Adrian Carmack (no relation) – founded id Software 1991, left 2005
In the history of id Software, John Romero and especially John Carmack are the names that buried themselves in people’s minds. It’s no wonder, then, that every mention of fellow co-founder Adrian Carmack is immediately followed by a quick “no relation”. And then by one party saying “who”?
“It was with Adrian Carmack’s input that games like Doom and Quake took on their trend-setting aesthetics.”
And yet Carmack (no relation) played a vital role in the early days of id, serving as its first artist. Although he had never planned to enter the games industry, it was with his input that games like Doom and Quake took on their trend-setting aesthetics, taking the raw potential of the other Carmack’s graphical breakthroughs and turning them into memorable, darkly beautiful worlds that still resonate.
After a flurry of high-profile departures in the 90’s we thought id had settled whatever behind-the-scenes goings-on drove its high turnover, but it was not to be. When Carmack announced his departure from id in 2005, he quietly put it down to a desire to pursue other forms of art, having done all that he felt he could in gaming. Later, he took the rest of id’s owners to court.
According to Carmack’s claims, the other owners of id conspired to push him out of the company for refusing a buyout offer. The terms of his contract required him to give up his 41% stake in the developer for $11 million, and while that might sound like good money, at the time Carmack levelled his complaints that share was valued at a minimum of $43 million. That’s a much larger number indeed.
The dispute seems to have quietly faded away, and Activision – who was rumoured to have made the repeated, ever more lucrative acquisition attempts that sparked tensions – did not fork out for id. Carmack has since withdrawn from the development scene altogether, although Chinese whispers report he is well and happy.
Todd Hollenshead – joined id Software 1992, left 2013
Gamers were shocked when Bethesda parent company Zenimax Media bought the developer out in 2009, but at least it freed the team up to focus on producing technical wizardry and excellent games rather than getting bogged down in money and management matter. Right?
“So familiar had Hollenshead become to id fans that it’s often a shock to remember that he wasn’t one of the founders; prior to joining id he was a tax consultant.”
Maybe, but it also meant less for former id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead to do. With his bulging muscles and rippling waterfall of metal hair, Hollenshead was a highly recognisable face of id Software, and had become something of a spokesperson thanks to his engaging presence at QuakeCon.
So familiar had Hollenshead become to id fans that it’s often a shock to remember that he wasn’t one of the founders, nor worked his way up as a developer; prior to joining id he was, in fact, a tax consultant, who jumped ship from financial company Arthur Andersen. (Isn’t that wonderful? If my financial advisor looked like a viking prince I’d be more inclined to take his advice.) The savvy businessman is nevertheless credited on all id games from Wolfenstein 3D onwards.
Since id seems to have been driven more by passion and talent than profits, to a degree unfortunately rarely seen in successful developers, it’s likely Hollenshead was one of the lynchpins holding it together before it finally gave up and humbly submitted itself to Zenimax’s management. Having steered the ship through many a stormy sea, Hollenshead gave up his post-acquisition presidential role and has now gone to his well-earned rest. Oh, no, he’s not dead; he just seems to have gone to a better place, where nobody makes him talk about Rage.
John Carmack – founded id Software 1991, left 2014
Finally, we come to the big one. John Carmack was the last of id’s founders to leave the company, and it was a departure that we never expected.
“Carmack’s next-level tech wizardry is one of the industry’s treasures, and Zenimax’s refusal to pursue virtual reality lost it this priceless gem.”
An undisputed master who leaves other, lesser programmers gasping, and – I swear to god – a literal rocket scientist, Carmack was the driving force behind id Tech in all its permutations over the years.
Whether this makes him an expert game designer we can’t say; in the absence of other veterans, Carmack’s name was attached to Rage perhaps more firmly than it ought to have been – after all, video games are a hugely collaborative enterprise, and he who builds the engine doesn’t necessarily call the tune.
Regardless, Carmack’s next-level tech wizardry is one of the industry’s treasures, and Zenimax’s refusal to pursue virtual reality lost it this priceless gem – much to Oculus Rift’s delight. Thanks to his repeated advocacy, it’s clear Carmack is a great believer in virtual reality, and may be just the man the tech needs to solve its hard problems.
Carmack’s departure marked the end of an era. Yes, other high profile names had come and gone, but his exit marked a complete turnover of the original founding group. So who’s left at id Software?
Tim Willits – joined id Software 1995
When you’re mourning the loss of the old guard, don’t forget one proud sentinel still standing watch over id. Tim Willits was recruited by id in 1995, just four years after its founding, on the strength of Doom levels built in his spare time. He hasn’t looked back since.
Rising up through the ranks to eventually serve as creative director on Rage, Willits is an integral part of id, and his continued presence at the developer should help ease concerns that the spirit of the crew has been watered down post-acquisition.
Kevin Cloud – joined id Software 1992
Another early id hire, Kevin Cloud was hired on as assistant artist to Adrian Carmack just one year after id’s genesis. Like many of the early id staff, he was a Softdisk alumni. He’s reasonably notorious for being a staunch supporter of new properties and projects when all id Software staff wanted to do is knuckle down on remakes; since the compromise result of all this internal strife was Doom 3, we’re still debating whether the fallout was positive or negative.
With credits stretching right back to Wolfenstein 3D, Cloud now acts as id’s lead artist as well as having served as executive producer and creative director in his time. His importance to id is probably best illustrated by acknowledging his role as co-owner, with John Carmack, prior to Zenimax Media’s acquisition of the studio. He currently shows no signs of wanting to wander off.
It’s the unfortunate nature of the games industry that the work of hundreds is publicly credited to a very few. The scope of this article does not permit us to touch on the many, many other important and recognised figures throughout id’s history, but if you’d like to chime in with your own heroes, we’d love to hear them.