The founders of the video game development company id Software, the company best known for pioneering the first-person shooter genre with PC games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and Quake, came up with the name “id” because they were inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theory of ego psychology involving the id, the ego and the super-ego, “id” constituting uncoordinated instinctual desires. While programmers John Carmack and John Romero, designer Tom Hall and artist Adrian Carmack definitely had good instincts and strong desires for the future of gaming, they were far from uncoordinated so I score that name a two out of three.
In 1981, there was a software company called Softdisk that used to make disk magazines (magazines distributed in electronic form via floppy disk).
John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall and Adrian Carmack (no relation to John) used to develop games for Softdisk, including Romero’s 1988 platform game Dangerous Dave for Apple II and MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System).
The game itself was nothing special, but it has an interesting place in video game history because John Carmack had actually made a breakthrough when he developed rapid side-scrolling using the game’s code. He and Tom Hall stayed up late replicating the first level of the Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. 3 with the character Dangerous Dave replacing Mario in a demo titled Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement.
Romero realized that Carmack’s breakthrough had potential for being a fun game so they recreated every level from Super Mario Bros. 3 and offered to sell the idea to Nintendo but the Japanese company rejected it on the basis that they were exclusive to the console market.
Luckily a man named Scott Miller, founder of Apogee Software (now 3D Realms and best known for the Duke Nukem series) was a fan of Dangerous Dave and contacted the Softdisk team around this time to hear their proposals for new video game ideas. One of those ideas was the 1990 sidescroller Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons which Apogee ended up publishing for MS-DOS, thus kicking off the Keen series.
After the shareware game became popular and the development team received their royalty check, they decided to start their own company called id Software in 1991 and the first game they began making was Wolfenstein 3D.
Developed for the DOS and first published by Apogee Software and FormGen in 1992, Wolfenstein 3D was actually the third game in the Wolfenstein series which got kicked off in 1981 with the Apple II game Castle Wolfenstein and continued in 1984 with the sequel Beyond Castle Wolfenstein.
Those first two games were pioneers in the stealth genre which would later become popularized by Hideo Kojima with the Metal Gear series.
Wolfenstein 3D put you in control of Allied American spy William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he escapes a Nazi prison in Germany called Castle Wolfenstein and fights Nazi soldiers, guard dogs and other enemies with a variety of weapons while climbing the castle to exterminate the Nazi threat.
It was much faster and much more violent than the previous games and it is widely regarded as the first game to popularize the 3D first-person shooter genre. It was both a critical and commercial success when it was released.
The first game that id Software self-published was their biggest phenomenon Doom, developed for the MS-DOS and released in 1993. This game puts you in control of a space marine fighting his way through various Hell demons to save the earth from a deadly invasion. It was not only a pioneer in three-dimensional gaming but also in networked multiplayer gaming and custom mods, all things that are the norm today.
Often cited as one of the most popular and influential video games ever made, Doom surpassed the popularity of everything id Software had made and has made since, helping to define 3D gaming forever afterward.
Its Hell-themed imagery also made it an infamous target of controversy from non-gamers. But for many people with computers it was hugely addictive and it is often ranked highly when lists of the best video games in history are compiled.
Another popular game from the software developer came in 1996 when Quake was released by GT Interactive as shareware on MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows.
Quake is a first-person shooter in which you navigate maze-like levels in a medieval environment while fighting off monsters with a variety of weaponry just like in Wolfenstein and Doom. The setting is largely inspired by the dark fantasy stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
This game expanded on the technology of Doom with real-time 3D rendering which more closely created the illusion of realistic motion. Plus it featured appropriately sinister music from Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails, and Reznor even voices the main character. Just like Wolfenstein and Doom the game was critically acclaimed and highly regarded among most gamers as influential in the shooter genre.
id Software has stuck mostly with these three series as they continued developing sequels and spin-offs through the years but they have developed the original mobile phone games Orcs & Elves (2006) and Rage (2010). Of course by now the original four founders have all moved on from the company.
John Carmack resigned from id Software in 2013 after supervising Rage and works full-time at Oculus VE as Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for the virtual reality headset company, and later shifting to consulting CTO in 2019 to dedicate more time to researching artificial general intelligence.
John Romero and Tom Hall both left id Software to form their own video game company following creative differences with John Carmack. The new company Ion Storm was founded in 1996 and the first game they developed was the negatively received first-person shooter Daikatana for Microsoft Windows and Nintendo 64. Afterwards Romero and Hall co-founded mobile game developer Monkeystone, joined Midway, and co-founded and developed other games and companies while remaining in limbo for most of the 21st century.
In 2016, Romero had tried to fund a new FPS game called Blackroom via Kickstarter which was meant to have brought back the fun of past, violent PC games but it never got finished. Hall meanwhile became a principal designer at the casual game publisher PlayFirst (best known for the Diner Dash series) in 2013.
Last but not least, Adrian Carmack left id Software in 2005. He distanced himself from the video game industry for a while afterward but he did help out Romero in the development of his unfinished game Blackroom.
As for id Software, the company has never again made a game as influential as the big three from the nineties and future Wolfenstein games would be handled by companies like Raven Software and MachineGames, but they are still going strong with the Doom, Quake and Rage series and in 2009 they have even been acquired by ZeniMax, the owners of Elder Scrolls and Fallout developers Bethesda, which itself has been acquired by Microsoft in 2021. Other shooting games have surpassed Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake in design but not many have surpassed them in influence, which is why the studio and the people who worked there are still so highly regarded after all these years. Not to say they have lost their step. Check out Doom Eternal (2020).