November 13, 2007

Portrait: Alien Arena creator John Diamond

Author: Joe Barr

John Diamond is the creator and lead developer of the popular free software game Alien Arena. He turned his hobbies and a talent for coding into a small business.

Diamond, in his early 40s, lives about 30 miles north of Baltimore with his wife Courtney, and twp cats, Sasha and Sheena. By day, he works as a developer of AutoCAD-based electrical design applications. In his spare time, he is the founder and CEO of COR Entertainment, a small independent game company.

While he was in high school, Diamond spent time with friends after school trying to write software for the Apple IIc to emulate their favorite arcade games, such as Robotron, Pac Man, Donkey Kong, and Centipede. He attended Loyola College in Baltimore, studying electrial engineering, but left school before graduating. He did computer hardware repair and network management for six years before settling into the software development job he has held the past 11 years.

It wasn't until the '90s, when id Software began to release its first-person shooter (FPS) games as free software, that Diamond really got into game programming. "Once the Quake series was out, I was fully into modding, spending nearly all of my free time creating these wonderful new worlds, and altering the game code. I was much more into the single player aspect back then, but after Quake 3 was released, I began shifting more towards multiplayer."

In 1999, Diamond and two others -- Chet Hamel and Charles Whitlock -- came together to form COR Entertainment. The first game they produced was Alteria, a free software FPS based on software released under the GPL by id Software.

The following year, in 2002, Diamond, working alone, began to plan for the release of his next game, CodeRed, which was based on Quake II. There were two releases of CodeRed, Battle for Earth and Martian Chronicles.

You can see his interest in merging science fiction and gaming in the titles of the CodeRed releases. Diamond says, "It's probably apparent from my choice of subject matter in our current game that I have a fascination with science fiction, something I began falling in love with from the time I was in the third or fourth grade."

In 2003, following id's release of Quake III as free software, Diamond began work on his first multiplayer science-fiction-inspired FPS. "The idea hit me that a deathmatch game with a retro sci-fi theme was be a cool game to play. I really hadn't seen that done very often, if at all, and thought it would be tragic if the world did not have a game in which they could blow away little bubble-helmeted aliens and goofy robots. The result was Alien Arena, which was released in 2006."

That's the same year that COR Entertainment was incorporated as a limited liability corporation. Other developers besides Diamond contributed to produce Alien Arena, but COR still has no official employees, and nobody has made a profit from any of the games COR has produced.

Diamond says that even with the popularity of Alien Arena, there are no plans for COR to go commercial and sell or charge fees for its games. He does, however, hope to make a profit in the future from software partnering advertising. Diamond's next project is already underway, Alien Arena 2008, and he told us "We have some pretty big plans for how this is going to be, and we are pretty excited
about building off of the existing game."

Writing free software is not Diamond's only interest outside his job. He also likes spending time with his family, reading science fiction, playing with his cats, hiking, kayaking, and attending wine festivals.

Our Portraits series seeks to profile individuals who are doing interesting things with free and open source software. If you know of someone you'd like to read about, please let us know.


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