The Age of Doom

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QUITE A SKULL SET: Carmack is the mind behind a generation of computer games

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Doom 3 is sure to be big business. It had better be: id Software releases only one product every few years, and developing a game like Doom 3 costs from $15 million to $20 million. Unless it confounds all expectations, Doom 3 should sell well into the millions, at $54.99 a pop. And id will license Carmack's technology to a swarm of game developers. Although conventional wisdom has it that games like id's appeal to just a narrow, nerdy hard-core subculture, they're actually wildly popular. Even before Doom 3 hits stores, 6 of the top 10 computer games in June were hard core. And two other games of that ilk, Halo 2 and Half-Life 2, are expected to post big numbers later this year. Universal Pictures has a Doom movie set to film in Prague this winter, with producer John Wells — of such respectable fare as ER and The West Wing — attached. (The Rock reportedly has his sights set on the starring role.) The hard core has become the mainstream. This isn't a subculture, it's a culture.

A generation is defining itself through virtual combat, without the casualties or consequences of World War II and the Vietnam War. And who knows? Maybe one day we'll figure out less destructive ways to have fun in Carmack's dreamworld. After all, it would be a shame if, having invented cinema, we made only war movies. Carmack might even be the one to broker that virtual peace. He has a life outside Doomhobbies, charities, not to mention a wife who's eight months pregnant. He doesn't spend much time gaming anymore. But he isn't giving up on the virtual frontier he opened. "There's something fundamentally interesting about that, about the world in a box," he says. "If somebody can be an emperor in a virtual world, with only a cheap computer, is that really a fundamentally bad thing?"

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