John and Brenda Romero have become something of a videogame power couple. Prolific, talented, and fiercely passionate, the pair have carved out a unique space for themselves in the industry. While Doom will be the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear the name, the Romeros have also been hugely successful in fields outside of the first-person shooter genre, including mobile and social games, education, publishing, and campaigning.
Most recently, the pair founded Romero Games in Galway, Ireland. We sat down with John and Brenda after their dual keynote talks at this year’s Develop conference. In the first of our two-part interview we talk about the state of PC gaming, the rise of multiplayer shooters, and why Romero Games will probably be their last studio.
How do you feel about the current state of PC gaming?
John Romero: I love it. PC gaming is amazing. Overwatch is amazing – such a great game. All of these amazing indie games are coming out on PCs. You get to see stuff so much faster when people can just develop it and throw it out there without having to go through console manufacturing. It’s nice to see a lot of the indie games and where they’re going. They have ideas in them that you don’t normally get. And you can push PC hardware to the max, getting high framerates and amazing shaders.
You mention Overwatch – that’s a game at the forefront of the current trend for multiplayer first-person shooters. Is there any part of you that laments the shift away from the single-player campaign?
Is that something you’d like to return to?
JR: I would like to see it again. That kind of emotive play is just not popular right now, but people are going to go back to it when they realise, ‘Woah, there’s a hole in the market – let’s fill it!’ People do love it. It was massive. We’ll get single-player shooters again.
Games like Prey and Dishonored 2 achieved disappointing launch sales, at least compared to projections. Why do you think that’s the case?
JR: It could be so many reasons. Some people might not like the name, some might go ‘I didn’t play Dishonoured 1, so I’m not going to play 2.’
Brenda Romero: I think [Dishonored 2] was a great game. The notion that games struggled compared to the publisher’s [expectations] – how do we really know? The biggest ‘classic’ failure people mention is E.T. Well, why don’t you try to code a game in 6502 from start to box in six weeks by yourself? Everything I know about those games... how they were critically received was exceptional. Dishonored 2 is a beautiful game. But, sure, if I was [a publisher] investing all my money in a game, I might like to see quadruple my return.
JR: You can’t tell what’s real when you hear news like ‘Square Enix is getting rid of Io Interactive’. You think Hitman must have been a big failure, but no. They bought themselves out, they’re totally indie, and they’re going to keep doing Hitman stuff.
BR: From a game development perspective, the only thing I look at is the game. A good example from our recent experience is Gunman Taco Truck. We didn’t put monetisation hooks in it at first, and we purposefully just released a good game. We know how to ramp up the [hype], to give you just not enough, we know the pressure points to get, and we didn’t do any of that. We just wanted to release a good game? Did we make less money? Yeah.
Do you think the definition of success being sales in the multiple millions is damaging?
JR: It depends if the publishers look at it that way. Not everything is triple-A.
BR: Not all of it’s damaging, either. If you take a look at the film industry, there’s the massive blockbusters, and then there’s art-house.
But you see it in the film industry, too, where a film is described as a ‘flop’, just because it didn’t hit the right numbers.
BR: Yeah, that’s true. I just care about making as good a game as I can possibly make. Just try to make as good a game as you conceivably can.
You founded Romero Games together, but do you feel that the Romero brand is different today? Many people associate the name solely with Doom despite the diverse projects you’ve both undertaken.
BR: It’s funny. You could say Romero is associated with shooters, but shooters is this tiny little part of it all. The only reason we named it Romero Games was because we knew it was the ‘forever’ company. We’re not interested in selling it. We just want to make games. It was also very much a family thing, so Michael – our oldest son – is a game developer, our youngest son is a game developer, our middle daughter is a game developer, and our youngest daughter is a level designer. She just hasn’t admitted it yet.
Check out our list of the best shooters on PC.
Top image credit: Joe Brady