During id Software technical director John Carmack's keynote speech for QuakeCon 2013 - a wide-ranging, jargon-heavy speech that, including Q&A, clocked in at a little under three hours long — a scant seven seconds was reserved for any discussion of Doom 4, the studio's long-in-development shooter. It was during the Q&A, when a fan asked Carmack if he could provide any update on the game's development.
"I can't," Carmack said. "I actually asked about whether I could say anything related to the development, and the answer was, no, I couldn't."
id Software has been fairly quiet following the launch of Rage, its last AAA product which made it to market in late 2011. The past year has been especially quiet for the developer in terms of progress updates on Doom 4; a project which id Software creative director Tim Willits said was the studio's sole focus in an interview with Polygon at last year's QuakeCon. The only official word on the game came in response to a fairly damning report from Kotaku, which cited sources claiming the game had been half-baked and mismanaged, and wasn't nearly close to having a complete build.
In a statement to Kotaku then, Pete Hines, VP of PR and Marketing for Bethesda Softworks — id's publishing partner — confirmed one angle of the report; that the game's development had been rebooted in 2011.
"An earlier version of Doom 4 did not exhibit the quality and excitement that id and Bethesda intend to deliver and that Doom fans worldwide expect," said Hines. "As a result, id refocused its efforts on a new version of Doom 4 that promises to meet the very high expectations everyone has for this game and this franchise."
In the absence of other Doom 4 information, that's all fans of the franchise have had to chew on since that statement was issued in early April. At this year's QuakeCon, we asked Willits whether the vacuum of information on Doom 4 had made it difficult for the studio to maintain any kind of positive message about the game's development.
"That was one of the reasons why Pete [Hines] said that," Willits replied. "We got together and said, 'Let's say one thing, let's make it official, because people love to write whatever they can find and twist it around.' But internally, even internally, we're much more focused. Which, you know what, when you have everybody marching to the same drummer, you tend to get some stuff done, which is good."
Willits reiterated the company's newfound emphasis on streamlining and focusing its efforts only on Doom 4; a strategy which saw the studio's prolific mobile gaming branch be absorbed back into the core Doom 4 development team last year. Projects like last year's Doom 3: BFG Edition — a glossier remake of the series' last entry — are behind id now.
"That's still our company model," Willits said. "Don't take your eye off the ball."
Doom 4 may be the only game id Software's development team is working on, but it's not the only thing the company has on its plate. There's still the continued building and next-gen optimization of its id Tech 5 toolset — a development suite utilized by Rage, Doom 4 and MachineGames' upcoming title Wolfenstein: The New Order. The id team has a vested interest in the last title, working with the developer on the game's core technology as it ports across platforms and across console generations.
As happy as the developer is to talk about those endeavors, everyone we spoke to at QuakeCon was tight-lipped on the subject of Doom 4. Willits reflected on the game's announcement, which may have come a bit too early for its own good. According to him, the game's informal reveal by John Carmack at QuakeCon 2007 was meant to attract new talent to the studio rather than serve as the starting gun for Doom 4's PR cycle.
"We have found that long PR cycles don't help," Willits said. "They're a distraction to the development team. Your message can easily get diluted if you're not careful. Bethesda has had great success with - heck, look at the Skyrim launch, that was like nine months!
"One of the problems we got into — it's always easy to say that — is that way back, when we wanted to grow the studio and look for great talent, we said, 'Hey, we're going to make another Doom game.' We thought, 'If we tell people we're going to make another Doom game, we're gonna attract some great talent.' But that put a flagpole in the ground of when people thought we started on Doom. We wanted to throw that out there to tell people, 'This is what we're working on for the future, but we want to find people to do it.'"
Hiring that team took a while, Willits said — and may still be continuing, based on the company's recent acquisition of Pacific Rim concept artist Hugo Martin. In 2009, id's recently-departed CEO Todd Hollenshead told GameSpot that Doom 4 was "deep in development" with a new team, which the studio had only begun onboarding the prior year.
"It takes forever to hire people," Willits said. "It takes months to hire one person. But yeah, it was a while. But again, like we said, now we're streamlined. It's difficult for developers to always have to make demos, go to events and shows, and at the end of the day, a great launch is important for a game, but a great game is important for success."
The state of Doom 4's development is far from clear, but one thing is for certain: It wasn't at QuakeCon 2013. People we talked to who are involved with the game in any way were hesitant to even mention it by name, referring to it solely as "our current project," or something similarly evasive.
When asked if this would be the last QuakeCon where Doom 4 wouldn't be addressed, Willits doesn't give an especially clear answer.
"That's a funny question, you know? It's a tricky question. I'll just leave it at that."