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November 3, 2021

Profile: Retro Interview: Brian Hook

Radpipe converses with id software’s Brian Hook about his job and various technical issues. Hook talks in detail about id software and what it’s actually like to work there.

Andrew “Kolinahr” Wu

By Russell “Radpipe” Lauzon / PlanetQuake
1998

Being the hardware point man for a gaming company is not an easy job, especially when that company is id, supremo Lord of the gaming companies. Not only are you constantly answering questions such as “What should I buy?” and “How does this work,” and “Who’s your favorite Llama,” but you’re also responsible for next generation technology, which bears a heavy load when you consider your predictions of what we’ll be using tomorrow might become terribly awry. Who on earth am I talking about here? Well, for those who skipped the title above, it’s Brian Hook, hardware man of id.

Big thanks to Zanshin of the GLQuake Dojo for helping me put together some cool technical questions and to Paul Steed of id for filling in on a terribly important matter (as you’ll see below).

I’m not nearly as windy as Fraggy so let’s jump straight into the gew:

Brian Hook Interview

RP: (RadPipe. Does anyone know who I am? Does anyone care?) Why don’t you give the world a brief summary of who you are, what you do, and how cool it is.

BH: (Brian Hook; hardware deity): Programmer. I work at id software working on 3D graphics stuff, tools, and hardware acceleration. It’s so cool it’s like biting into a York Peppermint Patty dipped in liquid NO2.

RP: Tell us about your history in hardware and how you got started in that technical arena. Have you ever been accused of being biased towards 3dfx because of your prior association?

BH: I was the fifth employee at 3Dfx, after the first three founders and their director of marketing. I was the first engineer there. I was tutored under the Twin Gods of 3D Hardware: Scott Sellers (VP of Hardware) and Gary Tarolli (Chief Scientists). I wrote Glide for them and worked on game ports and various other stuff, then left after a year to pursue work on my own.I have been accused of being biased towards 3Dfx, but this is usually out of ignorance. I have a sweet feeling of sentimentality for 3Dfx, but to be honest, the 3Dfx I have fond memories of consisted of less than 20 employees and no working hardware. The 3Dfx today is very much a corporate entity that I have no particular bias for, although I do like many of the people who work there.

RP: What is your history in gaming? Did you play Quake before you went to id? Can you kick American’s ass yet?

BH: History? Started playing MS Flight Simulator 1.0 on my dad’s Compaq 8086 in 1983. Wanted to write games ever since. I was a big fan of both Abrash and Carmack, and was very much into Quake. Believe it or not, I haven’t even played a single game of deathmatch with anyone here yet!

RP: Were you approached by id for the position or did you approach them? How did the acquisition transpire? (WOoo, Fraggy couldn’t have said it any better)

BH: id (Carmack) approached me. When Abrash departed the work load on Carmack went up quite a bit, so he needed some “backup”. I’m not in the same league of Abrash by any means, but I do feel I can take the load off of Carmack so he can concentrate on larger issues (“how can we do colored lighting quickly?”) instead of the details (like “which accelerator does what?”).I’d been casual friends with both Carmack and Abrash for a couple years, which is how they got to know me. I met Carmack indirectly through a mutual friend (Chris Hecker), and I met Abrash when I wrote him fan mail when I was a punk student at the University of Florida. Later on when I worked for 3Dfx I had to work with them doing “real” stuff, like talking about hardware.

RP: So now you’re the hardware guy at id. Given the frequency of your lengthy updates regarding boneheads that can’t seem to read your views unless you use very simple words and say them over and over again, are you beginning to regret taking the point position?

BH: Not at all. It’s laborious work, but it’s fun.

RP: Exactly how cool is it working with a genius like Carmack, and the rest of the happy-go-lucky dudes at id? Do you and Carmack argue about optimization techniques or what to have for lunch?

BH: I’ve worked with very few people on the level of Carmack. The Tarolli/Sellers pair at 3Dfx are the closest I’ve come to, but in a different way. Carmack is, quite simply, a once-in-a-generation genius. The nice thing is that since he’s so much better than me, I don’t even have to bother acting like I can compete. I just shut up and do my job. :-) Carmack and I usually argue the relative merits of sports cars. We have a VERY good synergy when it comes to programming and The Right Way to Do Things, and we have had very very few disagreements when it comes to these things. In this way I’m a “force multiplier” — I don’t offer views that are different than Carmack’s, he and I typically operate very much on the same wavelength so we spend less time arguing and more time communicating.

RP: What’s your office at id like? Any strange personal memorabilia hanging on the walls? Any puzzles or toys within easy reach? Music blaring in the corner? Do you have a window? Does anyone close by disturb you with sounds of finger clippings or snore loudly like American during his mid-afternoon nap? (Seriously, geeks like me want to know this stuff. It gives a good feel for the person :))

BH: Pretty boring, actually. 3D cards, open computers, etc. I do have a window, but the blinds are always shut (sunlight==evil). I listen to music on my computer’s speakers, but at some point I’ll buy a Real Stereo like everyone else has. No memorabilia, unfortunately, but I do have the old Lazy Susan that was used for the Doom models hanging inverted on my wall acting as a target for a set of throwing knives.I’m into knife throwing. I’m sure at some point, like every good computer geek, I’ll have Star Wars crap strewn about my office.

