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 develops 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 honor 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.