The legend of John Romero

February 26th, 2018 9:06 AM
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When I was on the KansasFest committee, I performed much of the outreach to parties outside what we commonly think of as the Apple II community. That included recruitment of keynote speakers, which was always one of the most important steps in organizing each annual convention. Once we had a keynote speaker to headline the event, we could open registration — which meant brainstorming and solicitation of speakers began very early.

While most candidates responded to our emails, not all of them were able to accept our invitations, for a variety of legitimate reasons: usually that they'd moved past the Apple II, or that we couldn't sufficiently compensate them for their time. When they did respond in the affirmative, it wasn't unusual for several rounds of questions and clarifications to occur before they'd agree to attend. None of this was unexpected or unfair; on the contrary, we recognized that an Apple II convention in the middle of the country at the height of vacation season was a hard sell.

All this made it all the more shocking when the keynote speaker we thought most likely to say no was the one whose enthusiastic acceptance arrived the fastest. Given that the sun has still not set on the legend of John Romero, I never expected such a luminary of the gaming industry to come to KansasFest. That preconceived notion served only to demonstrate how little I knew him. He was friendly, generous, timely, and delivered one of the best KansasFest keynote speeches I've ever witnessed.

More evidence of John's benevolence is apparent in the latest episode of Jason Scott's podcast, Jason Scott Talks His Way Out of It (which I back on Patreon). Over the course of Jason's 24-minute monologue, he recounts his own personal interactions with John as well as John's many contributions to gaming and the Apple II community.

I'm tempted to call John's appearance at KansasFest a homecoming. But John never left the Apple II community, celebrating it in 1998 by hosting his own reunion of renowned Apple II developers and publishers, as documented in this landmark ZDNet feature by Steven Kent. John recreated that event almost 20 years later when he and partner Brenda Romero, herself of Wizardry fame, hosted another Apple II reunion in 2015. Both events reunited John with his peers from the days well before his Doom and Quake fame, when he created such classic Softdisk and UpTime games for the Apple II as Dangerous Dave.

John Romero is one of my favorite people in the gaming industry, not only because of the software he's created but because of how he conducts himself as a person and the respect, enthusiasm, and support he shows others — such as by showing no hesitation about being an Apple II keynote speaker in Missouri in the middle of July.

John Romero's Stage of Development

November 16th, 2015 10:59 AM
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I started my academic career in computer science but ended in communications. One way I currently marry those disciplines is not by developing games, as I originally thought I would, but by interviewing those who do. The IndieSider audio podcast airs biweekly with stories of independent game development (including on the Apple II), showcasing the design, execution, and funding challenges encountered by small studios with big dreams.

Documentarian Russ Pitts of Flying Saucer Media has a dream of his own: to produce a series of video profiles of games industry personalities. Think of Stage of Development as similar to IndieSider, but more professional, more visual, better funded, and not focusing exclusively on indie game developers. In fact, one early episode will spotlight one of the biggest names in the industry: John Romero, KansasFest 2012 keynote speaker.

In 1998, Romero hosted an Apple II reunion attended by platform luminaries, such as Dan Gorlin (Choplifter), Jordan Mechner (Prince of Persia), Doug Smith (Lode Runner), Joel Berez (Infocom), and Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion). In the summer of 2015, Romero threw another such party, with the guest list including Robert Woodhead (Wizardry), Chuck Sommerville (Snake Byte), David Mullich (Heroes of Might and Magic), and Margot Comstock (Softalk). Not only was the event extensively documented by Jason Scott, but Romero had each of the attendees sign his Apple II case; a glimpse of their autographs can be seen in the opening moments of the above Stage of Development video.

I'm excited to see Romero's contributions recognized and the human side of game development brought to life by Pitts' series. Though Stage of Development didn't meet its Kickstarter crowdfunding goal, the project is nonetheless moving forward. You can subscribe to receive email updates on the series.

(Hat tip to Polygamer)