Karateka Fan Letter from John Romero

When I was 17 years old and dreaming of a career making games, my role models — the people who created the games I admired — were known to me only as names on Apple II title screens. I couldn’t look up their bios, read interviews, or check out their websites, because the internet didn’t exist yet. I didn’t know what they looked like, what countries they lived in, or if their names were even real (“Lord British“?).

There was one way, though. You could send a letter to the publisher (the old way, with postage stamps) and hope that it might get to the game creator who might actually read it.

At 17, I didn’t have the chutzpah to think of that — but another enterprising kid named John Romero did. John informed me of this when we finally met, in an elevator at GDC, years after he’d fulfilled his childhood dreams and become one of the best-known game designers on the planet, thanks to Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.

John’s first words to me were: “I wrote you a letter. In 1985.”

When I got home, I dug it out of storage. Indeed he had. It was one of the first three or four fan letters I ever got — forwarded by Karateka’s publisher Broderbund Software to my Yale Station post office box, where I was a 20-year-old senior in college. John himself was “17 going on 18,” as he was careful to specify in his letter, perhaps figuring the extra year might cause me to take him more seriously.

John assures me that he has my answer in storage somewhere. I don’t remember what I wrote, but you can read his original letter here. Thanks, John!

I couldn’t resist posting this now, because I’ll be seeing John again next week at GDC. We’ll be on a panel with Tim Sweeney (Epic) and young whippersnappers Adam Saltsman (Canabalt) and Notch Persson (Minecraft), moderated by Jane Pinckard, on the topic of “Back to the Garage: The Return of Indie Development.” Hope to see some of you there!

Posted on Mar 1, 2012 in Blog, Games, Karateka, Making Games, Old School | 12 comments


  1. 3-1-2012

    Inspiring…..to live my dreams.

  2. 3-1-2012

    Prince,Quake and doom gives me a sense of nostalgia as these were the games that i first started playing on my low end p.c at the age of 5….

  3. 3-1-2012


  4. 3-1-2012

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to read your answer letter!! ;)

  5. 3-1-2012

    Looking forward to seeing the talk! :)

  6. 3-2-2012

    I hope your answer will also be posted. I’m dying to know if he was right in any way :)

  7. 3-13-2012

    you are an hell of a game designer. i loved your games back in the 80s-90s. Thank you for all your greatly inspirational work.

  8. 3-30-2012

    Fantastic read. Super thanks for sharing!

  9. 3-30-2012

    I’d love to read the response, too!

  10. 6-26-2012

    Great history, I used to play Karateka and finished that game, so it means a lot to me, then I couldn’t believe that John Romero himself was a fan of you, after playing a lot Quake.

    Thanks for sharing the history, I would like to see the response to John’s letter.

  11. 11-6-2012

    It’s very inspiring and good to see this type of letter after so long. Great love is obviously being showed in the letter.

  12. 10-4-2013

    Ahh, this is awesome! I actually read this earlier today (while in the midst of reading the Karateka journals. I just finished the journals and was completely psyched to see that you even mentioned this letter in The Making of Karateka journals, way back in 1985. =)

    April 8, 1985:
    “… Got a glowing fan letter from a would-be programmer in England. Wrote back…”

    Now what would make this come full circle is if John were able to find the letter you wrote in response. I’m actually curious what the reply was, and if you answered John’s questions or kept your trade secrets?

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