The co-creator of "Doom" and one of the pioneers of the FPS — that's the first-person shooter — announced Tuesday that a new figment of his imagination, a game called "Orcs & Elves," will be coming to cell phones later this spring. The game casts the player as a hero who has to save a dwarven citadel with the aid of flaming swords and magic spells. Carmack is just not sure how to describe it in three letters or less.
"It's an interpolated first-person action-adventure sort of RPG," he told MTV News, acknowledging that that phrase doesn't really roll off the tongue. "It took years for FPS to become an acronym. There will eventually be an acronym we come up with from this."
So what's it all mean? Carmack's main gaming focus has always been computer games. And even though he's had side projects, like trying to launch rockets and win the prize for the first private flight to space, gaming is still what he's best known for — gaming that is high-tech and pushes the limits of modern computer graphics.
Last year, however, he began to think a little smaller and helped create a version of "Doom" for cell phones called "Doom RPG." The last three letters, which stand for role-playing game, signaled that this wouldn't be your standard run-and-gun shooting game. Instead, Carmack and Fountainhead Entertainment, the game design company run by his wife, Katherine Anna Kang, created a "Doom" in which players use the phone's keypad to make a move during their turn, wait for the enemies to do their thing, and then make another move, just like many turn-based RPGs. It would allow for methodical gameplay instead of quick reflexes — a different pace for a different type of gaming machine.
It was a formula that won the game acclaim and worked well enough for Carmack that he wanted to come back to it again, even if he couldn't figure out what to call that type of game.
But even as he's struggled to name the genre, he found himself naming the new game without even realizing it. "I had said offhand, 'Someone should do a fantasy orcs and elves type of game,' " he said. "And somewhat to my surprise, we had some people who said, 'That's a good idea.' " In fact, one of his development partners took the suggestion seriously and tried to see if he could actually make a game called "Orcs & Elves."
Lawyers ran the name through the trademark registry to see if they could use it. The response shocked Carmack: The title "Orcs & Elves" came back clean. No one else had a claim to it. That's not how it usually works.
"You make a page of names and you send them out to the lawyers, and all the names get shot to hell," Carmack said. That's what happened back when his company, id, was making the game that would follow its celebrated FPS "Quake." Even though the new game bore few connections to "Quake," no name the company submitted went uncontested, and they wound up calling the game "Quake II."
"Orcs & Elves" got through the naming process, and now Carmack is hoping it also finds acceptance with gamers. He knows that "Doom RPG" got a bit of a pass since it was using sights and sounds cherished by fans of the series for more than a decade. This game will succeed because of the story and its world. The game, like "Doom RPG," incidentally, is chiefly designed by his wife, who took Carmack's concept and ran with it.
There's enough confidence in the project that Carmack said work is already under way on the game's sequel. And beyond that? "I do sort of have this grand scheme of, we do 'Orcs & Elves' and we do a sequel and we go into this massively multiplayer 'Orcs & Elves' world." He sees people connecting across their cell phones, using the phone's built-in speaker and earpiece to communicate through the fantasy world.
A year ago, Carmack admitted on his blog that he was a cell-phone-gaming skeptic. A lot of stuff didn't work. "You aren't going to be able to make an immersive experience on a 2-inch screen, no matter what the graphics look like," he wrote. "Moody and atmospheric are pretty much out. Stylish and fun is about the best you can do."
He said a year of work with cell phone games has tempered that view. "I may have backed off a little bit," he said, admitting he's seen plenty of people since then with their attention locked on their tiny cell phone screens. "I have seen people really immersed in the mobile experience."
Now he's hoping people hunker down and get into his new game. If only he knew what to call it, a project reserved for a later date.
"Orcs & Elves" will be available to some Verizon Wireless customers on Sunday and will be available on an expanded range of cell-phone platforms in July.