, Zack. “Metroactive Books | H.P. Lovecraft” Metroactive Books. 1997. <http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/01.02.97/cover/horror1-9701.html>
- Hein, Rolland. Christian Mythmakers. Chicago: Conerstone Press. 1998.