Doom’s John Carmack Opens Up About Working With Steve Jobs

Doom’s John Carmack Opens Up About Working With Steve Jobs
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Screenshot: id Software (Doom 3)

Apple is one of the largest technology companies in the world. The iPhone has an install base of over 700 million people. And yet the company has always had a fraught relationship to gaming. Mac users know the pain of needing to run alternate operating systems to play popular PC games well.

In a new facebook post, one of the creators of Doom, John Carmack, shared some of his own experiences interacting with the late Steve Jobs that helps shed more light on why that was the case.

Carmack reportedly tried to break into a school to steal Apple II computers when he was only 14. While the burglary was uncesseful, his infatuation with Apple apparently lived on. In a sprawling post on Facebook, the programmer, who now works at Oculus, detailed his relationship with Jobs, dating back to the early days at the video game studio id Software. “As Id Software grew successful through Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D, the first major personal purchase I made wasn’t a car, but rather a NeXT computer,” Carmack writes.

“It turned out to be genuinely valuable for our software development, and we moved the entire company onto NeXT hardware.”

He says that staff loved the computers and wanted to promote them with a NeXT logo that would appear during Doom‘s startup, but Apple rejected the request. It wasn’t until after the game came out and became a cultural phenomenon that Carmack says Jobs reached back out to see if they could add the branding after all, but by that point it was already too late.

It’s a good example of the sort of “ships passing in the night” routine that appears to have challenged Carmack’s relationship to Jobs, based at least on the former’s recollections. But it also shows how hesitant Jobs, and thereby Apple, was to align itself with gaming.

“Several things over the years made me conclude that, at his core, Steve didn’t think very highly of games, and always wished they weren’t as important to his platforms as they turned out to be,” Carmack writes in the post. “I never took it personally.”

In addition to not letting NeXT computers be affiliated with Doom, Jobs reportedly didn’t want a demo of Doom 3 running on MacOS 10 at a 2001 keynote address to have any blood in it. According to Carmack, Jobs eventually relented.

Then there was the issue of letting apps run natively on the iPhone. Carmack, who claims to have been urging Apple to develop a feature phone for years, didn’t see any reason why Apple couldn’t keep the iPhone secure but also offer access to app developers so they could create software that would run natively. Jobs disagreed, and according to Carmack this small fight caused their relationship to sour.

“He came back with a snide ‘You’re a smart guy John, why don’t you write a new OS?’ At the time, my thought was, ‘Fuck you, Steve,'” Carmack writes.

The irony of all this is that Jobs, after being persuaded by other executives at Apple, later changed his mind and came into agreement with Carmack. Hence the App store was born, an ecosystem that would, among other things, go on to cause a lot of upheaval in gaming, even if Apple never outright embraced its potential as such.

And Carmack, along with the rest of his colleagues at id Software played an important part in that. 2010’s Rage HD was one of the first games to show that graphics approaching those of a conventional gaming console could be possible on a mobile device.

“The last iOS product I worked on was Rage for iOS, which I thought set a new bar for visual richness on mobile, and also supported some brand new features like TV out,” writes Carmack. “I heard that it was well received inside Apple.” Jobs died a year later and Carmack says he wasn’t able to talk to him before then, something he regrets.

Still, it’s interesting to see how far Apple gaming has evolved since then. Answer: not much. Even seven years removed from Jobs’ notorious “reality distortion field,” gaming on iPhones has plateaued somewhat from the early 2010s when it looked like it might lead to the death of traditional consoles. And compared to Windows, MacOS remains a gaming back water.

The newest Doom released in 2016, but wasn’t ported to iOS. Instead, that honour goes to a different handheld: Nintendo’s Switch. While iPhone continues to get ports of indie games and older classics, it’s not remained at the frontier of high-end gaming the way projects like Rage HD hinted it might.

Of course, just because that’s the way it’s been doesn’t mean that’s the way things will stay. Now that Rage 2 has officially been revealed, there’s no better time for Rage 2 HD on smartphones.


  • Jobs also disregarded Bungie at a crucial moment and let them go, so Microsoft got Halo.

  • As someone who both plays video games and uses Macs, Apple’s hesitancy regarding game continues to infuriate me.

    Things were looking up in the mid-1990s when Apple released GameSprockets and had actual people within the company working to make solid gaming performance an aspect of the Mac at the time, but it all got thrown out when Jobs came back in 1997.

    I have mad respect for Jobs as a visionary, but he really missed the boat on how important games could have been for the Mac.

    • not really, between 97 and 2002 was when Mac Gaming reached it peaked, thanks to Epic Games and ID releasing the Quake, Quake 2 , Unreal, Unreal Tornament and Quake 3 plus a boat load of other 3rd party support such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Everything that Bungie made and Also Blizzard. In fact the developers who didnt want anything to do with Macs was Valve because they couldnt get the MP in half-life to work between PC and Mac gamers, but that was a fault in the Quake 2 engine that Half Life was based off. Because of that Valve canceled releasing Half Life on the Mac even though they had the campaign completed and no one gave a shit about MP in half Life except for Counter Strike.

  • The crazy thing is, Mac hardware can be capable of gaming.

    The bottle neck though is in the OS and its drivers.

    For example, the 2013 Mac Pro (the trash can), has two ATi cards. In OS X, one is used for the displays and the other is used only for computation via OpenCL.

    Even when one starts a game, only one card is accessible to the game.

    Install Windows via Boot Camp though and its a different story.

    On Windows, one has access to the X-Fire features than can use both cards for gaming.

    There is no denying that Mac hardware is lower than a custom built PC, but it speaks a lot when one ditches the “superior” operating system for the competitors and has fuller access to the hardware.

    And before anyone starts, I also keep a Windows and FreeBSD system so I’m not a diehard to any platform.

    I use Mac for my work (and coding via a VM), my Windows PC for gaming, and FreeBSD for file shares. None of the major OSes out there covers all my needs at once.

  • Gaming is a multi billion dollar industry. It’s churlish and weird that a company that makes computers would largely ignore the potential cash.
    But this is Apple we are talking about . Like Nintendo, they do things their own way, often at the expense of the consumer experience. Jobs was by all accounts a stubborn and close minded person, and of course a ‘visionary’ who put touch screens on phones.

    • It’s a funny thing, that touchscreen. Word inside Nokia was that someone came up with the capacitive touch display about five years before Apple did, but it was binned in the vein of “nobody will want that”. Nobody being the Asian market who used the stylus for writing.

      A big missed boat there, and we saw the knee-jerk response to the iPhone in the 5800 XpressMusic and N97 – both failures for hacking their stick driven UI under a touchscreen (among other things).

    • Given how much money they’re rolling in, I’d argue that they probably don’t focus on or care much for desktop PC gaming because it’s far from their core business. Much of their focus seems to be on iOS anyway, and games on that platform are flourishing.

    • The last game he worked on was also called DOOM… and yeah, Doom (93) is what most readers are going to recognize him from. It changed the world man.

  • gaming doesn’t need apple or job’s marketing ideolgies so i’m glad apple are too arrogant to cater to real gamers.

  • If only Carmack made that OS…

    Realistically speaking we should be grateful Apple hasn’t forayed heavily into the gaming market. Three platforms with Nintendo being the occasional fourth already leaves some PC games with questionable optimisation; another platform would stretch things further.

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