John Carmack visits Elon Musk's SpaceX Starbase, selfies ensue

John Carmack and Elon Musk at Starbase
(Image credit: John Carmack)

John Carmack is as notable as videogame developers get: He co-founded id Software and led the programming of groundbreaking 3D games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. He's also a literal rocket scientist. Carmack founded Armadillo Aerospace in 2000 to compete for the Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million to the first non-government organization that could launch a reusable crewed spacecraft twice within a two-week stretch. It didn't win—a company funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen claimed the prize in 2004—and in 2013, Carmack effectively called it quits.

Elon Musk is pretty well known in videogame circles too. He's a big Deus Ex fan, there was speculation that his dumb truck would appear in Cyberpunk 2077 (it didn't), and he helped drive up GameStop's share price earlier this year when he tweeted about it in the midst of the WallStreetBets blowup. He also took part in an awkward interview with Todd Howard in 2019, in which Howard said he paid a visit SpaceX headquarters to help bring "authenticity" to Bethesda's upcoming Starfield.

The two recently came together in a process that began on August 4, when Carmack retweeted a series of photos shared by SpaceX founder Elon Musk and said that someone was trying to wind him up over the fact that Musk had succeeded where he failed. "I can't overstate how alien that thought is to me," Carmack tweeted. "My joy at these things being built is deep."

In response to that tweet, Musk extended an invitation to Carmack, saying that "it would be an honor to have you visit Starbase," the fanciful name for the SpaceX launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. 

Carmack took Musk up on his offer.

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"Starbase is extremely impressive," Carmack tweeted. "There is a lot of bemoaning that we culturally can't build physical things anymore, but this is China Speed and then some. Rows of engines, hangars full of structures, 24/7 shifts—it is a sight to behold."

Unexpected comment about US and China economic competition aside—"China Speed," by the way, is a reference to the extremely rapid expansion of the country's economy and capabilities over the past half-century or so—Carmack seems awfully positive about commercial space travel for a guy who made multiple games about the horrors of alien invasions. 

Carmack's choice of outfits for the visit prompted a few people to compare the meet-up to Iron Man meeting Captain America: Musk is occasionally described as a "real life Iron Man" due to his wealth and position at the head of a powerful tech company, and Carmack, well, he owns a Captain America shirt. Others expressed hope that Carmack would become part of the SpaceX team. 

It's a partnership that might actually be a good fit. As well as being a rocketeer, Carmack also recently immersed himself into artificial intelligence research, which could come in handy for Musk's latest wildly improbable plan, Tesla Bots. And it turns out that Carmack is already working with a Musk venture, sort of: He said on Twitter that he "did kind of volunteer to help them fix what I consider very poor user interface performance on the older model S (that I drive). Their engineers have been sharing data with me."

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Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.