RP: On to the good stuff. For once and for all (for now), give us your recommendation for folks looking for a good video card to play Quake. (This is for those boneheads who either don’t know what a .plan is or just can’t get it through their thick skulls)

BH: Okay, one more time — as of TODAY (6/24/97), the 3Dfx Voodoo chipset is the best GLQuake accelerator you can buy. Yes, it’s even faster than the Intergraph Realizm (although it doesn’t have as many features nor does it have as good as looking output).>From what I understand, most of the boards you can get work just fine. I’ve heard good reports for the Orchid Righteous3D, Diamond Monster3D, and 3Dfx Obsidian. We use Obsidians and Monster3Ds here.

RP: Will the gl_flashblend hack remain in Quake II’s OpenGL rendering engine or will it have dynamic lighting without a performance hit?

BH: This hack isn’t because of anything Quake or OpenGL do, it simply reflects the fact that a lot of hardware has a performance penalty for doing lots of texture downloads, which is what happens when using dynamic lighting.

RP: Why haven’t we seen Multitextures or transparent water/lava in the screen shots if you plan on using it? Do you plan on vising all the levels for the transparent water/lava feature?

BH: Transparencies plan on being an integral part of Quake 2 levels and will be incorporated from the get go. Multitextures are being used — multitexture extensions simply are a fast way of doing two pass rendering which is what GLQuake does.

RP: What’s the coolest thing about Quake2 and OpenGL? What is the most challenging aspect for you? I.e. what has you guys scratching your heads and going “Good idea, but HOW in god’s name are we going to make it work?”

BH: The coolest stuff is the team that’s working here today. Really. The technology, model, art, sound, etc. are all nice, but what makes this truly the coolest thing are the people working here. Everyone who is working at id today is committed to making the best product possible, and there are very few personality conflicts. Paul Steed is an AMAZING modeler. Kevin is providing the key leadership a project of this type needs. Adrian, as always, is doing cool textures. John Cash is working on neat monster AI stuff. American is cranking out awesome sounds, and all the level guys are cranking out top notch levels. Christian, especially, is the most underrated member of the team, since he really contributes across the board, from level design to Web page maintenance to system administration. And John Carmack is… John Carmack. So like I said, Quake2 really represents the synergistic blending of all these different people’s skills, so it’s the realization of the combined efforts of a great team. I’m lucky to be pulled into this, and can’t wait until I can really start contributing in earnest.The hardest part for me, at this time, is reconciling the cool stuff we can do in the GL renderer with the not-as-feature-rich software renderer.

RP: If the GLGod came to you tomorrow and could implement one enhancement for OpenGL, would it be a particle rendering system extension? Or something else?

BH: I would really have to think about that for quite some time before committing to a single answer, but the fact is, we don’t NEED a GLGod to do this for us. We can simply ask companies to implement new functionality, and most of them will, so we have that kind of power already.

RP: Whose idea was the bouncing titties, and do you think there will be a cl_nobreastbounce?

BH: You’d have to talk to Paul Steed about that.

RP: Alrighty then (I hate leaving loose ends :), Paul, whose idea was the bouncing titties, and do you think there will be a cl_nobreastbounce?

PS: (Yeah, that’s Paul Steed of id-RP) The animations of the Crackwhore are all done by hand with each breast lovingly rotated and moved to simulate realistic boob movement. The fpb ratio (face per breast) wasn’t too bad with the entire model weighing in at about 530 triangles. The female player model won’t be as busty but will still be attractive and semi-voluptuous.

RP: Haha. Thanks Paul. Back to BH now. (Warning: Typical Fragmaster-type question) If Bill Gates walked into your office tomorrow and offered you his entire wealth to come work for Microsoft, what would you say to him?

BH: Duh. What, you think I have principles?

RP: Anything more to add before we get to ‘Finish the sentence’?

BH: Nope.

RP: Lamers who don’t understand my .plan…

BH: aren’t worth my effort.

RP: One of the coolest people I’ve ever met was…

BH: someone that I can’t recall at this very moment since this is a very weird question. Unfortunately people you think should be very cool often end up being dicks, and the people you think are the coolest are probably people who you have never heard of. Case in point for the latter — my friends Oz, Ryan, and Taco, along with my big sister Ramona (who is also one of my closest friends), are all some of the coolest people I’ve ever met, yet none of you folks have any idea who the hell I’m talking about. I’m still waiting to meet Trent. Ask me again then. :-)

RP: If John Carmack suddenly walked into my office and declared that >Quake2 would use nothing but Direct3d technology I’d…

BH: be a little upset that he didn’t ask my opinion first. *ahem*

RP: The best experience I’ve ever had working with 3d technology was…

BH: when I worked at 3Dfx and managed to get Parallax Software’s Descent up and running on a C-simulated version of the Voodoo chipset. It was an extremely gratifying experience because of the particular conditions I was working under.

RP: This interview was…

BH: done entirely in ASCII.

Microphone cover photo by Alex Cole on Unsplash

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