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Romero on BLACKROOM: It's time for the old-school FPS to emerge again

John Romero and Adrian Carmack announced today that they were rocket-jumping back into the FPS scene again with their new PC project BLACKROOM. It's a genre that has been a crowded market for years, but despite the seemed saturation of shooter wanabees, the duo felt the time was right to kickstart it old-school.

"I haven’t seen a game in the past decade that played like the early shooters with fast movement, rocket jumping, gibs flying everywhere, intriguing puzzles and imbued with a dark comedic attitude," Carmack told us when asked why he chose now to unveil the project. "It seems that the classic FPS design is something that people want to play again. Perhaps it’s now a cycle, and it’s time for that kind of gameplay to emerge again."

Romero has been hinting at this type of project for some time, and he feels that he has the makings of a great shooter that fans will want to play. "It feels like it’s the right time because I’ve come up with a game design that can help move the genre forward and allow players to have an FPS experience like nothing they’ve seen before. It’s such a fun idea that I’m really excited to see it in action. I haven’t been this excited about a game in a very long time."

And Romero has given the game a lot of thought. This isn't just some shooter that will be held together with shreds of a story. Romero said he wants a believable story to be the backdrop for a game with exceptional old-school FPS mechanics.

"I’ve thought about the design of BLACKROOM longer than any other game I’ve made," he said. "Designs, or at least the initial ideas for them, tend to result from questions that I ask myself. What if this happened? What’s well beyond the VR of today? What if you wanted to innovate upon that? That is how HOXAR and their holographic mixed reality came into being. PMT (Predictive Memory Technology) was the innovation that took that one step further. Since the initial idea, it’s slowly evolved, piece by piece, into a design that we’re incredibly excited to make." 

And with that he dropped us into the backstory for the game. BLACKROOM takes place inside a company called HOXAR, Inc. in the year 2036. "They are absolutely at the forefront of technology. They have created this environment that allows people to be anywhere at anytime all inside of a giant black room. The military recognized the potential of this technology very early on and got on board with funding that let the company grow. Commercial clients weren’t too far behind. So, now they have military sims and entertainment sims and many more."

Romero said that pretext gives them a huge range of options to play with. Of course, not everything goes according to plan for HOXAR, a problems develop that the player must investigate. "That problem is the unifying conflict that ties all this together. In order to address what’s happening in BLACKROOM, they have to explore where it’s happening at the source across these various HoloSims. Ultimately, all these things come together in the seriously abstract level design that is my forte. Obviously, we have designed the game to play to our strengths."

Romero said the crux of the HOXAR's BLACKROOM problems lies in the Predictive Memory Technology, something HOXAR designed to stay ahead of the VR and HoloSim competition. "PMT was designed to make HoloSims as real as they could be by scanning the participants' memories and using those memories to craft personalized and realistic experiences within individual HoloSims. A soldier who regularly feared a certain type of combat incident would be faced with issues to test it. On the kinder side, PMT could recreate personalities from people’s memories of their loved ones so that they could have a conversation with them in BLACKROOM, a conversation that felt real. It was revolutionary. Unfortunately, it was also not without its flaws. PMT had not only the ability to 'read,' it seems, but also the ability to permanently 'write.' Thus one person’s nightmares became others, and all of these nightmares magnified over time, both inside and outside the simulation." 

Romero is counting on fans of the old-school to back the project. Unfortunately, many successful Kickstarters have failed to deliver any semblence of what was promised, making trust on any crowdfunded project an issue. Romero said he is aware of that, and he and Carmack have a finely focused plan in mind.

"Know exactly what you want to make, work with other very skilled people to do it, and make sure that someone (and in this case multiple someone’s) are watching over every single thing to ensure that the game is on the rails at all times," he said, detailing the BLACKROOM development stretegy. "Of course, there will be something that needs changing, tweaking, etc., but that polish time is factored into the schedule in advance."

And if the project doesn't get funded? Is there a backup plan for angel investors?

"No. For Adrian and me, this is a labor of love. It is a design that we’re incredibly passionate about, and a game we have wanted to make for a a while now," Romero said. “'What if it doesn’t work?' and 'What if they don’t like the idea' hasn’t entered our minds, because we’ve focused very, very closely on what we know people like and what we know people want. The trick is to deliver that while still innovating upon the genre. We’re too excited about the possibility of BLACKROOM to focus on failure."

When it was learned that Romero and Carmack would be teaming up on the project, it was natural to speculate who else from the old id Software days might join them. Unfortunately, Tom Hall, Sandy Petersen, American McGee and the others are busy with their own endeavors.

"We certainly did have a good time working together, and I have a lot of respect for their work," Romero said of his former team members. "In fact, Tom and I have worked together in four different companies after id. However, Adrian and I feel that, since we created those seminal games together, and are in the right place at the right time, that we can definitely do this ... now." 

The game will be developed by Night Work Games, a "dark and violent" subsidiary of Romero Games. "Increasingly, games are being created closer to the film model where you bring a company and a group of people together for a specific purpose," Romero said. "In this case, BLACKROOM is that purpose."

Unfortunately, any time Romero's name is mentioned, some fans with long memories will invariably bring up the an ill-advised ad campaign for a game that shall not be named. Romero is aware of the criticism, and meets it head on, eager to lt fans kow he has learned from it. He vows it will make BLACKROOM a better game.

"It’s been 16 years since that fateful and stupid ad," he said. "Suffice to say that I’ve learned a lot. I have repeatedly apologized, and will continue to do so, for the dumb decisions that led to that ad, for the ad itself and for shipping a less than stellar game. Obviously, that’s not something any designer wants to do. It was a very ambitious project, and while everyone worked hard, there were simply some things we were not able to overcome. Ultimately, while it would be great if every game could enjoy the success of DOOM, DOOM II and Quake, that’s not always going to happen. The lessons from Daikatana are deeply internalized at this point and are reflected in BLACKROOM. Probably the most obvious one is in the level design. In BLACKROOM, I am designing all the levels. In Daikatana, I designed none."

Romero is eager to step up and get going. As a bit of practice, and maybe an early hint of what's to come, he created and released a level for the original DOOM in January that was well received. "I believe e1m8b (Tech Gone Bad) showed that my passion for level design and my ability to innovate is still there," he said.

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