John Carmack’s .plan file circa 1999

Funny to see these time capsules of software development pop up every so often. In a world not yet fully interconnected through blogging and social media (but still pretty damn interconnected thanks to the web) the masses clamored for up to date information about their favorite computer games and game development personalities.

The nerd rockstars of their day, developers like John Carmack, John Romero, and Cliff Bleszinski would hold court with their fans by updating their personal .plan files, simply a text file which, when aggregated to the masses via sites like Bluesnews.com and Planetquake.net, would give you a small window into the glamorous work life of a game developer.

Back when it first came out, I was a gigantic fan of the game Quake. I remember Carmack’s .plan file covering some of the development of the original game, however this PDF contains updated entries from Carmack’s .plan file from 1999 onward (Quake came out in 1996). During this time, Quake III was well along in production and Carmack had all sorts of nuanced comments to make about the promises of 3D rendering, lighting engines, jumping mechanics and packet delay. You know, nerd stuff.

There’s a lot one could take away from reading the technical and trivial thoughts of the developer here. The most interesting, in many regards, is what some of the technical challenges were back then to running a (relatively) complex engine on something like a Pentium III, not to mention getting multiple machines to play nice together over a 56k modem.

Carmack’s day to day comments also hint at the difficulties of working on such a large project as a lead developer. He mentions going into “hermit mode” quite a few times, being able to get out of the office for a few days at a time and hole up inside a motel room in order to get some serious work accomplished. It’s also interesting to note the patch changes between different versions of the first internal releases of Q3.

Also for the sake of counterpoint, here is a slice of John Romero’s .plan file.