Tom Hall

Name: Tom Hall

Pencil Hand: Right

Craft: Game Designer

Brand: Co-founder, id Software; 30 years designing games; now Sr. Creative Director at Glu Mobile

Location: San Francisco, CA


” Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” You have to have a flood of ideas and inspiration coming in to have them connect in interesting ways.”

Tom Hall
Tom Hall
Tom Hall


What do you do?

I am a game designer. My dad got the family an Apple ][+ on June 9th, 1980. I’ve been designing games ever since.  Best known are Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, Rise of the Triad, and Anachronox. Recently, I designed Cooking DASH and Gordon Ramsay DASH on mobile.

What does your work space look like? Where do you like to create?

In my office, an old classic wooden desk, surrounded by games and game memorabilia.  At work, standing desk for computer stuff, comfy couch for sketching ideas in a notebooks. (Usually, Leuchtturm 1917 or Baron Fig Work/Play II.)

What role does the pencil play in your process?

I love a blank piece of paper and a great pencil. Ideas just flow from somewhere, and I’ve got to write them down, revise them, play with them. It has to go through the writing/drawing part of my brain to work. I have thousands of ideas written down I may never get to use.

Why do you choose to work with pencils and, specifically, Blackwings?

It’s part of that fluid process, the constant revising. And I need to draw out screen images, ideas that will change and flow, erase and redraw.. (Also, sometimes my handwriting and drawing can be super dodgy, so I may need to re-do it just so it is clear!) I love the feel of writing with Blackwings. They are far and above my favorite pencil, and I’ve only encountered them recently. My mom gave me a love of pens, pencils, and paper. So I’m bringing her some when I visit next!

What other tools are essential to your process?

A great notebook or yellow heavyweight looseleaf paper (from college at the University of Wisconsin), a great pencil (always Blackwings, really) or for left-brain stuff, a pen (Pentel Energel RT Alloy or Retro 51 Albert), a desk or comfy chair and time. Also I bathe in many other media as well as games. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” You have to have a flood of ideas and inspiration coming in to have them connect in interesting ways.

How do you overcome ______ block? Writer’s block, artist’s block, etc. 

I never have it. My opposite problem is too many ideas, sometimes culling down to elegance, “killing your darlings”.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

One would be my mom’s “Look it up.” I found new and interesting words looking up the one I was wondering about. We had a dictionary stand in the house; my mom gave me a reverence for words at that altar. My dad too, in another way — he was a vicious punster. I was lucky to have such brilliant parents: a writer and professional engineer. So I got both sides of my brain working all the time — my corpus callosum is awesome! Heh.

But a life changing sentence for me was a question when I applied for programming jobs out of college. All the interviewers ended the interview with: “We like you and your qualifications. Is this what you really want to do?”  I flew home, thought about it, and realized, “No. This is boring. I want to make games.” And that made all the difference.